It’s Christmas time. You’ve probably watched some Christmas movies already, and will probably watch some more before the season’s warm and fuzzy feelings ebb away on December 26 and we’re all forced to confront the reality that Donald Trump will soon control the world. Since this may all be our last Christmas, you don’t want to waste your time watching lousy Christmas movies; but if there is one genre of film that has a disproportionate number of stinkers, it’s holiday movies. People are too willing overlook crappy acting and nonsensical plots just because somebody slapped the words “Christmas”, “Holiday”, “Jingle”, “Bells”, or “Die Hard” into the title. So I’m here with my definitive review of Christmas movies to watch/avoid this holiday season, alphabetical order.
“12 Dates of Christmas” (2011): Netflix has tons of holiday movies, and about 2 good ones: White Christmas and Bells of St. Marys. The rest are there because Netflix can probably license them for a nickel each. At least 12 Dates of Christmas doesn’t take itself too seriously. Amy Smart has an accident at a department store, giving her the “power” of repeating the same day over and over (in this case, Christmas Eve) until she gets it right. It’s like Quantum Leap without Al, or Groundhog Day without Bill Murray. Instead we get Zack Morris himself, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who knows a thing or two about having time-warping powers. Smart’s character eventually gets everything right, but not before creating a series of temporal paradoxes only slightly less convoluted than the Terminator franchise. Five stars.
“Christmas in Connecticut” (1945): I have not seen every Christmas movie ever made, but even so I am confident in saying this is the only holiday movie to open with an U-boat attack. Barbara Stanwyck plays a compulsive liar who becomes a famous magazine author for the things she lies about, until her boss Sydney Greenstreet wants to spent Christmas with her at her (nonexistent) farm in Connecticut so she can make him her famous (nonexistent) cooking. This is all part of a greater plan to help out a navy officer suffering from PTSD from being nearly killed from that U-boat attack mentioned earlier, but it really doesn’t matter that I explain the plot further. Just know that the concept of “romantic comedy” has changed since 1945, when child abandonment and forced marriages are played for laughs, and the big romantic scene between the leads feels very rape-y in 2016. Five stars.
“Christmas with the Kranks.” In this Orwellian nightmare wrapped up in a big red bow, the Kranks are persecuted by the community for ignoring neighborhood groupthink and refusing to put up Christmas decorations. The neighborhood Il Duce, played by Dan Akroyd, launches a merry terror campaign against the Kranks, culminating in a scene in which the Kranks cower in their basement while their neighbors stand just outside their windows and threaten them with Christmas carols, in what is surely the only scene in a holiday movie taking direct inspiration from Kristallnacht. The Kranks attempt to flee overseas via cruise ship, but eventually change their minds when their only daughter decides to come home for the holidays. Unfortunately by this time it is too late, as Mr. Krank (Tim Allen) is brutally tortured until he admits that he sees five lights when there are only four. Just kidding! The neighborhood quickly forgets they violated several international laws on human rights and help the Kranks give their daughter the Christmas that only she really wanted. Five stars.
“A Country Christmas” (2013): Two years after first seeing this movie I couldn’t remember the title, so to find it I Googled “Christmas movie with Trace Adkins” and “Christmas movie where Santa cures mom’s cancer”. Neither of those are typos. A politician by the name of Max Schmucker (an allusion to the word “schmuck” and, considering his role in the plot, probably to the second coming of National Socialism) manages to convince the world they need to ban Santa Claus. This bums out two siblings living in the country, who are afraid Christmas won’t happen or something, because they are heathens who need to figure out who CHRISTmas was named for. Anyway, Santa crash lands on their farm, and begins to slowly fade away Back to the Future-style because the world has stopped believing in him. Also, mom has cancer, kids! Common Sense Media has called this movie “for die-hards only”. The most famous “actor” in this movie is Trace Adkins. Let that soak in. Five stars.
“Die Hard” (1988): People who think they are “too cool” for the Christmas spirit quote this as their favorite holiday movie. I did this from high school through undergrad. Five stars.
“Going My Way” (1944), “The Bells of St. Marys” (1945): Is it the one where Bing Crosby sings “Swinging on a Star”, or the one where the Mother Superior teaches one of her students boxing so he can beat up another one of her students, a bully? Are these even really Christmas movies? Whatever. They have Bing Crosby, and one of them has the guy who plays Clarence in It’s a Wonderlife Life, so close enough. Five stars.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946): John Wayne, Steve McQueen, and Clint Eastwood will be forever remembered at the Men’s Men of Hollywood. Errol Flynn and Clark Gable are the Ladies’ Men. Jimmy Stewart will always be best known for the movie where he can’t even get drafted into the army because of a deaf ear. By the time Jimmy Stewart made It’s a Wonderful Life he was a Colonel in the air force, having flown twenty official and numerous uncredited missions into Nazi-occupied Europe as the commander of a B-24 bomber group. During a bombing run on Stuttgart a flak gun blew a hole underneath his seat, between his legs, and through the top of his aircraft, and the by time he returned to base his skin had gone blue, but Stewart was untouched. Had Harry Bailey gone through that ice and drowned, a healthy George Bailey probably would have ended the war in Europe two years earlier. Thattaboy, Clarence. Jimmy Stewart was a Badasses’ Badass, and you have no choice but to enjoy this movie every year. Five stars.
“A Muppet’s Christmas Carol” (1992): If you’re going to enjoy an adaptation of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, you should probably do it classy and go to the theatre. But since we both know you’re not going to do that, might as well watch this. Five stars.
The “Santa Clause” franchise (1994-2006): Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor takes his home improvement projects too far and accidentally murders Santa Claus, and Jill divorces him. In order to cover up his crime he decides to impersonate Santa Claus, only to discover a “Santa Clause” which says that anybody who steals Santa’s clothes becomes Santa and inherits his toy empire. The movies never touch upon the disturbing implications of this Clause, and the number of Santas murdered over the years to maintain the illusion of his immortality. Apparently this franchise continues until 2006, when Martin Short appeared in it. I guess he was supposed to be funny? Five stars.
“The Shop Around The Corner” (1940): See It’s A Wonderful Life, above.
“White Christmas” (1954): Probably the Christmas movie in many peoples’ minds. It’s good, we watch it every year, I still don’t buy Bing Crosby as a Captain in the army. Five stars.