Christmastime Viewings: 2022
Plot: A musical version of Charles Dickens's story of a miserly misanthrope who is taken on a magical journey.
There is already a bit of hatred online for this one, but I'm not overly sure why. I was greatly looking forward to Spirited due to the presence of Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, plus it was directed by the reliable Sean Anders - I remember seeing behind-the-scenes videos for this over a year ago and desperately wanting to see it. Luckily, the finished movie delivered on my expectations. There are plenty of high-energy musical numbers, I love the central conceit of Scrooge-like transformations being the job of an afterlife corporation, many of the jokes land, the bromance between Reynolds and Ferrell is top-notch, and it's not entirely predictable. It is too long at over two hours, and it does feel its length as it's stuffed with plenty of narrative material, but it gets enough right to compensate for its shortcomings. The movie looks positively gorgeous, with slick visuals and strong production values - plus, the aesthetics of each set-piece are decidedly different, so there's ample variety to the visuals to prevent boredom from setting in. It does enough to justify its existence with so many other previous cinematic interpretations of A Christmas Carol having been made, with a fun sense of invention. When it comes to festive movies, the big question is "will I watch it again?" Happily, the answer for this one is a resounding yes. I wouldn't say it will become an annual tradition, but I certainly look forward to revisiting it.
Also, yes, I watched this on premiere night because I wanted to see it ASAP, so the festive viewings have started in mid-November this year.
Plot: Upon hearing that the magic of Christmas was ruined for Peter as a young boy, Drax and Mantis head to Earth to find him the perfect Christmas present: Kevin Bacon.
Over five-and-a-half years have elapsed since we last saw a Guardians of the Galaxy movie written and directed by James Gunn, and it has been one hell of a wait. The Guardians have appeared in other Marvel movies, some better than others, but having them back as the central focus of a production is as comforting as a warm Christmas hug. Especially given that the forthcoming Vol. 3 will be the last ride for many of the Guardians, and for James Gunn, I'm so glad that we got this bonus 40-minute Holiday Special. It's frequently funny, it's got a lot of heart, we get another selection of great songs (including original songs) that will be added to my Guardians playlist, and it's a genius move to bring Kevin Bacon into the MCU playing himself. Another bonus is getting a bit more of Michael Rooker as Yondu in animated segments. It's cheesy at times, sometimes shamelessly so, but the special still holds together really, really well, and includes a new reveal which makes this an important part of the Guardians film series. Plus, happily, the production values are top-notch; the special looks wholly cinematic, and not like a TV movie. This one will likely become part of my annual line-up.
Plot: It is time for Santa Claus to retire and leave the job to his successor. He selects an orphan named Nicholas, who is pure of heart but lacks the self-confidence to become the next Santa.
A French-Australian co-production, there's nothing necessarily special about the premise of Santa's Apprentice, which is about Santa finding an apprentice to take over his job, and the script hits pretty much all the expected story beats along the way. I mean, Santa's chosen apprentice doesn't have much self-confidence, there are training montages, the ending is unsurprising, and there's a villain of sorts to create some conflict in the third act. Nevertheless, it delivers ample charm as the narrative unfolds, and this isn't some cheap animated distraction. Indeed, though the animation isn't exactly lavish or expensive, there's genuine style and panache to the visuals, and I'm glad I managed to stream it in high definition as opposed to settling for the DVD. (Although I have now found out that there's a longer Australian version, which isn't available in HD at the time of writing.) It's funny at times and there's enough creativity on display when dealing with the Santa Claus mythology, which is pretty tired after so many films have explored it in the past. The movie is also agreeably short, with the credits starting before the 70-minute mark, making it an easygoing and agreeable distraction. An instant classic? Not exactly. But I'd watch it again, and kids could do a lot worse than this.
Plot: On Christmas Eve, with no other options, a desperate man sets out on a nine-hour road trip with his irritating, garish neighbour to collect a toy that his daughter wants for Christmas.
A BBC television movie which only runs a slim 53 minutes, Click & Collect is something of a contemporary Jingle All the Way, which is something that is referenced in the script itself. However, it's edgier and far less cheesy than that '90s Arnie comedy, and it is destined to become an annual Christmas staple in my household. Stephen Merchant and Asim Chaudhry are a winning mismatched screen pair - it's a joy to watch their bantering, as well as their budding friendship. Directed by Ben Palmer (who was responsible for many classic episodes of The Inbetweeners), this telemovie is brisk and fast-paced, with slick production values and laughs aplenty, not to mention there's genuine heart despite the clichéd nature of the narrative. Indeed, much of what happens throughout the movie is unsurprising, but that hardly matters when it's so good-natured and fun. Additionally, I'm somewhat glad that it's an hour-long telemovie as opposed to a full feature film, as the length feels perfect rather than perfunctorily drawn out. It's just a shame that it's not available on Blu-ray, as I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Anyway, I highly recommend this one; it was a perfect way to begin my December 1st.
Plot: In the 1940s, a young boy named Ralphie Parker attempts to convince his parents, teacher, and Santa Claus that a Red Ryder Range 200 Shot BB gun really is the perfect Christmas gift.
I've never really taken to A Christmas Story, and I was hoping this rewatch (in preparation for watching the sequel) would finally give me clarity on why everyone loves this one so much. Even with the benefit of a gorgeous 4K HDR remaster, and even as a 31-year-old bloke now with more insight into the world, I still couldn't get into the movie during this rewatch. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I firmly believe that the movie will play best for people who experienced Christmases like this in their childhood. Well, I didn't grow up in America and I grew up in the '90s, so none of the cultural traditions here are familiar to me - I can't relate to tongues sticking to poles, or being wrapped up so warmly I can't move, or soap in the mouth after swearing. BB guns also aren't a thing in Australia, so while I'm sure the perspectives here are true to life, it's still not interesting to me. I do love certain American Christmas movies, I mean I LOVE National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, but this one lacks the universal storytelling and sharp writing which has elevated other Christmas movies from the era. Also, I know the visual style is deliberate, but goddamn, it looks really, really dull in terms of colours - and this is coming from a guy who loves the look of '80s movies and loves to emulate them. I don't hate A Christmas Story, as some scenes are amusing, but I don't see myself watching this one ever again, and the almost unanimous love for this one still remains a baffling mystery. I won't delete my more positive Listal review, which I'm pretty sure was written back when I basically willed myself into liking things that were perceived as great by the rest of the population, as it's fun to compare it to my thoughts in 2022. Sorry, folks, but A Christmas Story is not a Christmas movie for me, and I'm not going to give it another chance.
Plot: Now an adult, Ralphie returns to his old house on Cleveland Street to give his kids a magical Christmas. He also reconnects with childhood friends and reconciles the passing of his Old Man.
Well, I'll be damned - I enjoyed this far more than the beloved original movie. A legacy sequel which brings back many of the original cast members, A Christmas Story Christmas is a solid Christmas movie in its own right, packing plenty of heart into this story about the loss of a parent and the realities of adulthood, which is precisely why I found it more relatable and compelling than the first film. Since Ralph is now an adult, we see Christmas from his perspective this time, peeling back the curtain on what Christmas can be like for adults. I mean, sure, we see adults trying to put together Christmas all the time (see National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, duh), but it's done well here. Alas, not every vignette lands (the massive Christmas tree is ripped straight from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation), and location authenticity is on the short side - it's obvious that this sequel was filmed in Eastern Europe, not America, which is a problem for a Christmas movie that aims to create a distinctive time and place (last year's 8-Bit Christmas did it far better). Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this movie overall, and the scenes on Christmas Day have unexpected emotional impact. I'm not necessarily sure that this will become an annual staple for me, but I would watch it again.
Plot: When a group of mercenaries attack the estate of a wealthy family, a stranded Santa Claus is compelled to step in to save the day (and Christmas).
Fuck. Yes! A mix of Die Hard and Home Alone with a bit of Fatman added for good measure, Violent Night is one badass Santa Claus action movie which actually exceeded my expectations. It's fast-paced and hard-hitting, living up to its title by lathering on the violence during the frequent action set-pieces, and it's pitched at precisely the right tone to ensure that it effectively works. After all, this is a movie about the real, magical Santa Claus fighting a group of terrorists - and the flick knowingly embraces the inherently ridiculousness of the premise. Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), there's plenty of devilish humour amid the bloodletting, and the movie both makes reference to, and homages, Die Hard and its first sequel - which is appropriate given the (presumably deliberate) story similarities. Additionally, with a beefy runtime approaching two hours, it lets the story and the characters breathe, and most of the cannon fodder henchmen are actually given distinct personalities (not to mention, their nicknames are Christmas-based, which gave me a big laugh). It does begin to drag a touch during the second act, but it quickly picks up for the climax. The cast also deserves recognition, as David Harbour is brilliant in the role of Santa Claus, and it's a treat to see Beverly D'Angelo in the supporting cast. Like Die Hard, Violent Night works as a Christmas movie and an action movie. This is another exceptional "alternative" Christmas movie that I can't wait to watch again. In fact, a double feature with Fatman, with a slab of beer, sounds like an amazing way to spend Christmas.
Plot: Elizabeth, the star of a successful cooking show, is set to do a live show on Christmas with her family and a local celebrity, where she'll cook a Christmas dinner. However, she can't cook and she doesn't have a family.
I honestly thought it was a typo when I came across this film while perusing cheap rentals, and saw it was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, as it turns out, this is the only feature film that the Austrian Oak has directed to date. And, for whatever reason, the action superstar decided to direct... a romantic comedy set at Christmas which was made for TV and is a remake of a beloved classic. O...kay? I didn't hate this incarnation of Christmas in Connecticut by any means, as it's a fun enough update of the original movie and it just manages to stay afloat thanks to a few amusing scenes and a breezy pace. It is also enormously clichéd and predictable, though, and it's not funny or memorable enough to become a Christmas classic. I didn't regret spending $2.99 to watch it, so I guess that's something positive?
Plot: Chewbacca and Han Solo try to get to the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, but are impeded by an Imperial blockade. Chewie's family passes the time with various forms of entertainment.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is one of the most notoriously awful pop culture curiosities in history; a television special so dreadful that it was only aired once before being actively suppressed by everybody involved. This is basically a Christmas variety show, but with an underlying narrative and an attempt to make everything appear somewhat coherent. For years, the only segment of the special that I'd ever watched was the animated segment featuring the introduction of Boba Fett, which I downloaded using LimeWire back in the day, and which was officially released on Disney+ a year or two ago. That 10-minute segment remains solid despite the shonky, cheap '70s television animation. And what about the rest of the special? Well, it's pretty terrible. Everything from the sets to the costumes look chintzy as hell, and there isn't an ounce of gravitas to detect throughout the special's 97-minute running time. There are a few special effects shots during the space baffles, but most of them were recycled from 1977's Star Wars. The other special effects sequences are baffling, including random musical moments which make no sense, and an especially bizarre scene in which a Wookie watches his fantasy woman sing a song as he appears aroused. One Wookie even watches a freaking cooking show. Were they truly that desperate for filler? It's undeniably entertaining to see Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher reprise their roles, though they don't get much screen-time at all. Darth Vader even shows up in footage that was actually originally shot for Star Wars but was removed from the final cut. It's easy to see why everybody associated with the special refuses to acknowledge its existence, and why Disney doesn't want to admit that they actually own it. But it's still fascinating to watch regardless of how terrible and often boring it is, and I'm glad I finally took the time to watch it - if only to be able to tell people that I've actually seen it now.
Plot: A corporate analyst and single mom named Jen tackles Christmas with a business-like approach until her uncle arrives with a handsome stranger in tow.
You pretty much know what you're getting into with Hallmark Christmas movies, as they all follow the same formula and hit the same familiar story beats. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is another in the festive Hallmark assembly line, and it's simultaneously not as terrible as Hallmark's reputation might imply, and not as good as the 7.2 IMDb rating implies. It's somewhere in the middle; at the end of the day, it's still a predictable romantic comedy set during the holiday season which is not designed for cinephiles or serious film-watchers. Rather, it's the cinematic equivalent of a plum pudding. Anyway, this one still has its charms, as Henry Winkler is good in almost everything, and I can't say I didn't enjoy it. I still had a few laughs here and there, and it's a brisk watch at only 90 minutes. Unfortunately, it still lacks cinematic pizzazz, as it walks and talks like a cheap television movie and the musical score sounds like recycled elevator music. I don't intend to revisit this one, but at least it's more pleasing than the usual Hallmark fare and I didn't feel that it rotted my brain. That's something.
Plot: A Puerto Rican family living in the area of Humboldt Park in west Chicago face what may be their last Christmas together.
I hadn't even heard of this movie until it appeared while I was perusing movies randomly, and it seemed like a good option based on the IMDb rating and the cast even though I'd never heard of it before. However, put simply, this is one of the most perfunctory family Christmas dramas I've ever seen. Although it runs a relatively short 98 minutes, it feels almost double that length, and I kept mentally checking out while the movie was still playing but never felt like I missed anything significant. It's lacking in proper substance, and I had trouble identifying members of the family during given scenes because their personalities meld together. There are some fine actors here, including Alfred Molina, but the material fails to serve them and each new plot complication feels as perfunctory as the last. It wants to be a hard-hitting drama dealing with serious issues, but it's just not done in an interesting or involving way. It was a nice change to see Christmas from the perspective of a Puerto Rican family, however. Alas, hours after watching this one, it's already fading from my memory and I never intend to rewatch it.
Plot: An old bitter miser is given a chance for redemption when he is haunted by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.
I've seen so many incarnations of this same story on-screen before that I've honestly lost count, and this 2004 made-for-TV adaptation can't escape that pervasive feeling of familiarity which is inevitable when it comes to Charles Dickens' festive tale. Nevertheless, with the reliably brilliant Kelsey Grammer taking on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, and with this adaptation being created as a musical full of original songs, it is executed just well enough to justify its existence and ensure it's worth watching. Naturally, this Christmas Carol lacks cinematic gravitas and looks like a cheap TV movie which is a shame, but the songs are memorable and well-performed, and the actors all commit to the material. I can't say I was bored and I don't regret watching it.
Plot: In a European farming village, an orphaned boy named Nicholas enjoys making toys for children to give as presents for Christmas. When a local carpenter lets Nicholas indulge in his hobby and build his skills, Nicholas hatches ambitious plans for Christmas.
I can already hear the internal groans at the prospect of another movie tackling the Santa Claus lore and providing an origin story for the jolly old fat man. Much to my surprise, with a welcome European flavour, 2007's Christmas Story is a superb take on the Santa Claus legend - warm, enjoyable, funny and touching, with a lived-in world and wonderful characters. At no point did I ever suspect a Santa origins movie would make me feel emotion, but I actually shed some tears during this one, which gives you an idea of how effective the execution truly is. Even more miraculous is that the movie is quite short at 80 minutes but doesn't feel rushed or underdone, nor does it drag or waste any screen-time. Admittedly, Santa's transformation into a magical being happens without the audience, but it's this mystique which makes the legend so intriguing, and the movie is more about the characters surrounding Nicholas and their experiences with him. Indeed, rather than a mere fantasy movie, this is a movie about real people, and that's where it soars. I wholly recommend this movie and I intend to revisit it - and not just at Christmastime. This one comes highly recommended, but don't watch the dubbed version...track down the original Finnish version. It's worth it.
Plot: A young boy named Nicholas is about to become the next Santa Claus, but must first avoid a crisis that's threatening the magic of Christmas before he can succeed in his new role.
This sequel to Santa's Apprentice picks up directly after the first movie, and I have to admit that I got a big kick out of seeing these characters again after growing to like them so much. The resulting narrative, however, is slightly hit-and-miss, and I didn't find it as involving or as interesting as the first movie - the split focus, in particular, is a bit of an issue. Nevertheless, there are ample charms to this festive animated flick, which still looks absolutely gorgeous and clocks in at under 70 minutes, not including credits. I wouldn't say that this is an essential Christmas movie, but I could see myself doing a double feature of Santa's Apprentice and The Magic Snowflake around Christmastime in the future.
Plot: When a pair of bumbling crooks hijack the Harrington and Sons toy store, a pair of kids stumble into the heist and are forced to team up with a female security officer to save Christmas.
Holy fuck, this one is a turkey. The Australian streaming service Stan. has started producing one Australian Christmas movie per year since 2020, starting with the pretty good A Sunburnt Christmas. Christmas Ransom is their latest festive offering, and it's also their worst to date, making me question their current strategy. A broad, studiously unfunny and poorly scripted mess of a film, it plays out like a student movie which was made by 'quirky' friends who consider each other hilarious. When even the fart jokes don't land, you know something is seriously wrong. The problem is that the movie doesn't take the story seriously, and the humour feels incredibly forced. It doesn't help that every scene is written like a low-grade SNL sketch and it feels specifically tailored to children. There's nothing wrong with a children's movie, but the execution is disastrous, with people constantly mugging the camera, including the director herself playing a hostage negotiator, whose attempts at humour are the cringiest in the entire movie. (I originally assumed it was a friend of the director who had a role made for them... it made sense when I learned it was actually the director.) Attempts at poignancy and heart are extremely half-hearted, and the movie squanders the opportunity for amusing fights against the crooks holding everybody ransom. Indeed, the resulting set-piece is utterly boring and poorly staged. It never feels like the characters are in any danger because the crooks are so incompetent, and not in a funny way, which also comes down to the blocking and misé-en-scene. There are recycled jokes and gags which don't land, including smoldering looks between two characters who like each other, which again makes this film feel like the work of friends who think they're hilarious. When even the outtakes fail to raise the slightest laugh in me, something is seriously wrong. Skip this dogshit.
Plot: After falling out of his sleigh, Santa suffers a case of amnesia on the eve of his busiest season. His only hope is a jaded TV reporter.
A Disney TV movie from the year 2000, Santa Who? is a pleasant and enjoyable festive movie which is neither good enough to become an annual tradition, nor bad enough to be genuinely abhorrable. It occupies that middle ground, and I'm glad I was able to unearth this one for this year's line-up - I had no idea it existed until it was mentioned in a YouTube video, and the idea of Leslie Nielsen as Santa Claus was intriguing. (And, yes, I know he was Santa in All I Want For Christmas, which I watched last year and can barely remember.) Leslie is good fun in the role of Santa and there are ample laughs throughout the movie. It's also brisk and maintains an agreeable tone, making it a fun sit for the unfussy viewers. The special effects are decidedly hit-and-miss, which is to be expected for a TV movie of this vintage, and it is a clichéd affair with nothing much that we haven't seen before. Still, I don't regret watching this, even if I don't intend to seek it out again in the future.
Plot: A Christmas-loving lawyer's obsession with bringing Christmas cheer to all sparks a conflict with the local Homeowners' Association who believe his planned holiday extravaganza violates their neighborhood rules.
It may be difficult for some to assess this documentary without bringing in their personal feelings on the matter. As a documentary film, 'Twas the Fight Before Christmas is extremely sound, as it's slickly presented, it doesn't appear to take sides, and it's well-edited, moving quickly through the interviews and keeping the pace agreeably brisk. The array of archival footage throughout the feature is also worthwhile, with the movie even delving back into the childhood of the man at the centre of all the controversy, and there are home videos of him decorating his family home at an early age. But the topic is going to be an extremely divisive one, and some people are going to have trouble watching the movie when the main character is essentially the villain. Personally, I found it difficult to take sides as I felt that both parties acted appallingly, and this behaviour is presented for us to see. (It makes me wonder if anything was excluded for being too extreme; surely there are more confrontations to see.) I wouldn't say that this movie is excellent festive viewing as it might not get you in the mood for Christmas, but it was a fun change of pace to watch a documentary like this as part of this year's Yuletide line-up. If the subject matter interests you, it's worth the watch.
Plot: Rey leaves her friends to prepare for Life Day as she sets off on an adventure to gain a deeper knowledge of the Force. At a mysterious temple, she is hurled into a cross-timeline adventure. Will she make it back in time for Life Day?
It would almost be pointless for me to criticize various aspects of The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, as its inherent shortcomings are totally by design. It's incredibly silly and goofy, and the plot is nothing more than an excuse to re-enact iconic Star Wars moments with a bit of added humour, plus it lacks the gravitas we come to expect from Star Wars. Indeed, this Disney+ special looks overly childish and inadequate after the release of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special which genuinely feels like an extension of the movies, rather than a cheap made-for-TV distraction with cheaper actors doing their best impressions of more expensive actors. (Only Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams reprise their roles from the movies in this special.) But I can't deny that I had some fun with this one; it still manages to stay afloat and it has its charms. The animation is impressive in every scene, and the mash-up of various characters from past and present is enjoyable. It's certainly a damn sight better than the infamous Holiday Special from the 1970s. This won't become an annual tradition, but I don't regret watching it.
Plot: Nell, Simon, and their son Art are ready to welcome friends and family for what promises to be a perfect Christmas gathering. Perfect except for one thing: everyone is going to die.
I had no idea what to expect from this one, but I'm glad I gave it a shot. This is an apocalyptic British Christmas film, with the characters enjoying one last Christmas together before they commit suicide using government-manufacture pills which were issued in response to a poison gas that's killing everyone in its path. So, yes, don't expect much in the way of Christmas cheer in Silent Night, and the second half of the movie, in particular, is full of a pervasive and almost intoxicating sense of dread as the horrors begin to unfold. The actors are exceptional across the board and there is ample dark comedy scattered throughout, plus the British flavour makes the movie more interesting. However, there are major problems with the pacing, and the script also has an agenda to push about climate change which is conveyed with the subtlety of a shotgun. Having an apocalyptic event is fine, but it becomes text rather than subtext when the characters openly criticise the government and bemoan not voting for the greens. It left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Plot: Somebody with very little Christmas spirit is killing anyone in a Santa suit one London holiday season, and Scotland Yard has to stop him before he makes his exploits an annual tradition.
Another change of pace in my eclectic selection of Christmas movies for this year, here we have a British slasher movie set around Christmastime which involves a serial killer murdering people in Santa suits. This is an often sleazy and grimy horror movie with gory kills and nudity, and it won't do much to get you into the Christmas spirit. As far as slasher movies go, the movie does have its charms, but there are a few sequences which feel too downright mean-spirited. There isn't much in the way of suspense or tension during the kill scenes, and the acting is pretty disappointing across the board with a few exceptions. It also seems unlikely that people would still walk around London at night wearing Santa outfits when the string of murders is still happening and the killer hasn't been caught - surely the police would issue some kind of ban to stem the killings. Admittedly, the insight into the killer's backstory towards the end of the film is interesting, though the lack of a conclusion is deeply disappointing. This one is a mixed bag all up.
Plot: It's Christmas Eve and Tori just wants to get drunk and party, but when a robotic Santa Claus at a nearby toy store goes haywire and begins a rampant killing spree through her small town, she's forced into a desperate battle for survival.
Santa slasher movies set at Christmastime are nothing new, as we've seen serial killers dressed as jolly old Saint Nicolas in cult flicks like Silent Night, Deadly Night (plus its sequels) and Christmas Evil, among many others. The latest feature from wunderkind director Joe Begos (VFW, Bliss), Christmas Bloody Christmas essentially amounts to another Santa slasher movie...but with an unstoppable killer robot as opposed to a disgruntled psychopath who hates the festive season. In this sense, it's more like The Terminator than Silent Night, Deadly Night. Those familiar with Begos's work will know what to expect here, as his cinematic aesthetic remains unchanged: grainy 16mm cinematography, gory practical effects, neon lighting, an 80s-inspired visual style, and a moody synth score. The movie definitely earns its R rating, too, and it's even verging on NC-17 territory - there are plenty of creatively gory and vicious kill scenes throughout. Whereas most slashers meander from one victim to the next, there's more momentum to Christmas Bloody Christmas, which primarily stays with the character of Tori throughout the entire movie as the events happen around her. Consequently, there's more momentum and tension, particularly since Begos is a legitimately good filmmaker who doesn't simply rely on the gory special effects to see him through. Indeed, there is far more editorial and directorial skill throughout Christmas Bloody Christmas than all the other Santa slashers combined. It's relentlessly thrilling and fast-paced, but Begos also knows when to call it quits; the 87-minute running time feels perfect, and the movie doesn't outstay its welcome. The performance by Riley Dandy as Tori also deserves a mention; she truly throws herself into the character with spectacular results, handling the different emotions and sides to the role with confidence. Christmas Bloody Christmas is a gritty and grimy low-budget Christmas horror ride, and it's an immediate cult classic in my books. It's a Shudder Original but I hope it's one of their originals which gets a physical release on Blu-ray so I can watch it in superior quality every festive season.
Plot: Santa Claus flies to Orlando in search of his successor, and is helped by the bumbling Ernest.
Without rising to the heights of all the great festive flicks, Ernest Saves Christmas is a cute and inoffensive Christmas movie, and it's easy to comprehend why many people make this an annual holiday tradition in their households. This was actually my introduction to the Ernest character played by the late Jim Varney, and it makes me interested in tracking down some of the other movies in the series. The story here is nothing new, especially for somebody like me who binges Christmas films to a ridiculous extent every year, but it's still a charming affair from the very first frame, and there's something amusing about Santa traveling to freaking Florida to recruit his replacement. The hijinks which ensue are family-friendly and often amusing. Realism isn't exactly a strong suit, but Christmas movies aren't exactly the most realistic. While I didn't love Ernest Saves Christmas, I did have a fun time with it and I'd gladly watch it again during another December in the future.
Plot: In New York City, a woman's life gets upended when an engagement ring that was for someone else leads her to the person she's meant to be with.
The set-up for Something from Tiffany's is pure schmaltz, and it feels like the kind of story that Hallmark would produce - in fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Hallmark has already made a movie like this. However, despite being produced for Amazon Prime, there is more gravitas than the normal Hallmark rubbish, with more cinematic cinematography; it looks like a big-screen feature, not a made-for-TV movie. Although this isn't exactly my type of movie, I found myself enjoying this more than I thought I would, even though I might've mentally checked out a few times and not feel like I missed anything essential from a story perspective. There's a competent cast in this one (I mean, Zoey Deutch is fun in anything), though it's surprising that there's no quirky best friend character played by some big-name comedian as that's the typical formula for these romance movies. Speaking of, this is definitely more of a romance than a Christmas movie overall, so don't watch this if you're exclusively looking for Christmas-themed comedies like Ernest Saves Christmas or Get Santa. I won't make this one part of my annual line-up anytime soon, but I don't regret watching it. It's not great but not bad, either.
Plot: After discovering his grandfather is Santa Claus, Jules has to help him deliver his presents all around the world. But Jules' hatred for Christmas might make that more difficult than Santa thought.
A Netflix Christmas movie produced by Belgium and the Netherlands, here we have yet another fantastical take on the Santa Claus mythology, with Saint Nicolas looking to appoint his replacement in the form of his grandson. The movie is also primarily about a mourning family, which provides some genuine heart and touching moments - indeed, I got a lump in my throat towards the end when a letter is read. Anybody who has lost a parent (like me) might find this to be especially poignant. Since Netflix was involved in this one, it's clear that some money was spent bringing it to life, with colorful set design and lavish cinematography, though some of the green-screen compositing does look unusually shonky and obvious. I grew to like the characters quite quickly and became invested in the story, which is a testament to the script and the actors. I did feel that it got a bit repetitive at times, and the pacing is sometimes hit-and-miss, but these are minor quibbles on the whole. A little bit more problematic is the clichéd narrative, but it is pulled off with encouraging sincerity. Even though The Claus Family is cheesy at times, it still works. Overall, this is a pleasing, family-friendly European Christmas offering that I enjoyed watching.
Plot: Jules Claus has embraced Christmas again and is getting ready for the busiest time of the year together with grandpa Noël. Everything seems to go according to plan, until Jules receives a very special letter with an intriguing question.
A quickie sequel which was initially released barely a year after the original movie hit Netflix, The Claus Family 2 is another enjoyable, family-friendly festive fantasy adventure which incorporates familial drama to supplement the magic. Even though I watched this mere hours after my viewing of the first movie, I felt comforted being in the presence of these characters again, and was interested in seeing what happens next. Luckily, this next installment doesn't feel contrived from a story perspective - the main thrust of the plot is Jules (the new Santa) wanting to address the type of wishes that his grandfather has ignored for years. It's motivated by his desire to do something good and not limit what Santa can do, which is an intriguing theme that deserves exploration. It's also something new in the arena of Santa movies. However, the movie doesn't work as well as its predecessor, with some rocky pacing despite its relatively short 98-minute running time. It's also lacking in substance at times, and doesn't have the same emotional impact. Nevertheless, the visuals remain eye-catching and I enjoyed seeing more of this world and of this interpretation of the Santa Claus lore. Another sequel has already been assembled and was recently released in a few European territories, but it's not due for release everywhere else until next Christmas. How bizarre. I'll be watching it whenever I can, anyway.
Plot: After a break up, Jenny moves in with writer Kelly, her filmmaker husband, and their child. Despite a rocky start, Jenny's influence helps Kelly realize that an evolution in her life, career and relationship is necessary for her happiness.
Despite the implications of its title, Happy Christmas is not a happy movie, nor is it about Christmas. It does nothing to put you in the festive spirit, as the setting is largely incidental. Perhaps it was only set at Christmas to lure in poor schmucks like me who binge Yuletide films every December. A predominantly improvised movie which wasn't scripted, this little indie movie is lacking in substance, and, more importantly, a purpose for existing. The movie is pointless and aimless, with no major developments going on and the characters not undergoing any sort of distinctive arc. It reminds me of the screenwriting seminar scene from the movie Adaptation. This is director Joe Swanberg's third movie, and apparently his previous features were in a similar mould, making me want to actively avoid them. Swanberg is very much in love with the old indie aesthetic, shooting on 16mm film and giving this flick the look and feel of the early works of Kevin Smith or Richard Linklater. I'm surprised it wasn't filmed in black and white, to be honest. The problem is that whereas Linklater knows how to do slice of life, and Kevin Smith's hook is insightful, witty pop culture-infused dialogue, Happy Christmas is just all over the place, and the 16mm cinematography feels too self-conscious rather than giving the movie more personality. I didn't laugh, I didn't find much to enjoy, and I didn't become invested in the characters. This one is a bust.
Plot: Fed up with the materialism of Christmas, Santa runs away to New Zealand for a summer holiday. When two Kiwi kids figure out who he is, they have to find a way to get him back to the North Pole in time for Christmas.
I believe this is the first New Zealand Christmas movie which is a prospect that immediately intrigued me, especially since Australia is such a close neighbour. Despite the low IMDb rating, I'm glad I watched Kiwi Christmas and, although it's not perfect, I greatly enjoyed it for the most part. It's sweet and good-natured from the first frame, with an appealing cast and beautiful New Zealand locations. The story is slightly over-the-top by incorporating the real Santa Claus meeting everyday people, and the digital effects for the flying sleigh and the North Pole are admittedly flimsy as hell, with some shots looking like a second-rate computer game, but the movie is sincere about its oddball premise aside from the superfluous inclusion of border security agents who are paranoid about fruits and vegetables being moved into the area. There are a few too many cartoonish villainous archetypes, especially from another man camping nearby who has it out for the main characters. This is about the only major misstep, however. Even though it's aimed towards children, the movie will appeal to almost everybody seeking a fun Christmas movie. It's festive, it's easygoing, and it's distinctly Kiwi, which is all I wanted from this movie.
Plot: Old bitter miser Ebenezer Scrooge who makes excuses for his uncaring nature learns real compassion when three ghosts visit him on Christmas Eve.
I've seen so many iterations of this story that it's becoming difficult to care, but this one was free on Prime and the cast intrigued me - I mean, Kate Winslet and Nicolas Cage, not to mention Kate sings an original song that actually charted. Being a TV movie, the animation is very rough around the edges, with the motion, in particular, looking stodgy. The live-action bookends are also rather superfluous, to the extent that a version was released without the live-action scenes. Still, I enjoyed watching this iteration of the story, and I appreciated the adjustments to the story. Some scenes from the book are re-ordered, too, which works surprisingly well for this interpretation, and Scrooge's old love actually plays a part in the present which is something I haven't seen before. I liked the visual style in certain scenes, such as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come which is chilling, and the voice cast give it their all. It's not great, but I don't regret watching this.
Plot: Two college students share a ride home for the holidays, but when they break down on a deserted stretch of road, they are preyed upon by the ghosts of people who have died there.
I can't even remember how this one came across my radar, but I always seek out Christmas movies of all shapes and sizes at this time of year, and some corner of the internet recommended it as an alternative Christmas horror. Luckily, I'm glad I gave it a shot; this is an atmospheric, often compelling horror flick with a solid cast, including Emily Blunt in an earlier performance. It's definitely more of a horror movie than a Christmas film, as the Christmas setting is more like window dressing - you don't get much festive imagery, but you do get some Christmas songs on the radio. Most of Wind Chill takes place inside a car on the side of the road, and the characters don't stray far from this spot, but the director keeps the pacing tight, with ample tension during the horror sequences. The characters aren't dumb or disposable, either, as they do try to do everything with the resources at their disposal to find help and get out of there. I could basically feel the freezing cold air, and I was on the edge of my seat a few times. This is a rock-solid horror movie, and it's a good watch at this time of year if you're seeking an alternative to the typical Hallmark schmultz.
Plot: At a Christmas party, Senior Detective Terry Seattle and guest stars Jason Bateman and Maya Rudolph work to find out who killed Santa.
I'm not familiar with the Netflix show Murderville which debuted this year, and I hadn't even heard of it prior to this Christmas special appearing on the service, but I decided to give this one a whirl anyway due to the cast. Plus, it's only 50 minutes long and it's free to watch on Netflix. Despite no familiarity with the show, I didn't feel like I missed anything and caught on pretty quickly. This feels like an extended SNL skit at times, particularly due to how improvised it feels, but with a bit more polish to the cinematography and production design. There are some funny scenes but there are also scenes which fall flat, plus the late introduction of Pete Davidson feels superfluous and didn't raise any laughter out of me. Nevertheless, this is short and enjoyable enough that I don't regret watching it, but I don't intend to revisit it and I probably won't watch the main show in a hurry.
Plot: On Christmas Eve, three homeless people living on the streets of Tokyo discover a newborn baby among the trash and set out to find its parents.
Here's another eclectic addition to this December's diverse selection of festive titles; an animated Japanese movie set during the Christmas period. I found this while doing some cursory Googling to assemble this year's lineup, and I couldn't pass it up due to the glowing reviews and esteemed reputation; I mean, there are even cinema showings of this in my city this December. Gorgeously animated and frequently funny, Tokyo Godfathers is a highly impressive movie in its own right, not just as a Christmas film - it's a terrifically touching and human story, with the ending, in particular, hitting a raw nerve. There are a few plot contrivances and the storytelling isn't always involving, but these are minor flaws when the movie is otherwise this impressive and heartwarming. I grew to like the characters and I was invested in the story, which is the most important thing for this type of movie.
Plot: After coming into the town of El Camino seeking a father he has never met, Eric is harassed by the local police, and ends up barricaded in a local liquor store with five other people on Christmas Eve.
Here we have another alternative Christmas movie, this time from the good folks at Netflix. The cast and the adult rating intrigued me enough to give this one a whirl - I mean, it was sure to have more edge than your typical Hallmark fare. El Camino Christmas was actually directed by the same guy who made the barely watchable Jingle Jangle for Netflix a few years later, and while this is a more enjoyable movie overall, it does have its pitfalls. The pacing is rocky, even for an 89-minute movie, and director David E. Talbert can't quite pull off the tricky tonal changes which were required for this one. There are laughs, but it gets deadly serious in the third act, and the finale is somewhat baffling. And from a moral standpoint, I didn't always side with the main character whose actions get people shot and nearly killed. (Spoilers: One character returns from the dead at the very end, which is something that feels jarring, as if it was added via reshoots at a later time.) Still, I had a good enough time watching the film and I don't regret spending my time on it. It's not a stinker but it's not a home run.
Plot: Fed up with being single on holidays, two strangers agree to be each other's platonic plus-ones all year long, only to catch real feelings along the way.
I am shocked at how much I enjoyed Holidate, especially considered the factors working against it. After all, the director was also responsible for Deck the Halls, and the screenwriter has nothing much of worth to her name. But, lo and behold, I laughed heartily and frequently from the beginning, and was enjoying it so much that I almost didn't want it to end. The secret weapon of this movie is Australian actor Luke Bracey, who's allowed to play a brash Australian; his bantering and one-liners are hilarious, and he's allowed to be masculine and confident which is a refreshing thing in the 2020s. Indeed, the script doesn't seek to humiliate or emasculate him, and he almost always comes out on top when bantering with Emma Roberts. Wow! Also helping is the R rating, which allows for colourful language and profanity - some of the sexually explicit dialogue made me laugh heartily, and is not the type of thing I normally expect to hear in a rom-com. The surface-level attributes of the production are strong, to boot; it looks slick and lovely in 4K HDR on Netflix, with vibrant visuals, and each season and event takes on a different look in terms of lighting and colour palette, which is something else I didn't expect from a rom-com like this. It is predictable and clichéd, of course, and the outcome of the story is not surprising in any way, but the movie is so much fun that it hardly matters. In this sense, it feels like a rom-com from the '90s or early 2000s, as opposed to something from 2020. All in all, I glad I gave this one a watch and I could see myself watching it again.
Plot: On Christmas Eve, bitter old miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by spirits who aim to show him the error of his ways and repent for his wrongdoings.
I'm reasonably sure that the number of adaptations of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol number in the thousands by now, and yet we still manage to get a new film or television series adaptation every year or so. I had little-to-no-hope for 2022's Scrooge: A Christmas Carol, which is Netflix's new animated retelling of the oft-repeated story but is actually, surprisingly, presented as more of a remake of the 1970 musical Scrooge instead of another adaptation of the novella. To my surprise, I greatly enjoyed this one. Out of all the versions of A Christmas Carol that I've watched this December, this is my favourite so far. Chief among the movie's strengths is that it doesn't rely on the dry Old English dialogue from the novella, and doesn't repeat the same lines we've heard literally hundreds of times before. Therefore, it's more accessible and flows better than other film adaptations, while also making this a worthwhile version for children to watch. The visual style also deserves a mention, as the animation is truly gorgeous. It's not highly detailed and approaching photorealism like Robert Zemeckis's animated endeavours; rather, it's appropriately stylised, and the visual touches peppered throughout the movie ensure it's a consistently engaging viewing experience. The musical numbers which are interspersed throughout (which are from the 1970 film with Albert Finney) are high-energy and well-executed. It's easy to discern that the creative team were attempting to produce a Pixar-esque retelling of the story, complete with heart and emotion in addition to the colorful character designs. It can't reach the lofty heights of Pixar's best work, but it's an impressive achievement all-round nevertheless, even though it still doesn't necessarily feel essential considering how many times this story has been told. All things considered, however, I'm glad that Scrooge: A Christmas Carol was made and I'm glad I took the time to watch it. I seem to be in the minority with how much I enjoyed it, but that's okay.
Plot: The troubled Vuillard family is no stranger to illness, grief, and banishment, but when their matriarch requires a bone-marrow transplant, the estranged clan reunites just in time for Christmas.
I believe that A Christmas Tale is officially the last "big hitter" Christmas movie that has been on my list for years and years. I believe it first came across my radar over 10 years ago, but I never got to it until now. Frankly, however, I expected something better. I wouldn't say that this is a bad movie per se, but it is an agonizingly long one at 2.5 hours - and it was a slog to get through. It's only intermittently involving, and I still sometimes struggled to keep tabs of the characters despite how much time we spend with them. It has a strong opening act before it gives over to utter monotony, though the actors do give it their all and it still looks lovely from an aesthetic standpoint. The Christmas setting is somewhat incidental as this is mainly a story about a sick matriarch bringing her family together, and it's easy to see why the marketing department played up the Christmas angle - to get more suckers like me to watch it. I checked my watch consistently while watching it, and I don't feel inclined to watch it again or add it to my annual rotation.
Plot: Three heartwarming Christmas stories featuring your favourite Disney characters.
I wasn't aware that this one existed, and only found it while browsing for Christmas titles on Disney+. Running for scarcely an hour, and brought to life with the same spirited 2D animation that defines Disney titles of this era, Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas is a festive delight. Three short stories are presented here which involve iconic Disney characters, and each story has something worthwhile to say about the spirit of the holidays. I smiled throughout the majority of the runtime, and the stories are often touching without becoming overly cloying. It's surprising that this was designed as a straight-to-video title, as it has the gravitas and style of a big-screen animated feature, but I guess the short runtime precluded it from being sent to cinemas. (It's almost a shame they didn't add one more story to beef up the runtime - but, then again, a potential fourth story might have been below-par, so I'm happy with what we have.) Since there are three stories, pacing is not an issue and we move onto the next segment before a story is given the chance to become boring. I can definitely see myself rewatching Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas in future years.
Plot: A horror film that depicts St. Nicholas as a murderous bishop who kidnaps and murders children when there is a full moon on December 5.
Saint is, I believe, the first time that Christmas traditions in the Netherlands have been explored and depicted in a feature film. And this occurs within the context of a gory horror movie, rather than a more traditional festive flick designed to get you in the Christmas spirit. I mean, not even the well-meaning Claus Family movies faithfully portrayed the Dutch festive season, instead relying on the Americanized depiction but filtered through a European lens. Anyway, Saint is a damn good horror movie in its own right; it's atmospheric and nicely executed, with strong special effects and gory kill scenes. The lore and mythology pertaining to Sinterklaas is extremely intriguing, making this a nice break from the normal festive horror movies featuring a killer wearing a Santa Claus outfit. The film is also short and sweet, coming in at a scant 86 minutes including credits. The scope is slightly restricted which is understandable as this isn't a major production, and it leaves you wanting to see more of this world and the demonic Sinterklaas who emerges for a killing spree whenever a full moon occurs on the night of December 5th. I can't say the character work is exactly strong, and the character of Goert is a bit of a cliché, but we aren't looking for a reinvention of the horror genre here. It won't put you in the Christmas spirit, but I enjoyed Saint and would gladly watch it again.
Plot: More animated stories featuring Mickey and the gang which are all about the spirit of Christmas and opening your heart.
With the success of Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas in 1999, it's unsurprising that a sequel followed a few years later. Another straight-to-video title, Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas actually presents each story with 3D animation as opposed to the more traditional hand-drawn Disney style. It does take some adjusting, and the animation is very primitive given that this is a made-for-video animated film from the early 2000s, but it still works - only just. The characters still carry their classic appearances and the voice cast remain rock-solid right down the line. The stories are similar to the first movie in the sense that they reinforce heartwarming messages about the meaning of the Christmas season and the importance of being fundamentally good to others. I didn't find the stories as funny or as touching in this sequel; the opening segment is a bit rocky, in particular. But it still has heart and I enjoyed the movie for the most part - plus, it's short and sweet.
Plot: An angel comes to Earth to help a preacher save his church and his family.
A '90s remake of The Bishop's Wife (which was part of last year's Christmas movie lineup), this festive movie from late director Penny Marshall is packed with heart and heartwarming messages, but suffers from an unnecessarily overlong running time. The surface details of The Preacher's Wife are undoubtedly lovely, as the cast is sensational and the cinematography is frequently beautiful, not to mention there's ample Christmas imagery to put you in the Christmas spirit. The songs, too, are certainly enjoyable, including some singing by the late great Whitney Houston. It's a worthwhile story which acknowledges the work done by the titular preacher, but emphasises the importance of putting family first and approaching the work with more sincerity. However, despite running at over two hours, I felt that the final transformation happened almost without the audience and should have received more development. This is rushed in order to get to the final 20 or so minutes in the church, with the climactic speech and musical numbers which are a bit much. Nevertheless, despite the movie's shortcomings, I enjoyed watching The Preacher's Wife and I'm glad to have another Christmas title crossed off my list.
Plot: Over six years, the Moody family gather for Christmas in Sydney, Australia.
I've been meaning to watch this one for several years, especially since I wrote a script for an Australian Christmas movie, but, due to my prevailing interest in films, it was not a priority. As it turns out, however, A Moody Christmas was perfect viewing for my Christmas Eve, and I gladly binged all six episodes in a single sitting. Rather than building up to a single Christmas like a movie would do, each half-hour episode of A Moody Christmas is set on Christmas, showing the Christmas Day festivities for another year. In other words, it cuts right to the chase and I greatly appreciated how refreshing that felt. The attention to detail is staggering here, from the decor of a typical Australian home, to the types of festive decorations we expect to see, and even the costume choices (lots of thongs and sandals, one character has white joggers and white socks all the time, and the daggy Christmas outfits ring true). The show always feels authentic, and incorporates many of my country's holiday traditions, from carols in the park to wearing paper crowns from bonbons at Christmas lunch, and all manner of alcoholic beverages complete with stubby holders. The characters also feel real, though some characters are somewhat archetypal and broad by design. The narrative through-line relates to Dan Moody, who flies from London to Sydney every Christmas to dutifully visit his immediate family, and has feelings for Cora, who is often in a relationship with his cousin. The progression of the family throughout the years is fun to see, and I grew extremely attached to the characters and invested in their personal lives - by the end, I knew their names and felt like I came to know them as people, rather than characters. How fortunate, then, that I still have an additional eight episodes about this family to watch in the new year. Some aspects of the story don't sit right, include an awkward side plot involving a homeless person who steals from the family without consequences, not to mention Annie Maynard's Ukrainian accent is cartoonish at best, but the show still has far more successes than failures. It's funny and touching, and accurately depicts what life is like in Australia during the Christmas period. I can't wait to buy the DVD and watch it again.
Plot: The Groundhog tells the story of how, for once, Jack Frost became human, and helped a knight win his lady love.
I finished off last year's Christmastime viewings with a Rankin/Bass TV special, so it felt only appropriate to sneak another one in on Christmas Eve this year - especially since I hadn't watched any Rankin/Bass this year. I would say that 1979's Jack Frost is another Rankin/Bass "big hitter" that I probably should've sought out some time ago, and it's nice to finally cross it off my list after so many years. A stop-motion animated television special from the late 1970s, this is another charming and often amusing Rankin/Bass production which recounts another age-old Christmas tale based on folklore. The animation is not impressive by 2022's standards, and it might not be accessible to those accustomed to the slick, polished computer animation of current year, but the accomplishment for the time remains laudable - especially given the optical effects to make Jack appear transparent, or the effects when things are frozen. I also liked the voice cast (I can see why Chris Pine was cast to voice Jack in 2012's Rise of the Guardians - he sounds similar to the voice actor here), and the narrative being told by a groundhog is utterly adorable. It's still somewhat dated, but this iteration of Jack Frost is still a good watch; it's better than the '90s Michael Keaton movie, and it's better than the dreadful horror film reimagining.
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