Last year I was binging Christmas movies, and I came to the realization that virtually no supposed Christmas movies are actually about Christmas. Meaning there’s an entire genre out there dedicated to the holiday celebrating the birth of Christ… that rarely ever even mention the birth of Christ. I wound up developing a highly-scientific Christmasyness Scale (shown below), and I ranked all of my binged movies in order from most-to-least Christmasy. You can read all about it here in last year’s Christmas Movie Blog Post. In the end, I realized that every Christmas movie from last year DID have one thing in common: trying to do good in the world and establish traditions despite family drama. Will the same thing be true this year? Let’s find out!
But first, here’s that scale again:
- Christian Christmas: Most-Christmasy! Movie is about the birth of Jesus. Partial credit for mentioning or featuring the nativity, or going to church to celebrate.
- Pagan/Old-time Christmas: Plenty of our current Christmas traditions and beliefs have more to do with local cultural beliefs that existed before Christian missionaries showed up. Winter solstice traditions such as carolers and yule logs, local folklore like old-timey Santa Clauses, and other stuff is as ingrained in the current holiday as the actual nativity. So big points for being about these old beliefs. Partial credit for mentioning them or being about a modernized version of them.
- Modern Christmas: Plenty of atheists and other non-Christians celebrate Christmas and skip over the Jesus part. So big points if the movie is about these actual celebrations, such as a whole movie about people meeting up with their families and exchanging gifts. Partial credit for tangential mention.
- Wintertime: Tons of these movies are about something completely and totally unrelated to Christmas, but just happens to be around Christmas time. This may be about winter elements (snow, sledding, etc) but not necessarily. Often Wintertime movies could really be happening at any time of year, but just happen to be in December, thus get shoehorned into your Christmas movie lists.
- Arbitrary Christmas deadline: I don’t know why this is a prevalent theme, but it is. Completely non-Christmas plot, except that XYZ HAS to happen before Christmas!
And now on to… The Movies! In Order from Most to Least Christmasy…
1. Miracle in Motor City
Am I in shock that the Lifetime channel Motown Christmas movie is this year’s easy winner for most-Christmasy? Absolutely. It seemed like such a stretch. And, frankly, I had zero intention of watching it. But one night when I turned on my TV, it was set to Lifetime already (I leave it on for my dog sometimes), and I was shocked to be faced with Smoky Robinson IN A CHURCH SINGING SILENT NIGHT. These first few seconds of content were already a thousand times more Christmasy than anything else I’d watched so far. But it’s just one song. So I clicked to restart the movie, and yet again, BOOM, got hit by waves of legit Christian-Christmas content. First up, a lady (Amber, our protagonist) is telling her foster daughter all about holiday traditions as they decorate a Christmas tree (so bonus points for Pagan/Old-timey Christmas). Then we are in a church where the pastor semonizes (paraphrased) “We are two weeks out from Christmas. What do you think Mary was doing two weeks before her due date? What was she doing to prepare for her miracle? And what are YOU doing with these two weeks to prepare for Jesus’ coming?” Holy cow, guys. That’s SUPER on point. The rest of the film weaves together 3 main co-plots, some more Christmasy than others. Plot 1: Our heroine Amber volunteers to lead the church’s Christmas pageant, whose proceeds are desperately needed to pay for a new church roof, and she winds up promising to that Motown great Smokey Robinson will perform. This subplot racks up some more Christian-Christmas points for being about a church, referencing the nativity, and lots of references to the song Silent Night (the most sacred of all Christmas songs, IMO) and what it’s about about. But mostly it results in lots of talking about Motown, which is pretty off-track. They try to tie it together by talking about how the Motown Christmas Album was a big part of Amber’s Christmas traditions growing up in Detroit, but it’s kinda weak. The next subplot is, of course, romantic. Amber’s ex-boyfriend comes back to down from New Orleans to help with the Smokey search, and, unsurprisingly, they fall back in love. The third plot is about Ambert bonding with her foster daughter, then deciding by the end to adopt her. These last two subplots are mostly used to help introduce tons of Modern Christmas elements: Christmas tree shopping and decorating, decorating the house, baking cookies, etc. But even through they don’t explicitly say it, in the end these two plots are pretty clearly meant to be a paralell for the virgin birth from the bible. Amber winds up with a whole new family at the end, but didn’t come by it in the traditional way that she had planned (find a man, marry him, have sex with him, become pregnant and pop out babies). Right after finishing this movie, I listened to my own pastor’s sermon, when she said the advent is a time to be quiet and listen to what God’s trying to tell us, and Smokey uses a very similar line in this film to guide our romantic lead as he ponders whether he can be a musician and a family man simultaneously. All that being said, this movie was not very good as far as movies go. But if you want some actual Christmas messaging in your Christmas movie, this is a clear winner.
2. The Bishop’s Wife
I was on the fence between rating this film super high, or rating it super low (I had the same debate when considering Santa Jaws). Bishop’s Wife was pitched to me last year as being an actual Christian-Christmas movie. But honestly, I was tempted to bestow this one a lowly Wintertime rating for most of the film. The plot happens in December, so we see Christmasy stuff like Xmas trees and decorated shop windows. And the whole story is about an angel who comes to help a bishop’s family, so it’s got Christian stuff. But we don’t really start addressing Christian Christmas until the very end, when we go to church on Christmas eve. At this point, the bishop gives a sermon that gets right into the heart of the matter: He says we always focus on presents at Christmas time. “All the stockings are filled. All that is except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. A stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we are celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that. Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then let each one put in his share. Loving kindness … warm hearts … and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.” And BOOM! All of a sudden this became a very solid Christian Christmas movie. Before this scene, the angel spends most of the movie going around and convincing people to be nice to each other and generally spreading joy. But it’s not until the ending here where we spell out the very-Jesusy Christmas connection.
3. Bernard and the Genie
Okay, I had never heard of this movie before, but it was easily my absolute favorite movie from this binge, so big thanks to the fellow who nominated it! It’s also the toughest one to explain here, because I don’t want to give spoilers. In short, just trust me that this movie ranks VERY Christmasy and falls into the Christian Christmas category. I was even debating ranking this as THE MOST CHRISTMASY MOVIE, but held back for a reason I can’t explain due to spoilers. It takes a while before we get to the part of the story that elevates this from what would have been a Wintertime rating, but when it hits, it’s freaking awesome. Also, FWIW, this movie had the most clever story and some of the funniest moments. The humor definitely isn’t for everyone (it relies heavily on the over-the-top performance of Lenny Henry juxtaposed against typically dry weird British humor (provided by legend Rowan Atkinson and at-the-time-unknown Alan Cumming). It’s also a low-budget 1991 production, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
PAGAN / OLD-TIMEY CHRISTMAS
4. A Boy Called Christmas
Finally, FINALLY, we get a movie at the heart of it all- a Christmas origin story! This movie is all about a young child who brought peace and joy to the world. And the boy’s name? Jesus Ch- Wait, no, sorry, scratch that. The boy’s name was Nikolas. Ok, so this isn’t the story of Christian Christmas. It’s the story of how Santa Clause came to be. But hey, it’s nice to finally get a movie about Saint Nicholas, the 3rd century Greek bishop who- No, wait, scratch that. This isn’t the real Santa origin story. This is a randomly made up story about a Finnish kid (with a smoking hot father) who finds some magical toy-making elves and a magic reindeer and eventually decides to use his new friends to drop toys on people. I’m not gonna lie, I find most kids’ movies super boring and this was no exception. And I think it was pretty silly to make up a new origin story for Christmas that circumvents both the Jesus-origin story and the St Nicholas story. But, if you’re going to skip Christian elements of Christmas (which almost every Christmas movie does), then this actually checks a bunch of boxes. It’s a cute creative take on Santa Clause that we haven’t seen before, and that frames the consumer-driver gift-giving holiday in a way that re-grounds our gift-receiving tradition in love and wonder instead of materialism. It gives us a much more wholesome and “realistic” explanation of the Santa and elves fantasy than the crap Montgomery Ward and Coca Cola have come up with. So this is a solid Pagan/ Old-Timey Christmas rating that comes surprisingly close to the Jesus story.
I had to watch this movie for the binge because it has BILL HADER! Not to mention other talented big hitters like Anna Kendrick, Julie Hagerty, and Shirley MacLaine. That is a LEGIT amazing cast. This movie follows the exact plotline you would expect. Santa (Bill Hader) doesn’t want to be Santa and bounces to Arizona, his sister (Noelle) tries find him, hilarity ensues, and in the end the sister becomes the real Santa and everyone learns the true meaning of Christmas- The Birth of Jes- no, wait… According to this movie, the true meaning of Christmas is caring about others. “I know Christmas can’t solve all of our problems, but it gives us hope. It inspires us to be nice… Presents are a part of it… But now I think it’s not just about the presents we get but the presents we give, the presents of love and understanding. And Also iPads.” You’ve seen this movie a million times already in various iterations, but this one’s better cuz Santa scores herself a hot dude at the end! Anyway, this movie has exactly ZERO nativity content, but is entirely based on Santa, hence it falls into the Pagan/Old-Time Christmas category. And it has tons of Modern Christmas content (mostly related to gift-giving). So this ranks pretty high.
6. Miracle on 34th Street (original)
This movie is all about saying goodbye to the commercialism of Christmas and finally return to the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jes- no, wait, sorry, I got that wrong. The true meaning of Christmas is, according to the movie, making sure kids get toys while believing in made-up shit. It’s basically a giant commercial for Macy’s. It’s super meta. I haven’t watched this film in a long time and don’t recall liking it as a kid, but I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty solid as a movie for adults. There’s a bunch of alcohol abuse, there’s a veiled reference to a potentially abusive or maybe just deadbeat husband, there’s a dude who gaslights his neighbor by lecturing her on how she should parent, and then they fucking buy a house together ONE MONTH later, there’s a lot of fat shaming, there’s political corruption in the justice system, and there’s the institutionalization of the mentally ill. Christmas funtime for the whole family! Hurraaaay! But how did it do on the Christmas scale? The entire movie centers on Santa Clause, which means it falls into the Pagan/Old-Timey Christmas category. it also leans heavily into the Modern Christmas category, with lots of focus on Christmas shopping, shopping-mall santa, and meal with family. And that’s about it.
Believe it or not, I had never seen this movie before. Elf is yet another movie about someone/something from the north pole coming to the US and hilariously interacting with humans. In this case, Buddy the Elf is a human who was adopted by and raised with elves and is off to meet his human birth father. The beginning of the film is very funny. We of course get plenty of santa-related content, especially towards the beginning, and we have at least two scenes that focus heavily on Christmas trees, so I’m rating this movie Pagan/Old-Timey Christmas. When buddy wanders into a department store we of course get to see the Modern Christmas traditions of mall Santas and commercialism. And I’ll even give some Modern Christmas points for some pretty funny claymation characters (claymation Christmas flicks being a kinda creepy staple of my youth). But frankly, I think the Christmas content basically stops there. We have a couple wintertime scenes (snowball fight and ice skating) which are of course not Christmas. And at the end we of course learn the true meaning of Christmas, which is belief in Jesu- no, sorry, wait- which is belief in Santa Claus.
8. Christmas Under Wraps
This is the most Hallmark-movie movie ever. I watched it immediately after watching A Clüsterfünke Christmas, and every single Hallmark Christmas movie trope was present here. DJ Tanner leaves her career in the big city to go to a small town in Alaska where everyone’s entire existence is based on Christmas cheer. There she falls for Santa Clause’s sexy son and decides to abandon all her dreams and ambitions for a Christmas-centered small town life. (Sidenote: there’s a weird theme in tis year’s films where Santa’s loved ones are hot dudes: hot boyfriend in Noelle, hot dad in A Boy Called Christmas, and hot son here in Christmas Under Wraps). Anyhoo… this movie was dumb, but it ranks in the Pagan/ Old-Timey Christmas category just because it’s about Santa and there’s a Christmas tree. Throw in other basic holiday Modern Christmas themes like gingerbread houses and garlands and… oh, I think that might be about it. The truth is this is just your standard stupid wintertime romance, but throwing the santa thing in there bounces it up a level.
9. Single All the Way
I was surprised that I didn’t hate this movie, and even more surprised to be ranking it this high! Thi plot centers on one of the most ridiculous and prevalent romantic Christmas movie tropes: being SINGLE on Christmas! I have no idea why this concept has crept into so man modern Christmas movies. Is this really a thing? Do people specifically NEED to have a love interest on December 26th? Are families out there really putting THIS much pressure on their 20-30-something year old kids?! And isn’t Christmas kinda the WORST time to introduce a brand new love interest anyway? This always bugs me so much in movies that I figured I would hate this movie, too. Alas, I did not! The actual romance in the center of the plot was touching, but frankly pretty dull. But it was till a pretty funny and sweet film where I found myself laughing a lot more heartily than I’d expected. AND… I’ve declared it pretty dang Christmasy! I’m ranking this movie Modern Christmas because it’s about the Christmas tradition of heading home to be with family to exchange presents and decorate trees. I was trying to put my finger on why I felt so different about this film than I did about Love Hard, which also featured a romance at home over Christmas. And I think CHristmas was just much more realistically integrated in this film than in Love Hard (which, as you’ll see below, could have happened at any time and used Christmas mostly as a backdrop). What earns this film the most bonus points, though, is that it has an actually nativity pageant that is pretty dang central to the plot! Those are HUGE Christian Christmas points! The nativity pageant was a big enough plot point that I considered pushing this film all the way up into the Christian Christmas category. But the theme of the movie wasn’t really about Jesus and the importance of his birth or anything like that, so it didn’t make it quite that high.
10. Deck the Halls
I primarily selected this movie because it has a WHOPPING 6% SPLAT RATING on Rotten Tomatoes, so I knew it had to be good! I assumed it was an early 90’s flick based on the general goofy feel, but scrambled to look up the release date when modern stars like Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat and SNL’s Fred Armisen popped up on the screen in minor roles. 2007!!! Anyway, this movie wasn’t exactly oscarworthy, but I’m kinda surprised it rated SO low. It was a pretty standard sparring rivals movie from start to finish. Frank from Always Sunny in Philadelphia moves in nextdoor to Ferris Beuller and decides to go overboard with his tacky Christmas decorations. Ferris Bueller prefers classy tradition and gets mad. Things escalate. Standard fare. I was kinda grossed out by some of the outdated mysogenistic humor (Boobs?! YoWzA!!!) but otherwise it was fine. How Christmasy was it? This was a very solid Modern Christmas. The whole movie revolves around the modern christmas tradition of decorating with lights. There was a single mention of Jesus, so it gets a single bonus point for Christian Christmas. So far (8 movies into the binge) this may be the ONLY Jesus reference so far!!! Ferris Beuller screams out the blasphemous exclamation “JESUS!” in anger, then when everyone looks at him in surprise he holds up his caroling song book and starts to sing a Christmas hymn that I don’t know. There’s also AAAAALMOST a reference to the advent! THE ADVENT! Ferris Beuller pulls out a calendar that counts down to Christmas and you reveal a new thing every day, but… he doesn’t call it an advent calendar. He specifically names it something else that I can’t remember. These two tiny references are what put this stupid movie so high up the list ahead of all the other Modern Christmas movies. Oh well. If this remains the only Christian Christmas reference of the year, well… gotta say that’s a pretty poor showing.
If you’re unfamiliar, this is an 80’s modernization of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starring Bill Murray. It starts off hilarious but eventually drops off. We begin the same way that Miracle on 34th Street and Krampus start off- by highlighting everything that is wrong with Modern Christmas. The way we use it for commercial gain, and continually forget about the true meaning of Christmas, which is the birth of Jes- no, wait… which is generally being nice to people. Scrooge’s intro begins with highlighting how the entertainment industry cashes in on the holiday season with ridiculous movies that have nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas (DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?!?!). A bunch of ghosts visit the exec and show his snippets of various people’s Christmases over the years, and eventually he stops being a Scrooge. It feels kinda weird to stamp this one as Modern Christmas when it is directly based on 19th century literature, but that’s what it is. It does grab some bonus points for mentioning some Pagan/Old-Timey elements: yule logs (Yule love it!), Santa (The Night the Reindeer died), etc. But mostly we’ve got modern Christmas elements: random Christmas song albums, gift exchanges, office holiday parties, Christmas trees (or lack thereof), family get togethers (or lack thereof), and, of course, classic Dickens.
12. A Christmas Movie Christmas
That title is not a typo! The romantic TV Christmas-Themed Romance Movie Industry has gone meta this year. A chick who loves TV Christmas romances wakes up INSIDE a Christmas movie! It’s the same basic concept as Isn’t It Romantic or Lost in Austen, but with one major difference: we’re already inside a TV Christmas movie. We’ve gone Christmas Movie Inception with this one. Plenty of the self-depricating humor here lands perfectly. My favorite: tons of references to “The City” as some sort of mysterious far away demon land. Runners-up: A completely random adorable child, a holiday festival that needs to be saved, a town who’s whole economy seems to center on giving away holiday-related goods and services, and a rival love interest from The City who arrives to ruin the smalltown Christmas festival with her modern Big City ways instead of focusing in on the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jes- no, wait, sorry, I meant the true meaning of Christmas: finding a boyfriend in an adorable setting while wearing cute yet modest sweaters. But there’s so much more I think this film could have done if this TV Christmas romance wasn’t stuck within the confines of its own TV Christmas sheen. The protagonist already looks like a Hallmark Movie actress back in the real world, and there are no jokes about how weird it is that nobody looks cold or fully bundled walking around the winter wonderland. How to rate this one? I’m gonna go Modern Christmas, with a Pagan/Old-Timey bonus point for having a santa claus (I think?) I’m mainly going Modern Christmas because the whole film is ABOUT the Modern Christmas tradition of bad Christmas movies. Of course its full of shit like baking Christmas cookies and making gingerbread houses, spending time with grandparents, and apparently attending Christmas festivals. It’s also got heavy Wintertime elements, such as the constant references to hot cocoa.
13. A Clüsterfünke Christmas
First: this movie is HILARIOUS. I laughed very loudly many, many, MANY times. From the comedic genius minds of Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer comes a 100% perfect parody of every Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s everything that A Christmas Movie Christmas COULD have been, if executed by people with actual talent. And just like that movie, I’m rating this one Modern Christmas entirely because it’s based on the modern tradition of bad Christmas movies. But I’m ranking it slightly lower than its subpar wannabe cousin because it’s less well-intentioned, which means less in the Christmas spirit. I would list out individual holiday elements here, but, let’s be real; nobody is watching this movie for the Christmas content.
14. 8 Bit Christmas
This movie isn’t about Christmas. It’s about a kid who wants a toy. Most of this story could have happened at pretty much any time, but there’s enough Christmas-specific content that I’ll go ahead and give it a kinda weak Modern Christmas rating. It’s wintertime in the late 80’s, which means all the kids want Nintendos and Cabbage Patch kids for Christmas. They engage in a Christmas wreath-selling competition to win their favorite toy. They go to the mall. They talk to a Salvation Army Santa Clause. And on Christmas morning, the family gathers to exchange presents. In the end, they all learn the true meaning of Christmas- the birth of Jes- No, wait, scratch that. In this movie the true meaning of Christmas is fresh air and fathers.
15. Mixed Nuts
So… uh… a French friend nominated an 80’s French movie called Le père Noël est une ordure, but unfortunately I could not find it anywhere. But imagine my delight when I turned on a random Steve Martin Christmas movie and soon realized this was an American remake of my friend’s French movie! The opening credits were promising! Steve Martin rides his bike to work through a SoCal CHristmas, with jolly Christmas music playing as we travel along the palm-trees of a SoCal beach on Christmas Eve. We even pass a chalk drawing of a classing Courier and Ives winter scene that I just so happened to have used for my Christmas cards this year, so I was excited. This movie also has one of the absolute most amazing comedic casts in history: Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, Madeline Kahn, Liev Schreiber, Parker Posey, John Stewart, Adam Sandler, Rob Reiner, Juliette Lewis, Anthony LaPaglia, Robert Klein, Gary Schandling, Steven Wright, and even supposedly Haley Joel Osmond (though I don’t remember his role). Sounds INCREDIBLE, right?! Wrong! One of the worst movies ever made. Easily the most squandered casting to ever cross the silver screen. But more importantly… How Christmasy was this Christmas movie? Well… On the one hand, it (supposedly) deals very heavily with one of the most pervasive elements of the holidays: depression. Our films centers around a suicide prevention hotline, and people call in feeling depressed. We also have Santa Clause, Christmas trees, exchanging of presents, fruit cakes, Christmas carols, and getting together with family and/or loved ones for holiday feasts. The movie wasn’t really ABOUT any of these elements, and frankly you cuold have just dropped a couple references and had it happen at any other time of the year, so it’s tempting to rate this Wintertime. BUT… I think with proper execution (which this did not have!) it’s in a way almost the MOST Christmasy. Because at its heart, its meant (I think) to be a dark comedy about the the modern holiday season and all that entails, good or bad. I’m giving this one a pretty weak Modern Christmas rating.
16. Reindeer Games
This is the only movie I paid money for (at least so far)! Who doesn’t love a good Christmas-themed thriller/ action movie? This movie is dumber than I remember, but it’s just as ridiculously entertainer as I remember. The cheesy dialogue, the convoluted-yet-obvious twists, the explosions, the way-too-talented-for-this-garbage cast, etc. Oh what fun! But is it a Christmas movie? Not really. This film is mostly Wintertime. It honestly could have happened at any time of the year, as it was more about a casino robbery than about Christmas. There’s plenty of general winteryness about. We’re in northern Michigan in December, so we have to go shopping for winter coats (while wearing a miniskirt and no hats???), lots of references to being cold, frozen ponds complete with ice fishing, and drinking a bunch of hot cocoa. However, it leans very heavily into the few small Christmas elements that it did have, so I’m putting it pretty high amongst the Wintertime movies. Specifically, we’re talking tons of Santa content (so Pagan/Old-Timey Christmas), Christmas music (especially repeated use of The Little Drummer boy, which was problematic for me as this movie sent me to the Loser Lounge just 1 week into the LDB challenge), depiction of a Christmas Eve celebratory feast (of sorts), people planning to spend Christmas with their loved ones (sort of), and the very Christmas-spirit concept of generously being kind and giving to strangers. All of which comes together into a general concept of Modern Christmas.
17. Love Hard
This was the first movie of this year’s binge! We watched it when it came out in mid-November, mostly becasue it stars Jimmy O. Yang. Yang plays arguably the funniest character in Silicon Valley (close tie with Zach Woods), so I was very excited to see him in a lead role. I am bit grumpy at the moment, though, because WhatsOnNetflix.com doesn’t even list him in the cast!!! He’s the ONLY reason I watched this shit! Anyway… Love Hard is about a girl who surprises her online boyfriend for Christmas, only to find out that she’s been catfished. Hilarity ensues, and eventually she learns the true meaning of Christmas- the birth of Jes- no, wait… celebrating the solstice- no, wait… spending time with loved ones… no, wait… FINALLY GETTING A BOYFRIEND SQUEE! This movie was a giant mixed bag of very very very very stupid crap (someone throws a surprise engagement party the day after a proposal, and the blog editor flies across the country to check up on her by surprise, just like in the real world), some solid jokes (their duet of Baby It’s Cold Outside was a highlight), and one detail that made me ignore all the film’s shortcoming because I was sooo in agreement (our main character HATES Henry David Thoreau, for all the same reasons that I do. Someone read my diary.) Anyhoo… This movie falls most squarely into the Wintertime category, as the basic idea of meeting your catfish could have happened at any time. It also flirts with dropping down into the Arbitrary Christmas Deadline category because her editor (she is a successful columnist for a blog, where her only job is writing about her bad dates. hahahaha!) is pressing her to produce her latest article asap, but I don’t think he actually set Xmas as the deadline. Some wintertime content: bobsledding, and generally being in a snowy place (Lake Placid, where this stupid idiot arrived wearing a miniskirt). There is plenty of Pagan/Old-Timey and Modern Christmas content thrown in, like caroling and Christmas trees.
18. Just Friends
I didn’t recall this movie being billed as a Christmas movie at any point, so was surprised when someone nominated it (twice!) for review. This movie stars People Magazine’s Tied-For-Third Sexiest Man Alive (according to the analysts at Helga Without the H Dot Com) Ryan Reynolds as a dweeby teen in a fat suit who returns to his hometown 10 years later as a super sexy and successful misogynist. This return just so happens to be at Christmas time, which means there’s plenty of Christmasy stuff going on in the background. But the movie doesn’t pretend to be about Christmas (we don’t even get a cheesy line like “And if you can’t say ‘I love you’ at Christmas, when can you?” or whatever like in Love Actually). This film could have easily happened at any time of the year, so I’m placing it very squarely in the Wintertime category (in other words, not a Christmas movie). The movie even has a pretty lengthy ice hockey scene which is both very funny, and also very wintery-instead-of-Christmasy. HOWEVER… of the 11 movies I’ve watched so far, this is the ONLY one to actually show people in church (I think it was for a Christmas concert and not for an actual church service, but still…), or to reference the birth of Jesus!!! So it does get a Christian Christmas bonus point. It also has a couple Pagan/Old-Timey Christmas elements like carolers and Santa Clause (er, kinda… we get mostly-naked ladies in Santa lingerie, cuz this is a classy flick). So if I wind up with more Wintertime films, this one will likely be the highest-rated.
19. Santa Jaws
Just like with The Bishop’s Wife, I had a hard time deciding whether to place this super high or super low. In the end… I just couldn’t justify glofying this garbage in any way. Santa Jaws is about a shark names Santa Jaws who wears a santa hat on its fin and has glowing red eyes like Rudolph’s nose. So we’ve got that Santa element of Pagan/Old-Timey Christmas right there. And the story happens when a boy’s family gathers to celebrate Christmas, so there’s your Modern Christmas element. The script is peppered with very dumb but very funny holiday lines like “Ho ho ho, you son of a bitch!” but otherwise, there’s no Christmas in this Christmas movie. This is a very dumb low budget SyFy channel shark attack movie, and they clearly were just cashing in on the Sharnado trend by throwing a hat onto the shark for this one. Full-disclosure, though, I didn’t really pay much attention to this one so maybe there was a nativity tie-in somewhere that I missed (but I doubt it).
20. How to be Single
This is another one that I don’t recall ever being billed as a Christmas movie, but it was the very first movie to be nominated by friends when I asked for suggestions, so I went ahead and watched it. Even after I asked the friend to confirm that it’s a Christmas movie and she replied “not entirely.” “Not entirely” is correct! In fact, not at all, really! I hesitate to even call this one a wintertime movie, and I initially dropped it aaaaaall the way at the bottom in the Not Applicable category. The movie (which starts off ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS but then just gets super dull super fast except when Rebel Wilson appears) follows a handful of single women over the course of a year or so. We know how much time is passing because occasionally there is a holiday or obvious season change in the background. So for about 10 random minutes somewhere in the middle of this movie, it’s Christmas time. We cram a bunch of Christmas elements into these 10 minutes, including office holiday parties, Santa pub crawls, gift exchanges, Christmas tree shopping, and romantic make out sessions in front of other Christmas trees. Actually… I just realized I rated Edward Scissorhands as wintertime when it has even less Christmas content, so… I’ll go ahead and bump this one up to a very shaky Wintertime as well. And even though MOST of the movie was NOT during wintertime, it ranks above Edward Scissorhands because the couple minutes of wintertime scenes packed in more Pagan/Old-Timey Christmas and Modern Christmas bonus points. There was solid potential to include some Virgin Birth references since one of our characters was pregnant via IVF and sperm donor instead of sex, but alas, I don’t think they ever said anything. What a wasted opportunity for a Christian Christmas bonus point.
21. Bridget Jones’ Diary
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I pertty much have it memorized and have seen it more times than I can count. Which means I already knew going in that it was definitely not a Christmas movie. But someone nominated it and I was kinda sick of watching garbage, so I snuggled up for a long-overdue re-watch. Just like How to be Single, Bridget Jones is a comedy that basically uses the Christmas season as a timekeeping device. We follow our heroine for 1 year of her life, starting and ending right around New Year’s. So, just like How to be Single, I think even Wintertime is a stretch. But I’m feeling generous. Despite the Christmastime bookends, there’s very little actual Christmas content. What we do see are ugly holiday sweaters (Modern Christmas), an office Christmas party (also Modern Christmas) and some carolers who are promptly and rudely dismissed (Pagan/Old-Timey Christmas). And… that’s pretty much it. There’s lots of snow, but that’s just winter.
22. Edward Scissorhands
I was surprised when this came up when I searched for Christmas movies. But I hadn’t seen this movie in forever and was curious about how it would hold up. I dunno if you guys knew this already or not, but… the Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp as a recluse with scissors for hands who gets thrown into a pastel suburb is… kinda weird. But fantastic! Christmas content doesn’t really appear until the end, when Scissorhands’ host family are prepping for a Christmas party and shit hits the fan villagers-with-pitchforks style. Right before things go off the rails, our protagonist is chopping away at an ice sculpture, which creates enough frozen shit to fly through the air that it seems like snow. Winona Ryder dances in the fake snow. It’s an absolutely beautiful iconic scene. Meanwhile her dad is staplegunning fake snow to the house. Point is… zero Christmas content. This movie gets a gentle Wintertime rating because of references to snow, and the fact that it’s apparently December. Basically the exact same rating as It’s a Wonderful Life from last year.
ARBITRARY CHRISTMAS DEADLINE
23. A Castle for Christmas
Oh dear. This newest holiday romcom from Netflix was a doozy. There is so much to love-hate in this one. Intro shots of NYC. Cary Elwes doing a terrible Scottish accent (bless his heart). Continuity blunders that cause the leaves to turn from orange to green in the same day. Very dirty inappropriate Scottish slang getting casually slipped into the cute dialogue. Village that consist of nothing but 5 people who sit around and knit in the local inn and have literally nothing else to do except for to immediately welcome with open tartan-covered arms the latest American tourist into their tight inner circle. The role of the titular “castle” (like the center of the entire dang movie) being depicted by a manor. Note that none of this has anything to do with Christmas. And that’s because there is exactly NOTHING Christmas-related in this movie. Except… the fate of the castle depends on a contractual clause that arbitrarily ends ON CHRISTMAS! That’s right, this flick is easily rated Arbitrary Christmas Deadline. So in the last 30 minutes or so we have a random Christmas party and our two sparring lovers wind up loving each other just in time to learn the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jes- no, sorry, wait… the true meaning of Christmas: finding a boyfriend while owning a manor (er, castle) and wearing kilts.
24. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
I actually don’t think I’d seen this movie before. But it popped up in the list when I searched Comcast for “Christmas Movies”, and I love Steve Martin and John Candy, and I knew it was supposed to be a modern classic, so I went for it. The movie begins with the title card “Two Days Before Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving, huh? If I were only watching this for the binge, I would have just turned it off and moved on. But I wanted to watch it anyway, so I went for it. This is very squarely a Thanksgiving movie. Zero Christmas content. I don’t know why it gets listed as Christmas movies in searches, except that it technically counts as a “Holiday” movie and those get used interchangeably sometimes. The closest thing to Christmas content was that there were already Christmas decorations up in the background in some locations. I could see giving this a VERY GENEROUS Wintertime rating. But really it’s more just Not Applicable, so to the bottom of the list it goes.
First, note that I’ve ranked these on a sliding scale instead of assigning a strict YES/NO rating when it comes to Christmasyness. People ask me, “Elga, is XYZ a Christmas movie?” and I answer “It depends on where you want to draw the line?” So where do I draw MY line? In the strictest sense: right after Christian Christmas if I’m being picky. By this metric, virtually all popular Christmas movies (including, yes, ALL of the big classics, plus the entirety of the Hallmark Channel) are not Christmas movies. Using this line, only THREE of this year’s films (and ONE of last year’s films) make the cut. But even most of these are questionable and could go either way. Like yeah, church and nativity are integrated, but not really that integrated.
But if I don’t feel like being a total grouch (and I do not), then I draw the line roughly after Modern Christmas and before Wintertime. I think that’s pretty fair. By this count… well, tons of classics and most of Hallmark channel still don’t make it. But a whopping 15 out of 22 of this year’s films DID! Not too shabby.
How did this year compare to last year? Well, this year I wound up watching way more movies that were never really billed as Christmas movies. Partially this is because I asked for nominations from friends on Facebook, and they suggested all sorts of crazy stuff. And partially this is because Comcast’s algorithm seems a bit over-inclusive. I also wound up watching less guilty-pleasure TV romances than I’d expected, and this is where the juiciest Arbitrary Christmas Deadline movies tend to park. Of the few I did watch, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the elements that pushed them higher up the scale than most; I’m still in shock that the Motown Christmas movie wound up at #1! (Side note: I actually knew someone years ago who is now an actor in a handful of these TV romances, and I searched for his movies in hopes to do a review. This was when I learned that Hallmark channel has an ENTIRE SECOND GENRE of “winter romances” that are SEPARATE from their entire genre of “Christmas romances.” Turns out my acquaintance is in the WINTER movies, which do not play until January! Doh!)
Substantively, this year’s movies were a bit more all over the place in terms of themes, and I think this is largely because this year’s pool included all these not-meant-to-be-Christmas-movies movies. But if you disregard these kinda far-fetched inclusions and focus on just the Christmas-billed films, we narrow focus a bit more.
Last year I came to the following conclusion:
“If you ask Hollywood, apparently, Christmas is about family stress, and it’s about grappling with expectations. It’s about finding our own family traditions, and balancing them against existing traditions. It’s about loving and respecting others. It’s about finding the goodness within ourselves, and sharing this goodness with others. That’s what EVERY SINGLE ONE of these movies was about.”
Some of these movies had these family stress and expectation themes, but nowhere near as much as last year. What I DID see plenty of in this year’s films was the latter part of my conclusion “It’s about finding the goodness within ourselves, and sharing this goodness with others.” I think this applies to pretty much every single movie except maybe Santa Jaws (even Reindeer Games resolved with someone sharing goodness with others!) What was interesting was how most movies referred to some sort of element or concept that is somehow responsible for this love found in our characters. It’s often a belief in something, but almost never is it a belief in Jesus. We’ve got belief in Santa Clause, belief in Christmas spirit, belief in ourselves, belief in our families, belief in fresh air, belief in friends, belief in love, and, of course, belief in the amazing power of wholesome American SMALL TOWNS for some reason.
I’m finishing up this post just a few minutes before I’m about to attend Christmas Eve church service via zoom for the second year in a row. This year’s family festivities fell apart thank to omicron. One household has a covid infection, another got notice last night of close contact with someone with a covid infection, and the third is feeling symptoms. Just 1 week ago we were all so excited to finally be together again, and even go to church. Instead of spending the day playing with my niece by my parents’ tree and looking forward to a weekend of cocoa, pajamas, and board games, I spent the day scrambling to find rapid tests (negative so far, knock on wood!), no-contact-delivering presents from a distance, and coordinating yet another family Zoom session. Last week in (Zoom) church we had a performance of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which of course struck me as odd given it’s not exactly a religious song and it’s frankly a bit of a bummer. But, as our excellent pastor pointed out, sometimes our hallelujahs aren’t super joyful and shouted from the rooftops. Sometimes they’re broken. Sometimes we’re sad, and over-the-top joy that supposed to feel at Christmas is just kinda out of reach. Cheery Christmas movies are a fun escape, sure, but they’re at their most-Christmasy when they go a little dark. When the protagonists are missing family, or feeling shitty, or feeling angry at the world. It’s in this darkness that the light of Christmas (whether you believe that comes from Jesus, or a general feel-good vibe, or the magic of Hallmark channel) reaches us most effectively.
ANYHOO, that took a dark turn! MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!! Drink some cocoa and watch some Hallmark channel and find joy wherever and however you can tonight!