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All posts for the month December, 2014

Collage Created By Jason Jones

Collage Created By Jason Jones

It’s that time of year, when everybody’s coming out with their “Best-Of Lists” and we are adding yet another list to the pile. Welcome to The First Annual NOTTIE AWARDS, our version of the numerous Awards shows that get televised across the planet. Our list varies from other awards, in the fact that we cover the entire year of 2014. The NOTTIE AWARDS, breaks down the year starting with the 2013/2014 season’s conclusion, going through the summer shows as the first half of the year. The second half of the year covers the 2014-2015 Television season, making sure that all performances throughout the year, receive the recognition, they deserve.

As you peruse the list, you’ll notice that all categories have four names, except for two categories; Most disappointing series of the second half’s vacant. The other category that breaks the rule’s the Best Supporting Actor, in the second half, there were far too many outstanding performances to limit that category to just four actors. In all categories, the name listed first and in blue, won the category, the runner-up’s listed second and in red, the third and fourth names are just randomly listed.

All choices were made by Jason Jones and I, all decisions by the Judges are final (Although, We’d Love Your Feed-Back.)

And on to the Awards:

First Half

Best Actor: James Spader-The Blacklist, Tom Mison-Sleepy Hollow, Lee Pace- Halt and Catch Fire, Sean Bean-Legends

Best Supporting Actor: Peter Capaldi-The Musketeers, Walton Goggins-Justified, Jon Voight-Ray Donovan, Tom Felton-Murder in the First

Best Actress: Mackenzie Davis- Halt and Catch Fire, Joelle Carter-Justified, Kerry Bishe- Halt and Catch Fire, Kathleen Robertson-Murder in the First

Best Supporting Actress:  Amy Acker-Person of Interest, Tamla Kari-The Musketeers, Sarah Shahi-Person of Interest,  Marissa Neitling-The Last Ship

Most Disappointing Show: The Leftovers, The Black Box, Resurrection, Power

Best New Show: The Blacklist, Legends, Halt and Catch Fire, Murder in the First

Most Underrated Show: Justified, Supernatural, The Musketeers, Halt and Catch Fire

Best Show: The Blacklist, Person of Interest, Legends, Justified

Second Half

Best Actor: Jeff Daniels-The Newsroom, Ioan Gruffold-Forever, Elyes Gabel-Scorpion, Matt Ryan-Constantine

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Waterston- The NewsroomJohn Noble- Sleepy Hollow, Judd Hirsch-Forever, Misha Collins-Supernatural, Jesse L Martin-The Flash, Mark Sheppard-Supernatural, Michael James Shaw-Constantine, Robert Patrick-Scorpion, Mandy Patinkin-Homeland, Robin Lord Taylor-Gotham, Sean-Pertwee-Gotham, Donal Logue-Gotham, Rupert Friend-Homeland

Best Actress: Claire Danes-Homeland, Anna Gunn-Gracepoint, Emily Mortimer-The Newsroom, Alana De La Garza-Forever

Best Supporting Actress Olivia Munn-The NewsroomJacki Weaver-Gracepoint, Elizabeth Henstridge-Agents of SHIELD, Chloe Bennett-Agents of SHIELD

Most Disappointing Show: None Applicable

Best New Show: Forever, Scorpion, Constantine, Gotham

Most Underrated Show: Constantine, Forever, Scorpion, Sleepy Hollow

Best Show: The Newsroom, Homeland, Person of Interest, Forever

Photo Courtesy Of BBC

Photo Courtesy Of BBC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Before I even started grade-school my parents would ship me off to the local movie theater each Saturday afternoon, mainly to get rid of me for a couple of hours. Although some of the movies were kid-oriented, more often than not the studios produced these pictures for an adult-audience, some of the biggest films of the early sixties as I followed along the best I could. (I clearly remember walking around the house for days, shouting “I Am Spartacus,” until my father threatened to duct tape my mouth shut.) As a side-effect of those excursions, I developed a love for movies that remains with me today.

Many of the movies I saw at that age have faded into the shrouded corners of my memory, sometimes evoked if I see the film again. However, one film and one character made a huge impression on me, “Dr. No,” the movie that brought James Bond portrayed by Sean Connery to the big screen. I left the theater that day awestruck by the movie, but more so by Connery’s performance as 007, a hero that personified the meaning of COOL.  A man that could take a slug from his Vodka Martini take out the bad guy and make out with incredibly sexy women, without mussing his hair.

From that point onward for the next few years I’d see the new James Bond adventure the weekend the movie premiered, entertained by movies like “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger” among others. Although a boatload of stories remained to be told, Connery decided to quit at his prime and in my eyes “the magic” in the Bond films vanished. Roger Moore, paled in comparison and Timothy Dalton, wasn’t even in the same area code as Connery. Although I’ve enjoyed Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig in other vehicles, I’ve never seen them as 007. Mainly because I concluded long ago I’m not a James Bond fan, I’m a “Sean Connery As James Bond Fan.”

Not long after Connery started his run as 007, a television show debuted on the BBC, that went on to become a global phenomenon even thought it’s debut drew very few viewers. The series had the misfortune of premiering on November 22, 1963 the day that American President John F. Kennedy got assassinated, however it was rebroadcast the following Friday and entranced England. That series, “Doctor Who” with William Hartnell in the title role, became a British Institution and 51-years later, the show remains as popular as ever having gone through far more incarnations of The Doctor, than James Bond.

It would stand to reason that being a huge fan of science-fiction and fantasy genre, that I’ve watched the adventures of The Doctor for decades, however even with many friends being big fans of the series the thought of watching the show never appealed to me. Ironically, the same guy that stopped enjoying the James Bond movies, after the first actor to portray the super-spy left the role, it took the actor that show-runner Steven Moffat chose to portray the twelfth Doctor for me to start watching the series. So I can now say I’m not a Doctor Who fan, I’m a “Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who Fan.”

Peter Capaldi first appeared on my radar this past summer, portraying Cardinal Richelieu in the BBC series “The Musketeers,” a series we recapped. He captured the screen and dominated each scene he appeared in as the advisor to the King of France, a man who went to great lengths to see his own agenda become reality. Though a villain in every sense of the word, the Cardinal commanded respect and proved himself as a worthy adversary. So when it came to my attention that Capaldi would soon debut as The Doctor, I naturally chose to see him in the role that I previously knew of only by word of mouth.

To prepare myself to enter The Doctor’s universe, I watched two BBC Productions; the first an entertaining and poignant film entitled “An Adventure Of Space And Time,” which recreated the series creation and William Hartnell’s portrayal of The Doctor, from 1963-1966. I also watched the 5oth Anniversary Special, “The Day Of The Doctor” that featured three incarnations of The Doctor, Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt as the War Doctor. Though realizing it probably was an amazing episode for long time fans, and impressed by the special effects, the story most of the time lost and confused me. In retrospect, I’ve come to understand just how significant the tale is.

There were no such problems as I watched the first episode of Season Eight, entitled “Deep Breath,” perhaps the fact that it was an origin story made it easier to follow. However the main appeal of the episode to me, was the performance as The Doctor, a part as far removed from Cardinal Richelieu as possible. As viewers got to know the Cardinal, it became quite easy to realize which direction he’d take in any situation. The Doctor however is an incredibly mercurial character, he’s liable to go from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds and Capaldi nailed it from the jump.

Moffat’s described The Doctor as a restless sort, who bumbles into situations and reluctantly rectifies them. He doesn’t want the responsibility that a hero shoulders, but he ends up coming through in the end, most times. He’s got an extremely high opinion of himself and an ego to match, Moffat’s also said The Doctor’s perhaps a bit insane, or possibly stark-raving mad. Capaldi embodied those characteristics throughout the eighth season and he’ll display them again on Christmas night, as BBC America broadcasts the Christmas Special, “The Last Christmas.”

I remember at what point in that first episode, when I realized I’d be making The Doctor a regular part of my Saturday nights. The Doctor and his companion Clara, wound up in Victorian England, as The Doctor was coming to grips with his regeneration. He wore an old-fashioned men’s night-shirt and left the house of his host, ending up in an alley rummaging through the garbage that surrounded him. Suddenly he found an old broken mirror on the ground and tried to make it clear enough to see his reflection. At that point, a vagrant holding a bottle entered the alley and purposely made noise to alert The Doctor that he had company, that started the following conversation:

Doctor: It’s Bitey.

Vagrant: Bitey?

Doctor: The Air is Bitey, it’s white, mighty.

Vagrant: It’s Cold.

Doctor: That’s right! It’s cold, I knew there was a thing for it. I need um, I need clothes, that’s what I need. And a big long scarf. No, that would look stupid. Have you ever seen this face before? (pointing to himself)

Vagrant: No.

Doctor: Are you sure?

Vagrant: Sir, I’ve never seen that face before.

Doctor: That’s funny, because I know that I have. You know, I never know where these faces come from, they just pop up. (Vagrant starts to distance himself from The Doctor) Faces like this one, look. (Grabs Vagrant by the arm and takes him to the mirror) Look, look, it’s covered in lines, but I didn’t do the frowning. Did you ever look in the mirror and say to yourself, I’ve seen that face before?

Vagrant: Yes.

Doctor: When?

Vagrant: Well every time I look in the mirror.

Doctor: Yes, yes, but my face is fresh on. (Vagrant distances himself even further from The Doctor.) Why this one though? Why’d they choose this one? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something, like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important, that I can’t tell myself what I’m thinking?

Vagrant: Uh, uh….

Doctor: Well I’m not just being rhetorical here, you can join in.

Vagrant: Well, I don’t like it.

Doctor: What?

Vagrant: Your face.

Doctor: Well I don’t like it either. It’s alright up until the eyebrows, but then it goes haywire. Look at these eyebrows, they’re attack eyebrows. You can take bottle tops off with these!

Vagrant: They’re mighty eyebrows indeed sir!

Doctor: They’re cross, crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross, they’ll probably secede from the rest of my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows. That’s Scotch, have I gone Scottish?

Vagrant: You are definitely Scotch sir. I can hear it in your voice.

Doctor: Oh my, good I’m Scottish. Wait….I’m Scotch, Scotch, I’m Scottish. I can complain about things. I can really complain! Give me your coat.

Vagrant: (looking scared) No.

Doctor: But I’m cold.

Vagrant: But I’m cold.

Doctor: Well no sense in our both being cold, give me your coat. Wait, shut up, shut up. I’ve missed something, something that was here. (Rummages through trash, then grabs a newspaper, camera focuses on article about another victim of spontaneous combustion.) Here’s what I saw, spontaneous combustion!

Vagrant: What kind of  Deviltry is this?

Doctor: They’ll probably blame it on  the English.

It was a brilliantly acted scene and it displayed a lot of the qualities that Moffat said The Doctor possessed. The stories told throughout season eight, showed Capaldi reveling in becoming The Doctor and things like Daleks, Cyber-Men and the Tardis, became more than just meaningless phrases, that I heard from friends, or read about in articles.

I’m pretty certain, that I’ll remain onboard the Tardis, as long as Capaldi stars in the series. Whether I remain with the show after the actor gives way to yet another replacement, I’ll make that decision when that time arrives. At that point, I’ll determine if I’ve become a fan of the series, or remain a “Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who Fan.”

The Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Last Christmas, Debuts Christmas Night at 9:00 pm on BBC America. 

Courtesy of Hallmark and Lifetime

Courtesy of Hallmark and Lifetime

To the casual observer, the Holiday Season (November 1-January 1) is a time to spend with loved ones, splurge on the electric bill and watch those same Classic Christmas movies. Classic is the word that represents the line of demarcation for this discussion. Classic Christmas movies can be the feather in the cap for some actors. It can be the high water mark for their career. Can be, but not necessarily has to be.

All of the notable actors in classics, tend to be actors whose resumes speak for themselves. Jimmy Stewart, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Richard Attenborough, etc. Jimmy Stewart was a household name before It’s A Wonderful Life. As was Chevy Chase (Christmas Vacation wasn’t even the first big hit of the National Lampoon’s franchise). Bill Murray is one of the more accomplished comedic actors of the time, he did not need Scrooged. And just off of recollection, Attenborough at the very least had Jurassic Park. Big names can carry big Christmas movies, no question.

The bigger question is what happens to an actor whose career is not peaking who chooses to do a Christmas movie? And more specifically choose to do a made for TV Christmas movie? In some cases it can catapult an actor or serve as a jolt to an otherwise once promising career that has become stagnate. Peter Billingsley may be the greatest case of how a Christmas movie role can do one of two things. Keep a name relevant long enough that they are able to parlay that into a respectable career (i.e. Peter Billingsley) or it can be the crowning achievement never to be duplicated again (i.e. Macauley Culkin). After starring as Ralphie in A Christmas Story (a movie that was never supposed to be a classic) Billingsley, over time made quite a name for himself. You just never noticed because he wasn’t in front of the camera.

Billingsley has 33 acting credits including A Christmas Story. Essentially, 32 of which would not be impressive by most standards. However, as a producer and even a director, Peter Billingsley has made a nice little career for himself. He has directed Couples Retreat (starring Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, and Jon Favreau) and almost a quarter of the episodes of Sullivan and Son. He has also produced Made (another Vaughn/Favreau film), Zathura, The Break-up, Iron Man, Four Christmases, and has been the executive producer for all 33 episodes of Sullivan and Son. Now, are these comparable to Stephen Spielberg’s resume? No, but for the kid who would shoot his eye out, it’s not bad work. And sure, connect the dots. Much of his work comes from Vince Vaughn or Jon Favreau or both. But in the end, the guy still has to do the job once he gets the job.

Macauley Culkin seems to be the exact opposite. As an exercise (without google or imdb) what was the last meaningful thing you heard Culkin involved with that happened after 1995. I’ll give you the cliff notes. Home Alone-1990, My Girl-1991, Home Alone 2-1992, The Good Son-1993, and the less popular Pagemaster and Richie Rich were both in 1994. Since then, I don’t recognize a single thing short of a cameo on someone else’s show. Maybe Home Alone money is just that good.

On the other side of the spectrum, David Huddleston will probably always be remembered as Santa Claus in the 1985 movie co-starring Jon Lithgow and Dudley Moore. There are a number of versions of A Christmas Carol, half of which can boast the “I remember him from” moment. I can say with some level of confidence that even if George C. Scott had an acting career before or after A Christmas Carol, he will be widely remembered for playing Scrooge. Now once we leave the realm of “Christmas Movie Classics”, the pendulum swings hard in favor of the ‘jump start their careers’ direction.

Two big name examples to consider are Kelsey Grammar and Tim Allen. Kelsey Grammar started out strong, faded and resurged. Wings (TV), Cheers, Frasier, Down Periscope (still one of my favorite 1990s mid budget comedies), Just Shoot Me, Toy Story 2, then the bottom fell out. Bartok The Magnificent, The Sports Pages, 15 Minutes (do you recognize any of those? Ok maybe 15 Minutes). Then our first lead in a made for TV Christmas movie, Mr. St. Nick, followed by A Christmas Carol: The Musical, which was then followed up by a number of cameos and little known small stuff. Then in 2006, Kelsey Grammar was cast as Dr. Henry “Hank” McCoy (otherwise known as Beast) in X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Then as President Andrew Boone in Swing Vote which eventually lead to the leading role of Mayor Tom Kane in the political drama “BOSS”. Reprised role of Beast in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Transformers, Think Like A Man Too, The Expendables 3, and he currently has four projects spanning the next 18 months that are recently completed, post production, or filming. Now at the end of the day, he is still Kelsey Grammar. But at one point, the prevailing wisdom was that Dr. Frasier Crane of Cheers and Frasier fame would be the apex of his short career.

Tim Allen’s struggles had shorter gaps and were allegedly caused by the demons of his own choosing. There were two schools of thought on Tim Allen in the early days. He’s either the biggest stand up turned sitcom actors of the time or once Home Improvement runs it’s course he’ll be thrown out like last week’s trash. While Grammar went from high to low back to high again, Tim Allen has lived most of his career bouncing between pretty good and almost bad. During his Home Improvement days, Tim Allen was smart enough to capitalize on two franchises that would keep him employed long after Home Improvement. One is obvious, the voice of Buzz Lightyear in the Pixar juggernaut Toy Story (1995-2010). The other is the Santa Clause franchise that when from 1994-2006. In between those gems, Tim Allen fluttered in what most would consider to be mediocrity. Jungle 2 Jungle, For Richer or Poorer, Galaxy Quest (which I personally love), Joe Somebody, Big Trouble (not bad if you have the time), Christmas with the Kranks, The Shaggy Dog, Zoom, and Wild Hogs. In Tim Allen’s case, Christmas movies kept his career relevant (along with Toy Story) while he was doing the kind of movies most people would wait to see on video.

As we move along the progression, there is no end to some of these household names who have slummed it in Christmas movies, especially made for TV versions. Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garbor, Anne Heche, Jamie Lee Curtis, Wallace Shawn, Jenny McCarthy, Tom Cavanaugh, Verne Troyer, Larry Miller, Dan Akroyd, Cheech Marin, Lauren Holly, Tom Arnold, Kristin Chenowith, Sam Elliot, and a number of less known names that used made for TV Christmas movies as a tool to start or jump-start their respective careers.

The most intriguing group is those that turned made for TV Christmas movie success into a dramatically improved acting career post-Christmas movie. These will be random so bear with me.

After The Christmas Wish, Neil Patrick Harris took that success and slowly turned it into Undercover Brother, Harold and Kumar. Then starred in The Christmas Blessing opposite Rebecca Gayheart (Felicity) and Rob Lowe. Which promptly became a role in How I Met Your Mother. And since the start of HIMYM, he has leaned heavily on his affection for Broadway starring in many Broadway productions, hosting the Tony’s, winning a Tony, and even having a significant role in a Muppets movie.

Doris Roberts’ success on Everybody Loves Raymond, she transitioned nicely into the role of Mrs. Miracle which she played in three separate movies. And while her career didn’t take the path of NPH, she has stayed busy. I choose to believe due to Christmas movies.

In 2002 a made for TV Christmas movie came out starring William Devane, Meredith Baxter, Dean McDermott, and Aaron Ashmore. Devane took it and ran. The West Wing, Stargate SG-1, 24, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar. Meredith Baxter has continued to work, but nothing I’d call impressive. McDermott who is best known as Tori Spelling’s husband followed up Christmas Visitor with Santa Baby 2 and a myriad of made for TV movies, and TV series’. Most surprising is Aaron Ashmore. The West Wing, Veronica Mars, Fringe, Smallville, Lost Girl and Warehouse 13. Not to mention a number one time engagements on major network dramas.

Following Fred Claus, Paul Giamatti booked the title character in HBO’s John Adams and never looked back. Let’s be honest, Giamatti never needed help scoring roles, but getting John Adams right after Fred Claus is interesting.

After A Season for Miracles, Carla Gugino left the smaller roles as in her work on projects like The Son in Law, Michael and Snake Eyes and transitioned into more substantive roles like Chicago Hope, Sin City, Night at the Museum, American Gangster, Watchmen, Entourage, Californication, Political Animals, and Man of Steel.

A surprising one is Tate Donovan. Before Silver Bells, Tate Donovan was a notable “also in…” After Silver Bells, The O.C., Shooter, Damages, Argo, Deception, Hostages, and 24: Live Another Day.

Not the biggest one, but one I find intriguing. Warren Christie who played Morgan Derby on The Most Wonderful Time of the Year in 2008. Previous to that I would be able to pick Warren Christie out of a police lineup. Since then, Flashpoint, Apollo 18, Once Upon A Time, Alphas, Arrow, Castle and Motive. Mr. Christie went from being only a smidgen more famous than me to a staple in major network action drama TV.

As recently as 2012, Katie McGrath who I wouldn’t know from Eve take A Princess for Christmas and flip that into a recurring role on the short-lived, but at the time thought to be a major player TV show called Dracula starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

In 2013, Chyler Leigh who I only knew from those horrible “Not Another Teen Movie” type stuff, did maybe my favorite made for TV movie, all things considered called Window Wonderland. Full disclosure, she apparently was in Grey’s Anatomy and it’s spin offs. After doing Window Wonderland, she was immediately offered the starring role in Taxi Brooklyn. Before you laugh, yes it was short-lived, but we’re still talking about headlining a drama on NBC in primetime.

In 2011, it seemed Lindy Booth might try to contest Candice Cameron’s strangle hold on Queen of TV Christmas movies. A Christmas Visitor (2002), Christmas in Boston (2005), Christmas Magic (2011), Twelve Trees of Christmas (2013). Then a one episode appearance on Supernatural before locking up a spot on TNT’s adapted TV series that was modeled from the movie series, The Librarians.

After all of that, which is only the tip of the iceberg so to speak, does an appearance in a theatrical release Christmas movie or made for TV Christmas movie signal a spike in one’s acting career? I don’t have a definitive answer for that. What I do know is that it is entirely to frequent for it to just be a coincidence across the board. Would Kelsey Grammar still get BOSS without Mr. St. Nick? Probably. Does Tate Donovan get Argo and Hostages without it? I can’t exactly say. But again, this is extremely frequent. It’s frequent enough that I am compelled to believe this is an approach that agents do suggest as a way for their clients to surge ahead in their careers.

Sometimes, it can also work in the relative opposite direction. Sometimes an actor or actress visits Christmas movie land and never leave. After Candace Cameron exhausted herself in 1980s and 1990s sitcoms like Who’s the Boss, Growing Pains, and Full House, she eventually starred opposite Tom Arnold in Moonlight and Mistletoe. Which she followed up with The Heart of Christmas, Let It Snow, and Christmas Under Wraps. The prevailing wisdom is that as long as people are still excited to see D.J. Tanner starring in made for TV Christmas movies, she may never stop until the viewers do.
Lacey Chabert may be another leading lady that is stuck in TV Christmas movie land. Dating all the way back to 1994, Chabert has been a presence in voice over work. Then in 1998 played young Penny Robinson is the Lost in Space remake which lead into Party of Five. Then if you subtract animated movies and series’ and voice over work, there is very little of note until the first appearance of a Christmas movie, Black Christmas (not exactly the kind of thing that inspires the joy of the season). Then Matchmaker Santa, A Royal Christmas, and The Tree That Saved Christmas all within one calendar year.

The bottom line is, like it or not, made for TV Christmas movies have played a part in the redirecting of careers. Maybe not all that go down that path are better off for it, but enough are that it makes the assertion at least viable. So the next time you and your loved one sit down to watch something indicative of the season, remember there are more that A Christmas Carol, Story, Vacation, or Grinch. In many ways since about 2000, the made for TV circuit has dramatically stepped up their game. One thing is for sure. There is a blueprint to these movies. A toddler could write half of them. But on occasion, when you see a name you recognize slumming it in made for TV Christmas movie land, chances are pretty decent that you’ll enjoy the time you spent. They always have happy endings, the guy always gets the girl, and there is an overall sense of joy and whimsy when it’s all said and done. They all aren’t winners, but when you do catch a good one, it’s a nice alternative to the Christmas Movie Classics that we all know by heart at this point.

Photo Courtesy Of Showtime

Photo Courtesy Of Showtime

Warning: Spoiler Alert

The Seventies were a “learning decade” for the American people, as a President and Vice President resigned their posts, in a year’s time. We also found out about clandestine missions undertaken by the FBI and the CIA and that these missions occurred with very little oversight. New laws and bills got passed, making United States Intelligence Agencies, more accountable, limiting their abilities to do things our citizens would disapprove of. However after 9/11, many of the restraints got lifted and some say the Agency operates as it did in the Sixties.

How must it feel, for an idealistic CIA Agent in the field, risking their lives fighting corrupt governments around the globe, to find out that your Agency’s run through back-door deals, that undo all the good that you accomplished? In the fourth season finale of the Showtime Original Series “Homeland,” former Islamabad CIA Station Chief Carrie Mathison, dealt with that realization in the episode’s closing minutes. Even the one man she trusted, now seems to have feet of clay.

There was very little action or excitement in the season finale, but this season’s had plenty of both in previous episodes. This was an episode, that gave it’s audience some deep background information about the characters, revealing things about the Mathison family, that had never even been hinted at. We also watched as Carrie blew what might have turned out as her “Happy Ending,” by her indecision and fear of commitment.

Carrie’s back in the States and in the first scene we see her looking at a man’s belongings, his shoes, his ties, an extensive matchbook collection, souvenirs of trips throughout his lifetime. Suddenly Carrie’s sister Maggie walks into the room holding an old razor, their dad’s who just passed away and we realize they’re sorting through his belongings. Suddenly the doorbell rings, she looks out the window and sees a Government staff car and a chauffeur in her driveway, she tells Maggie she’ll handle it.

She answers the front door, to find Agency official Dar Adal waiting for her, he tells her he’s sorry about her dad and asks if she’s going to invite him into her home. She tells him that Frannie’s asleep, and they sit down on some furniture on her front porch. Adal, dispenses with social graces and gets right to the point of his visit, he asks Mathison where Peter Quinn’s at. Carrie tells him she’s not sure if he’s returned from Islamabad, he’s on a mission to kill Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani, Dar tells her Haqqani’s back in the tribal areas and out of Quinn’s reach. He leaves, but asks her to contact him if she hears from Peter.

Saul Berenson’s sitting on his bed watching ISI leader and ally of Haqqani, Nasneem speaking to the press about the United States cutting off diplomatic relations with Pakistan. She insults the USA, says that her country’s been under the United States thumb for too long and says if they want to leave, let them. Saul’s wife Mira shuts off the set with the remote control and tells her husband he’s got to get his mind off Pakistan. He got terminated by the contractor he worked for, he wants to return to the Agency, but she tells him he realizes that’s not possible. He says he has to get dressed for his meeting.

Carrie takes Frannie to the park in her stroller and an older gentleman walks up to them and asks if that’s Frannie, he’s a friend of Carries father and has yet to hear of his passing. He tells her that Frank loved her daughter so much, then asks if she’s Carrie. Mathison’s taken aback, but the man tells her that Frank bragged about her all the time, that she had problems adjusting to motherhood, but she’d be back to raise the baby. He said Carrie’s made of tough stuff. She thanks the man for telling her that and heads home.

Carrie and daughter return from the park and she notices a strange car in the driveway with Missouri plates. After she hands off Frannie to the nanny, she walks into the kitchen, shocked at whose with Maggie. It’s the girl’s mother Ellen, a character never mentioned during the series until this point. Turns out Ellen went out to get some milk 15-years earlier and never came home. Carrie’s enraged to see her, asking if she thinks she can pull off the grieving wife routine after all this time?

Carrie tells her to leave the house, when Maggie reminds her that the house belongs to her and she wants Ellen to stay. Mathison says then she and the baby will go elsewhere, which prompts Ellen to leave the house, Maggie hesitates a minute than runs after her but Ellen’s driven away.

Saul meets with a top Government official Joe Crocker, about the possibilities of regaining his position as CIA Chief, with Lockhart’s resignation pending. Crocker tells him there’s nobody he’d rather run the Agency, but once Haqqani releases the tape of Saul as a prisoner, his nomination would go down in flames. Saul then asked about getting a bureau or even become Chief of Station, but Crocker tells Saul it’s not in the cards.

Carrie and Maggie are sitting on the front door step, as Carrie somewhat apologizes for the way she treated their mother. She says to Maggie that she thought she hated Ellen and Maggie responded, she thought so too until she showed up. She says that now she’ll be out of contact for another 15-years, but Carrie tells her she got the tag numbers and can find out where she lives in an hour.

The funeral’s the following morning and Carrie gives the eulogy for her dad. She mentions the things he cherished, like the Baltimore Orioles and he’d yell at the TV for his team to stop stinking up the diamond. She then says he had his demons, but he learned how to control them, then he taught her how to control hers when she developed the same illness. She thanks him for taking care of Frannie, but tells him she’s ready to take over now.

Outside the church mourners come to embrace her and wish her condolences, when she sees Quinn standing 50-yards away, she excuses herself, runs over and embraces him telling him she’d been worried sick. He drives her back to the house in his truck and he got out of Pakistan due to his friends in German Intelligence. Carrie then tells her she had Haqqani in her sights, ready to shoot, when Aasar Khan stopped her, she omitted that Dar Adal was in the vehicle with Haqqani.

Maggie asks Carrie who Peter is and she tells her he’s a friend from work, Maggie says that he’s getting along famously with Frannie. Mathison seeks out Saul and asks Mira if she can steal him for a bit and she smiles and says of course. She asks what he learned in his meeting with Crocker and Saul says not a whole lot. Carrie asks what his explanation of Adal being with Haqqani and Berenson says he left names out of the conversation. He says that right now that information stays with them and don’t share it with Quinn and she wholeheartedly agrees.

Peter comes over right at that moment and asks if he’s interrupting  and they tell him not in the least. the three sit down at a table that looks like it’s in a screened in porch. Peter asks if Carrie’s dad liked Irish Whiskey and she says sure, as Quinn pulls three glasses. After they’ve talked for a while Lockhart, arrives to pay his respects and apologizes for being so late but he got tied up with his lawyers. Peter pours him a glass and they toast.

Quinn stays to help clean up and then Carrie walks him to his truck, Maggie smiles when they leave, showing that she thinks he and Carrie belong together. The couple make small-talk ass they walk back to the truck and Peter has that look on his face like he wants to kiss her but he’s afraid, she looks back looking very frightened. But suddenly they pull together and fall into a deep and passionate kiss.

As soon as they stop, Mathison says she’s going to screw this up and Peter says she’s silly. He tells her he’s seen her at her worst and she says he should’ve run for the hills. Quinn then tells her he wants out of the Agency, but he can’t do it alone, he needs her by his side making the move with him. He asks her to consider it and drives home.

She can’t sleep, so she  gets out of bed and heads into her dad’s room, sits down at his desk and goes through the drawers. She finds a bunch of pictures of her parents when they first got married and sees how happy they looked. The first thing in the morning she’s loaded her suitcase and tells Maggie they’re going on a road-trip to see her mother. Maggie convinces Carrie to leave Frannie with her and Carrie drives to Missouri.

Later that day an old friend and fellow operative Dale shows up at Peter’s apartment and tells him they’re going on a mission to Syria, but Quinn says he’s not going and he’s quitting the Agency. Dale thinks he’s joking at first, but Peter makes it clear he’s serious. Dale pulls out all the stops, but fails to convince his friend, so he hands Quinn the possible last letters from the agents heading over.

Carrie drives straight through the night and arrives at Ellen’s home in the morning. She rings the bell and a teenage boy, answers it and asks if he can help her. She asks if Ellen’s home and he tells her she went to work, Carrie asks teaching and the boy confirms it and says Jefferson. He asks who she is and she replies just a friend and then just stands there. The boy tells her he’s going to school, Carrie apologizes and gets in her car. We watch the boy ride off on his bike and Mathison drives to Ellen’s school.

Ellen’s surprised to see her and Carrie tells her she drove all night. Carrie asks whom the boy is and Ellen tells her it’s her brother, Tim. Carrie blurts out that’s why you left to have more children and apologizes, but Ellen says she deserves it. She can’t talk now, but asks her daughter to come to her home at 3:30 that afternoon.

Berenson and Adal meet in a restaurant booth for a breakfast meeting. Dar asks Saul how his meeting went with Crocker and Berenson says he’s out of the running for CIA Director. Adal asks him, what he’d say if Dar could guarantee to get him back on the very short list to become Director and Berenson, replies he’d tell Adal he’s having a major senior moment.

Adal puts a tiny plastic container on the table and Saul asks what’s that, Dar replies it’s the tape from Haqqani, it’s supposedly the only copy, but Haqqani promised he’d never release it publicly. Saul asks what Dar gave in return and the longtime Agency employee, told Saul he took him off the kill list and gave him free rein in Pakistan in return for keeping terrorists out of Afghanistan. Saul replies Haqqani’s the terrorist and though Adal agrees, he says Haqqani will take over Kabul in the next few months.

Adal then explains the world according to him, which brought no great revelations for viewers. We met Dar Adal in season two of the series and we’ve witnessed him conveniently switch sides, according to the situation. Adal originally pushed for Berenson to become the permanent Director of the Agency last season, but quickly sidled up to former Senator Andrew Lockhart, when he got the position.

Saul tells Adal that he’s uncomfortable with the situation and making deals with enemies, Dar reminds Berenson, that there’s plenty of precedent in the global community. Then he says to Saul to come back to his home and lead them, the Agency awaits him with open arms.

Carrie’s in her hotel room, when Peter calls and says there’s a rumor she’s in Missouri and she tells him she drove there to talk to her mother. Peter asks if she’s given any thought to his proposal and she basically tells him she’s too wrapped up with her mother, to give it any thought. Quinn says that if the answers, a no, that’s okay.

Carrie assures him she’s not saying no, but she just found out she’s got a teenage brother. Then she says, she’s off making crazy trips, just like her dad did, how will things work out between them and Quinn says, so this is the no. She once again assures him, that it’s just the opposite, she just can’t handle pressure right now. She says she’ll call him when she gets home, he says sure, then throws his phone to the floor.

Mathison heads to Ellen’s house and she asks her mother if there’s any chance she’ll confront Tim’s father and her mother tells her the father took off before she gave birth. Carrie asks her why didn’t she just say she got pregnant and come home. Ellen replies she couldn’t bring herself to admit it, she had hurt too many people. She then admits to Carrie she had numerous affairs and Frank always forgave her and took her back, but she crossed the line in her own mind this time.

Carrie says that Frank always said she just couldn’t live with him being bi-polar, but she said her father was loyal. Carrie says she always thought she couldn’t have a long-term relationship because of her condition. Ellen says that’s not the case and Carrie leaves. Mathison heads back to her motel room and packs her bags, then calls Quinn, but his number’s disconnected as is his e-mail account. She gets Adal’s voice mail and asks where’s Quinn then drives home.

The four-man unit that’s heading for Syria makes it’s final preparations, when Quinn arrives asking who’s the new guy, he steps up and Peter says he’s taking his spot. The rookie’s unhappy, but Dale’s extremely pleased that Peter decided to join the mission.

Mathison drives to Adal’s house and rings the bell until he gets to the door, she thanks him for returning her message and he replies she’d supposed to contact him when she saw Peter. She asks where he is and he tells her to get in the house. He tells her that he’s most likely in Syria at this moment, she says she needs to speak to him and he replies they went dark an hour before. He says it’s an open-ended mission, and they’ll most likely head home from Iraq. She says she needs to talk to him and Adal says she can’t.

She then looks him dead in the eye and tells him she saw him with Haqqani in Islamabad. He asks her what game she’s playing and she says getting what I want. She says if she doesn’t get her to speak to Peter, she’s heading to the Washington Post and telling them what she saw. He says she’s crazy and perhaps she’d like to talk to Saul first, she replies she knows what Berenson will say. Adal says, well ask him yourself, opens the door to his patio and she sees Saul sitting there. Her face shows her shock and disillusionment, she silently leaves, gets into her car and drives away, ending the season.

Courtesy of FOX

Courtesy of FOX

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Young Mulaney auditions for the part of ‘Kevin’ for an unspecified part. Considering Christmas is 4 days away, I’ve got a good guess as to what the part is. Back at the apartment, Jane and Motif share who they bought presents for, but one name is obviously missing, John’s. While they ignore John’s subtle hint as to what they could get him, Motif notices Home Alone is on. A sore subject for John as the Kevin he auditioned for was Kevin McCallister in Home Alone. A part he didn’t get.

Lou is worried about the host of ABC’s Christmas Special. A host named Jesse Tyler Munoz, played by the talented Nick Kroll of the Nick Kroll Show and The League fame. John takes a look at the bookings for Lou’s Christmas Special. Including securing the rights to perform a certain Christmas song. The joke here is that they couldn’t get “Baby It’s Cold Outside” so they opted for a lesser know ‘rapey’ holiday tune. And finally, that they will have a cameo from Macauly Culkin, the star of Home Alone.

Andre shows up in the middle of John’s ‘Mac’s Back’ meltdown. Andre is complaining that his mother always dresses him in strange clothing in the winter. John mentions that Lou’s show is hiring extras. A nice way to make some extra cash. You know, to use to buy your friends gifts. This has become a running gag in the episode. John’s hard to buy for. So whenever he brings it up, Jane and Motif pretend to be preoccupied.

On the set of You Guessed It when Macauly Culkin is announced. Even Lou is gushing over the appearance. Then Andre shows up in his stupid canary yellow down jacket and absurd rainbow-colored that with ears looking for where the ‘extras’ go. The person he’s addressed is stand up and sitcom fast riser Ron Funches. Ron Funches plays a character who is a ‘Zoggle’, or a puppet alternative to the Muppets. He believes that Andre’s face and hat are a mask. So Andre plays along.

Munoz (Nick Kroll) is hiding on Lou’s set when he hears Mulaney say, “I hate this special”. Munoz has a much thicker Spanish accent than he uses on his show. I get the impression Mr. Kroll will be channeling more of Kroll Show than his character on The League. Which will be awesome.

Mulaney and Kroll

After rehearsal, Andre decides to take a snooze. One of the crew mistake him for one of these Zoggles and packs him away for the next day, like he was a stuffed animal. Next we see a group of very large costumes resembling various animals dancing in a circle with Andre in the middle in his bright street clothes. Then Motif and Jane drop by the set. Which is nice for John, until Jane asks if he could get Mac to sign her Home Alone poster.

Lou comes around the corner furious about Munoz’ presence on his set the day before. They decide to rehearse without Culkin just in case Munoz comes back. Convenient way to play it if you don’t actually have Macauley Culkin or plan to reveal him in the last moments. Lou wants John to be Culkin’s stand in. Which is a few seconds before John snaps and walks out. As he storms he proclaims that he was supposed to have Culkins life. Then Motif gets an idea.

John enters his apartment to find grey sheets covering everything. Bottles of booze on one piece of furniture and a Victrola playing old music on another. Motif walks out playing a character of himself as a bum. John sees right through it immediately. They are trying to place John in the George Bailey “I wish I was never born” scenario from It’s A Wonderful Life. Jane comes in playing the old lady whose blind, then not blind. John sees this as a rouse and tries to poke holes in their story. John tries to leave but Oscar’s on the other side of the door exposing his flash from his new camera pretending to be the paparazzi. The funny part is that Oscar is not playing along with the It’s A Wonderful Life rouse.

John returns to find someone left the audition tape from Home Alone in a gift bag hanging from the door handle. He decides to relive the glory days only to find out his audition was putrid. He stops the tape to find that Munoz has stolen their entire guest list.

John: Munoz stole Lou’s special. I got so caught up in my imaginary rivalry with Macauley that I let my guard down. I have to get that lineup back. Enough of this Home Alone stuff. This is my special. I have to protect it.

What happens next is a lovely parody of John trying to infiltrate the Celebrity Moves set (the show that Munoz hosts) and getting the Home Alone treatment as if he were Joe Pesci or Daniel Stern and not Culkin. Tarred and feathered and hit with a flying by a string paint bucket. Munoz comes in to claim that anyone tries to confront him on Christmas and they get “Home Alone’d”. John hasn’t ever even seen the movie, adding to the humor of the bit.

Munoz informs Mulaney he is too late, as Munoz has secured the rights to Lou’s rapey Snowman song and has the Zoggles under contract. “A contract with the Zoggles doesn’t cover non-Zoggles” and Mulaney calls to Andre, who runs to him like a toddler. This is upsetting to Munoz who thought the “Nerdy Dog” was the best one.

Mulaney saves the day at the last second by bringing Andre as ‘New York’s Greatest Puppet’, Oscar as the composer of ‘Santa ain’t leavin’ til he gets your cookies’ and agrees to stand in for Macauley Culkin in a wig.

At home John thanks Jane and Motif for the It’s A Wonderful Life treatment and giving him the audition tape to show him how bad it was and to reaffirm that his life is the life he should have. Then Motif admits that they did not such thing. Oscar admits that he got John a Seltzer machine because he loves seltzer. Then there is a recurring joke going back to Philipino Santa.

John: Does that mean Philipino Santa is the real Santa…?

top list

People love lists. They’re clean, concise, and create order to chaos. Conceptually. Where we run into a little bit of trouble is when that list prioritizes subject matter that is subjective by its very nature. Lists of the best actors, best album, best Quarterback, etc. Everyone has an opinion. Each opinion is formulated based on criteria important to the individual. So how do you win the debate? How can you possibly make a list and convince the masses that your list is ‘correct’? You make the rules.

Any person can win any debate if they control, and more importantly comment to the strengths of the parameters. This is exactly what I plan to do. In all of my travels and interactions with people of all walks, I have never met anyone as crazy for Christmas as me. I start in late October and don’t stop until early February. I’ve also had a career where the ability to argue the point is key (not a lawyer). Add just those two things together and it’s not a stretch to say, I’ve had this debate a few hundred times. Nothing I mention here, will be the first time I’ve considered that thought. I’m not saying that my list is correct. What I am saying, is that if you play by my rules (guidelines really) there is no what that you or anyone else could possible discredit the validity of my list.

Every good debate needs guidelines, so here are mine.

1. Subject Matter. The movie in question HAS TO BE about Christmas first and throughout. This one will almost assuredly knock out anyone with an agenda to promote a good movie through a loophole. There is always someone who wants to play the Die Hard card. Die Hard is an action movie about a visiting cop that single-handedly saves his wife and everyone she works with from a terrorist. Die Hard is not about Christmas. It is an action flick that coincidentally happens in late December at a company Christmas party. It is not about Christmas. For a movie to make my list, it has to rely on Christmas imagery, Christmas themes, Christmas should have some relevance to the plot, etc.

2. Specials don’t count. Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty, Miser Brothers, etc are specials. Normally thirty minutes in duration. While all of the above most certainly qualify for Subject Matter, they are specials and not movies.

3. No extra credit for scale. Whether we’re talking about Miracle on 34th Street or the latest Hallmark original, a movie should not move up the list because it was a theatrical release. Good is good and ticket sales should have no bearing on that.

4. Themes Count. Beyond the obvious imagery (Christmas trees, mistletoe, snow, etc) there should be some significant themes to what the holiday is supposed to mean. Consider the Ebenezer Scrooge angle. He’s an old crank but in the end he finds value in the time spent helping others and so on. You can have a movie about two people falling in love if the themes and tones reflect the ideals of the holiday.

5. Older is not always better. If a movie has been done repeatedly, I do not subscribe to the notion that the oldest one is the best one. This will come up with A Christmas Carol and Miracle on 34th Street. And in the case of The Grinch, we have a two-fold problem. One would be that you can’t give it to either the 1966 version or the Jim Carrey version based on age alone. And two, the 1966 version is a special not a movie.

6. The fast forward effect. An excellent movie and my compulsion to want to fast forward the awkward, boring, or unimportant part are inversely but directly related. Maybe it’s just a personal quirk, but awkward moments or impending doom are two things I can do without. To review, the more I feel compelled to fast forward through the less likely a movie is to rank high.

With the rules out-of-the-way I would like to put out a disclaimer. The following is only the opinion of one. I happen to believe that the majority of this list should be, would be accurate for most. Not because of arrogance, but because I’ve watched all of the movies a minimum of 20 times. I’ve had the conversation of best Christmas movie countless times. I have applied parameters and logic to the ranking. While I am open to the idea that someone could present an argument that could change my rankings, it would have to be a compelling argument. My hope is that this list might spark an actual debate over the positioning of these movies.

Also, I hesitate to say ‘of all time’. I could very well call this the Top 25 Christmas Movies of All Time, but if I did many would be compelled to weight older movies greater than newer ones on principle. Instead, let’s think of this list as the “Top 25 Christmas Movies I’d Watch If All Christmas Movies Were Available”. Case in point. The original White Christmas starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye is widely considered a classic and without question would belong on a top 25 list. I personally just don’t enjoy it as much as some. Beyond a shadow of a doubt and can say with confidence, that there are 25 Christmas movies I’d rather spend my time watching. For anyone thinking that I have a bias against older movies, I do but not like you’d think. There are a number of old (black and white even) movies that I love, Christmas or otherwise. I just don’t subscribe to the notion that older automatically means better. Without any further delay, the list.

25. The Polar Express. Full disclosure, my three-year old son is fanatical about trains. Everyday, at least once a day he asks to watch the train movie. I have probably seen this one 50 times, this year alone. Putting that aside, let me hit the negatives. The animation technique is questionable. The intention is to apply animation to live action, thus making it extremely realistic looking. The problem is that the realistic look adds a creepy factor to each character. The one exception of course is that of Tom Hanks. Hanks plays 8 major characters in this film and his characters seem to be the only ones missing the creepy factor. That’s it. That’s my major complaint. If The Polar Express was done today, ten years after it actually was made, I think the result would be much better. That said, The Polar Express is a lovely story for children. A massive magic Christmas train comes to pick up skeptical kids and take them to the North Pole to witness first hand the send-off festivities of the real Santa Claus. There is an absolute sense of whimsy with this film and there is no question why children gravitate to it. The bottom line is that regardless of order, The Polar Express cannot be left of a list like this one.

24. The Santa Clause. I hope this isn’t where I start losing people. I assure you there is a logic to the order. Twenty years ago, The Santa Clause was the go to movie for families of any age. The likeable Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin. A single dad struggling to connect with his son. The real Santa falls off the roof, Calvin reads the ‘clause’ and over the next calendar year becomes the real Santa. If that’s the entirety of the synopsis, The Santa Clause would be top 10 and an argument could be made for top 5. The issue with this one is that the movie spends too much time dealing with the drama associated with two divorced parents trying to raise a child who is adversely affected by the family dynamic. In other words, the bulk of this movie is about family issues. If you took that out or at least diminished that story line considerably, this would be an incredible Christmas movie. The big issue here is the fast forward effect. I tend to fast forward through about 70% of this movie. You have the first 10-15 minutes when Santa falls off the roof and the reindeer take father and son to the North Pole. Then from the time the E.L.V.E.S. come to break Santa out of the clink on is great. There is just such an attempt to make this movie a story of conflict and real life situations. The beauty of most Christmas movies is that they are almost never ‘too real’. The Santa Clause spends too much time telling a story that has little to nothing to do with Christmas.

23. Santa Jr. I know, a lot of you are probably confused right now. Santa Jr is a low-budget made for TV movie that stars Nick Stabile as Chris Kringle Jr. An actor that to be fair, doesn’t have a lot on his resume that the average person would recognize. However, Stabile is corralled by notable actors and a notable comedian to pick up the slack. And honestly, Stabile does a nice job on this film. I’m actually surprised we haven’t seen him in more stuff. Not phenomenal, but not solid. Alongside Stabile is Lauren Holly, Judd Nelson, comedian George Wallace and well-known little person actor Ed Gale as Junior’s elf companion. Although he’d say, he is his own elf. This movie is a completely different, maybe even new approach (new in 2002) to an age-old Christmas movie theme. Skepticism over the sincerity of the Holiday.

22. Chasing Christmas. Chalk this one up to, I just really enjoy it. Tom Arnold is a single parent because his wife cheated on him during his daughter’s Christmas pageant. He reviled Christmas because of it. The idea here is that there is a department that works under Santa Claus to execute the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future in an attempt to save one wayward soul each year. To say it’s like A Christmas Carol would almost be disrespectful to Dickens’ classic story. It’s more of a loose guideline. Yes the three ghosts are involved and have a similar task before them. Yes, the Scrooge character figures it all out in the end. But that’s about where we have to draw the line as far as similarities.

21. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. No slight intended to Ron Howard and Jim Carrey. They face the uphill battle of trying to success in the face of unheard of popularity from the original animated Christmas special from 1966. In a vacuum, this is as good a live action adaptation as can be expected. The problem is most of us know the story by heart. All of the makeup and acting chops in the world cannot overshadow the story. They did a phenomenal job creating Dr. Seuss’ Whoville. Incredible, but for the most part you already know the “what and where”. Now they did do a very good job filling in the gaps. The events that forced the young Grinch to exile himself. A love interest we never knew of. And of course the Jim Carrey humor sprinkled in making it his own. All positive things. But I knew the story before I ever saw the movie. Kudos to Ron Howard, Jim Carrey and the rest of the actors behind this movie, but it was a losing battle from the jump.

20. Holiday in Handcuffs. Chances are good that if you saw this movie sitting on the shelves at your local retailer, you would never give it a chance. Melissa Joan Hart and Mario Lopez in what had to be a move to jump-start their respective careers actually works. There is a leap of faith however. Any time I tell someone about this movie, I have to say, “yeah, in what reality does Clarissa end up with AC Slater”. Hart’s character is almost the black sheep of the family and is expected to bring her boyfriend to Christmas. She gets dumped the day they are to leave to meet up with her family. She then kidnaps Mario Lopez. He of course resists, but eventually…and so on. This is one of those cute, heart warming, type of made for TV movies that you come to expect to find this time of year. Since the first time I saw it, not a season has passed where I haven’t made time for it at least once.

19. Elf. Another movie that violates the fast forward effect. Will Ferrell as a human who believes himself to be an elf that travels to New York should be enough for instance classic status. Like The Santa Clause, there is too much emphasis on trying to create a compelling story with conflict. When Buddy is being Buddy, the movie is great. Even the pre New Girl Zooey Deschanel is charming in an awkward way. Short of the scene involving Peter Dinklage in Walter Hobbs’ office scene, I could do completely without the Walter Hobbs story line. And that’s James freaking Caan we’re talking about. He does a great job with the role, but if you change the synopsis to read “Buddy travels to New York to find love” (making it about Ferrell and Deschanel) instead of “Buddy travels to New York to meet his biological father” the movie would be dramatically improved. Lots of fast forwarding in ELF.

18. Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage. Not going to lie. There’s a healthy amount of fanboy affection in this one. 1) Thomas Kinkade is probably my favorite painter who was alive while I was. 2) Young Kinkade is played by Jared Padelecki and there is no secret about how NJATVS feels about Supernatural. 3) Ed Asner, who looks eerily like my late Grandfather will always perk my interest. Considering the scope of this movie, it has a very respectable cast. Loosely based off of actual events in Thomas Kinkade’s life, this is the story of two college brothers working to save their family home and unexpected support they get from their community. It also may be the last movie I saw Peter O’Toole in before he passed. It tells a great story and sheds some light into the life of, in my opinion, the greatest contemporary American painter.

17. Call Me Claus. Whoopi Goldberg is chosen to replace the sitting Santa. There is something compelling about a Christmas movie that intentionally defies convention. Whoopi plays a TV producer with a fictional rival of the Home Shopping Network. I’m not kidding. Her associate producer is played by Victor Garbor. Seriously, I’m not making this up. The real Santa has been putting off selecting his replacement. As we all know, the sitting Santa serves his 200 year term and passes the torch to the next Santa (in my most sarcastic voice). This Santa comes into the station to speak to Whoopi and gets suckered into an audition to play the network’s TV Santa. Naturally because he is the real Santa, he gets the job. Keeping him within close proximity to Whoopi. Its unconventional. Its silly at times. But in the end, the message is solid and the story is fun.

16. The Christmas Wish. This may be a little too serious for some. Neil Patrick Harris plays a high riser on Wall Street who has to come home because his Grandfather has died. His parents died long before this, thus making the Grandfather the patriarch of the family. He also is there to smooth the transition of the family business from Grandfather to someone else who will run it. Then NPH is set to go back to New York. In the first 15 minutes there is very much a make shift Its A Wonderful Life vibe happening. All the way down to the perception that this company and the ‘Ol Building and Loan’ were the same for their respective communities. Then Grandma drops the bombshell. She finds a passage in a diary that speaks of a ‘she’ that is not his wife. The lion share of the movie is NPH on a quest to unearth this other woman. The result of which is a very well delivered, emotional insight into the man the Grandfather really was. Good or bad? You’ll have to watch it.

15. Window Wonderland. When you think Christmas movie, especially made for TV, Window Wonderland is what you want from such a movie after you’ve exhausted the classics. Unlike The Santa Clause and Elf, Window Wonderland has no moment, no scene that needs to be fast forwarded through. Two ‘Macy’s-like’ employees are vying for the job of head window dresser for a prestigious department store in Manhattan. They could not be more opposite if they wanted to be. She’s uptight and prissy. He fun and witty. In the beginning they are adversaries, but eventually way eventually become something different. There is even a surprisingly enjoyable performance from Naomi Judd as the bathroom attendant mother. One really nice feature is that this is a Christmas story told from the perspective of the store employees and their friends and family as opposed to the perspective of the Christmas shopper. Even a reference to ‘Christmas Eve Eve’. I really cannot fathom anyone disliking this movie if they were to view it with an open mind.

14. Call Me Mrs. Miracle. Debbie Macomber is no stranger to family oriented Christmas books turned movies. For my money, Call Me Mrs. Miracle is far and away the best of the franchise (including Mrs. Miracle and this year’s Mr. Miracle). Doris Roberts is captivating in this role of half angel, half nice old lady. Macomber is good at intertwining multiple character’s story lines. Mrs. Miracle comes to help save Christmas for a department store. The store owner and son at odds over how to spend Christmas. The owner’s son finding love. But that love is at the mercy of ‘her’ taking care of her brother’s son while working for a wretched woman. There’s even a lovely nod to those service men and women who are not always able to spend the Holidays with their loved ones. This movie, as most on this list are intended, will give you the warm and fuzzies.

13. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. There’s a great joke from comedian John Mulaney about “How’d you get lost in New York? It’s a grid system”. As the Christmas movie debate goes, there are some who debate whether or not Home Alone 2 is better than the original. I am not one of those people. The first thing is the leap of faith. If it wasn’t difficult enough to believe that this little kid got left at home for Christmas and had to defend his home against two adults hell-bent on killing him. To believe it happened a second time to the same kid is a difficult stretch indeed. Tim Curry and Rob Schneider are nice additions, but not enough. It definitely deserves a spot on the list, but this is the area of the list that starts to feel iron clad. Home Alone 2 is a great Christmas movie. I’d go so far as to call it a new classic, but who am I willing to drop down to movie Home Alone 2 up? The answer is none.

12. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Make no mistake about it. For what it is, it may not get better than Wonderful Time. Henry Winkler as the beloved retired cop Uncle is the glue that keeps it together. There are relative peaks and valleys but nothing too serious. Uncle Ralph gets some assistance from a fellow traveler as he befriends at JFK airport. The friend’s (Morgan Derby) flight gets cancelled and Ralph convinces is niece (Jen) to let Morgan stay with them for a night. Truth be told, Uncle Ralph has an agenda. And as all the better made for TV movies, it has exactly the ending you’re hoping it’ll have.

11. Trading Christmas. Another Debbie Macomber gem. Trading Christmas is more of an adult twist to the Macomber blueprint. Trading Christmas takes two female friends and two brothers (mid 30’s plus) and follows them individually as they each embark on a very unconventional version of Christmas that they are accustomed to. The story quickly becomes four people creating two unlikely relationships, but it comes across as a good thing. It’s not overly mushy. There is an amount of subtle comedy sprinkled in. In addition to the obvious, this is like many of the movies on the top half of this list, you can watch repeatedly and never get bored with it.

10. Love At The Christmas Table. I am so not kidding. There is something throwback about this story of two people who grew up together from toddlers until they figure out that they belong together romantically. From the first scene, you know exactly where this movie will end (relatively speaking). This is a movie about the journey and not the destination. The bulk of the movie is us experiencing the same Christmas party year after year and how these to grow, change, grow apart, and eventually realize the inevitability of their situation. I have no problem admitting that the last 15 minutes of this movie gets me every single time. And if I counted every single time it would be north of 50 times.

9. A Christmas Carol. This may be the most done story of all the Christmas stories. Done so much in fact that there are movies like A Christmas Carol the Musical, Chasing Christmas, Its Christmas Carol, and so on. It’s done so much that it has become the source of themes applied to other movies. The question is which version is best. This is completely and without question subjective. I am willing to concede to almost any version in this spot. If you’re a George C. Scott person, great. You like the 2009 Disney version, that’s on you but ok. I personally, side with the 1999 made for and by TNT starring Patrick Stewart. If I’m honest, I don’t think any version is lacking a fast forward moment. And that is true for the 1999 version too. The thing about a story as done as A Christmas Carol is that we all know the story. The question is who tells the same story the best? And for me having Patrick Stewart playing Ebenezer Scrooge in 1999 after running his almost 30 different shows of his one man performance of Scrooge from stages in New York in 1989 to his ascension to London’s West End. Patrick Stewart for my money, does Ebenezer Scrooge as well if not better than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Just like Stewart as Professor X or Captain Picard, I can’t imagine anyone else doing it better.

8. Home Alone. We all know the story. A young punk acts out, gets exiled to the attic, gets forgotten and defends his home against would be burglars. It is in no way realistic, but who cares. This is a story about a bratty kid who says something he shouldn’t in the vein of ‘careful what you wish for’. Then enjoys the first couple days of child independence and then quickly learns his lesson. And learns it with a sincerity that is more realistic than the overall premise. By the end of the movie, we’ve enjoyed a number of quotable scenes, action sequences, and a young boy learns to appreciate Christmas and his family. It has everything we look for in a classic. The only problem is as good as it is, it’s not better that the seven movies ahead of it.

7. Miracle on 34th Street. Like A Christmas Carol, I’m not going to corner anyone into one version of this story. I am partial to the 1994 George Attenborough reboot, but I can’t begrudge any other version I have seen. For 34th Street, it’s the story more than the actors or delivery in this particular case. If John Goodman wanted to play Santa in a 2015 version, it would also be good. Sometimes, the story is ageless and lives up to the hype each time.

6. Santa Claus the Movie. Okay. Full disclosure, this has been one of my favorite movies since I was a kid when it came out in the theaters. Call it a bias if you want to. But in my humble opinion, there might not be a better example of capturing the essence of the Holiday season. You get to the origin of Santa Claus. The majesty of the North Pole even pre-Santa. Then they infuse a new story to an age-old idea. It delivers the warm and fuzzies, it’s a solid Christmas story. As far as the rules go, this knocks it out of the park for subject matter. Themes are as dead on with this than any other movie. It’s more about Christmas at every turn than any other movie. And even if we’re not going to give extra credit for scale, this would be the first movie to consider doing so. Great for the whole family.

5. It’s A Wonderful Life. Say what you want. Some people will believe that any inclusion of It’s a Wonderful Life is a gracious or even condescending nod to the token ‘old film’. Here’s the rub though. I think anyone who’s seen the movie at least once, could fast forward through the first third of the movie. Then, knowing what happened before Clarence arrives, the remainder of the movie moves at a better pace. Look, it’s a long movie. Call it a slight violation of one of the rules, but everything else exceeds expectations enough to overcompensate for it.

4. Love, Actually. Some will applaud this choice and some will reject it. Let me put this in this simplest terms. In the last 3 weeks, anytime I watch a Christmas movie (which is pretty often), I ask myself if my time might not be better used watching Love Actually. Remove the fact that it is a Christmas movie. Remove the references, the decor, the exchanging of gifts, all of it and Love Actually is still a top flight romantic comedy and beyond. I actually ripped my copy of the DVD and chopped it up. Taking out the moments that I don’t NEED and what I cut was less than 7 minutes out of almost 2 hours. Love Actually is incredible and the more times you watch it the better it gets. As ensemble cast projects go, I’d say the best I’ve ever seen.

3. A Christmas Story. How is this not #1 is the question. Talk about the story carrying the weight of its success. Ralphie’s Dad is great, but the story is what makes it. Told from the perspective of a child is magical. Regardless of age, any person has to be instantly taken back to their experience from that relative age. A Christmas Story is so good that I refuse to watch it for 364 days. Then I watch it non-stop for 24 hours. On TBS on the living room TV, on the TV in the bedroom, on my tablet in the kitchen. I really can’t understand anyone who doesn’t love this movie.

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Hands down the best National Lampoon’s movie made to date. Arguably the most quoted of all of the Christmas movies. The story of a working family man who just wants to give his family the old-fashioned Christmas experience of his childhood to his own children and extended family, just to have it all crash and burn in a fiery heap. It is as classic as classic gets. It checks all of the boxes. No fast forward moments. Subject matter. Themes. It has everything you want in a Christmas movie with almost nothing you don’t. The scope is perfect and the character are all sympathetic to someone you’ve known along the way. I could watch Christmas Vacation a 100 times a year and not become bored with it.

This leads us to #1 and a claim that almost everyone I’ve ever told this to, took some level of exception to. NJATVS staff included.

1. Scrooged. I’m sure 90% of those reading this will disagree and feel in some way that this selection voids the entire list. Like Love Actually, Scrooged improves with frequency. Yes, at its core it is a contemporary version of A Christmas Carol. But this is Bill Murray in his prime, a cast that goes on for days, not one single minute of this movie is not meticulously and intentionally placed for meaningful effect. I’ve seen Scrooged so many times, that I cannot (believe me, I’ve tried) find a fault with it. Scrooged, in my humble opinion is the perfect Christmas movie. We have the transformation of Frank Cross, the journey with the three ghosts is more sympathetic and real as it is applied to concepts we remember as opposed to older version of the Dickens’ classic that are too far removed for impact. I could go on, moment to moment, but suffice it to say that after no less than 200 viewings, Scrooged is as close to perfect as we will ever get. Now what separates Scrooged from say Vacation and every thing behind it? The realization moment for Frank Cross is the best I’ve ever seen. Also it’s longer and has a gradual build that is nice. In that build, he embraces Christmas, rectified the wrong he perpetrated to a recently fired executive, reintroduced the former love back into his life, encourages other people to share his enthusiasm even if it means losing his lucrative job, actually invokes the “God bless us everyone” line out of an adorable child, makes everything right in the world and says the greatest line in Holiday movies, TV or specials in recorded history.

“For one night out of the whole year, we are the people we always hoped we would be.”

There it is, the Top 25 Christmas movies (or Top 25 Christmas Movies that I would enjoy spending time watching). Inevitably there will be some disagreements. As is to be expected. Even amongst our own staff, I expect some contradiction to the list as I see it. At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their opinion and for whatever reason lead them to it. I hope I’ve done an admirable job outlining my criteria and reasoning. I appreciate you taking the time to read this one, a very long article comparatively and let the debate begin.

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freedownwallpaper.com

Welcome to the Saturday December 20th DVR list. Saturday represents the “Christmas push”. An idea that Christmas fanatics like me, resent at least slightly. Indulge me if you may. I approach the holidays as a ‘season’ if you will. It’s one large period of time for me that starts with Halloween and doesn’t end until after New Years. For the me the journey is more important than the destination. A minority held approach I’ll grant you. Most people treat it like a countdown to the 25th. You can see this in the way these networks promote their Holiday programming. “Countdown to Christmas”, “25 Days of Christmas”, etc. Although I’ve been watching Christmas movies on my own time since about the 20th of October, I acknowledge that the 20th of December (or the last Saturday before Christmas) signifies the big push. This is where the networks start to break out the big guns. While there is a significant number of classics, there are still some made for TV gems in the mix. There’s a lot to get through, so I’ll attempt to keep these a little shorter.

Dec 20

Scrooged. Spoiler alert. I can and will (not now) make the case that Scrooged is the best Christmas movie of all time. That is not a typo. That’s a story for another day, so make sure to check back to NJATVS often for the Top 25 Christmas movies debate to be posted very soon. Scrooged is a modern (back in 1988) take on the Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol. Instead of a bitter financer, the Scrooge character manifests itself as Frank Cross President of IBC, a television network. While his network attempts to put on a 40 million dollar live production version of A Christmas Carol, his former boss sets him on a path to experience Christmases past, present and future. At it’s conclusion, the changed Frank Cross delivers the single greatest line in the history of Holiday programming. And every moment in between make for a great adaptation to a classic. The cast alone is worth your time if you’ve never seen this one. Bill Murray as Frank Cross, Karen Allen (Indiana Jones), John Forsythe (the original Charlie of Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty), John Glover (Lionel Luthor from Smallville), Bobcat Goldthwait (Police Academy), Carol Kane (a staple of 1980s comedies too frequent to mention), Alfre Woodard, Jamie Farr, Robert Goulet, Buddy Hackett, John Houseman, Lee Majors, Mary Lou Retton, a ‘young’ Regina King, Anne Ramsey, Wendie Malick, Michael J. Pollard, and Brian Doyle-Murray just to name the big ones I can remember. Even if you’ve seen it multiple times, its worth another go around. I probably watch this movie 20-30 times a year.

A Very Merry Mix Up. Alicia Witt stars opposite Mark Wiebe in the made for TV happy accident romantic holiday movie. For the Christmas enthusiast this is worth a look. Another in a long line of cute but predictable ‘someone finds love at Christmas’ type of movie. Alice is all set to spend Christmas with her boyfriend’s family, the Mitchums. Will, the boyfriend, is a motivated seller professionally who comes from a well to do family. The kind of family that does exactly the same thing every year for the Holidays which is as little as possible. A very cold family whose members don’t even seem to enjoy each other’s company. Alice finds herself with the Mitchums and her enthusiastic affection for the Holidays couldn’t be happier for being with the Mitchums. And that’s because she’s enjoying the company of the wrong Mitchums.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). This is the original Christmas special that I’m pretty sure every American has seen and enjoyed. Not to be confused with the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard live action feature film that while good, is not the original. Record this one and continue the family tradition of sharing it with the kids in your family.

Arthur Christmas. In this British made, animated movie we get to see more of the Claus’ than just St. Nick. In this story, Arthur is a Christmas enthusiast just happy to help. Arthur’s brother Steve, is the motivated type. Out to ascend the ranks and take over as Santa one day. Grandsanta is the elder retired former Santa. Arthur discovers that one child in particular is about to be forgotten at Christmas. With the help of Grandsanta hoping to relive the glory days, Arthur heads out to deliver a toy to this one child. It’s a lovely story and absolutely worth your time. Whether you run out and buy this movie or plan to watch it repeatedly, is up to the individual.

Snow Bride. This is another cute but predictable romantic Holiday made for TV movie. In this one, Greta (a TMZ style reporter) infiltrates a wealthy family (essentially a made up version of the Kennedys) as a woman interested in Brian Tannehill. Is she there to get and report on the dirt for her sleazy gossip rag? Or does she turn her back on her assignment in favor of love?

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Like Scrooged, a no doubt ‘no fast forward’ movie. No matter how many times you’ve seen Christmas Vacation, it never gets old. Every scene just as quotable as the one before it. The story of Clark W. Griswold Jr’s attempt to have an old-fashioned family Christmas with extended family on both sides. For my money, easily the best National Lampoon’s movie to date.

Christmas Under Wraps. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Candace Cameron of Full House fame is a stiff who is married to her job. She travels to a place where she is surrounded by the Christmas spirit and ultimately falls in love with a man she wouldn’t normally have given the time of day to. Yep, we’ve seen this in Moonlight and Mistletoe and Let it Snow before Christmas Under Wraps. In this version she is a young doctor aiming for a prestigious residency. She is forced instead to take on a residency in a small town in Alaska. Then eventually she must choose between the lifelong goal (residency in Boston) or the small town practice and man she’s now in love with in Podunk Alaska? As a secondary detail, is this small town of Garland Alaska the base of Santa’s operation? Or just a quaint small town where everyone acts just a little cryptic?

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. After watching the original animated Christmas Special from 1966, you can then move over to Ron Howard’s live action adaptation starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard and the child actor turned front woman for the band “The Pretty Reckless” Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who.

The Christmas Ornament. The Christmas Ornament is two things happening before we even get to the plot. This movie stars Kellie Martin who most of you in my age bracket or older will remember as Rebecca “Becca” Thatcher from the show Life Goes On about a family and their son Corky who has Down Syndrome attempting to lead a normal life. And Cameron Matheson who has parlayed his soap opera career + Dancing With The Stars into a successful run in the Holiday movie circuit. In this movie Kathy is a widow who lost her husband at Christmas (sound familiar?) and she is trying desperately to not observe Christmas due to the emotional pain or remembering. Tim runs a local tree business and relative Christmas gift shop. Less on the cute side but still predictable. If you told me you had to keep your viewing of Christmas movies under a certain number, I’d say this one might not make the cut. That said, there’s nothing wrong with it. It is solid for what it is. A little too serious and depressing for much of the movie, but worth watching at least once if you have the time.