Category Archives: Holiday Programming

Not All Holiday Movies Are Created Equal

Courtesy of ABC Family, Hallmark Channel and Lifetime
Courtesy of ABC Family, Hallmark Channel and Lifetime

ABC Family, Hallmark, and Lifetime Need To Refocus And Get Back
To Quality Christmas Movies Without Agenda.

This is the time of the calendar year when new, live television is hard to come by. My generally jovial disposition and affection for the holidays naturally lends itself to cranking out Holiday and television related articles. However, not every holiday season is created equal. Now sure, you put up a tree (or other specific decor) every year. You make and consume a fair amount of the same foods every year. There are even can’t miss traditions that happen every year. But each year is not created equal.

One of my many traditions is that I watch nothing but holiday/Christmas programming from the week of Thanksgiving through the end of December. Now there are shows that I cover for this website and as long as they put out new episodes, of course I will watch those. Outside of that, Christmas all the time. I don’t watch late night talk shows, documentaries, mini series’, news magazine shows, if it’s not scripted new episodes or Christmas tv/movies, it can wait until January. On top of that, I have a stable of Christmas movies and music loaded on my mobile devices. I really don’t have any need for anything else, but as I said, not all holiday seasons are created equal.

Every year you can count on Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Scrooged, A Christmas Carol, and of course 24 hours of A Christmas Story. Those a great, literally. Those are first ballot Christmas Movie Hall of Famers. Television networks pay good money for the rights to air those. The question is, “What do you do with the other 90% of the Christmas viewing time?” You find other, non-classics, holiday movies on television to enjoy. Some of them are cheesy, some are heartwarming, some are cute and some are just flat-out bad. Over the years though, by and large, the made for TV holiday movies are pretty good on the whole.

2013 is a great example. In 2013 Hallmark Channel really began to separate itself from the Holiday network pack. In one season, Hallmark released A Very Merry Mix Up, Catch A Christmas Star, Fir Crazy, Hats Off To Christmas, Let It Snow, Snow Bride, The Christmas Ornament, and a personal favorite Window Wonderland. Window Wonderland I would put on any Christmas Movies list, regardless of status, budget or type. That same year ABC Family put out a couple new-made for TV movies but none to the level of what Hallmark was doing. Holidaze was cute. It’s a little Vice Versa, a little daytime soap, with a healthy sprinkling of It’s A Wonderful Life. Probably not even in the top half of made for TV Christmas movies of the last 15 years though. ABC Family also tried to maximize viewers coming off of the success of Glee and Pitch Perfect, the released The Mistle-Tones. A movie that combines group performance singing with Christmas themes. I don’t personally like it, but I understand why they thought they needed to make it.

2015 has been a complete snooze fest. On the surface, nothing seems out-of-place. Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert (always fighting it out for Queen of Christmas movies), and even Danika McKellar (Winnie Cooper from the Wonder Years) makes a couple of appearances. There is a Debbie Macomber presence, always welcomed. And there are a stable of movies starring someone you thought was too good to do made for tv movies. Brandon Routh doing the Nine Lives of Christmas last year (which was GREAT), for example. All the mainstays and typical details one tends to look for are there. A bad example is Judd Nelson playing Santa in the forgettable Cancel Christmas. Judd Nelson is too harsh to pull off a jolly St. Nick.
This year has been completely forgettable. Take away the classics that Networks run and what you’re left with is a not very compelling holiday lineup. With movies like Ice Sculpture Christmas, Christmas Incorporated, A Christmas Detour and I’m Not Ready For Christmas…I’m not ready to devote any of my free time to watching these movies. Now I love my Queens of Christmas. I will give anything with Lacey Chabert, Candace Cameron-Bure, and especially Danica McKellar a chance. But I just can’t do some of these. Attention Hallmark, ABC Family and Lifetime…How many ‘real American girl discovers her boyfriend is really a prince’ movies are we gonna make. A Princess for Christmas was great. A Royal Christmas was still really good. I can’t get through Crown For Christmas. I’m sure it’s not as bad as I’m making it seem, but seriously, how many times are we going to do the same movie? This is especially disheartening because Danica McKellar is a part of one of the best made for TV Christmas movies of all time, Love at the Christmas Table.

The saving grace is that I, like a lot of families, have a young one who is focusing on the classics…as he should. Rudolph, Frosty, Twas the Night Before Christmas (all the Rankin and Bass classics), all of the Claymation specials (Misfit Toys, Christmas without Santa, etc), the Grinch, and his personal favorite, The Polar Express. What can I say, my son is crazy for anything with trains. So generally speaking, I don’t have the time to give each new made for tv Christmas movie a chance. All I know is that the ones I have given a chance to, have been overwhelmingly disappointing.
The bigger issue is not that they have missed the mark, the bigger issue is why? I think I have a theory.

I am a Christmas degenerate. I jokingly tell people that Halloween is the speed bump preventing me from starting the Christmas ‘Holiday Season’ earlier. I can find joy and comfort in just about anything from November through December. Even these teens and single digit temps we’ve been having out here lately. There is one detail that prevents me from being any other viewer during this time. There is no amount of money you can throw at marketing, no video promo you can air, no hint you can drop that will even for a moment come close to turning me into a year-long viewer of networks like Hallmark, Lifetime or ABC Family. Hell even changing their name to Freeform (Jan. 12) will not bring me to the formerly known as ABC Family. It just isn’t going to happen. Hate to break it to you, I do not care in the least about Pretty Little Liars. I don’t care about Cedar Cove. And you can’t make me care about Dance Moms or the next man hating Lifetime original movie. It just is not going to happen. I honestly could not possibly care any less than I already do about those networks unless they are airing Christmas content.

In the past I’ve made a minor fuss about stuffing their non-holiday programming down our throats. Now I wish that’s all it was. Whether by design or a friendly coincidence, these networks have gone from trying to maximize new viewers by running their non-holiday promos during holiday programming to actually altering the way they make their holiday movies to resemble how they make their non-holiday shows and movies. My biggest fear is that ten years from now, we’ll look back and say, “Those were the good ole days, 1999-2013”. There is a reason why people like me don’t watch those networks for 10 months out of the year, but go binge crazy during the remaining 2 months. When they were making heartwarming, cute, clever holiday movies for the sole purpose of maximizing viewers during the Christmas/Holiday months, they made magic (considering budget, cast and other factors), maybe it was lightning in a bottle. Or maybe that’s no longer good enough and someone in a board room decided to use this window to maximize opportunity.

My theory is that winning Christmas is no longer good enough for the Christmas Big 3. Would it be nice if some preteen watching Elf saw a promo for The Fosters and decided to watch it when it started its new season after the Holidays? Or maybe a retired government employee decided to give Project Runway a real chance. What these networks need to understand is that the bulk of their Christmas/Holiday viewers are never, will never consider watching their networks the rest of the year. And for good reason. If we liked what they put out, the countdown to Christmas stuff would just be icing on the cake. I believe they are slowly changing the way the make these movies, how the characters react, the temperament of the movies and even the subject matter of these movies to resemble what they make for the other 10 months of the year.

ABC Family (Freeform), Hallmark and Lifetime…understand what you are. Maximize that and try not to bite off more than you can chew. There is nothing wrong with being a heavyweight ratings wise during the holiday season and being a featherweight the rest of the time. I am a scripted network fiction, sports, new release movie type of viewer most of the time. I am not your demographic most of the year. Unless you’re going to start airing some new Tuesday Night Football or plan on bringing back Constantine, there’s nothing you can do that will interest me come February.

My advice to our readers is to do what makes you happy this time of year. That and focus on the classics this year. Hopefully I’m wrong and this is an uncharacteristically bad year for made for TV Christmas/Holiday movies. Watch them if you want. I don’t mean to stop you. But if you’re time is limiting or you’ve been wondering why none of these seem to interest you, stick to the classics this year. A Christmas Story, Vacation, Home Alone, Polar Express, The Grinch and of course all of the musical and animated specials we all love so much. Stick to what we know to be great and try again next year, hoping for improved results.

TV Christmas Movies: Saving More Careers Than You Know

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.

The Definitive Top 25 Christmas Movie List

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.

Set Your DVR! Saturday December 20th Holiday Programming Schedule

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.

Set Your DVR! Friday December 19th Holiday Programming Schedule

Thursday the 18th was a tale of made for TV gems, without any classics represented. Friday the 19th, it seems, is the complete inverse of that. Three theatrical classics and one made for TV movie that should be considered a classic within its classification. Also, a made for TV movie that has some intrigue. Believe it or not, the aforementioned made for TV movie is one that is new enough that even I haven’t seen it yet. It’s on my DVR, just haven’t seen it yet. So if Thursday was not your cup of tea, Friday certainly has a shot to be. Only seven items on Friday’s list, but a solid list.

Dec 19

Holiday In Handcuffs. Replay from Thursday (and probably many times before that). I feel compelled to stump for Holiday in Handcuffs. The cast is not A list material. However, I think you should recognize at least 5 actors from this smallish cast. Melissa Joan Hart is obvious. Clarissa Explains it all. Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. Currently on the show Melissa and Joey. Which might be the pinnacle of cashing in on previous stardom. Joey Lawrence and Melissa Joan Hart on the same show would be like watching a sitcom today putting Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) with Helen Chapel (Crystal Bernard). There is also Mario Lopez, who took his success from the film and a recurring role on Nip/Tuck and parlayed it into a Celebrity Gossip News career. Timothy Bottoms plays the father with unrealistic expectations. Markie Post as the Christmas crazy, stick to the itinerary Mother. You may remember her from Night Court or even The Fall Guy. Then there is Kyle Howard, who I remember from My Boys. The movie is simple enough. Girl gets dumped before Christmas. Girl freaks out. Girl kidnaps well put together man of comparable age. Girl thinks he’ll just play along to impress her parents. There is more to it than that, but you get the basic idea. Aside from the leap of faith it takes to consider that AC Slater would ever end up with Clarissa, it actually has a very nice ending.

A Princess for Christmas. Also a replay from earlier in our journey. Unlike Holiday in Handcuffs, A Princess for Christmas is predictably exactly what you think it is. And that’s before you sit down to watch it for the first time. The royal family sells itself. The maids and butlers are every bit as important as any other secondary characters. There is an attractive but evil Duchess trying her best to mess everything up. And then there’s Roger Moore as the head of said royal family. It has its moments and does end on a high note, but it is nothing if not predictable.

Fred Claus. At first glance it would seem that a Christmas movie starring Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, and Kevin Spacey should be a no brainer for induction into the Christmas Classics realm. Despite relative star power, you will rarely find Fred Claus high on anyone’s list. Generally that comes from not meeting expectations. With any holiday movie, it is important to temper expectations. If you go in expecting to see a disgruntled, jealous, envious, and angry brother of Santa Claus, a jolly fun-loving Santa Claus, and a consultant hell-bent on bringing the whole operation down based on some perceived slight from his childhood, then you won’t be disappointed. If you go in thinking this cast is going to blow away Christmas Vacation, Scrooged, etc then you’re going to be disappointed. Fred Claus is what it is. It’s solid. Very good even, depending on your sense of humor. But it is not a classic.

Home Alone. We’ve covered this one pretty well. This concept absolutely would never happen in today’s society. It damn sure wouldn’t happen twice to the same kid. The movie is relatively unrealistic, but who really cares. A kid gets left behind in his house and ultimately learns a valuable lesson about family and the holidays. In the meantime he whoops some burglars with the precision of a trained adult. Not realistic but very fun and if I were inducting movies as ‘Classics’ Home Alone makes the cut.

Elf. It took me years to come around to this movie and now I know why. I love the part of the movie that involves Buddy as an Elf, in New York, working in a toy store, experiencing human life as opposed to Elf life, and the ultimate save Santa moment. I can do without the drama of grown man reuniting with his ‘naughty list’ father who never knew he existed, part. Take Walter Hobbs out of the equation completely and I think it’s a much more enjoyably movie.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Unquestioned, first ballot hall of famer for Christmas movies. I won’t go into detail about where it ranks on the all time list. I will, however, say that anyone who does not have this movie in their top 5 is crazy. Anyone taking the time to read this needs no introduction to Christmas Vacation. Arguably the most quoted Christmas movie of all time. Vacation checks all of the boxes. As of this moment, I’ve seen Christmas Vacation at least 20 times since Halloween. If you haven’t seen this one recently I think it’s time to set that DVR.

The Christmas Parade. Full disclosure, I have not seen this one yet. Seriously. My wife insisted we record it because Drew Scott is in it, more on that later, and I’m still waiting on her. She’s currently watching an old episode of Breaking Bad and not a new Christmas movie. Go figure. Here’s what I know. Annalynne McCord of the Beverly Hills 90210 reboot fame (can’t believe I just typed that) and Jefferson Brown whose credits include more horror and action type stuff star in this Christmas movie that will feel very familiar, especially to parents of young children. Hayley (McCord) a TV host finds out her fiancĂ© (Drew Scott) is cheating on her, on the air. She drives off, crashing into the car of a judge of the nearby town. If this sounds like the plot of Disney’s Cars with added romantic angst, you’re not alone. When the court ordered community service keeps her in town, he helps build a float for the town’s parade. In the end Hayley re-discovers the “spirit of Christmas”. For the uninitiated, Drew Scott (in real life) is the twin brother to Jonathan Scott. Together they are the hosts/co-stars of a number of shows on the HGTV network. Property Brothers, Buying & Selling, and Brother vs Brother. Drew is a real estate agent on his reality based shows on HGTV, so seeing him as the jerk of a boyfriend should be interesting.

Set Your DVR! Thursday December 18th Holiday Programming Schedule

As promised, Thursday is filled with really quality Holiday films. None of which one should refer to as a “classic”. The sub-grouping of “made for TV” movies deserve a real consideration. If they are the right made for TV movies. Debbie Macomber, who has made our schedule previously with the Mrs. Miracle franchise reappears today. Along with movie that loosely chronicles a Christmas in the young life of one of America’s greatest contemporary painters. There are no specials, animated films, or as I mentioned, unquestioned classics. Thursday would be a great day to discover some of these lesser known but still quality movies you may not be as familiar with.

Dec 18

Debbie Macomber’s Trading Christmas. This Macomber gem follows the Christmas plans of four adults and two college kids. Emily is a widow and mother to Heather (college kid). Faith is Emily’s close friend. Charles and Ray are brothers. Charles decides to escape the noise by house swapping with Emily. Emily decides to surprise Heather who is no longer in Boston. She and her boyfriend hopped a plane to Arizona. Faith decides to surprise Emily not knowing that Charles will be in Emily’s house. Emily meets Ray unintentionally and they spend some time together. With they’re completely opposing backgrounds and temperaments, how will they make it through the holiday?

The Ultimate Gift. James Garner is the wealthy patriarch of a spoiled family. He prepares a video will to be executed exactly to his specifications. Most of the family get not much if anything. His grandson is particularly jaded. He lives the life of a relative playboy heir. Grandpa Stevens plan is to set his grandson on a journey that will teach him all the lessons (or impart ‘gifts’) that will turn Jason Stevens into the man he’s supposed to be. If he follows the will to the letter, he gets everything. There’s also a cute little girl who will impact his life more than he knows.

A Christmas Visitor. William Devane plays George a family man who cannot let go of the loss of his son on the battlefield. His daughter fights for life as she could be facing a terminal illness. The confirmation of which won’t be received until after Christmas. Which only complicates things as this family has not celebrated Christmas in 11 years. The catalyst of which is the death of their military son on Christmas 11 years ago. A stranger strolls through town who served in the same place and time that took their son. Is he a friend, an acquaintance, or is there something much deeper at play?

Thomas Kinkade’s A Christmas Cottage. This falls into that category of must see (at least once) made for TV Christmas movies. The cast alone is impressive for what it is. The young Thomas Kinkade is played by none other than Supernatural’s own, Jared Padalecky. His brother, Aaron Ashmore (who played the son who died in A Christmas Visitor), Their mother is played by Marcia Gay Harden. Young Kinkade’s mentor is played by Peter O’Toole. With a smattering of other names you might or might not be familiar with. Ed Asner, Chris Elliot, Richard Moll, Kiersten Warren , and Richard Burgi just to name a few. This is the story of two sons doing whatever they can to save their childhood home facing foreclosure. In the process endearing themselves to the community. This one really shouldn’t be missed. As a huge fan of Thomas Kinkade’s artwork, I may be biased.

The Christmas Card. This one made an appearance on yesterday’s list. The gist of it is Sgt. Cody Cullen receives a Christmas Card from a stranger and decides to seek her out.

Holiday in Handcuffs. I may enjoy this one a little more than I should. Melissa Joan Hart plays Gertrude who kidnaps David Martin played by Mario Lopez. Her master plan being that she will convince him to pretend to be her boyfriend and thus avoid the shame and ridicule that would inevitably ensue if she showed up without her boyfriend, which she no longer has. Simultaneously, while Gertie is worried that she is the only source of disappointment for her family, she discovers that both of her siblings are equally disappointing. At least according to their father’s plan for them.

A Princess for Christmas. Katie McGrath plays Jules, who is in charge of caring for her late sister’s children. Her late sister was married to Charles, Prince of Castlebury. An arrangement that Edward the Duke of Castlebury (played by one time James Bond, Roger Moore) was never alright with. Paisley Winterbottom (the butler) seeks out Jules to invite her and the kids to spend the holiday with their royal family. You don’t need a great deal of context clues to decipher what comes next.

The Santa Clause. Yes, that Santa Clause. This is story of the actual Santa Claus falling off Tim Allen’s roof and thus invoking the Santa “Clause”. The cast is good. The production value is good. My hesitation about this movie is that it spends too much time with the effect becoming the real Santa has on Scott Calvin’s life and not enough on the whimsical part of being Santa. That said, I still consider this a very worthwhile movie. My problem is that it’s what I call a Fast Forward movie. Having seen every minute of it, I can and would fast forward through a decent amount of this movie.

Fred Claus. Any best of list you’re likely to find will not include Fred Claus. And to be honest, I really don’t know why that is. It’s a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously with plenty of Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti style comedy. As the story goes, Fred (brother of Santa Claus) travels to the north pole (with his own selfish agenda in mind) to help his brother get through the final push towards Christmas. The story complicates when a consultant (Kevin Spacey) comes to analyze and hopefully for him, shut down Christmas.

Set Your DVR! Wednesday December 17th Holiday Programming Schedule

Wednesday December 17th’s big headliner will be the 3rd Annual Michael Buble’s Christmas in New York. After that we have one Christmas classic and one underrated made for TV movie. The rest depend on your availability or willingness to roll the dice.

Dec 17

Farewell Mr. Kringle. Christine Taylor (Zoolander and The Wedding Singer) stars as Annabelle Wahl, a reporter sent on location to write a story of a local real life Santa. The movie is cute but slow-moving. Even I struggle with getting to the end of this one.

Holidaze. Jenny Garth and Cameron Matheson star in this holiday romantic comedy. Melody lives a hectic but productive life far from her roots. After taking a spill, Melody wakes up in an alternate reality where she is married to her childhood sweetheart living a life that in no way resembles her real one. Throughout this journey which Melody is more happy? And how will that effect which version of her wins in the end?

Santa Baby. A repeat. There are a few of these that will repeat excessively. For those just joining us. Mary Claus, the daughter of Santa Claus left home to pursue a career, changing her name to Mary Class in the process. She travels back home with her personal assistant when her Dad falls ill. She then attempts to streamline the north pole process and bring them into the 21st century.

A Season for Miracles. Carla Gugino plays Emilie Thompson, a down on her luck woman charged with caring for her niece and nephew. The struggles are significant. When an opportunity presents itself to provide them with suitable arrangements for a limited time, she jumps at it. The conflict arises when the townspeople grow to enjoy them as much as they enjoy the townspeople.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol. The CG animated version of the Dicken’s classic. Like Polar Express, the literal adaptation from live action to animated makes for a slightly creepy visual. Jim Carrey’s likeness plays eight different characters. While your kids might enjoy it, for my money it doesn’t even crack the top 5 versions of A Christmas Carol.

The Christmas Card. Ed Asner may be the only actor in this one you’ll know by name. Don’t let that discourage you. Of the made for TV romantic drama Christmas movies (I know that’s a specific list) it should be toward the top. Like most of them it is cute. Unlike most, it has the correct ending. Sometimes the movies overdo it or under do it. This movie is exactly what it should be. Sgt. Cody Cullen receives a random Christmas Card overseas from a woman just trying to boost morale. Cullen is sent on leave after a tragic event. He seeks out this woman and ends up being a big part of their holiday. And potentially more.

Michael Buble’s Christmas in New York. This is absolutely a special and not a movie. Michael Buble, known for his Sinatra-like sound host an evening of small talk comedy, Canadian references and Christmas Carol singing. If you enjoy Michael Buble, this is a quality special to record. If not, it might not be your cup of tea.

Crazy for Christmas. Andrea Roth plays a single mother who provides for her son by driving a limo. On Christmas eve-day, she is called into work to drive around a ‘big fish’ client. Howard Hesseman plays the wealthy eccentric hell-bent on giving his money to strangers in the street just to see them smile. All seems innocent enough until he refers to his driver’s mother like they were familiar. And the answer to that inquiry is crux of the entire movie.

Check back tomorrow as I can promise you no less than 5 must see movies and two more that require serious consideration.

Set Your DVR! Tuesday December 16th Holiday Programming Schedule

We are officially 10 days out from Christmas. That can mean a great many things. Time to get crackin’ on your cookie baking, gift wrapping, picking family up at the airport or what have you. For our purposes, this is the area of the holiday schedule where we hope to see more of a concentration of higher quality programming and less of the cheeky, mindless stuff. For example. More Scrooged and 34th Street and less Grumpy Cat and Jingle All The Way. However, if memory serves, that transition doesn’t happen until we get closer to 3-5 days out.

For those just joining us, this is a service to our viewers to make finding your holiday television content easier to find. We here at NJATVS avidly live in the DVR era and we strongly suggest everyone else (television networks included) get with that idea. This allows us to give you the ability to set your DVR in advance. Less time guide surfing. This way, you set your DVR as you find movies you might be interested in. Then when you want to watch “Its A Wonderful Life” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, it will be waiting for you on your DVR to be viewed at your convenience, not theirs.

Tuesday, December 16th

December 16

Santa Baby. George Wendt (of Cheers fame) plays Jolly Old St. Nick, whose daughter Mary Claus is a high-powered ad executive. She’s changed her name to Mary Class and essentially wants nothing to do with the family business. When Santa falls ill, she travels home with her assistant and attempts to streamline and modernize the Christmas process.

Mrs. Miracle and Call Me Mrs. Miracle. We covered this one yesterday. Long story short, Doris Roberts (Everybody Love Raymond) is great in both and Call Me Mrs. Miracle is better than Mrs. Miracle. However, if you have the time, both are worth watching.

Santa Jr. I am totally not joking. Santa’s son, Chris Kringle Jr, gets arrested after attempting a trial run as part of a training regimen. The judge sentences him to house arrest. The home in question belongs to the public defender (played by Lauren Holly). The arresting officers are played by Judd Nelson and the extremely funny George Wallace. With the help of his elf (he’d say, he’s his own elf) Stan and their missing reindeer Farley, they must prove that Chris is not the ‘Christmas Bandit’ before Christmas is ruined and Chris loses faith in the day altogether.

The Christmas Blessing, Annie Claus is Coming to Town, and the Mrs. Miracles are replays from Monday. The Christmas Blessing is worth the time once or twice. It’s extremely serious and deals with a subject that is not easy for all people to sit through. Also, you get to see a twenty something Neil Patrick Harris play a Doctor years after Doogie Howser had been old news. Annie Claus is cute, but very predictable. Annie Claus, while fun and light-hearted is a typical Hallmark/Lifetime type of made for TV movie. No plot twists, but cute.

The Polar Express. For anyone with children under say 10 years old, this is a must. Robert Zemekis directing with Tom Hanks’ likeness making up 80% of the bigger characters. This is an animation meets CG type of movie. Similar to Disney’s A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey’s likeness. This is a fun twist on providing answers to the questions that kids ask. The Polar Express is a magic train (and a BIG train) that takes skeptical kids to the North Pole to meet Santa and see for themselves that it is real.

Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas. Full disclosure, this is new for 2014 and I have not as of yet, seen it. I normally don’t like to recommend anything I haven’t seen. However, I think this one isn’t too much of a stretch. Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory steps into Buddy’s shoes replacing Will Ferrell. His father is voiced by Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker. Ed Asner returns to voice Santa. It doesn’t end there. Kate Micucci of Garfunkel and Oates, Fred Armisen from SNL and Portlandia, Gilbert Gottfried, Jay Leno, Steve Higgins, and even Matt Lauer lend their voices to this animated musical that I’m sure is worth your time. Or at least, your kids’ time.

A Charlie Brown Christmas. To my knowledge this is the first time A Charlie Brown Christmas has been broadcast this season. With The Great Pumpkin and Thanksgiving Charlie Brown, they can afford to spread the Peanuts love around.

Home Alone. No matter how old you are or where you were when McCauley Culkin burst on the scene as Kevin McCallister, Home Alone should have a place on your holiday movie rundown. I will not be so bold to say it belongs at the top, that falls on your discretion. I personally, don’t have it in the top 15 (without checking). But top 15 on a list that goes 100 deep is respectable. Nice wholesome story for the entire family. How he would not be traumatized into habitual good behavior going forward as to never repeat such a travesty is behind me. Lost in New York would never happen in real life. But that’s a debate on realism. You have to throw realism away to enjoy Home Alone.

Check back tomorrow as we will continue to post daily schedules and breakdowns through December 24th.

Set Your DVR! Monday December 15th Holiday Programming Schedule

At, we pride ourselves on our commitment to quality. This particular article is one of a series that will aid in your pursuit of Holiday related television content. As a self admitted “Christmas Degenerate”, I know all too well that the influx of Holiday programming is daunting. Chances are pretty good that even when the desire strikes, finding what you’re looking for may be challenging. I would venture a guess that I am in the top 1% of those who have seen the sheer volume of Holiday programming that is available. I will be the first to admit that a large portion of which cannot be categorized as ‘high quality’. So, consider me your guide through the Holiday Television landscape.

I thought we’d start off very simply. I am providing you with a weekly Television schedule of Holiday content. Each Sunday through the remainder of the Holiday season I will post the upcoming week’s schedule. Not only what the show or movie is, but what network it will air on and when it will air. As you peruse the list you will come across multiples. The same movie repeated throughout the list. This is not because I personally feel it’s worth watching multiple times. I, and I hope most of you, live in the DVR Era. With certain DVR limitations, you may not be in a position to record the movie or show in question the first time it airs. So, I have given you options. Not all of these are future classics. However, all that are mentioned have some redeeming value. From ‘Santa Jr’ all the way up to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (a consensus top 5 of all time movie).

Your varying interest in fact will depend on you personally. For me, aside from what we bring you here on this site, I am exclusively Holiday content as soon as they start airing it. Usually around late October. By the time we get to December, I don’t have DVR space for re-runs or ‘if I have time, maybe I’ll watch it’ type of DVR recordings. If you find yourself searching the list and can’t decide if something is for you, or have a specific taste and don’t want to waste your time with something you won’t enjoy, feel free to pose your question or concern in the comments section. I will be more than happy to do the leg work for you. With that said, let’s look at the list.

Dec 15c

Monday December 15th actually has a very nice spread. Something for everyone. Right out of the gate is The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. This might just be my favorite made for TV Christmas movie that isn’t sappy. The name might have you believing this is a classic. It is not. Uncle Ralph (played by Henry Winkler) meets a fellow traveler on his way to visit his grown niece. When Denver gets snowed in, Ralph convinces Jen (the niece) to allow Morgan (the traveler) to stay with them for a day. It’s fun, light-hearted, not too serious, and your basic ‘good’ made for TV holiday movie.

It’s A Wonderful Life needs no introduction. For my money, I hope it’s not the colorized version. A Royal Christmas is cute. It’s not a romance flick, but does center around two people wanting to be together despite obvious hurdles. This is your typical Prince falls for a commoner, and Queen doesn’t who approve, type of stories. It is the second movie of its kind in the last five years or so. Both are on this list.

Christmas Blessing is a little closer to the Lifetime/Hallmark wheelhouse. Neil Patrick Harris as a surgeon. Yeah, I know, Doogie Howser MD grows up just a little to be a surgeon. Then a surgery doesn’t go well and he runs off back home to escape. There is a romantic interest, a young boy (the one from Two and a Half Men) and a project to build a safe place for kids. This is actually a relative sequel to the movie Christmas Shoes. Christmas Shoes is even a little more real or too serious. Having seen both, Blessing is better and I rarely if ever see myself watching Christmas Shoes again. Anyone who has heard the song Christmas Shoes will know everything they need to in order to view Blessing without having seen Shoes.

Matchmaker Santa is fun. Girl in the wrong situation gets out of it and into the right situation after a series of events manipulated by a nice old man, or Santa depending on how literal you want to be. By the end of this one, rest assured all live happily ever after.

When Angels Come to Town is specific. This one might not be for everyone. However, I enjoy the pairing of Katey Segal post Married with Children but pre-Sons of Anarchy and an aging Peter Falk (Columbo). This one is a little slow-moving, but one I think most people should see at least once. Falk and Segal are angels sent to earth to do a small thing that will help a family immensely. The Job gets fumbled and eventually rectified. But not before some hijinks. Like Peter Falk dressed as an old and very ugly female shop clerk. This may not be one you watch every year, but it’s worth the time every now and again.

Disney’s Prep and Landing is without question for the kids. It’s an animated story about a particular elf trying desperately to improve his station at the North Pole. Seriously, if you have age appropriate kids, go for it. Otherwise, keep scrolling. They usually are paired together in prime time.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is what I would consider an almost classic. I personally prefer the original, but as sequels go Lost in New York is real solid. Like the Die Hard 1 vs 2 debate. Most people have the one they prefer, but an argument could be made for the other.

The Polar Express, again almost strictly for the children. My not quite 3-year old is crazy for this one right now. I think it’s because it’s about a train and my son loves trains. As an adult, I think it’s something I still wouldn’t watch more than once a year. The CG is inconsistent. The elves are almost creepy. And it drags on. When I do watch it, I normally fast forward through the first 30 minutes.

Love at the Christmas Table is, in my humble opinion, the best ‘sappy’ made for TV Christmas movie to date. I am a child of the 80’s, so casting Winnie Cooper had me sold immediately. This is the story of two families and their respective children. These two children grow up and apart while always coming back to the same Christmas party. The only question is if they will end up together. And if they do, what will that mean for the families around them.

Check back daily for schedule updates.