This month’s blog was going to be a musical tribute to all the great fallen rockers this year, but after much debate your blogger decided it was time to come clean on a secret that is hard to admit to. I must come out of the closet and admit that I love sappy Hallmark-type Christmas movies. Oh, I hate Christmas, make no mistake of that. Oh make no mistake, however, the spirit of this time of year plus the chance to visit with friends and family (or at least most of the family except you-know-who – probably me) is joyous and wonderful. What I despise is the need to spend mounds of cash buying overpriced worthless junk for everyone you know in the name of holiday giving – ugh. Call me Mr. Scrooge. Being generally frugal, this just tears my guts out – especially when January 16th rolls around and the credit card bill shows up (happy happy, joy joy). In trying to analyze why I love cloying Christmas cinema (made for TV) I suspect it’s because at the end of the each show is that happily-ever-after moment. The route to that throat-catching eye-wetting moment is almost always pretty predictable and often the stories are interchangeable, but the payoff is the knowing that everything in the hero and heroine’s lives will be perfect in the end. We know that our lives have no chance of getting to that level, of course. I mean, it’s amazing how much money most of the characters seem to have and how good looking they all are (the cuteness of the characters however is a factor in whether I like the show – especially the female lead, let’s be honest). Frankly I do tend to like the shows where the people at least look somewhat normal and don’t have 6 figure incomes more than the movies about royalty or slumming celebs. Oh, and right off the bat I won’t watch any show starring Candace Cameron Bure, a Barbie Doll of a lady who doesn’t look or act like anyone you have ever met in real life. By the way, having an old recognizable star in a supporting role always helps even if you can’t place their name or what show they used to be on. When you watch these movies, you are struck by how many beautiful/handsome single parents there apparently are in the world who have had some sort of Christmas catastrophe that has ruined their holiday spirit and only need to meet the right person to fulfill their lives with a little help from an angel/magic spirit/man in a red suit.
The following list of my fave 20 sappy Christmas movies doesn’t include any of the real cinematic holiday gems such as my favorites It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th St (that cane hanging on the doorknob in the end always chokes me up). I will try to include a link if one exists but I apologize for any technical issues (note that due to copyrights many are either not available or altered in some way plus may be removed at any time). WARNING – get your hankies ready and I apologize if I give away the plot too much but frankly you know how they are going to end, now don’t you?
1.The Christmas Card – 2016
Any made-for-TV show with Ed Asner and Lois Nettleton as the parents has a leg-up on the competition. The main characters are believable human beings – Alice Evans as a woman whose parents own a logging operation and John Newton as a soldier trying to find her based on a card she sent thanking the troops for their service at Christmastime. The card shows an idyllic life that Newton’s character longs for after the pain of war. When you see the sort of creepy smarmy guy she is supposedly in love with you know that she will fall for the handsome GI.
2.The 9 Lives Of Christmas – 2014
Kimberly Sustad plays a lady training to be a veterinarian who doesn’t have time for romance and seems awkward with her looks – oh and she loves cats. Brandon Roush plays a hunky but down-to-earth firefighter mainly interested in work and rebuilding the house he lives in so he can sell it. A stray cat seems to have designs on mixing these two together (and removing Roush’s worthless girlfriend from the picture). Will they or won’t they?
3.The Mistletoe Promise – 2016
A newcomer from last season, this has one of the more original story lines for these sorts of shows and includes two very likable characters. Luke MacFarlane plays a lawyer who hates Christmas and Jaime King a travel agent also disillusioned by how the holidays have let her down. The story involves how they are thrown together and make a legal pact to help each other’s careers. They have great chemistry, so…
4.Mrs. Miracle – 2009
The late Doris Roberts is a gem as the title character (Mrs. Merkle) who mysteriously shows up when a sweet but frazzled single dad (James Van Der Beek) is desperate to find a nanny for his out of control kids. Merkle magically has a hand in bringing a cute-as-a-button travel agent (Erin Karpluk) into his life and makes sure that everyone cleans the dishes. Of course she has family issues that need to be worked out as well.
5.Fallen Angel – 2003
Gary Sinise is what makes this movie believable and warm with perhaps the best acting in any of these movies. He plays a big-city lawyer who returns to his old town to tie up his estranged father’s affairs after his death. He gets sidetracked by a single mom (played by Joely Richardson) who he has a past with – unknown to her. While her blind child (Jordy Benattar) seems a tad contrived as a plot addition, she ends up adding sweetness and wonder to the show. The parts about her homeless dad are instructive as well and handled with dignity.
6.A Boyfriend For Christmas – 2004
The cast in this show is alot of its charm. Veteran character actor Charles Durning plays Santa who spends a lot of his time trying to bring two do-gooders (played by Kelli Williams and Patrick Muldoon) together that are fated to love each other but can’t seem to make the proper connection without a little help. They may also share a backstory unbeknownst to them. Martin Mull plays her dad and his blessing feels genuine but man do these people look rich rich rich!! The Salt Lake City establishing shots are a rare addition.
7.Call Me Mrs. Miracle – 2010
Sorry, but only the trailer is available on this sequel to the movie at number 4 on our list starring Doris Roberts again as the magical Mrs. Merkle. This time she meddles with the lives of a department store heir played by Eric Johnson (whose dad hates what Christmas reminds him of) and a lady watching her nephew while her brother is in the Army. Jewel Staite plays that woman and her interesting non-cookie cutter look sets this apart (plus the late Doris Roberts who was so good here and as the mom in Everybody Loves Raymond). This is one of the few movies with a decent supporting part for a Latino (Patricia Mayen-Salazar).
8.The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – 2008
Since Henry Winkler played the Fonz in Happy Days it seems like he has never been cast in anything that worked like that character for me till this one. Here he plays a no b.s. ex-cop from the east coast travelling to visit his niece who is a single mom living in Chicago. The way he befriends and trusts implicitly the character played by Warren Christie would seem odd in today’s scary world if Winkler didn’t make is seem okay with his ex-cop mentality. Brooke Burns is a tad more beautiful than any other suburban single mom I can imagine, but the story works again because of Winkler. His Uncle Ralph character brings home a man who wants to be a chef and is on his way to Denver to try his luck but can’t make it due to weather. The rest is chemistry.
9.Matchmaker Santa – 2012
Another trailer here as the full movie isn’t available for free online. Lacey Chabert plays a lady who a large jolly man named Chris who may or may not be the real Santa is trying to be matchmaker for. She is to wed a busy business-type but of course may or may not end up with his handsome assistant (Adam Mayfield). A rarity for these shows is that the business-type played by Thad Luckinbill is not unlikable and good things end up happening for all involved thankfully. Recognizable background players include John Ratzenberger of Cheers and Florence Henderson of The Brady Bunch.
10.The Christmas List – 1997
As these shows age, TV seems to drop them which is too bad as you hardly see this one anymore. This two decade old charmer is much better then the Alicia Witt movie it shares a title with (though that one is at least watchable if not great). Mimi Rogers plays a perfume expert in a store who on a whim makes a list of all the things she wants for Christmas. When her friend playfully mails it to Santa her wishes amazingly start coming true but not always with the result she wants. Old-guard actress Stella Stevens plays her mom.
11.The Christmas Shepherd – 2014
The star of this show is Ace the dog who plays Buddy, a German Shepherd who brings together a single dad (Martin Cummins) and a children’s book author (Teri Polo). Ace has great acting skills and chemistry with the rest of the cast. The scenes where the author helps the clueless dad get his daughter ready for a dance are especially believable.
12.Trading Christmas – 2011
The third Debbie Macomber story in our list is the first not about Mrs. Miracle. Virtually all the cast have recognizable TV faces and are mostly Canadian. Without giving away too much, small-town teacher (U.S. actress Faith Ford from Murphy Brown) goes to the big city to surprise her daughter who isn’t there and ends up meeting a business-type (Gil Bellows). Her friend played by Gabrielle Miller goes to surprise her in her small-town and ends up instead surprising her house-swapping big-city author played by Tom Cavanagh. Those stories are winning and fun as opposed to the daughter’s story which didn’t grab me as much.
13.Crazy For Christmas – 2005
Another trailer I fear. The payoff for me is Howard Hesseman who seems truly believable as an eccentric rich dude who after years of being a ruthless businessman is now giving back in spades at Christmastime. Andrea Roth plays a single-mom chauffeur he hires to drive him around while he does his good deeds. That he has a backstory with her she isn’t aware of is what supplies the plot. Yannick Bisson plays a reporter who is tailing them and may have some interest in doing more than report on the chauffeur. It is fun to see former SCTV star Joe Flaherty in a small role. While I can’t stand the part (or actor Jason Spevack?) who plays her whiny kid, this is the only movie here that has a surprisingly sweet gay story arc that works in the context of the main plot.
14.Christmas Every Day – 1996
This is the oldest show on our list and shares plot similarities with Groundhog Day with the main character played by Erik Von Detten replaying Christmas till he figures out how to get it right due to a wish by his sister. The story is actually based on an 1892 story by William Dean Howells with the same title. Robert Hays as the dad is one of those character actors you instantly recognize. The teens in the show actually seem believable and you end up interested in the ancillary stories that feed the main plot.
15.Finding John Christmas – 2003
Peter Falk as Max the angel is the glue that holds together this sweet story about trying to find a lost soul and bring him home to his family after years of self-torture having formerly been a hero fireman. Valerie Bertinelli plays his sister who is also trying to save the E.R. she works in. Canadian actor David Cubitt (who plays the reporter Max is trying to steer toward the nurse) has a backstory with the fireman as well.
16.The Christmas Ornament – 2013
Once again if you wish to watch this you will need to fork over $9.99 or watch the myriad repeats on the Hallmark Channel. Okay, parts of this story seem way hokey and contrived – trying to sell Hallmark ornaments methinks. At the same time, the stars actually look and feel like real people with Kellie Martin and Cameron Mathison being good enough looking but not knockouts. Truth be told, I do find her friend played by Jewel Staite (see number 7 above) to be cute in an exotic way (the big glasses help). She lost her husband and is trying to keep his bike shop afloat even though her heart isn’t in it as she bakes killer cookies (what could be in them?). He had his heart broken by a rotten but hot babe and has a tree lot while he dreams of some sort of Christmas theme-park or something. Will they get together? Will she find her lost mittens?
17.Holiday In Handcuffs – 2007
This one is on DVD and occasionally on TV so once again you get a trailer. This is a screwball comedy that only works because of the sweetness and charm of Melissa Joan Hart. She plays a struggling artist who must bring some guy – any guy – home to her odd family for Christmas. I suspect the only reason Mario Lopez is cast as the reluctant guy is so he can go without a shirt (his acting skills are okay but I would think the ladies like his pecs better). Old-guard actors Timothy Bottoms, Markie Post and June Lockhart play the odd family perfectly. Will they ever get Mario out of Hart’s handcuffs? Well they must have found the key as I see there is a new pairing of the two listed on this years’ Hallmark movie calendar.
18.Christmas Angel – 2009
The title is similar to several other shows so make sure to look for veteran actor Bruce Davidson in the credits. Since this doesn’t play as often as some of the less worthy shows it is too bad I could only include a trailer. Davidson’s understated performance sells him as a real person who is dying and has enough money to bestow on someone of his choosing to carry on his Secret Santa mission. Kari Hawker and K.C. Clyde play a cynical woman and a reporter looking into the Santa story. The plot digs deeply in to what Christmas should be about.
19.Three Days – 2001
Holy cow, if this one doesn’t make you cry you have no heart. A hard driven business type has been neglecting his marriage and comes to regret that when his wife dies. An angel played by Tim Meadows gives him a chance to relive the three days before his wife dies and he tries to change everything, but things don’t always go perfectly in life. The end feels like something that Rod Serling would have written for The Twilight Zone. Kristin Davis and Reed Diamond play the couple.
20.A Town Without Christmas – 2001
The Grinches at Hallmark make you watch this in mirror image but at least they haven’t taken it down yet (but you can watch this in endless replay on the Hallmark channel anyway). This was the first movie in which Peter Falk played Max the angel (there is a third not on our list – When Angels Come To Town). The story is about a small-town Washington child who writes a letter to Santa about his divorcing parents and how he doesn’t wish to exist anymore. Patricia Heaton plays a hard-bitten reporter who goes to the town to get the story and ends up bonding with a struggling writer (Rick Roberts) in search of the truth. The story is great though there isn’t the same chemistry between Heaton and Roberts as she had with Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond.