Today may be Christmas*, but I’ve been in the holiday spirit since the first weekend of November, when I decided that it was time to venture into the world of made-for-TV Christmas movies.
It’s been years since I’ve entered this world. I first happened across it during the holidays growing up, when ABC Family or Lifetime would tell me, no matter what had gone wrong, what lies were told or who you were originally dating, you would end up with the love of your life (or the person you think is the love of your life because it’s Christmas).
Friend Tammi calls them “emo chick porn,” and I can’t say this isn’t true. They are of varying levels of ridiculousness, and they’re very easy to predict. Yes, of course these two characters who have nothing in common (or who have everything in common) are going to be thrown together during the holiday season, and maybe there will be a horse or some mistletoe, but definitely there will be a falling out and 10 minutes before the movie ends, we still won’t have any sort of resolution but YES there is their first kiss in the final 45 seconds. Le sigh.
My love for these works of art — you can’t tell me they are anything else — has lain dormant since I left for college and then moved to D.C., mostly out of being too poor to afford cable.
But no more. This year, I watched 12 of these films. And because of the brilliance of friend Mackenzie, I now present what I hope will become an annual ranking of whatever ridiculous movies I watched this year. (Note: I’ve basically made my decisions based on what I would rewatch in the future and the fireplaces/mistletoe/white elephant/bourbon system was devised by Mackenzie. Further edits may be made to add her own thoughts.)
1. Window Wonderland
It’s no holds barred when two Manhattan department store employees vie for the same job during the busy Christmas season.
My first reaction to this movie was, “Are these real careers?” But once I set aside that initial incredulity, Window Wonderland became a delight. The leads — Paul Campbell, a Canadian actor I’ve never heard of but Mackenzie tells me he is from Battlestar Galactica, and Chyler Leigh of Grey’s Anatomy fame — actually have chemistry, which is such a rarity. Unlike many of the couples in these movies, the circumstances that throw them together are pretty normal; they work together and have been bickering ever since they met. Sloane is super Type A and Jake is artistic and a bit sloppy. Who doesn’t love the opposites-attract trope?
Speaking of tropes: I won’t spoil how this happens, but since the two work in a department store, of course they inevitably get locked in the store overnight, which leads to the pair dancing in the jewelry section. I’m a sucker for those moments, so I melted.
Other highlights: some sort of Judd (Naomi?) as a bathroom attendant/Chyler’s mom and a sweet old man who works at the store in subplot romance of their own, and this line: “I don’t want to be someone’s plus one. I want to be someone’s battle ax.”
Also, because of this movie, I learned that Salvador Dali was once a window dresser, just like these two characters. Who knew? Bonus points for teaching me something that is actually true!
4 fireplaces for Paul Campbell
5 mistletoes for romance
3 white elephants for the lolz
2 bourbons for suspension of disbelief
2. 12 Dates of Christmas
A young woman relives the same first date on Christmas Eve over and over again until she gets it right.
This movie amounts to the sappy Christmas movie version of Groundhog Day. As long as you go into this film understanding that (and not questioning why it’s happening, because honestly, I still have no idea), then it quickly becomes a joy.
We meet Kate (Amy Smart), a woman who is still hung up on her ex-boyfriend and is going on a blind date on CHRISTMAS EVE (hello, personal nightmare) with Miles, her stepmother’s godson. She blows off said godson — played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar of Saved By The Bell — in order to see her ex, only to find out that he is proposing to his new girlfriend.
It’s a horrible day, but as fate would have it, it won’t be the final say, because as soon as the clock strikes midnight, she finds herself waking up on Christmas Eve once more. Each relived Dec. 24 is a new story — and I have no idea if there were actually 12 relived days — but there is one constant: her chemistry with MPG (but you saw that one coming, didn’t you?). Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it as much as I did: no matter the circumstances under which you meet someone, sometimes, it’s just meant to be. Sap sap sap sap sap.
5 fireplaces for MPG — The man is ageless. Also, he’s a hockey coach in the movie, and roommate Kaitie pointed out that I seem to have a thing for hockey players.
5 mistletoes for romance (hellooooooooooooo, ice skating montage)
3 white elephants for lolz
5 bourbons for suspension of disbelief
3. Hitched for the Holidays
An attractive pair agrees to be each other’s supposed significant other throughout the holidays to keep their meddling families at bay.
A popular theme among the made-for-TV movies are the couples in fake relationships. Sometimes, one person is paying someone to pretend to be her significant other. Other times, someone kidnaps a person at gunpoint and a weird sort of Stockholm syndrome situation takes place (please see the honorable mention below).
In Hitched for the Holidays, both Rob (Joey Lawrence) and Julie (Emily Hampshire) decide they are going to use each other in order to deal with their families. In Rob’s case, he has told his dying grandmother that he’s met the girl he’s going to marry. In Julie’s, her Jewish parents are hassling her over her singledom as the holidays approach.
What ensues are lies about religious beliefs, drunken party dancing, and, over the course of a couple weeks, actually developing real feelings for each other. This movie gets a bit more deep than they usually do — we explore how Rob’s mother random disappearances in the past have affected him as a human being and actually talk about religion a bit! — but it also embraces the ridiculousness of the genre. And if you know anything about me, you know that’s basically my life motto.
Highlight: Two words: Hanukkah tree. Also, there’s a legit horse chase.
3 fireplaces for Joey Lawrence — for me, this ‘90s teen idol just doesn’t really do it for me, but I will acknowledge that other people find him attractive.
4 mistletoes for romance — I mean, a horse was involved in the grand gesture.
5 white elephants for lolz — let me repeat myself: HANUKKAH TREE.
3 bourbons for suspension of disbelief
4. Love at the Christmas Table
Sam and Kat have spent every Christmas at the children’s table since they were toddlers. They grew up together sharing the highs and lows of young adulthood. Now nearly 30 years later, Sam realizes Kat is the one, but he is afraid that the past will get in his way.
I actually first saw the end of this movie while waiting for “Liz and Dick” to start, which is how I knew that it ends underneath a table. It’s actually much more promising than it sounds. I love the idea that here are these two people that have known each other for as long as they can remember, and it takes DECADES for them to even consider thinking of the other as a possibly romantic interest. Talk about a slow burn.
Seeing them when they’re children is fun, but it gets much more interesting when Sam (Dustin Milligan) heads off to college while Kat (Danica McKellar AKA Winnie Cooper from the Wonder Years) stays behind to work for their fathers’ company. Here, the tension begins. He meets someone, she meets someone, he breaks up with said someone, she breaks up with hers, they finally both turn 26 and they STILL HAVEN’T KISSED YET. It’s agonizing and it’s amazing.
Highlight: they dance. It is the best dance. It is so good that you get the video of it.
4 fireplaces for Dustin Milligan
4 mistletoes for romance
3 white elephants for lolz
3 bourbons for disbelief
5. Dear Santa
Lonely and drifting through life, Crystal discovers a letter from a little girl asking Santa to send her daddy a new wife for Christmas. She decides to seek them out in the hopes of making herself their gift from Santa.
I only watched this movie because it happened to be on after another film that night, but I stuck with it because Amy Acker (who I personally love because of everything Joss Whedon-related that she has done) was the star. While the premise could be creepy — this woman tracks down this family because of a letter she found? — Acker wins the viewer by playing her character with sincerity. That’s quite a feat considering Crystal has the potential to be absolutely insufferable, something that often happens in made-for-TV Christmas movie land (please see Christina Milian’s character in Christmas Cupid).
Most of the people in this film are fairly exemplary human beings: Crystal, if you get over the stalkerish tendencies, has a big heart, the love interest runs a soup kitchen, the daughter just wants to rebuild her family and have someone take her ice skating, and the homeless man who refuses to go into any buildings offers sage advice. The only truly terrible person is love interest’s current girlfriend, who is only pretending to be good to marry said man. At least her existence gives the viewer someone to root against.
2 fireplaces for David Haydn-Jones — I suppose he is attractive in a rugged way?
3 mistletoes for romance — the most romantic scene in this movie takes place while they’re plowing snow.
3 white elephants for lolz
2 bourbons for suspension of disbelief
Honorable mention: Holiday in Handcuffs
A struggling artist working as a waitress kidnaps one of her customers to bring home and meet her parents at Christmas.
This movie makes no sense, in that you have no idea why in the world these two characters fall in love. Trudie (Melissa Joan Hart), crazed by the fact that her boyfriend has just dumped her before they were set to spend the holidays with her family, kidnaps David (Mario Lopez) at gunpoint. He tries to escape to no avail, since she’s been able to convince her family that he’s joking when he says he’s been taken hostage.
It does try to make the viewer understand why Trudie is cray cray — her mom is cray cray, her grandmother is cray cray, etc. And after we see David’s girlfriend, you start to understand that maybe he has a thing for a crazy kind of girl.
I’m trying to justify my enjoyment of this movie, but I’m not sure I can. Just know that there’s a super fake ice skating scene, a sassy grandma and fuzzy love cuffs.
Other movies that I watched this year: A Christmas Kiss, Christmas Cupid, Twelve Trees of Christmas, A Holiday Engagement, Finding Christmas, Christmas on the Bayou (which, though it did not make the top 5, I recommend because Tyler Hilton).
*I wrote this on Christmas and didn’t get a chance to publish until the day after.