The holiday season is here, but I have difficulty thinking back at anything in this wretched year without curling my mouth into a Grinchy snarl.
A pandemic, a wildfire, a combative election;
Missing my relatives, a “maskne” complexion…
That’s right. I’m writing in rhyme.
Because this year, we need the dangerously cheesy holiday spirit to get us through.
I’m not talking about powerfully sentimental holiday-themed messages of love and family. I’m not talking about stories that pull at your heartstrings as you empathize with a complicated antagonist, stories that break your heart, or lessons meant to bring appreciation for what special gifts you have taken for granted. There have been more than enough tears shed in the reality of this difficult year.
It’s time for a well- deserved break from reality in the form of the guilty-pleasure Christmas movies of yore.
These are films you reluctantly, secretly love and remark every time you watch them just how not good they are. Despite the poorly-written dialogue, predictable plot points, and unrealistic romantic gestures, there is something about a shamelessly hopeful Christmas comedy that brings intangible warmth to one’s hardened, frozen heart.
Let’s put the impactful dramas and insightful documentaries on hold and make room for some meaningless-yet-merry holiday movies to distract ourselves from the trainwreck that has been this year. I’ll leave out the popular, fan-favorite flicks like A Christmas Story, Elf, and Love Actually; I know you’ve already watched them (and December TV has been monopolized by Ralphie already).
So grab your heated blanket, your thrice-microwaved hot chocolate, your family Zoom call, and your plate of misshapen gingerbread cookies. Let’s dive into some cringe-worthy Christmas cheer that you simply can’t miss this year. (Yes, I’m rhyming again, sorry not sorry.)
The Princess Switch (2018)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “Christmas should be about love.”
If you are smitten with fake accents or longing for life in the “old normal” that includes preparing for a ball or competing in an international baking competition, you might enjoy this look-alike life swap story. Cheesy romances abound, including a shocking scene where Vanessa Hudgens is impressed to see a shirtless man. Can you remember the last time a shirtless man impressed you? Me either. Unless he is shirtless because he just finished folding all his shirts on his break while working from home.
Planes Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “Those aren’t pillows!”
Steve Martin plays an uptight and slightly loopy (personality traits I fully stand behind as a parent) dad travelling home to his family for Thanksgiving with the help of a disaster-prone John Candy. It’s got that John Hughes charm that makes every minute painfully awkward yet somehow hilarious.
There’s John Candy, dressed as the devil, laughing maniacally. There’s Steve Martin, experiencing a heartfelt epiphany to the tunes of 80s synth chords. If I haven’t sold you yet, just watch the unnecessarily long opening sequence of Steve Martin and Kevin Bacon racing for a cab. It’s positively pointless, yet strangely satisfying.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “Put that cookie down! NOW!!”
It’s an abhorrent crime that this movie isn’t a more popular Christmas classic. It’s so enjoyably terrible. Arnold Swartzenegger and Sinbad are frantic dads scouring the city for the elusive Turbo Man doll as seconds tick away toward Christmas Day. Sinbad is the true standout of the film, a mailman/villain with a number of sincere, quotable monologues, but the whole movie was clearly written as an excuse to gear up Arnold in a superhero costume.
Jingle All the Way is an intimate portrayal of the frenzied depths fathers descend to when they have completely forgotten the one thing they were asked to do before the holidays: buy their kid one gift.
Holiday Rush (2019)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “It’s not what you got—it’s what you got around you.”
My favorite Christmas movies are ones that involve poorly digitally-edited ghosts, so imagine my delight when Angelic Ghost Mom shows up in Holiday Rush to give her hubby a pep talk about learning to love again.
A wealthy family has to make big sacrifices, like not getting mini-horses, when their big-time radio host father loses his job before Christmas. The characters are actually likeable as far as cheesy Christmas movies go, and they are all in on that trend of matching family pajamas. If you haven’t seen a movie preaching the “true meaning of the holidays,” this one’s got you covered.
A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “Never eat singing food.”
If you need to take inventory of your mental faculties before the holidays, as I often do, flip on this classic Muppet retelling of A Christmas Carol and assess how often you change your voice to match different singing Muppets as you sing along at the top of your lungs. The songs in this classic Christmas retelling are musically manageable, but they are almost unbearably long. Of course I know every word. And every Muppet voice. And my kids are very, very tired of hearing this.
A Christmas Prince (2017)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “A palace is a lonely place for a king without a queen.”
Who among us has not crumpled in the midst of a dispassionate snowball fight on top of a man we would one day marry? Totally relatable. As far as Christmas RomComs go, there’s not much to be emotionally invested in here beyond the idea of international travel and a good old-fashioned royal succession mystery.
The Internet devoured this Netflix darling a few years ago, and A Christmas Prince remains a joy to watch during any present-wrapping session. If you gave birth or got married this year, there are two sequels you can hate-watch as the heroine plans a wedding and a baby shower without a single mask or hand sanitizer in sight. Simpler times.
The Knight Before Christmas (2019)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “He was a boiled-brained codpiece to choose any other over you.”
For those of us still sore after the Game of Thrones season 8 debacle, this film may be the knight-in shining-armor fantasy that will restore your faith in love, if not exactly your faith in character development. Revolving around a romance between a time-travelling knight and a heartbroken teacher, The Knight Before Christmas might be the medieval merriment you need in your life. No, it doesn’t do much to suspend disbelief in time travel or chivalry, but it’s somehow endearing in a way reminiscent of Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale.
Jingle Jangle (2020)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “The square root of impossible…is me!”
Led by incredible Black talent, this family-friendly tale of a toymaker is at its best when there’s acting, singing, and dancing to be had—and at its worst whenever Ricky Martin is voicing a wooden toy (John Legend produced this film so I think we can make room for a Chrissy Tiegen cringe face here). Jingle Jangle is overall creative, gorgeous to watch, and a refreshing change to the same overcooked Yuletide carols sung in the same key by the same pop stars. Its over-the-top musical numbers and colorful costumes pack just the right amount of Christmas spirit to quell any dispirited Scrooge.
The Christmas Contract (2018)
Memorable Christmas Quote: “Teach me how to make the gumbo.”
What says ‘Christmas Romance’ more clearly than a signed document? If you think that the title sounds dreadfully dull, you’ll only be a little bit surprised at this lukewarm film. Fans of One Tree Hill will recognize the stars, who sign an affidavit to pretend to be dating for Christmas. We all know what happens next.
And although I spent much of this film waiting for the Christmas Contract to be notarized and legally binding, it’s light-hearted and against all odds, I didn’t hate it (that’s high praise for a Christmas romance!).
Memorable Christmas Quote: “You’d be surprised at the quality of men you can meet at the mall!”
This kind of after-the-kids-go-to-bed holiday film has more than a few clichés to go around. A Dirty Dancing scene gone wrong, a host of “Are they going to kiss? Not yet!” moments, and some flat characters accompany this holiday remix of movies in the vein of No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits. The plot is ridiculous and predictable, but it sprung some unexpected laughs on me and Luke Bracey is cute, making this film a great candidate for a one-night-Christmas-movie-stand.
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