Doesn't it feel like, all of a sudden, WAY TOO MANY Christmas movies of questionable quality have started completely flooding our lives?
This year alone, the 2 Hallmark Channels are premiering 40 NEW holiday movies. Add to that the 30 NEW holiday films premiered as part of the “It’s A Wonderful Lifetime” slate this year. That’s 70 NEW holiday films. That’s just one year — and on only three channels. We haven’t even touched any of the original content premiering on the ten trillion Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon prime, Apple TV, HBO Max, Starz, and endless other streaming options now available from the comfort of our own homes!
Don’t get us wrong. Christmas movies are a good thing. Options are a good thing.
But when it come time to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff - that's when the trouble sets in.
With only so many viewing hours available during the holiday crush, how are we supposed to know WHICH of these Christmas movies to actually watch?
Everybody knows about those movies in the top tier that represent the “Best Christmas Films of All Time”.
You know, the movies like: “White Christmas“. “It’s A Wonderful Life“. “A Christmas Carol“. “The Bishop’s Wife“. “A Christmas Story“. “Love Actually“. “Elf“. “Meet Me In St. Louis“. “A Charlie Brown Christmas“.
But for every single “Miracle On 34th Street“, there are 20 (so-called) movies just like “A Boyfriend for Christmas” that are just not (in any way – at least, in our humble opinions) deserving of your conscious hours.
Since this time of year happens to have us in the giving spirit, we’ve decided to take it upon ourselves to put together a list of exceedingly watchable Christmas movies for when you’re wanting to enjoy a festive film you may not have seen (or in some cases, even heard about) before — but aren’t entirely certain where to start.
Here Is Our List: 20 of the BEST Lesser-Known Holiday Season Movies (in no particular order)
An American Christmas Carol (1979)
A serious-minded effort to put an Old New England spin on the Old English Christmas Carol. We have to say, The Fonz really brought his A-Game for this production. Who knew? Keep your eyes peeled — this won’t be Arthur Fonzarelli’s only mention in our Christmas movie collection!
SUMMARY: This loose adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens tale moves the story to New England, where stingy elderly businessman Benedict Slade (Henry Winkler) ruthlessly collects debts and makes life miserable for everyone around him. His unscrupulous behavior warrants a Christmas Eve visit from his ghostly former partner and other spirits that show him the error of his ways. Can Slade turn his life around and become a better person before it’s too late?
November Christmas (2010)
A made-for-TV holiday drama powered by a couple of very strong performances by Sam Elliott and (then) child actress Emily Alyn Lind. Keep the Kleenex handy! If you can make it through this one without crying, you’re stronger than we are!
SUMMARY: A father whose daughter is seriously ill fears she will not live through the year. He is determined to make sure her remaining time is happy, and with the help of his neighbors, he arranges to celebrate Halloween and Christmas months ahead of schedule so she can enjoy both holidays.
Surviving Christmas (2004)
Tony Soprano playing an extremely grumpy Christmas-season dad opposite a better-than-it-should-be goofball performance by Ben Affleck? Uhhhmmm, where do I sign up? Yeah, there may be a few Christmas Movie Snowflakes out there vocally opining that this movie is probably lesser-known because it almost derailed Ben Affleck’s career. All we can do is agree to disagree and shout out: “Sweet Jim Jiminy! Cold corn in the mornin’!“
SUMMARY: A wealthy executive, Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) has no close relationships and becomes nostalgic for his childhood home as Christmas approaches. When he visits the house and finds another family living there, he offers the residents, Tom Valco (James Gandolfini) and his wife, Christine (Catherine O’Hara), a large sum of money to pretend they are his parents. Soon Drew tests the couple’s patience, and, when their daughter, Alicia (Christina Applegate), arrives, things get increasingly tense.
29th Street (1991)
Think “Goodfellas” with a dollop of “It’s A Wonderful Life”! No idea how this one has flown under the radar for so long! Somebody needs to start Danny Aiello a holiday movie fan club, or something! Also, look for another mostly-unseen Christmas flick featuring the criminally-underrated yuletide-facing side of Danny Aiello a little later on in this list!
SUMMARY: 29th Street is a forgotten feel-good film that deserves to be recognized as a Christmas classic. In this fact-based film, happy-go-lucky Frank Pesce Jr. (Anthony LaPaglia) is lucky from the day of his birth, when his mother (Lainie Kazan) gives birth to him in a different hospital than planned — only to have the first facility burn down. Growing up in an Italian neighborhood in Queens, Frank’s irresponsible ways and good fortune irritate his hard-working but luckless father, Frank Pesce Sr. (Danny Aiello). When Frank Jr. is the New York State Lottery’s first winner, during the Christmas season, he angers his dad.
The Spirit of Christmas (2015)
Strange premise here, but once you get over the head-scratching notion of a time-sensitive Christmas ghost who has no idea how he died – what you’re left with is 91 minutes of seasonally-appropriate entertainment hitting well above standard Hallmark movie averages! BONUS FACT: Filming of “The Spirit of Christmas” took place primarily at two historic inns in Massachusetts — The Harding Allen Estate in Barre and The Proctor Mansion Inn in Wrentham — as well as additional locations in Worcester.
SUMMARY: Attorney Kate Jordan is sent to broker the sale of Hollygrove Inn, but she is told that her appraiser has left because of a ghost. Sure enough, it s not long before she meets Daniel Forsythe…a man who mysteriously died 95 years ago. The two strike a deal if she can help him discover the truth behind his death and why he is cursed to return to the inn for Christmas each year, he will leave and allow Kate to finish her job. As they work together, Kate can't help but fall for this dashing Christmas spirit, and a romance develops that will alter the course of both their lives.
Holiday Engagement (2011)
Sugar-cookie sweet + bordering on the cartoonish – we know this going in – but it’s still an enjoyable holiday date-night watch!
SUMMARY: A woman gets engaged, only for her fiance to leave her just before she is due to head home for the holidays. Rather than face parental disapproval, she hires an actor to pose as her future husband. With Bonnie Somerville, Shelley Long, Jordan Bridges, Sam McMurray.
A meandering movie with some very heavy themes questionably juxtaposed against lots of small town quirkiness – but the atmospheric filmography, shot on location in an off-season Dennis (and surrounding areas) on Cape Cod, bring a certain cold-New-England coziness to bear!
SUMMARY: Shortly before Christmas, Father Jonathan Keene (David Wall) arrives to shut down the church of a fishing village’s dwindling parish. Though he is usually dispassionate and efficient when working on such tasks, events take a different turn when he becomes entangled in the lives of the town’s eccentric residents.
Tree Man (2016)
Interesting, to consider the lives of those who, through their own discomfort, make it possible for us to have live Christmas trees in our city homes! This documentary would make an excellent triple feature with the similarly themed movies: Christmas, Again (2014) AND All Is Bright (2015).
SUMMARY: The story of Christmas tree salesmen who journey to the sidewalks of New York City every holiday season.
The Family Stone (2016)
Middle-class American family dysfunction during the holiday season! Dermot Mulroney of The Christmas Train (2018) fame. “Christmas is not “clothing optional” this year, we have a guest.“
SUMMARY: An uptight, conservative businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family’s annual Christmas celebration and finds that she’s a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life. With Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Diane Keaton.
One Christmas (1994)
And thus The Fonz makes a coveted second appearance on our Christmas Movie List! This time with some notable literary heft behind him (in the form of Truman Capote’s storytelling) and alongside 4-time Oscar Winner, Katharine Hepburn! Plus, there’s always room for another Christmas Miracle in the Big Easy! Still scratching for a little more Fonzi-ness on your holiday menu? After this one, try The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (2008)!
SUMMARY: A young man is sent to visit his estranged father for Christmas in 1930 in New Orleans. Based on an autobiographical short story by Truman Capote. Starring Katharine Hepburn (in her final television role), Henry Winkler and Swoosie Kurtz.
Joyeux Nöel (2005)
Oh, so we heard you were looking for a Christmas movie with some subtitles, a few explosions, PLUS a theme that’s a little more substantial? Maybe this one will keep your husband’s attention :-)
SUMMARY: An epic war drama film based on the Christmas truce of December 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, Scottish, and German soldiers.
The Christmas Candle (2013)
Another exceedingly pleasant surprise in the feel-good category — complete with a notable performance by viral Britain’s Got Talent alum, Susan Boyle!
SUMMARY: In 19th-century England, a minister’s quest to modernize his village puts him at odds with people who believe that whoever lights the candle that an angel touched will receive a miracle on Christmas Eve.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012)
Do you have some extra time this Christmas season for a slightly-gritty Long Island Irish family drama set during the holidays? We did :-)
SUMMARY: The siblings of the Fitzgerald family must decide if the dad who abandoned them 20 years ago can come home for Christmas. Can the big Irish clan get past their grievances to be a family again? Starring Edward Burns.
The Christmas Cottage (2008)
You’ve certainly seen some of Thomas Kinkade’s paintings on collectible plates, and the like, over the years. Now’s your chance to learn a little more about the man behind those ten-trillion signed and numbered Giclée prints.
SUMMARY: A semi-autobiographical look at the inspiration behind Thomas Kinkade’s painting The Christmas Cottage, and how the artist was motivated to begin his career after discovering his mother was in danger of losing their family home. Starring Peter O’Toole, Jared Padalecki, Marcia Gay Harden, Aaron Ashmore, and Richard Burgi.
Midnight Clear (2006)
We’re guessing Candace Cameron Bure passed on this one. But we’ve included it here because, let’s face it, Christmas can’t be all gingerbread and candy-canes all the time! This one’s a downer more often than not, but a few of the performances keep it chugging along – and in the end there’s something in there about how it’s important to do little nice things as we move through our lives, like when you throw your spare pennies in the cup near the cash register at the gas station, or something. We think. “Got a fiver?“
SUMMARY: ‘Twas the night before Christmas in the Southwest, and for five strangers spread out across town, it’s the most depressing time of the year. As the night progresses, they randomly cross paths, and in unique and subtle ways, change each other’s lives forever. Featuring incredible performances by veteran actors such as Stephen Baldwin, K Callan, and Kirk B.R. Woller, as well as newcomers Mary Thornton and Mitchell Jarvis, MIDNIGHT CLEAR is a quiet tapestry of lonely people trying to connect in the midst of pain. The film also features terrific and surprising guest work from Victoria Jackson and Richard Riehle.
A Holiday For Love (1996)
“Little House on the Prairie’s” Melissa Gilbert in a love triangle with Tim Matheson and a truly badass Travis Tritt (isn’t he always) with some equally bad hair (doesn’t he always)! Yeah, we’re going to put this one in the ‘keeper’ pile! This corn-syrup-sweet rom-com romp is somehow seemingly out of print – and (unbelievably) hasn’t found its way to the streaming universe. All the better for those few who were smart enough to purchase a DVD back in the mid-90s to jack up their prices on eBay and Amazon!
SUMMARY: Warm holiday drama in which an executive forced to cut the jobs of many people working at a small-town tractor factory gets a big surprise when he’s mistaken as the savior of the local economy. Melissa Gilbert, Tim Matheson, Travis Tritt, Michelle Trachtenberg star. AKA: “Christmas in My Hometown.
Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory (1966)
Another Truman Capote connected rarity finds its way onto our list! We have a soft spot for this legendary piece of glistening vintage glee!
SUMMARY: Narrated by Truman Capote. Emmy Award winning adaptation of Capote’s recollection of his youth in the rural South during the Depression. Living with a slightly dotty but loving “cousin,” Capote remembers back to when he was about 10 years old and it was suddenly decided that “it was fruitcake weather.” The task of baking 30 cakes for mostly far away friends and other rituals of Christmas time are painted with such loving and nostalgic strokes, this becomes a truly beautiful Christmas experience. The poverty of the 1930s fails to stop or even slow down a loving relationship at a loving time of the year. An Emmy Award well deserved!
The Christmas Card (2006)
Not sure what it is about The Christmas Card — but this movie has some unexpected staying power on our annual Christmas watch-list. As you watch it, you may think: 1. Some of this dialogue is laughable; 2. Some of these performances are stilted; 3. This male lead (John Newton) is emotionally absent; and 4. OMG with the fiancé character (played as annoying-as-can-be by the guy from THAT Gas-X Thin Strips commercial, Ben Weber). But I’ll be damned if, somewhere between a boisterous Ed Asner and "a chicken salad sandwich on rye, with curly fries made extra crispy, and a hot cocoa with mini-marshmallows", if you don’t begin to feel the same high levels of Christmas comfort that keeps us coming back to The Christmas Card year after year!
SUMMARY: Once in a while; a movie comes along that reminds us how powerful love can be. In the midst of war in Afghanistan; Captain Cody Cullen (John Newton; "Desperate Housewives") is touched by a lovely card sent by Faith Spelman ("The Chris Isaak Show") from the small picturesque town of Nevada City; California. As months pass; the card never leaves his side; giving him the strength to survive and setting him on a mission to find her. When Cody returns to the States; he finds himself coincidentally welcomed by her family and friends; but he remains hesitant to reveal the fateful connection that brought him to her. As a new Christmas approaches; Cody has one last opportunity to prove his courage – by taking a chance on love and finding the woman; the home; and the life he’s always wanted.
Brooklyn Lobster (2005)
Danny Aiello as a crustacean monger PLUS a helium filled Santa Claus riding a giant lobster? Take my money. Please! But all jokes aside, there’s some really good stuff, here. A nice (and necessary) break from the nonstop Fa-La-La-La Lifetime parade of hot chocolates with extra marshmallows!
SUMMARY: Giorgio’s Lobster Farm has been a Brooklyn tradition for 65 years, with an eclectic mix of customers and bragging rights. But the restaurant faces financial trouble and as they face the possibility of losing their business during the Christmas Season, the Giorgio family members find it difficult to balance their personal lives with the pressures of reestablishing the eatery. Presented by Martin Scorsese. With Danny Aiello, Jane Curtin, Daniel Sauli, and Marisa Ryan.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
Quite impressive, indeed! Captures the magic of circumstances surrounding the writing of Dickens’ Christmas masterpiece in an amazingly engaging, literate, and visually attractive fashion. Christmas was one thing before Dickens, and something altogether different after. We’re glad this MUST-WATCH CHRISTMAS MOVIE got made!
SUMMARY: In 1843 London, author Charles Dickens finds himself in financial trouble after writing three unsuccessful novels in a row. Desperate for a hit, Dickens relies on real-life inspiration and his vivid imagination to bring Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and other classic characters to life in “A Christmas Carol,” forever changing the holiday season into the celebration known today.
Writing by Eric Taubert (Taubert Gallery - The Fine Art Photography of Eric Taubert). Find him on Twitter at @erictaubert. Find him on Instagram at @erictaubert.