Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas is the phenomenon you either love to watch or love to hate. I was the latter not too many years ago, complaining of the incessant “cheesiness” or the slow pace of action and dialogue. But once I settled in with a hot cocoa (peppermint stick included) and accepted that I would not be watching Oscar-winning performances or a blockbuster starring A- or B-list actors, I morphed into a full-fledged Hallmark Christmas movie junkie. One minute I’m saying “It’s so cheesy.” And the next I’m asking “Why can’t I stop watching this?”
Hallmark has capitalized on a different sort of movie: the feel-good, always-perfectly-happy-ending, light-hearted flick that features all the kinds of Christmas traditions that make us feel warm and cozy inside. The baking, the Christmas decorating (so many movies are made from a decorating contest of some kind), the snowball fights, the cheesy romance brought on by mistletoe or prodding grandmotherly type figures. It’s all part of the charm of a holiday movie.
In my years since turning to the bright and snowy side of a Hallmark movie fanatic, my friends and I have come up with a three tier system to help us rank these holiday movies; Tier 1 is must-see-again favorites, Tier 2 is “eh, a good watch, but won’t care if I don’t see it again” and Tier 3 is “Ouch, that was painful.” I have selected five of those Tier 1 movies for you to try this holiday season.
If reading the following makes you say “bleh” then I have one thing to say: What 2020 needs is a good dose of fluff, and Hallmark Christmas movies are the anecdote we all need in 2020.
This 2013 Hallmark original became a staple in my lineup after finding it about five years ago. Tabloid reporter Greta Kain (Katrina Law) is promised a promotion if she can capture the juicy gossip about salacious details involving the late Senator Tannenhill’s sons. She mistakenly winds up as a guest of son Ben Tannenhill (Jordan Belfi) at the family’s Christmas gathering at their home in Big Bear, California, under a pseudonym. Upon spending time with the family, including matriarch Maggie Tannenhill (Patricia Robertson), Kain learns that perhaps less salacious gossip to tell than a loving family. Will her job get in the way of her falling in love?
One could argue that casting is paramount to a good Hallmark movie, even more so than the average movie. Belfi and Law have an on-screen chemistry that makes the movie, but it’s also the motherly chemistry Robertson has with her co-stars — a role she’s had plenty of time to perfect as the mother of two boys in “Home Improvement.” But what typically makes a good Hallmark movie great is giving the characters wounds from their past they must heal from: In Ben’s case, it’s being burned by someone he loves, and he might just get burned again.
“A Very Merry Mix-Up”
In another 2013 Hallmark original that’s become a staple in the holiday lineup, Alice (Alicia Witt) has to travel alone to visit her soon-to-be in-laws for Christmas. At the airport, she unexpectedly bumps into her soon-to-be brother in-law Matt (Mark Wiebe), whom she hadn’t yet met, and ends up traveling home with him to his parents. Delays keep her fiancé from joining them as they celebrate Christmas traditions together. When her fiancé returns, a strange twist of events happens that help her realize who she’s meant to be with.
“One Royal Holiday”
From Broadway royalty to Hallmark royalty, this year Minnesota-native Laura Osnes teamed up with fellow Broadway star Aaron Tveit in what is sure to be a Hallmark Christmas staple for years to come. Nurse Anna (Osnes) shows Prince James (Tveit) how a real Christmas should be celebrated when the royal family of Galwick is trapped in Anna’s hometown — specifically, her father’s inn — due to weather. James is grieving following his father’s death, which Anna relates to as she lost her mother. While the Broadway duo don’t sing in the movie, they do pair up to sing during the opening credits.
“Finding Father Christmas” (Father Christmas trilogy)
Hallmark staples Erin Krakow and Niall Matter star in this trilogy alongside Wendy Malick. While typical Hallmark movies focus on typical romance that is meeting someone and dating, this series follows the story of a couple through the ups and downs of meeting, dating, engagement, and getting married. For the sake of this list, I’ll focus on the first movie of the trilogy, which debuted in 2016. Orphaned at a young age, Miranda Chester finds a clue by her theater actress mother about the truth of her father. Along the way, she finds love in more ways than one.
“Christmas at Dollywood”
If nothing else will get you in the Hallmark Christmas movie watching spirit, than these two words should: Dolly Parton. While the show doesn’t star the famous singer and actress, it does spotlight Dollywood and includes a special guest performance by Dolly herself. In the 2019 movie, widow mom Rachel Davis (Danica McKellar, “The Wonder Years”) is forced to work with Luke Hackman on creating a 30th anniversary celebration for the famous amusement park in the Smoky Mountains during Christmas. The two don’t get along at first and have a few rounds of fun verbal sparring — a rarity for Hallmark movies — but eventually find a way to work together and fall in love along the way.
For those without cable, you can get all three Hallmark channels through frndlytv.com.