I’ve been doing reviews for holiday movies for a few years now, but I’ve never actually talked about them outside of a review. Being that the weather outside has been frightful off-and-on for the past week, I figured: why not now?
Like a lot of people, I enjoy winter holiday movies. Set it from Thanksgiving through New Years, and I’m in. One thing that bothers me when I’d come across reviews, though, is these movies will often be compared against movies that weren’t beholden to the holiday motif or by people who are simply cynical about the genre. I think that’s unfair. As a result, I put on my talk-about-it cap and started writing some reviews. I began with some that I already had in my stable (some I still intend to get to “real soon now”) and added new, or new to me, fare.
I have to say that Hallmark Channel makes it easy. Ever since they jumped in with both feet for their “Countdown to Christmas” month-long+ marathon, the quantity of movies has definitely improved as has the quality, to an extent. Lifetime has also jumped on the bandwagon with their own more limited, though still generous, marathons and slate of originals. Sometimes there are scheduling conflicts between these Holiday movie giants as well as with other outlet’s programming, that make it difficult to see them all, but from my perspective it’s all good.
I have noticed that since I started doing the reviews, the production value of a lot of movies has improved. While I think the average quality of the movies over all has also improved a bit, I have also noticed many of them becoming a bit more formulaic. Fortunately, every year there are a few that are original either in the whole of the story or in their handling of familiar tropes (i.e. any/all elements from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol).
As with many folk who don’t get “incentivized” to pursue an task, I sometimes have to balance the time it takes to watch a movie and write a review with other activities. For instance, I’m currently in the middle of the second draft of a novel. For me, that’s the high-priority writing assignment on my docket. If one of the upcoming movies doesn’t strike my fancy, I might let it slide. I record it, just in case, but sometimes it just languishes on the ol’ slush pile.
One thing that fascinates me every year is to see the stats for which reviews people access the most. As a community, we like to see what people thought of the movies that struck our fancy, hoping they agree with us. Two movies that have consistently shown well are Crazy For Christmas and Dear Santa (the 2011 version with Amy Acker). This makes me happy because they are a couple of my favorites as well. (In case you’re wondering, Dear Santa more than doubles the views of the next contender.) In terms of 2013 movies — and keep in mind there are still several yet to come out or that I haven’t yet reviewed or that haven’t had time to build up views for the stats — A Very Merry Mix Up leads the pack with The Twelve Trees of Christmas, Catch a Christmas Star, and Snow Bride duking it out for second.
I think the biggest problem for me is what to do with movies that I didn’t warm to on first viewing, but after seeing it 1, 2, 12, or more times I find I enjoy it more? Do I amend the review? Write a new one? Let it stand?
For the most part, I let it stand. I figure that most of the time I will see the weaknesses of a movie on first viewing that, now that the plot is revealed, don’t seem so bad after I’ve become familiar with the story. That said, sometimes I’m more critical than I should be. Maybe it’s the fourth movie with a similar through-line I’ve seen that week, maybe I’ve just had a problem with a customer, whatever. I’m just not in the mood to give a movie the benefit of the doubt. In these cases, sometimes I’ll go back and tweak the review or rating to be less grinchy. I’ve only done that twice (I think), and it wasn’t a major shift. Just because I like a movie better doesn’t mean that its weaknesses simply went away.
I do have some thoughts about things that might be considered for improving holiday movies (5 Ways to Improve Cable Holiday Movies) which may or may not actually help raise the bar a little. I would have included them here, but this post is long enough already.
By and large, like many of you I simply enjoy watching holiday movies. I like them enough that I watch them year ’round. Despite some shortcomings, I embrace the fact that they are generally uplifting. They mostly aren’t gritty or artistic explorations of existential angst. Some might even call them hokey. For me, after seeing the news and dealing with reality, it’s nice to have an oasis that tries to remind us of the quality of people we hope to be. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
ADDENDUM: As the original movie releases wind down, I want to make special note of the 2013 Lifetime slate for presenting films with diverse casts that better represent modern America. If Hallmark joins in with equal vigor, we could have the expansion of stories that I always look forward to.