Christmas Film Advent Calendar
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
There are 24 days until Christmas - and we are going to be digging out a slice of festive film goodness every day.
But these are not just your standard heavy hitters, oh no, we are going in search of saccharine sensations and Christmas cringes.
Each film will be given a Christmas Tree rating to reflects its festive value.
So, what will we find?
1. THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens
Christmas Card Synopsis: A cynical American high school teacher meets an out-of-time 14th century knight who is on a quest for love before Christmas Eve.
Christmas Cracker: [watching TV]
“It’s a livestream of the Tower of London”
“That’s an extraordinary number of prisoners”
High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens makes what will probably not be her last appearance on this list, in what is essentially a kock-off of Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan's Kate & Leopold. Poldark's Josh Whitehouse is the time-travelling Sir Cole (not 'circle'). He has been blinked from 1300s Norwich (which is all snow-kissed trees) to modern-day America, where he sweeps Hudgens' cyncial-in-love teacher off her feet. Christmas Cliché's abound, from magic wishes to children who are better judges of character than the adults. This is an easy one to unwrap; you can see where it is going from the outset and it gets there with little trouble.
2. Christmas at The Plaza
Starring: Elizabeth Henstridge, Ryan Paevey, Bruce Davison
Christmas Card Synopsis: A historian hired to document the history of New York's Plaza hotel discovers there is more to the holiday than the facts with the help of a Christmas decorator.
Christmas Cracker: [Investigating why Christmas lights aren't working]
"The primary conductive system isn't acheiving maximum wattage polarity due to an oxygen breach"
"Someone pulled out the plug."
This film is packed with all the charm and goodness you want from a festive flick, but wraps it in a story which manages to keep you engaged from beginning to end. While you can see the mandatory happy ending coming from a mile off, it manages to throw in some charming twists along the way. Henstridge (with a slightly iffy American accent) and Paevey have more sparkle than many leading duos and they happily share the spotlight with their co-star - Christmas itself. Added bonus points for using actual, recognisable Christmas songs.
3. Baking Christmas
Starring: Kahlilah Joi, Leigh-Ann Rose, Arnell Powell, Aloma Wright
Christmas Card Synopsis: After a mother decides to retires and sell her bakery, three siblings come home to see who will take over. As they compete for the prize, they discover there is more at stake than the family business.
Christmas Cracker: [Smoke pours out of the oven]
"Is that one of your Michelin-starred dishes?"
This family-heavy baking drama is long on sugar and cast members. It features the usual 'bring the family home for Christmas' central motif, and each sibling is given their own storyline so no one is reduced to a supporting role. This does mean that none of them get much time to develop, but the story and central message are so sweet that it really doesn't matter.
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Shirley MacLaine, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Bill Hader
Christmas Card Synopsis: When Noelle Kringle’s brother disappears days before he is due to take over as Santa, she sets out to find him. Along the way, she discovers there is more to Christmas than delivering presents.
Christmas Cracker: “No one wants you sliding into their fireplace all crying and weeping.”
This Disney Christmas film is very much a vehicle for Anna Kendrick and she is delightful and hilarious as the naive Noelle - indeed, she is almost so likeable that her redemption arc is a little lost until the end. Nevertheless, this delivers a huge does of feel-good festive fun. The story is pacey and self-aware and filled with brilliant characters. Like any Disney film, it delivers a couple of laughs for the grown-ups and the odd emotional twist - along with the cutest baby reindeer ever. As perfect as a peppermint hot chocolate.
5. I'll Be Home For Christmas
Starring: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jessica Biel
Christmas Card Synopsis: Spoiled chancer Jake is only heading back home for Christmas so he can gtethis dad's vintage Porsche, but when he wakes up in the desert with nothing but a Santa suit, he goes on a journey which reveals the true holiday spirit.
Christmas Cracker: "Package people, do not unwrap yourselves!"
While some films, like a fine wine, get better with age, this one is more of a Christmas turkey. The 90s frat-boy schtick doesn't quite land anymore and the overall effect of the film is a little bit soulless as a result. It is coming-of-age nonsense, with a hefty dose of slapstick and Christmas silliness, but don't think too much while you're watching it.
6. 48 Christmas Wishes
Starring: Madeline Leon, Clara Kushnir, Liam MacDonald, Ethan Yang
Christmas Card Synopsis: When a trio of junior elves destroy of all of a town's Christmas wishes, they set off to find them out in person. But, on arrival, they find a family who need more than presents to make their wishes come true.
Christmas Cracker: "Mighty Mistletoe, look at all those humans."
Putting children at the heart of Christmas film imbues it with a certain sense of charm, but only if they can tell the story. This one gets stuck between magical nonsense and human emotion and both get a bit lost in the dodgy script and acting. The premise promises harmless fun, but ends up just being fairly harmless. Terrible, but not really in the best way.
7. Angela's Christmas
Starring: Malachay McCourt, Ruth Negga, Lucy O'Connell
Christmas Card Synopsis: Young Angela is worried that Baby Jesus will be cold in his manger on Christmas Eve, but her efforts to warm him up do not go to plan.
Christmas Cracker: "Well then, I guess we'll have to lock you up for stealing the Baby Jesus."
This is a beautifully made short, which follows the adventures of a little girl in Ireland in the early 1900s. Unlike many on this list it is not long on laughs, outpourings of love or sparkles of magic, but watch closely and you will find all three contained within. Very sweet, if not that jolly.
8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Cahterine O'Hara
Christmas Card Synopsis: The king of Hallowe'en town feels something is missing from his life, but when he falls in love with Christmas the stage is set for a disaster which could end the holiday all together.
Christmas Cracker: "Since I am dead, I can take off my head to recite Shakesperean quotations."
From the mind of Tim Burton comes a film unlike any festive flick you have ever seen before. The songs are incredibly catchy and the story is populated with charming, amusing and odd-ball characters, who serve up a Christmas story like none you have ever seen before,
9. Four Christmases
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau,
Christmas Card Synopsis: When their flight is cancelled, a couple are forced to face up to the family Christmases they have dodged for so long; along the way they remember why they stayed away, but also find out what they have missed
Christmas Cracker: "I wanna be in a relationship that goes where it needs to go.”
“Okay, and I'd like the relationship to go to, Fiji.”
This film brings a sackful of laughs as Witherspoon and Vaughn navigate their variously ridiculous family situations, ably backed-up by a strong - and scene-stealing - supporting cast. But the story does pack in a couple of emotional moments and the requisite Christmas realisation. This would be funny all year round.
10. Christmas at Holly Lodge
Starring: Alison Sweeney, Jordan Bridges, Sheryl Lee Ralph
Christmas Card Synopsis: A lodge owner must convince a developer not to buy out her family business, while they struggle not to fall for each other.
Christmas Cracker: The life insurance deed, which was previously unnoticed by every banker and lawyer involved
The concept is sweet, if not original, and it is nice to see the male lead as the fish-out-of-water. There are some cute turns from the supporting characters and their own personal arcs, but this film signposts where it is going early on and gets there without too much trouble. Mindless and fun, perfect for an afternoon snooze.
11. Operation Christmas Drop
Starring: Kat Graham, Alexander Ludwig
Christmas Card Synopsis: A political aide sent to asses the viability of an airforce base discovers the true spirit of Christmas with the help of a charming Captain
Christmas Cracker: “Lights can be handy if you want to land a plane at night”
There may be no snow in sight, but this film has everything else you could want from a festive movie. It is pacey and fun, with charming characters and just enough twists to keep you paying attention. This is how Christmas in the sun should be done.
12. Four Christmases and a Wedding
Starring: Arielle Kebbel, Cory Sevier
Christmas Card Synopsis: A couple fall in love over Christmas, but their whirlwind romance is interrupted three years running. Can they find their happily ever after?
Christmas Cracker: The ‘Bauble & Spoon’ race in heels
The central duo make this film, which is handy because there is not much else in it. The will-they-won’t-they is fun (if not that laden with suspense) but there is bags of charm and a whole host of Christmas feeling.
13. Bob's Broken Sleigh
Starring: Cole Howard, Bruce Greenwood, Victor Garner
Christmas Card Synopsis: When a magic-less elf’s efforts to help Santa backfire, he sets out to save Christmas. Along the way he discovers there is more to him than meets the eye.
Christmas Cracker: “Weak comeback.”
“You’re a weak comeback.”
Designed and set out for children, but littered with jokes that will go over their heads, this can’t quite decide which camp it’s in. Running at a mercifully short 45 minutes, it serves up simple, childish fare with bright colours and a few panto jokes added to the mix.
14. A Shoe Addict’s Christmas
Starring: Candace Cameron Bure, Jean Smart, Luke Macfarlane
Christmas Card Synopsis: Noelle has turned her back on her dreams; but the arrival of a wayward fairy godmother could set her on a new path, with the help of some magic shoes and a handsome firefighter
Christmas Cracker: Jean Smart’s haphazard fairy godmother
The basic premise is a strange mash-up of A Christmas Carol, Cinderella and every other Christmas film ever made. The two leads struggle on enthusiastically and Jean Smart is chewing the scenery as guardian-angel-in-training, Charlie. Put on a cup of tea - or make one while it’s on, you won’t miss anything important
15. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Starring: Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine
Christmas Card Synopsis: Charles Dickens’ classic tale gets a Muppet twist
Christmas Cracker: “Boy, that’s scary stuff, should we be worried about the kids in the audience?”
“No, it’s alright, this is culture.”
This is a stone-cold classic, and it is still just as brilliant today as it was the first time through. In fact, I’m still finding new things to laugh at with each viewing. The iconic tale is (fairly) faithfully told, but with all the added charm and joy that the Muppets bring. The songs are really catchy too.
Starring: Isla Fisher, Jillian Bell
Christmas Card Synopsis: A well-meaning but inexperienced fairy godmother heads off the grant the last wish in existence, but the 10-year-old who made it is now an adult who no longer believes in magic.
Christmas Cracker: “Fine, stay home. After all nine out of ten fairytales begin with ‘Once Upon A Time something amazing happened while she was drinking wine in her sweatpants.”
This is a film about finding your own place and your own way, rather than forcing the world to fit a certain mould. So it is unfortunate that is spends so long trying (and failing) to be Enchanted that it never really gets off the ground under its own steam. A few sweet and funny moments are peppered around but it never sparkles and the ending feels rather like an afterthought rather than the culmination.
17. Miracle on 34th Street
Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood
Christmas Card Synopsis: When the Macy’s Santa claims to be the real Kris Kringle he finds himself in court accused of being insane. Can he win over his cynical boss and her daughter and prove Christmas magic is real?
Christmas Cracker: “Susan, I speak French but that doesn’t make me Joan of Arc.”
The original and (no offence to Mr Attenborough) still the best, this film radiates Christmas magic. Here is a Santa we can all believe in and get behind and central family unit are wonderful. This is a lovely piece of iconic Christmas magic.
18. The Polar Express
Starring: Tom Hanks, Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari
Christmas Card Synopsis: A youngster who has lost faith in Christmas is whisked away on a magical train ride to help him rediscover the power of what you believe
Christmas Cracker: “Considering we have lost communication with the engineer, we are standing totally exposed on the front of a locomotive, the train appears to be accelerating uncontrollably, and we are rapidly approaching Glacier Gulch which happens to be the steepest downhill grace in the world, I suggest we hold on. Tightly!”
I don’t know if it’s possible to have too much of a good thing at Christmas, but Tom Hanks gives it a shot by playing pretty much every part. I’m still surprised that the kids aren’t just him doing a high voice. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take away from what is a truly excellent Christmas flick. The concept is novel and enchanting, the pacing is a bit madcap, but the end result is delightful.
19. Dash & Lily
Starring: Austin Abrams, Midori Francis
Christmas Card Synopsis: A whirlwind Christmas romance kicks off after a cynical guy and optimistic girl start trading anonymous messages in a notebook around New York.
Christmas Cracker: "If you can't find the rainbow, then stand in the rain and scream."
This Netflix series is an adaptation of a YA novel and brings all the teen angst and charm you would expect, along with a smattering of Christmas magic. The central concept is fun and the characters are engaging, with some standout supporting roles on show. It’s only eight epsiodea long and worth a look for something different this holiday season.
20. An Amazing Winter Romance
Starring: Jessy Schram, Marshall Williams
Christmas Card Synopsis: An uninspired journalist heads back to her smalltown home to discover her childhood friend has built an ice maze which could solve both their problems.
Christmas Cracker: The ‘other woman’ who decides to go back to New York on the spur of the moment at the climax
Ignore the apparently very simplistic title and this one is worth a watch. The concept is, on paper, pretty standard, but the writers get points for making a giant ice maze the central conceit in this. The main duo are both very likeable and the end result is simple and sweet. It also gets a bonus point for having an actual ending, rather than a kiss and a pan to the sky.
20. Happy Merry Whatever
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Bridgit Mendler, Brent Morin
Christmas Card Synopsis: Emmy brings her boyfriend Matt home for the holidays to meet her family. But, her overbearing dad threatens to derail Matt’s plans to propose
Christmas Cracker: “Bulletproof glass is hard!”
This Netflix comedy is long on canned laughter and short on Christmas spirit. It takes the ‘meet the parents’ gags done in, well, Meet The Parents and the family Christmas horrors done in just about everything and really runs with them. It’s less a rollercoaster of laugh and emotion than a bus ride to pass the time.
22. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Starting: Forrest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Madalen Mills
Christmas Card Synopsis: A reclusive toy maker has lost faith in the world after his apprentice betrayed him, but the arrival of his granddaughter could bring the spark of magic back to his life
Christmas Cracker: “This is not cool. This is ill-advised.”
This musical fairytale brings a dose of magic and not which we all need at the moment. The characters are loveable, the story is fun and the songs will have your toes tapping. Young Madalen Mills sets the pace for the adult stars who all seem to be having a fantastic time. If you thought you didn’t need Forrest Whitaker dancing in mid-air with a magical robot in your Christmas then you were wrong.