Some Christmas movies have stood the test of time

Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. Handout

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The month of December for us at home involves a lot of watching Christmas-themed movies. There are four classic movies we’ll watch every year, a handful of others we tend to watch every three or four years, and others yet we’ve never before seen that we’ll sit through just to keep things fresh.

The latter films are what are generally referred to as “Hallmark movies,” and are aired seemingly 24 hours a day on two or three different channels. These are generally low-budget, made-for-TV romps that star no-name actors and actresses, save for perhaps a cameo appearance by a washed up, former “name” thespian whose inclusion in the movie is to give it – cough, cough – “star appeal.” Probably half the movie’s budget is earmarked toward that actor or actress’ role, but having the likes of such bigwigs as Denise Richards, Danny Glover or Christopher Lloyd in the cast won’t help them toward getting an Emmy Award nomination.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the screenwriter is the same guy for every one of these movies. The plots are essentially the same: the male or female lead is involved in a romantic relationship with a self centred partner with little or no Christmas spirit, but then he or she meets someone else who puts others before self, and the lead character suddenly becomes smitten with that individual and is torn between two people.

Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, the viewer knows exactly which of the two individuals the lead character is going to choose so that he or she will enjoy the merriest of Christmases and live happily ever after. Just to keep things interesting, however, the screenwriter will cast some doubt in the lead character’s mind sometime during the penultimate act by introducing a plot twist that dramatically threatens to derail the movie’s feel-good flow.

Usually the plot twist is a simple misunderstanding involving the good guy or good girl, but it diverts the lead character toward the self centred individual until he or she realizes – with five minutes remaining in the movie – the error of his or her way and finally links up with the good guy or girl.

The template is identical for pretty much all of these Hallmark Christmas movies. But we keep on watching them anyway, year after year, no matter how cheesy they are.

I much prefer the classics or those that are truly original. Most of these have stood the test of time: A Christmas Carol, Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, A Christmas Story…

Others, such as It’s a Wonderful Life, have recently come under fire in some circles, with critics suggesting it promotes socialism and features scenes of child abuse (Mr. Gower slapping young George across the side of the head), police recklessness (Bert the cop shooting at a fleeing, unarmed George), and racial stereotyping (the Baileys’ black maid). Audiences shouldn’t necessarily give in to what present day armchair critics might have to say, but viewer discretion is advised if a young one is to see it for the first time. In the end, the movie delivers a strong moral message that makes viewing worthwhile, and this is why the movie has remained so popular for more than 70 years.

In spite of its criticism, it beats a Hallmark movie any day.