This mini-review list will be updated all the way till Christmas! (Of course)
Last December, on a whim, I decided to have another go at a Netflix Christmas movie list. The last one that I wrote was back in 2017.
I can’t say I deeply enjoyed the “work” for that list, or that I’d want to rewatch some of those saccharine-sweet holiday movies. But added a dash of festive magic to my 2021 December they certainly did, as well as gave me something to obsess over in the lead-up to the big day.
Guess what then happened. Christmas magic indeed exists and it LINGERS. This year, as early as June, I began to crave Christmas holiday movies. In July, at the height of Singaporean summer when everyone was preparing for National Day, I was scouring the Net for information on this year’s Netflix releases.
And the following are what I eventually binged on this year! A slightly sad note here. Unfortunately, most of these year’s new titles just aren’t, how should I put it, as magical as their posters claim they would be. Full of festive scenes and shiny ornaments as they all are.
In fact, almost all the better ones hail from previous years. I hope this is not the start of some sort of un-festive downtrend.
Scribbling Geek’s 2022 Netflix Christmas Movie Binge
- Like last year, I watched all of these Christmas movies on Netflix Singapore. Going by the reviews published everywhere on the Net, I think it’s safe to assume these snowy flicks are available in most countries.
- I tried. I really tried! But some titles for this year are truly too dreary to sit through; they are even better than a glowing fireplace at putting you to sleep. And so the following titles are the ones that I finish watching, without having to fast forward.
- Lastly, there’s no ranking here. I’m neither recommending nor dissing any. Just sharing my two cents after what, bizarrely, became an annual yuletide ritual.
- 1. Falling for Christmas
- 2. Scrooge: A Christmas Carol
- 3. A Castle for Christmas
- 4. The Noel Diary
- 5. I Believe in Santa
- 6. Christmas on Mistletoe Farm
- 7. Father Christmas is Back
- 8. David and the Elves
- 9. A Not So Merry Christmas (Update Dec 22)
- 10. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Update Dec 24, Christmas Eve!)
1. Falling for Christmas
Synopsis: Hotel heiress Sierra Belmont is amnesiac after tumbling off a snowy cliff. Luckily for her, she is found and taken in by Jake, a young and widowed owner of a struggling bed and breakfast. The magic of Christmas soon sees the two falling in love
Comments: Falling for Christmas is one of two Netflix Christmas productions starring Lindsay Lohan – the second one will be released in 2023. Before I continue, let me just say that I’ve never paid much attention to the Mean Girls actress, but I do know about her struggles. It’s good to see her working hard to put these issues behind her and Netflix offering their support.
Falling for Christmas is also, well, an unusual watch. Neither terrible nor awesome, just … unusual. Frankly, it was like watching two movies concurrently.
The rom-com bits, which make up the bulk of the show, are charming enough. It’s the usual spoilt/jaded/lost city girl finding true love and the meaning of life through countryside work and an impossibly handsome dude story, but I think Lohan gave her best, as did Glee’s Chord Overstreet. (Sam’s even more attractive now that he’s older and more rugged-looking) Truth be told, I find the two lack a certain natural chemistry too but oh well, how many real-life couples exude made-in-heaven at a glance? I suppose it adds a certain realism to the tale.
The comical bits, on the other hand, that, I strongly dislike. Featuring a gleefully overacting George Young, these moments are nothing short of bizarre, and that’s putting it politely. All are written and presented in a starkly different style from the romantic chapters and at times, they are so disparate in feel, it’s like you’ve switched to another channel midway through the movie.
I don’t know whether Young’s segments are intended as classic comic relief, the likes of which you’d find in Shakespearean plays. But if they are, they didn’t work on me. I didn’t find them amusing. Worse, I find them tastelessly hysterical and jarring.
Lack of these bits, I think Falling for Christmas would have been much better. Formulaic, yes, but at least coherent and good-looking. Here’s hoping Lohan’s 2023 movie would not have such strange injections.
2. Scrooge: A Christmas Carol
Synopsis: Charles Dickens’ ever-popular novella, and the festive allegory that inspired so many modern traditions, receives yet another rendition with this animated feature. Adapted from Scrooged (1970) and featuring music by Leslie Bricusse of Goldfinger fame.
Comments: I deeply enjoyed this. It’s also the only title on this list that I finished in one viewing, right up to 2 am in the morning.
But the spirits of objectivity hang over me. Past, present, and future! So I have to acknowledge that while many viewers were positive about this latest adaptation of Dickens’ masterpiece, a good number of professional critics loathed it. Nell Minow, writing for RogerEbert.com, went as far as to label Scrooge: A Christmas Carol “close to unwatchable,” condemning everything from the animation to the character designs, to the music and lyrics.
Such negative reactions sadden me, but I guess I can understand what brought forth them. We have sooooooo many adaptations of A Christmas Carol over the years. So much material for comparison and reflection. Inclusive of stage performances, I myself have watched the story so many times that I’ve lost count. (On top of reading the abridged novella umpteen times as a kid)
The outcome of the above is that everyone has a different ideal regarding how new adaptations should be. Some crave a reversion to the source material, down to the dialogue. Others would accept nothing lesser than a complete makeover. Hell, I’m sure some folks even long for a gender-swapped version.
When things don’t go your way, everything just looks wrong, doesn’t it? For example, Minow found the animation physics in this latest adaptation lacking. However, I thought the flighty moves added a carnival-like, pantomime flair to the show.
I ought to highlight too that Bricusse’s compositions played a large part in me loving this adaptation. I enjoyed the songs, especially the Funk ones, but that is due to me loving Bricusse’s style since young. As a musician myself, I must acknowledge his style will be for some audiences, way too commercialised.
3. A Castle for Christmas
Synopsis: Backlash from snuffing her most popular character forces author Sophie Brown to retreat to her ancestral village in Scotland. There, she connects with her heritage and family history. She also falls in love with a cranky duke whose castle her father once worked in.
Comments: This was one of the big titles for 2021, which I didn’t watch last year because by the time I got to it, I was completely Christmas-ed out. I.E., unable to stomach another finding love amidst the snow story.
It’s a beautiful movie, as in, it’s full of majestic Scottish panoramas, homely village scenes, and festive castle interiors. The story, on the other hand, is as predictable as it can get; at parts, haphazard too with the way it tries to infuse tension. Cary Elwes’ Duke of Dunbar doesn’t just come across as cantankerous. His sudden, inexplicable tantrums border on frightening bipolar behaviour.
But, I suspect most viewers wouldn’t mind the threadbare story. After all, this is something to watch for the travel scenery and for Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes, right?
To paraphrase a review I recently read, the two leads aren’t in their most beautiful years during this movie but their experience with their craft certainly shows. Both admirably handle whatever nonsensical moments the script throws at them. I’ll even say some of these moments were made more acceptable thanks to the duo.
With lesser actors, these moments could have been downright unbearable.
4. The Noel Diary
Synopsis: Bestselling author Jake Turner is forced to return to and clear out his childhood home after his long-estranged mother passes away. While going through his mother’s stuff, he discovers a diary with information about a nanny he doesn’t even remember. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman appears outside the Turner home, determined to uncover her own past.
Comments: This Charles Shyer holiday romance film begins with a premise that’s similar yet also different from other Netflix Christmas movies. There’s the usual city-boy-returning-home-to-discover-love trope, but the heavier ambience conjures a markedly different feel, one that comes with hints of unspeakable secrets. For a good half hour while watching, I kept expecting some appalling revelation to surface and was correspondingly enthralled.
Some dark revelations do ultimately come, but none are of the sort that I expected. Once the “road trip” segment begins, the story is all about the leads falling into love too. The truth behind the diary is reduced to a side adventure.
This sorely disappointed me but for some viewers/reviewers, this was apparently good enough, going by the positive reviews The Noel Diary is receiving. I’m also aware that the movie is based on a novel by Richard Paul Evans, so I suppose certain developments couldn’t be changed without disrespecting the source material.
I thus concluded I was … looking for shocking tragedy when there was never the intention for any? A case of me misreading the premise?
That’s likely the case.
5. I Believe in Santa
Synopsis: To Lisa, Tom seems almost perfect. He’s well-mannered and charming. The lawyer also adores Lisa’s young daughter. But deep down, Tom harbours a gaudy secret. This secret might be too shocking for even true love to overcome.
Comments: This was an uncomfortable watch for me. So I’ll begin by sharing my viewing experience.
- I streamed I Believe in Santa the moment it was available on Netflix. I didn’t read about the movie beforehand but somehow, the trailer intrigued me. What’s shown also has a certain, I don’t know, sinister hint? I had the impression that the show was a horror comedy.
- Watched for 15 minutes and I liked what was happening, mainly because the story was low-key. Most Christmas rom-coms begin with some sort of minor tragedy, don’t they? Cityboy/Citygirl who’s so jaded with life ventures home or into the countryside during the Christmas season to rediscover whatever, etc. The story for this one didn’t even start in December. The way the leads met and fell in love was also more, for the lack of a better word, natural.
- The Christmas bits came and okay … there’s a twist. That sinister hint again. Just who is Tom in reality? An elf? A mental patient? Santa? A Christmas serial killer? (Yeah … I’ve watched too many violent Santa movies)
- The intense discussions on the nature of Santa arrived and for a while, I enjoyed the philosophical takes. But very quickly, I realise the discussions were also theological, thanks to statements like, it’s because you can’t prove it, that’s why you must believe.
- But I Believe in Santa soon did a turnaround and started preaching about not pushing your beliefs into other people’s faces, or judging them by their beliefs. But wasn’t that what Tom was doing, and what Lisa was encouraged to accept?
Hang on, hold your guns! I know what y’all are going to say. Yours sincerely still remembers that Christmas is still a religious holiday, no matter the modern secular/commercial offshoots. I know Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ too.
I also don’t mind a non-secular Christmas movie and I think people have the right to produce these. Although, and I apologise if this comes across as rude, I’d avoid watching any.
What disturbed me was how convoluted I Believe in Santa was. I just can’t decide whether this is a “for” or “against” or “live and let live” message. What happened at the end was a weird compromise too, one that’s based on both leads … having faith in each other’s faith?
And then there’s a certain side character. Now, I don’t know whether his inclusion was some expression of inclusivity or whether there’s another message intended. I’ll just say I doubt the character would be well-received in my part of the world.
I’m leaving this unrated. If you want to watch, you’ve been “warned.”
6. Christmas on Mistletoe Farm
Synopsis: Matt, the widowed father of five children, inexplicably inherits the dilapidated Mistletoe Farm. Though bewildered, Matt brings his kids to the farm, intending to spruce up the place and then sell it. His children, on the other hand, have quite another set of intentions after falling in love with the farmhouse.
Comments: Probably inspired by Enid Blyton’s Mistletoe Farm novels, Christmas on Mistletoe Farm looks, feels, and sounds like a British children’s adventure story. In other words, (much) younger audiences would likely be delighted by this classic “city children discovering the magic of the countryside” story.
For adults, whether you’d enjoy this British comedy depends entirely on your appetite for over-the-top, juvenile antics. We’re talking about clownish capers and characters that even some primary school children would scoff at. If you can’t stand these, please, do yourself a favour and do not watch this. You’ll loathe it from start to end.
To be clear, I’m not saying Christmas on Mistletoe Farm is a movie strictly for the very young; some parents might enjoy watching this with their children. I also disagree with the reviews that condemned Scott Paige. Unbearable as his Beano character was, to me, it’s only fair to say the comedian dished out what the movie expected him to. Incidentally, the man has a great speech delivery which would be splendid in a Shakesperean production.
On another note, I was slightly depressed after watching. I mean, I used to enjoy such stories as a kid, I read so many Enid Blyton books. Now, I have so many issues with the silliness and messages like, a countryside life is superior to the corporate rat race and all that.
While watching, I even agreed with Matt’s nasty boss on certain things.
… … I just might need an extended farm stay, and a Beano, to regain my innocence.
7. Father Christmas is Back
Synopsis: The Christmas sisters, Caroline, Joanna, Paulina, and Vicky, gather at Caroline’s opulent Yorkshire mansion to celebrate Christmas. Joanna, Paulina, and Vicky clearly prefer to be elsewhere, and very quickly, the festive gathering is reduced to spiteful pranks and bickering. Amidst the chaos, their lost estranged father suddenly shows up at the driverway with his foxy young girlfriend.
Comments: This was terrible. Terrible and horribly disappointing for I used to love watching Kelsey Grammer in Frasier. In fact, Grammer’s face on the poster was what made me eager to watch this holiday comedy.
The story is such a mess I don’t even know how to describe it. It begins stylishly enough, with a vague sense of Cluedo-like mystery. Then it became an absurdist comedy before taking on hints of romance. Only to morph into some sort of family mystery drama before becoming a comedy again.
Some parts of the plot are thoroughly nonsensical too, even for a comedy. Would you have Christmas lunch with someone who just, for a laugh, gave away your Rolls Royce? Would you suspect your wife of infidelity after finding a pregnancy test kit in the bathroom, when you’re having all sorts of nutty characters in your mansion as overnight guests?
To repeat, terrible and disappointing. Utterly flat and dreary and unfunny in the second half too. I wonder why on Earth established actors like Grammer and John Cleese agreed to do a movie like this.
8. David and the Elves
Synopsis: Tired of having to work every Christmas and needing to restore his Christmas spirit, Albert the Elf runs away from the North Pole to look for David, a young boy who had once waved at Santa’s sleigh and him. Unfortunately for the arrogant Albert, while David is overjoyed, no one else appreciates his cheery pranks, to say the least. Albert soon runs the risk of depleting all his Christmas spirit. A plight that would result in him reverting to a figurine.
Comments: Like several other 2021 Netflix Christmas movies on this list, I saw the poster for David and the Elves last year but just didn’t have the energy/time for it. And so it was one of the first shows that I watched when I started this year’s binge.
It’s … a mixed bag. I’m certainly impressed with the production standards. I think polish actor Jakub Zając did a swell job playing Albert the prankster elf too. His portrayal was a rare instance when a prancing, giggly fully-grown dude didn’t make me cringe.
On the other hand, the story flow and pacing were just so weird. Albert had a pretty grim fate awaiting him the moment his battery runs out, but he seemed completely unconcerned till the very end; he barely even talked about it. Similarly, the Clauses took forever to go after Albert. So was there a crisis, or not?
The ending was also inexplicable to me. So who or what saved Albert? David? David’s grandparents? The Clauses?
I might rewatch this when I have the time. I get the nagging feeling that I missed a lot of things, despite paying full attention. I hope it’s not because the translation is off in some ways.
9. A Not So Merry Christmas (Update Dec 22)
Synopsis: Grumpy, miserly Chuy is cursed to relive Christmas Eve again and again. There’s also a dark twist to his Groundhog Day-ish fate. Chuy is not trapped in a time loop. Instead, he’s leaping from one Christmas Eve to another, with no memory of the 364 days in between. As the years fly by, Chuy watches in despair as his loved ones become increasingly distant and resentful.
Comments: Before all else, if you’re going to watch this Mexican fantasy comedy, do yourself a favour and watch it with the original Spanish soundtrack. The English dub is so out-of-sync, it made me dizzy after five minutes.
Secondly, A Not So Merry Christmas requires patience. It takes over an hour to lay out the full story, not too unlike a fastidious granny slowly preparing a Christmas turkey. A couple of details are also left ambiguous till the final third of the movie. For example, why is Chuy so grouchy? Why is he so dismissive of his extended family when none are annoying or interfering with his life in any way?
If you bear with it, though, if you stick with the increasingly bizarre “repeats” till the solemn moments come, I think A Not So Merry Christmas rewards. The truth behind Chuy’s predicament is nothing that has not been thoroughly examined in movies. I’m sure the whole Groundhog Day spin would be too derivative for some viewers too.
But somehow, A Not So Merry Christmas pushes across its message in a way that’s just more elegant and emphatic than any other Christmas movie on this list. I could have felt so because Chuy’s frustrations with his extended family mirrored some of my own. Or maybe the way Chuy was blind to all the things happening around him, despite clues everywhere, just reflects what most of us are guilty of each day.
On another note, I was royally surprised by the … fairy godfather?!? (So fabulously portrayed by a crossdressing Manu Nna) I was also stunned by the straightforward statement on homosexuality in the family; I always assumed Mexico was still conservative. Seems like I have little idea of the country, after all. (Read: I have to make my way there someday)
10. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Update Dec 24, Christmas Eve!)
Synopsis: Betrayal by his sidelined apprentice leaves Jeronicus Jangle, wondrous toy inventor, a broken and bitter man. Would his spirited granddaughter be able to redeem him? Would Jeronicus, who doesn’t want you to call him Jerry, regain his magical belief?
Comments: It’s already Christmas Eve in this part of the world and looks like Netflix wouldn’t be releasing another Christmas movie. So back to watching older hits I go.
With a magical, wondrous, musical clockwork extravaganza to round up this year’s binge.
I’ve heard a lot about Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey too, and without going into all the usual about why I skipped it when it was released and all that, I’ll put it as, it’s an absolute visual feast. Full of gloriously lavish backgrounds and spiced with an energetic broadway-like soundtrack.
There’s also young Madalen Mills. And the so-devilish-he’s-mesmerizing Don Juan Diego, wickedly brought to life by Ricky Martin and Jonny Label. On Mills, she’s not yet at her acting best, of course, but her joy at being in this festive tale shows at every turn. I really love the scene when she smothered Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker) with kisses. Was that adhoc? She just kept going on and on and you could see Whitaker struggling not to laugh.
A lovely way to end this year’s binge. Even if, as with most fairy tales, the actual story has a couple of conveniences and holes.
A great production to watch tonight too, if you’re not out partying and feasting.
Merry Christmas Everyone! Wishing y’all a great 2023 ahead too!
Check out my other movie reviews.