Christmas Past and Future

We're closing out 2022 a little differently than past years, because this one's been different for us. We've done themes before, but not to the degree of this season, where we allowed A Christmas Carol to more or less overrun the blog. I'm covering my thoughts about that in a separate post, so they don't overwhelm everything else, because - even though it might not feel that way - our holiday this year wasn't just about Charles Dickens.

In fact, that wasn't supposed to be the theme at all. Last spring, I had a very different objective in mind: I wanted to check off every full-length Christmas movie made in the 1930s, in part to explore the differences between how those films treat the holidays compared to later movies and television shows. If you were wondering why we wound up reviewing Bright Eyes, Hell's Heroes, Love Finds Andy Hardy, and And So They Were Married in rapid succession, well... that's what was going on. But on the way, I also watched the 1935 Scrooge and found myself spinning off on a wild diversion. For those wondering, we still have a couple movies to check off on our list from the 30s (and maybe a few others worth revisiting). But that goal really doesn't feel sufficient, anyway. Next year (or over the next few, if we get sidetracked again), I'd like to have reviews up for every surviving theatrically released US Christmas movie made before 1980. I think we can do it. Also, one of these days I'm going to start posting reviews of silent Christmas movies. I've actually seen quite a few now - it's more a matter of deciding whether discussing these would be less intrusive interspersed with more modern movies, or if I should just choose a period in the off-season to post them. I find them fascinating, but I have no idea if anyone else shares that obsession.

All of this is in the service of something a little larger, of course. I haven't made a secret about my desire to wrap my head around the history of... well.. all of this. Basically, I want to understand the history of the Christmas movie, from the 1898 Santa Claus through the present. And I think I'm pretty close. At least, until you remember this is all just one version of Christmas.

As soon as you add in foreign films, my knowledge drops off quickly. I've been trying to rectify that, but it's going to take some time. A lot of time. So even after I'm finished exploring that aspect of Christmas past, there's a lot more to go.

And then there's the future. Not only is holiday media not drying up, it's being produced at a higher rate than ever before. The sheer volume of new TV Christmas movies is staggering. We spent a portion of this year attempting to catch up with Hallmark. Including Christmas Carol adaptations, I watched 18 Hallmark holiday movies this year, including six new ones. You know what I found out? That I'd need to see far more to understand the basics of the company.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I also learned I need to stop using them as the butt of my jokes. They're producing some genuinely decent movies now. Two of those eighteen were actually what I'd call good - 2017's The Christmas Train, and this year's Hanukkah on Rye - with several others coming damn close to the line. Actually, four of the six new ones I saw were some gradient between "not bad" and "good," which is a good ratio for TV movies. That said, I also saw five of the six on this list of the twelve best Hallmark holiday movies of the year, so it's entirely possible this wasn't a representative sample (not surprising: we absolutely prioritized movies that sounded notable). But even if every Hallmark movie we skipped was awful, the ones we saw this year were significantly better than I believed the studio was making. I've still got my share of issues with their mandates and their conservative approach, but there are good movies here. And, if the ratio of good-to-bad this year compared with other Hallmark movies we watched is any indication, they seem to be improving fast (though, again, that's a big "if," since we really haven't seen enough of these to make definitive statements).

I'm not sure how much Hallmark we're going to watch next year. A lot probably depends on whether their movies are streaming on services we're paying for. We'll do our best to keep on these trends, but - given the volume we're talking about - there are of course limits to what we can do. And when it comes down to it, we're more interested in classic and foreign holiday movies than in new ones.

Regardless, the canon is deep here, and we've just scratched the surface. I can't wait to see what we find next year.