by Jon Daniels
For the 4th year, I am honored to report on the premiere Hallmark Christmas Movies shown in 2021. The popularity of Hallmark Christmas offerings makes them the “go to” channel during the holiday season. For Hallmark that season stretches from October 22nd to the end of December when 41 new Christmas movies and another 225 favorites from previous years are shown 24/7 on 2 Hallmark channels.
HALLMARK TAKES ON PLENTY OF TV COMPETITION
Lifetime has been Hallmark’s main holiday competitor since the early 2000’s. Their movies don’t have quite the production quality of Hallmark, but they have been more aggressive in terms of diversity featuring interracial and gay couples in starring roles. Their movies have not nurtured a regular group of starring actors. As a result, limited name recognition exists in their casts. This year they offered 35 new movies.
My favorite 2021 Lifetime movie was A Fiancé for Christmas. The plot revolves around a career-minded Dr.Sawyer making a fake wedding registry to ward off the Christmas blues. Her friends find it and assume she is secretly engaged. To conceal the truth, she finds a "fiancé" for the holidays and the fun begins. Amanda Payton carries the movie with a hilarious comedic sense. Marie Osmond plays her over-the-edge mother.
In September 2021, Great American Country (rebranded as GAC Family) moved to a family-oriented general entertainment format under a new management group headed by former Crown Media (Hallmark) CEO Bill Abbott. The new programming included airing 9 original Christmas Movies and signing Hallmark veterans Danica McKellar and Cameron Mathison. Over 90% of the lead actors in these movies previously starred in Hallmark films. So GAC Family (GAC) has suddenly become a serious player in the Holiday movie business.
The 2021 GAC Holiday movies have high production style and solid content with familiar but interesting stories. My favorite 2021 GAC Christmas movie is A Kindhearted Christmas. Cooperville tour operator/city booster (Jennie Garth) decides to become the town’s Secret Santa. A Christmas-resistant ambitious newscaster (Cameron Mathison) is determined to uncover the Santa’s identity. Romance develops as the identity plot thickens. Jennie Garth does the heavy lifting on the acting front. She is awestruck by Mathison but determined to keep her secret from him in a very innocent way.
HALLMARK CONTINUES TO DELIVER
I am so pleased to announce that I saw all 41 of the new Hallmark Holiday Movies. 31 of the films were made in Canada and another 9 in the US plus one was filmed abroad. Most of the Canadian movies are filmed at or near Vancouver where Hallmark also has a long-standing relationship. The production facilities are excellent and locations can vary from big city to rustic rural.
For the 3rd time, Lacy Chabert was given the overseas assignment, Christmas at Castle Hart, which was filmed in Limerick, Ireland during September. Lacy plays a meeting planner who decides to search for her Irish roots while taking on a last-minute assignment to manage a lavish affair but under the guise of a high-end planner. She uses her usual charm to win over her client and find love with a local who manages the castle, site of the party.
HALLMARK CONTINUES MAKING INROADS ON DIVERSITY
Following up on their 2020 movie The Christmas House, Hallmark continued displaying plenty of diversity in their films. In The Christmas House 2, Jonathan Bennett and Brad Harder reprise their roles as a gay couple in the ensemble family cast. Although Hallmark has not had a movie with a lead gay couple, several other movies including Coyote Creek Christmas and Every Time a Bell Rings featured gay couples in supporting roles.
Hallmark made significant progress in racial diversity. Four movies (A Christmas Together with You, A Christmas Treasure, Holiday in Harlem, and Christmas in Harmony) starred black leads. Our Christmas Journey not only included black leads but also had neurodiversity. Holly Robinson-Peete plays a protective mother having difficulty letting her autistic son go as he enters adulthood. She is the right person to portray the mother as she has an autistic son.
One of my favorite 2021 Hallmark Movies, The Santa Stakeout, has good black cop (Tamera Mowery) and bad white cop (Paul Campbell). They initiate friction that warms up to romance during a stakeout and collar. Joe Pantoliano plays the suspicious Santa.
Hallmark continued expanding their religious scope with the filming of Eight Gifts of Hanukkah. Hallmark is all into making this a Hanukkah movie. The Jewish family dialogue, dynamics and interplay give the story a realistic feel. Jewish actors Jacob Epstein, Daniel Levy, and Inbar Levi provide very good acting and further add to the authenticity. Traditional Hanukkah activities are spread throughout the movie.
The plot centers on optometrist Sara (Inbar Lavi) receiving gifts on each night of Hanukkah from an anonymous suitor. Sara and her childhood friend Daniel (Jake Epstein) go over her recent dates and relationships in pursuit of the secret admirer. Most of the candidates are real losers and hard to imagine as the one.
The secret admirer is obviously Daniel who is attractive and personable. His flaw lies in his inability to express love for Sara. Plot plausibility is especially stretched out of shape when Daniel has his eyes examined by Sara.
The irony of an optometrist not being able to “see” love scores high on the cuteness scale.
HALLMARK MOVIE APP
With so many Hallmark Movies and limited time, you need The Hallmark Movie Checklist to keep track of movies watched and movies to be seen. The checklist also includes the prior year movies shown this year with an indication of those movies previous seen. A search feature makes it easy to find movies. With this app you will be sleeping better knowing that your Hallmark movie watching is not out of control.
SPECIAL KUDOS TO PAULA SHAW
Hallmark’s supporting actors did not get the credit they deserve. I have been remiss in not pointing them out in previous years. This year, I am finally recognizing Paula Shaw for her role in Mrs. Miracle Christmas. In her 4th Hallmark movie, Paula plays the crusty grandmother (Nana) who rejects caregiver “Mrs. Miracle”. Nana quickly surmises that her special caregiver is there to help the grieving and lonely daughter and son-in-law; and teams up with Mrs. Miracle to renew holiday spirit in the family.
Paula is a graduate of Bard College, lifetime member of Actor’s Studio, teacher at Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. After extensive acting experience off Broadway and summer theater in NY, she relocated to LA in the early 70’s to start a career in TV and movies. She now resides in Vancouver which puts her close to Hallmark moviemaking
THE 2021 HALLMARK CHRISTMAS MOVIE AWARDS
In the spirit of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I announce the following 2021 Christmas Movie awards:
The Darcy Award for Best Movie
I am pleased to award best picture to Tis the Season to be Merry. Relationship author Merry (Rachel Leigh Cook) goes to Vermont with editor/best friend Chris to rewrite her rules-based book on how she got engaged. The rewrite becomes necessary when her publisher finds out the engagement is fake and insists upon fact rather than fiction. Merry meets up with Chris’s brother Adam (Travis Van Winkle) who provides Merry with some Christmas spirit and a real-life relationship experience. The initial disconnect between rigid Merry and adventurous Adam quickly dissolves based on the great interplay and chemistry of the couple. Superb acting especially by Cook makes up for the usual predictable ending.
The de Bourgh Award for Worst Movie
I select Nine Kittens of Christmas as the worst Hallmark movie. In this feline follow up film, Zachary (BrandonRouth) and Marilee (Kimberley Sustad) get back together after five years apart. Marilee is now a vet with a practice in Miami and has come home to visit her sister. Zachary is still a firefighter and is given the opportunity to become firehouse chief. A box of kittens is left at the firehouse. Zack recruits vistor Marilee to help him find homes for the cats. During kitten placement, the flame is rekindled to their romance.
Sequels are often a big letdown from the original and Nine Kittens fits that bill. The movie starts with a disconnect between the 2 movies as the explanation of the 5-year transition offers more questions than answers. This movie is strictly for Cat lovers. The kittens should be given billing above the title in this furry flick. Cats are everywhere. There are more cats in the firehouse than firefighters. Nine potential kitten adoptions lends itself to cuddly photos.
Kimberley Sustad does her usual good acting and does the heavy lifting on the romance front. Brandon Routh is reserved and somewhat resistant to getting back together. His cat Ambrose does more to fan the romance flames by offering a kind ear to Marilee’s romantic confessions. The cats are a bunch of scene stealers. Okay, I am not a big cat enthusiast. Hallmark needs to have more dogs in their movies!
The Bennett Lifetime Achievement Award
I have selected Andrew Walker for the 2021 Hallmark Lifetime Achievement Award. Although the success of Hallmark movies lies in the leading actresses who carry the movies. However, Andrew’s body of Hallmark work stands alone not only in the quantity but also in the quality. He has made 23 Hallmark movies (including 9 Christmas pictures) with 18 different leading ladies over the past 10 years. Those actresses include Lacey Chabert, Danica McKellar and Alicia Witt.
Andrew was born in Montreal and starred in football at Vaney High School. He was given a full football scholarship to Boston College but suffered a torn ACL which ended his football career. He currently resides in LA where not only an acts but also produces movies.
This year he starred in My Christmas Family Tree with Amiee Teagarden. Veronica (Amiee Teagarden) discovers the identity of her real father through a DNA test. She spends Christmas with her new family and warms up to family acquaintance Kris (Andrew Walker). The DNA testing center throws Veronica a curve by telling her she is not a match. But the family still accepts her and the romance does not miss a beat.
My avid interest in Hallmark movies is often met with the following questions. Don’t you get tired of the decorations, hot chocolate and cookies? Aren’t you tired of the same plots being used over and over again? Is writing my Hallmark Holiday Movie Report some sort of punishment? I view the sameness in terms of setting, plot and actors as comfort TV watching.
I am not alone in my Hallmark interest. They are the No. 1-rated channel this year with 24 million viewers.Viewership of Fox News and MSNBC pales in comparison to Hallmark. In these troubled times, watching Hallmark sounds pretty good.