Entertainment Movies Your guide to the best (worst) Christmas movies to binge this festive season

Your guide to the best (worst) Christmas movies to binge this festive season

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In many families, there are strict rules around when the festive season officially begins.

It may be December 1, or the last day of school, or the day after your Sagittarius sibling’s end-of-year birthday.

Whatever your timeline, even softly humming All I Want For Christmas before it’s time is seen as sacrilegious.

But this year, (thanks in no small part to the other C word) there are plenty of excuses to throw that rulebook out the window.

And what better salve for an exhausted, isolated, and generally crushed spirit than to sit back with your nearest and dearest and enjoy some holiday-themed trash over a few jolly snacks?

With the watching season starting early, your best bet is to save the classics for closer to the day, so here’s your guide to the best (worst) Christmas rom-coms to binge this December.

Operation Christmas Drop, 2020

Kat Graham and Alexander Ludwig play the leads in Operation Christmas Drop. Photo: Netflix

The pitch: A highly driven political aide, Erica, is sent on an important fact-finding mission over Christmas to help her boss decide whether to shut down a US Air Force Base in Guam. Her match? An overly charismatic pilot whose mission is to save the base – and Christmas.

A couple of lines of dialogue in the opening two minutes sum it up pretty neatly:

“Operation Christmas Drop. It’s some sort of mission out of an airbase in the Pacific where they parachute gifts and supplies to remote islands at Christmas.”

“So who’s Major Eye Candy in the Santa cap?”

“I have no idea, but since the Congresswoman became head of the Base Reassignment and Closure Commission, this place has been at the top of her naughty list.”

Who’s in it? Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries, The Holiday Calendar) plays zipped-up Washington insider Erica, while Alexander Ludwig (Hunger Games, Vikings) is Air Force Captain Andrew Jantz.

Cringe factor: This is actually the least cringe-worthy and most heartwarming of the bunch, partly because it’s loosely based on the true Operation Christmas Drop, the US Defence Department’s longest-running humanitarian airlift.

It’s been running since 1952, and Australia and Japan jumped on board in 2015.

As you might expect, there is a bit of US Forces hero worship (“Sometimes I look down and realise I have the best job in the world”, music swells, chopper lands on a picturesque tropical beach), but compared to say, Dear John, it’s pretty light on.

It gets a 4/10 on the cringe factor, thanks to a truly awkward rendition of Deck The Halls (deck my legs with tons of sunblock?) and a very bad dancing scene.

Plot holes: Considering its position in the middle of the Pacific, the idea that Andersen Air Force Base would be on the chopping block is highly unlikely. So that’s the entire premise of the film.

Aside from that, I was very confused by the CGI gecko. This was mostly filmed in Guam, so it seems strange they couldn’t find a local critter willing to oblige.

Finally, who goes snorkelling in a linen shirt? This is not sun safety. Zero points.

Christmas cracker: You may recognise Kat Graham, from another cheesy Christmas Netflix film – The Holiday Calendar. Also, the Santa-looking Brother Bruce who appeared in the movie, is actually the Bruce Best who helps co-ordinate the real OCD.

You’ll have to watch all the way through to catch this little RAAF tail doing some extras work in the background.

One more thing, if you look *really* close about 20 minutes from the end of the movie, you can see a RAAF C130J in the background. (Believe it or not I asked our chief Defence correspondent to verify this and it’s legit.)

Pick this one if … You prefer the balmy temps of a tropical beach over snowy non-descript European countries of most Christmas classics.

Where to watch it: Netflix.

The Princess Switch: Switched Again, 2020

Vanessa Hudgens, Vanessa Hudgens and Vanessa Hudgens in The Princess Switch: Switched Again. Photo: Netflix

The pitch: In the long-awaited sequel to The Princess Switch, Duchess Margaret is about to be crowned Queen of Montenaro, so her lookalike bestie Stacy, who married the Prince of Belgravia in the original, is in town to cheer her on.

She’s also playing Cupid in a bid to bring Margaret and Kevin, Stacy’s baking business partner, back together. Lady Margaret’s socialite cousin Fiona is here to steal the crown and cause trouble. This one is actually quite complicated, so there are some spoilers ahead.

Who’s in it? Vanessa Hudgens, Vanessa Hudgens and Vanessa Hudgens – yep, she plays all three leads. Also Sam Palladio (Catherine The Great, Nashville), Nick Sagar (The Haves and the Have Nots) and Lachlan Nieboer (Downton Abbey).

Cringe factor: Modest cringe points to Kevin for dealing with his breakup by growing a sad beard and adopting another cat.

The evil Fiona’s bumbling stooges are also awarded some awkward laughs for *checks notes* chloroforming one of the Hudgens characters and dragging her into a van. Yikes.

These faces should be familiar to Christmas movie aficionados. Photo: Netflix

Plot holes: Obviously, the switch is flawed. Hudgens is juggling a lot here, and she does her best, but Hudgens playing Stacy playing Margaret isn’t fooling anyone, let alone Hudgens playing Fiona playing Margaret who was being played by Stacy.

Christmas cracker: If you’re a frequent festive flyer, strap in, because it’s the crossover you’ve always dreamed of.

At Lady Margaret’s coronation, as we’re panning across the adoring crowd, we catch a glimpse of some familiar faces: Amber and Prince Richard of Aldovia, from A Christmas Prince, with their baby Ellerie.

But it’s not the only cross reference. If you saw the first Princess Switch film, you may recall that Kevin and Margaret/Stacy sat down to watch a movie on Netflix and chose A Christmas Prince. So somehow, in the Princess Switch universe, the film A Christmas Prince exists, but simultaneously, the nation of Aldovia exists and is in fact a close neighbour to Montenaro and Belgravia.

To take it even further, Aldovia happens to appear in another Netflix Christmas film starring Hudgens, The Knight Before Christmas.

This means that the princess of that film (there’s always a princess) and her time-travelling knight theoretically exist in the same universe as A Christmas Prince and, by extension, The Princess Switch.

Could this mean we’ve got more Christmas crossovers on the cards?

Pick this one if … You’ve finished bingeing The Crown but need more royal/coronation drama.

Where to watch it: Netflix.

Holidate, 2020

Emma Roberts and Home and Away alumni Luke Bracey star as unlikely lovers in Holidate. Photo: Netflix

The pitch: Cool girl with a broken heart and nagging family meets Australian boy with commitment issues. After separately hideous Christmas Day disasters, they agree to be each other’s totally platonic dates for every holiday in the calendar, as a means of avoiding intimacy with casual dates and probing questions from overly invested relatives. Will these crazy kids make it through the year without falling in love?

Who’s in it? Emma Roberts (American Horror Story, We’re The Millers) plays single gal Sloane, while Luke Bracey (Home and Away, Dance Academy) is playboy Jackson. Broadway’s Kristin Chenoweth (Glinda the Good Witch from Wicked!) and Frances Fisher (Rose’s mum in Titanic) also feature.

Cringe factor: A strong 7/10. Cringiest moment is probably the eventual shopping mall reveal, which includes a bonus call-back to an “in-joke” that is very easily missed. So look out for that.

There’s also the strange matter of subtle slut-shaming towards Sloane’s Aunt Susan, played by Chenoweth, who gives our main character the whole idea of the Holidate in the first place.

Plot holes: There are several unanswered questions in Holidate. Who takes a date home for Easter? Who takes a date to Mother’s Day? Who takes a date to Cinco de Mayo? You get the picture. What happened to Sloane’s Dad?

Christmas cracker: Watch out for Ryan Gosling – or at least, his double. In a fourth-wall-breaking moment in the grocery store, an out-of-focus blond guy peruses the peas behind Roberts. Many fans were convinced this was Gosling, but it’s Chad Zigmund. He worked on the film as Bracey’s stand-in, but could probably sub in for the Gos at a pinch.

Pick this one if … You’re in the mood for something festive but not quite ready for a full-frontal tinselfest just yet.

Where can I watch it? Netflix.

A Christmas Princess, 2019

Australia’s Travis Burns stars alongside Shein Mompremier in A Christmas Princess. Photo: Tesera Entertainment

The pitch: Prince John of Edgemont – his friends call him Jack – has fired his “egotistical loud-mouthed braggart” of a chef and is looking for someone new to cater his family’s annual charity banquet. Struggling New York restaurateur Jessica is just the ticket, in dire need of a Christmas miracle before she is forced to give up on her dreams.

Who’s in it? Shein Mompremier (Scare BNB), Travis Burns (Neighbours, SAF3), Emma Lane (Neighbours) and Irish celebrity chef Stuart O’Keeffe.

Cringe factor: Damn high. On the acting choices alone, we’re looking at a strong 8/10.

Edgemont is described as “a small European country” but Jack’s clearly Australian. The cacophony of accents is exquisite. Aside from Prince Jack the lad, there’s his minder Rupert’s inexplicable blend of Adelaidean and Scottish, a few slightly off New Yorker impressions, an at-times Canadian/at-times North Dakota sidekick, Hailee, and a disgruntled Irish chef. To be fair the actor playing the Irish chef is an actual Irish chef.

Aside from that, there’s a sad montage with artsy vignettes including a shirtless reveal and a touching subplot involving a father-son reunion that is almost too much cringe to bear. Overall, a solid 10/10.

Plot holes: Look, several. Chiefly, the meet-cute. Why is this grand royal banquet being held in New York, rather than, say, the royal palace? Why is the Prince in charge of catering? Why would he stumble into a diner in a trendy but non-descript part of the city in search of a caterer?

Also the Prince apparently has never heard of a meat loaf, and despite the name, does not understand the concept.

More glaring than all of these, though, is why the accents and script are so bad. “This is America. She can’t make me eat cake!”

Christmas cracker: Director Fred Olen Ray has made 14 Christmas movies in the past 10 years alone. Recent hits include A Royal Christmas Engagement, in which an advertising exec falls for a secret prince, and Baking Christmas, which centres around a sibling Christmas cake-off. Outside of his festive fare, Olen Ray directs adult films. So make of that what you will.

Pick this one if … You love Christmas food. There are enough steamy montages of golden-roasted honey carrots and glistening turkeys to make you believe this film was put together by Jamie Oliver.

Where to watch: Stan.

Christmas With A Prince, 2018

The pediatrician and the prince, played by Kaitlyn Leeb and Nick Hounslow. Photo: Brain Power Studio Rights

The pitch: The pompous, devilishly handsome Prince Alexander breaks his leg while skiing and inexplicably needs to recover at a secluded children’s hospital, to “escape the press”. Head pediatrician Dr Tasha Mason is incensed by her unexpected guest, and totally doesn’t still have a crush on this guy who she coincidentally went to boarding school with.

Who’s in it? Kaitlyn Leeb (Spinning Out, Christmas With A View) plays the good doctor, Nick Hounslow is our handsome prince, and Charles Shaughnessy (yes that’s Maxwell Sheffield of The Nanny) is disappointed dad King Edward.

Cringe factor: There’s a reason this 2018 film still makes the best (worst) list. The cringe factor is off the charts. First, there’s the very obvious, forced side romance between Tasha’s brother and Prince Alexander’s bodyguard, played by two actors with less chemistry than a pair of odd socks.

An honourable mention goes to the truly woeful CGI work. There’s an establishing shot of the hospital where the words “BPS Center Hospital” are clearly photoshopped onto the side of a building. Not to mention Maxwell Sheffield, who repeatedly appears via video link on a bulky flat screen television at the nurses’ station.

The standout cringeworthy moment, however, goes to an ill-advised musical performance in the children’s ward. The Prince pulls some strings to cheer up one of his favourite little patients Ben, by helping his single mother get to the hospital for her son’s surgery. Mother and son are joined by “Genevieve Fisher, our favourite singer!”, who performs a rousing country rendition of Jingle Bells. Awkward sway-dancing ensues.

Plot holes: Throughout the hospital scenes, every single child appears to be wearing a hat or beanie over a full head of hair.

In a very late plot twist about an hour into the film, things are winding down to what seems a fairly obvious boy-meets-girl-boy-falls-in-love-girl-swoons conclusion. It’s almost as though the producers realised they still had 20 minutes to fill, so tacked on a second complication involving a grand ball and a scheming adversary.

Christmas cracker: Without revealing too much of the plot twist, it seems to set things up fairly well for a sequel. And we’re in luck, because Christmas With A Prince: Becoming Royal was released in 2019. Sadly, it’s not available to stream in Australia at the moment, but never say never.

Pick this one if … You are looking for the lowest possible production values with the highest possible cheese factor.

Where to watch it: Netflix.

And if you hate all of those …

If you fancy a trip to your cinema, give Happiest Season a crack. It’s a queer Christmas rom-com directed by Clea Duvall (Veep) and starring Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Seberg), Mackenzie Davis (Tully, Black Mirror), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and Dan Levy (Schitt’s Creek).

Dan Levy plays a relatively minor role but is an absolute delight. Photo: Sony Pictures

Or, if you’re looking for something less lovey-dovey and more kid-friendly, you could try this year’s Netflix original Jingle Jangle (featuring Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, John Legend and Ricky Martin, among others) or wait for the very Australian A Sunburnt Christmas to arrive on Stan on Friday, December 11.

Merry Festivus!