...shining light on the media, one review at a time
We’re making a list…Christmas has us seeing red and green. The green list is filled with films we recommend for Christmas viewing, and the red list is for movies that require caution or avoidance. Check the list twice and you’ll find out who’s…well, you know the rest.
Plot: In this sequel to The Christmas Shoes, young Nathan is now a doctor who, reeling from losing a patient, goes home for Christmas and discovers romance, unexpected changes, and a boy in need.
VERDICT: A mediocre story that relies too much on its stance as a sequel is rendered inappropriate for the family audiences by an abundance of offensive language.
LANGUAGE: More than six obscenities.
Plot: A social worker with a dying marriage finds that an orphaned child may be the unexpected instigator of love and hope at Christmastime.
VERDICT: Not at all a Christian film, this tale’s lack of true foundation is clear when the story culminates into a disappointing and harmful philosophy that presents deceased people as angelic powers and as living inside the ones left behind.
LANGUAGE: One possible misuse of Jesus’ name and a minor obscenity.
Plot: Several couples with shaky marriages are stranded in a blizzard and forced to spend Christmas Eve together in an experience that just may change their lives.
VERDICT: This story means well and the plot action is harmless enough, but no less than six misuses of God’s name contradict the family-friendly and “faith” billing. A closing message of reliance on inner goodness as the true meaning of Christmas caps off the film’s swing away from God toward feel-good spirituality and self-fulfilled inner peace.
LANGUAGE: Six to seven misuses of God’s name.
Plot: A workaholic lawyer with a shaky marriage encounters a young boy who desperately wants to buy his dying mother shoes for Christmas.
VERDICT: Based on the popular song of the same name, this touching story is ruined by a series of obscenities and misuses of the Lord’s name that do not belong in a supposedly family-friendly film.
LANGUAGE: At least four profanities and several misuses of God’s name.
Plot: Years after the war death of their son, a couple and their adult daughter deal with their grief and embrace hope at Christmas.
VERDICT: Another film that sounds heartwarming, but has hints of condoning immorality and turns into an uninspiring ghost story.
Plot: A girl has to spend Christmas with the grandfather she has never met.
VERDICT: An otherwise sweet story about forgiveness and family lands on the caution list thanks to several profanities and other negative words.
LANGUAGE: Multiple uses of “my, g--” and “heck.”
Plot: A young grieving widow travels to spend Christmas with her brother in a small town where she finds unexpected love and healing amid unforeseen troubles.
VERDICT: This touching, well-made movie communicates positive messages on love and family while throwing in a few Christian phrases occasionally. The positives are undermined when the movie takes a dangerous turn with the surprising and rather odd inclusion of a god-like St. Nick character, who is portrayed as the real power behind the Christmas miracles and happy ending (even for supposedly God-fearing people).
LANGUAGE: Two misuses of God’s name.
Plot: A retelling of the traditional Nativity story, in which Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem where Mary gives birth to the Christ child.
VERDICT: Beautifully and artistically shot, this impressively realized film puts more emphasis on being accurate to the time period, culture, and oral Nativity tradition, than biblically and historically accurate. The result is too many liberties taken with Scripture and blatant inaccuracies to the crucially important event of our Lord’s birth.
Plot: A columnist trying to get her career back on track finds a note a passenger wrote just before dying in an airplane crash and tries to deliver the message to the intended recipient in time for Christmas.
VERDICT: Poor choices in language and some too-worldly content add to the problems of this movie, which is not nearly as meaningful as it claims to be.
LANGUAGE: Two “heck,” “geez,” and one “darn.” Two profane uses of “my g--” are sloppily dubbed over to change to “gosh.”
Plot: An orphan boy with a speech impediment finds friendship with rejected robots just in time for the group of “misfits” to band together and save the world for Christmas.
VERDICT: With a premise that’s too frightening for young kids, this movie makes its biggest mistake with a misrepresentation of Jesus Christ and the meaning of Christmas. Though presented as a Christian movie, Wobots is most committed to giving kids self-esteem, so Christian truth is sacrificed for the twisted idea that God’s love and the sacrifice of Jesus are intended only to show humans their spectacular specialness.
LANGUAGE: Some minor name-calling.
Arthur Christmas (2011) PG
Genre: Animated, Family
Director: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook
Cast: James MacAvoy, Hugh Laurie
Plot: Santa Claus’s much-maligned and underestimated son proves his merit as he reminds the North Pole of the heart of Christmas giving.
VERDICT: With parental guidance for a few rude jokes and fantasy Santa Claus premise, this film offers fun entertainment and a positive message for all ages.
Christmas Angel (2009) PG
Director: Brian Brough
Cast: K.C. Clyde, Kari Hawker, Bruce Davison
Plot: A young woman desperately seeking a job finds unexpected employment and a life-changing Christmas with her neighbor, who just happens to be a “Secret Santa.”
VERDICT: A sweet, family appropriate love story about the importance of integrity, compassion, and giving.
The Christmas Card (2006) NR
Director: Stephen Bridgewater
Cast: John Newton, Edward Asner, Alice Evans
Plot: A young soldier returns to the U.S. after an Afghanistan tour and encounters the young woman who had sent him an invaluable Christmas card with her church group.
VERDICT: This uplifting love story includes positive messages for the whole family about compassion, love, and the spirit of Christmas in hard times.
A Christmas Carol (1984) PG
Director: Clive Donner
Cast: George C. Scott, Frank Finlay, Lucy Gutteridge
Plot: A miserly and cantankerous Christmas-hater is visited by three spirits who teach him the meaning of Christmas and the rewards of a compassionate life.
VERDICT: Thanks to Scott’s inimitable performance, this is the definitive version of the truly timeless Dickens tale. (Some moments may be frightening for young children.)
Christmas Child (2008) NR
Director: Bill Ewing
Cast: William R. Moses, Megan Follows, Steven Curtis Chapman
Plot: A journalist temporarily leaves his troubled marriage to chase down a story and finds more than he expected in a small town that holds secrets about his past and hope for his future.
VERDICT: This touching, emotional tale for all ages includes excellent acting, a pro-life message, and a moving presentation of the true Christ-centered meaning of Christmas.
The Christmas Choir (2008) NR
Director: Peter Svatek
Cast: Jason Gedrick, Tyrone Benskin, Marianne Farley
Plot: A workaholic businessman trying to reassess his priorities falls into leading a choir at a homeless shelter and is helped by the impoverished choir members as much as he helps them.
VERDICT: Some mild offensive language taints this film that is otherwise an uplifting reminder of the evils of greed versus the life-changing power in giving one’s time, resources, and love to others.
Christmas Eve (1986) NR
Director: Stuart Cooper
Cast: Loretta Young, Ron Liebman, Arthur Hill, Trevor Howard
Plot: A woman with little time left tries to reunite her estranged grandchildren with their father for Christmas.
VERDICT: The premise may seem simple, but there’s nothing ordinary about the career-best performance by Oscar winner Loretta Young in this unforgettable, beautiful Christmas classic about love, forgiveness, and a sacrificial life. (Includes one or two obscenities.)
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) NR
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Peter Godfrey
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet
Plot: A columnist finds herself in a bind when her editor decides to send a war hero to spend Christmas at the Connecticut farm she claims to have in her popular, but fabricated column.
VERDICT: Packed with fun for the whole family, worries about the lies are put to rest by plenty of consequences in this hilarious, charming, and lighthearted Christmas classic that features the peerless Stanwyck at her comedic best.
Christmas with a Capital C (2011) NR
Director: Helmut Schleppi
Cast: Ted McGinley, Daniel Baldwin
Plot: The mayor of a small town fights against an old nemesis to keep Christ in the town’s Christmas.
VERDICT: A relevant, thought-provoking film for Christians that is packaged in a humorous story for all ages.
A Dog Named Christmas (2009) NR
Director: Peter Werner
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Linda Emond, Noel Fisher
Plot: A war veteran must face his past when his developmentally challenged son convinces the family to take in a stray dog for Christmas.
VERDICT: A must-see for animal lovers, this story is a tribute to the important role that animals play in human lives and an enjoyable Christmas tale of family, love, and hope that is destined to become a classic.
A Dream for Christmas (1973) NR
Director: Ralph Senensky
Cast: Hari Rhodes, Beah Richards, Lynn Hamilton
Plot: A pastor who just moved his family to pastor a poor church tries to save the small congregation’s church from demolition as his family learns what is truly important for Christmas.
VERDICT: This little-known Christmas film features an inner-city reality not usually shown in holiday films, but is still a light, encouraging story of love and faith that is obviously and perfectly tailored for family viewing.
A Garfield Christmas (1987) G
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Family
Director: Phil Roman, George Singer
Cast: Lorenzo Music, Thom Huge, Pat Carroll
Plot: Jon takes Garfield and Odie to his parent’s farm for a special Christmas during which even Garfield embraces the giving heart of Christmas.
VERDICT: Want to get in the Christmas spirit fast? Pop in this half-hour of fun that hits all the right notes—clever comedy, Christmas tradition, and sentimental moments that last just long enough to give this Garfield fan must-see a touch of heart. It’s great fun for all ages and a sweet reminder of the importance of giving.
The Gathering (1977) NR
Director: Randal Kleiser
Cast: Ed Asner, Maureen Stapleton
Plot: A middle-aged businessman learns he has only weeks to live and tries to make amends with his estranged family through a Christmas gathering.
VERDICT: A few obscenities are overcome by this timeless and uplifting Christmas story the whole family will cherish.
The Heart of Christmas (2011) NR
Director: Gary Wheeler
Cast: Jeanne Neilson, Eric Jay Beck
Plot: A young couple fights to help their son win the battle against leukemia, changing a whole neighborhood with their story.
VERDICT: Christmas actually plays a small role, but viewers won’t be disappointed with this uplifting, touching drama that’s suitable for family watching, all-year-round.
The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971) PG
Director: Fielder Cook
Cast: Patricia Neal, Richard Thomas
Plot: The Waltons saga begins with the seven kids and family desperately waiting for their missing father to get home in time for Christmas.
VERDICT: The beginning of the popular Waltons TV series, this film is tailor-made for family enjoyment with an entertaining and touching tale of love, loyalty, and coming-of-age.
Homeless for the Holidays (2009) NR
Director: George A. Johnson
Cast: Matt Moore, Crystal Dewitt-Hinkle
Plot: A ladder-climbing executive who’s neglecting his family suddenly falls to rock bottom at Christmas only to find that life may be better there.
VERDICT: Though not of the highest production quality, this film boasts a lighthearted, yet meaningful story with a powerful counter-cultural message about success, family, and charity.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) NR
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
Plot: A failing businessman considering suicide is given the chance to see what his town and loved ones would be like if he had never been born.
VERDICT: One of the most-watched Christmas films in history, this family-friendly classic about the value of life, love, sacrifice, and giving is always worth seeing again.
Little House on the Prairie: Christmas at Plum Creek (1974) NR
Director: William F. Claxton
Cast: Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert
Plot: Secrets abound as the Ingalls family gets ready for Christmas, each person planning a special Christmas surprise for someone special.
VERDICT: Heartwarming and sweet as the Little House series always was, this made-for-TV movie includes lessons on honesty, sacrifice, love, and giving.
Little House on the Prairie: A Christmas They Never Forgot (1981) NR
Director: Michael Landon
Cast: Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert
Plot: The Ingalls family, visiting eldest daughters included, is stranded by a snowstorm at the homestead on Christmas Eve, where they swap stories of Christmases gone by and try to weather the storm, creating an unforgettable night for their family.
VERDICT: The dramatized vignettes from the Ingalls’ pasts are packed with meaningful lessons for all ages and layer this movie with the tradition, history, and emotions that make for a special and touching Christmas film.
The Little Match Girl (1987) NR
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg
Cast: Keisha Knight-Pulliam, William Daniels, John Rhys-Davies
Plot: A mysterious homeless girl is the only hope to heal a dysfunctional wealthy family and the dispossessed poor of the city in time for Christmas.
VERDICT: Keisha Knight-Pulliam shows her acting chops in this venture away from her role as Rudy on The Cosby Show, bringing her charismatic magic to this heartwarming and memorable Christmas story about forgiveness and love that’s perfect for the whole family.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) NR
Genre: Comedy, Family
Director: George Seaton
Cast: Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood
Plot: Kris Kringle is put on trial for claiming that he is Santa Claus while his new friends try their best to defend him.
VERDICT: Yes, this film features Santa Claus, but he is far from god-like and is instead a rather ordinary, but exceptionally kind person who makes mistakes, needs help out of a tough spot, and seeks loyalty and friendship in this whimsical, lighthearted Christmas classic (which also includes a charming performance by a very young Natalie Wood).
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) G
Genre: Comedy, Family
Director: Brian Henson
Cast: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Frank Oz
Plot: Mr. Scrooge learns that “bah humbug” and hating thy neighbor is not what Christmas and life is all about, thanks to some not-so-scary ghosts.
VERDICT: The Muppets are at their comedic best in this lighter, hilarious take on the Dickens classic. As enjoyable for adults as it is for kids, this film is not just clever, but also highlights Christ and God as the center of Christmas even better than the original adaptations.
November Christmas (2010) PG
Director: Robert Harmon
Cast: Sam Elliot, John Corbett, Sarah Paulson
Plot: A family and town band together to celebrate the holidays early for a special young girl who is battling Leukemia.
VERDICT: With a slight emphasis on magic as the explanation for events as the film’s only flaw, the story is still an uplifting tale with many positive examples of strong marriages, compassion, friendship, and hope.
Remember the Night (1940) NR
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
Director: Mitchell Liesen
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Beulah Bondi
Plot: A criminal lawyer takes pity on a habitual thief and ends up showing her the joys of a real Christmas and loving family.
VERDICT: Though sprinkled with comedy, this film is not the typical lighthearted Christmas romance, but rather a story that manages to balance a look at the dark side of life with the equally real love, kindness, and compassion demonstrated by others. (Best for teens and adults or mature older children.)
A Season for Miracles (1998) NR
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Michael Pressman
Cast: Carla Gugino, David Conrad, Patty Duke
Plot: A woman sacrifices everything and puts herself on the line to save her young niece and nephew from being placed in foster care at Christmastime.
VERDICT: With some thematic content that warrants parental supervision and explanation for young viewers, this heartwarming tale shows the hope and change that kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love can render.
Silver Bells (2005) NR
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Dick Lowry
Cast: Anne Heche, Tate Donovan
Plot: A widower and his teen children go to sell Christmas trees in New York City where their lives intersect with a young widow and unexpected trials.
VERDICT: The unique premise of this film is its strength and keeps viewers’ interest with unexpected plot twists as the story journeys through lessons on family and love.
White Christmas (1954) NR
Genre: Musical, Comedy
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen
Plot: Two musical duos, one made up of war veteran buddies, band together for an unforgettable Christmas show that’s aimed to save their former Army General from financial ruin.
VERDICT: Even people who aren’t musical fans will enjoy this fun movie that features an array of iconic stars at their best in a tale that’s a perfect balance of laugh-out-loud wit, story, and some of the best musical numbers on film.