It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are cinematic classics, but sometimes you just need your holiday film viewing served with a side of cheese. Topped with a layer of cheese. And then wrapped in a shell of cheese that’s made up a million little pieces of cheese.
We’re referring, of course, to the classic holiday Hallmark film: a guaranteed 90 minutes of uncomplicated, life-affirming fare that will always end with a kiss under falling snow and, if you’re lucky, star an E-list actor you’ll spend the entire film trying to remember where you know them from.
This year is a bumper crop: There are 20 *new* Hallmark holiday movies premiering on W Network this November and December. That’s not even counting the plethora of gems from years past you may have missed, or, you know, have kept on the DVR from last year. Whether you’re in it for the ironic, so-bad-it’s-good eye roll experience, or 2018 has left you needing a soft place to snuggle and shed a tear, we’ve rounded up the best of this year’s Hallmark crop. BYO crackers, but the schmaltz is complimentary.
A Gingerbread Romance
According to this flick starring Sister, Sister‘s Tia Mowry, Christmas is “wherever you hang your stocking”—which, Mowry’s character Taylor hopes will one day be Paris. The only thing standing between the Philadelphia-based architect and her French dream life is one last commission: A gingerbread house for a competition to be judged by the mayor. Helping Taylor create this festive home sweet home is pastry chef Adam (Duane Henry), a single dad with unrequited dreams of his own (in his case, to open his own shop, where his true creativity can blossom). They’re a winning team—but is it enough to keep Taylor’s stocking hanging in Philly, not Paris? And no, that’s not an innuendo. This is Hallmark, people.
Why it’s a must-watch: If you’re of the opinion that Tia & Tamera, the Mowry sisters’ short lived reality show, was an under-appreciated classic of the genre, this will feel like a nice, festive catch up with one half of your favourite set of child star twins.
A Majestic Christmas
This is another tale of an architect who finds herself building a love connection while also building a literal building. (Architect, it seems, is 2018’s equivalent of the magazine editor, a.k.a. the glamourized job of choice for rom com heroines.)
When Nell (Jerrika Hinton) returns to her hometown of Briar Falls—because all Hallmark small towns are something Falls—she is conflicted. She’s been working towards getting ahead at work, but her first big promotion involves tearing down the town’s beloved playhouse, home to the annual Christmas festival, to build a soulless modern multiplex. Enter Connor, the playhouse’s out-of-towner new owner (played, FYI, by Windsor, Ontario native Christian Vincent), with whom, of course, Nell inevitably clashes with/teaches the magic of Christmas/reaches a compromise that is only economically viable in the fantasy world of Hallmark.
Why it’s a must watch: The lead of this film, Jerrika Hinton, is just endlessly charming and super charismatic in a way that makes us think she’s going places other than Hallmark (no offense). Let’s not forget, after all, that Meghan Markle did a few in her time…
Angel of Christmas
Despite their new infatuation with architects, turns out Hallmark stills loves creating a heroine who works in the journalism industry, as you’ll see in this tale of newspaper reporter tasked with writing about her grandfather and a stone angel he carved many a Yuletide ago. The twist? She’s on deadline (although the three weeks she has to write this piece is a luxury in real life world), and discovers a love triangle in Gramps’ past while navigating her own pursued-by-two-wonderful-but-different-men situ.
Why it’s a must watch: This is a fancy Hallmark movie because it’s based on Janet Maas’s novel The Christmas Angel, which has a 4.5/5 rating on Amazon.
After the tragic death of her sister, corporate lawyer Lucy Toomey, played by Young and the Restless alum Tatyana Ali who you might also know from The Fresh Prince, returns to her small hometown in Wisconsin. All she wants is to go the funeral and get out of Nilson’s Bay immediately after, but her sister’s will has a bizarre caveat: Lucy must live in Alice’s house for four weeks before she can sell it. Because apparently everyone at Hallmark is as obsessed with real estate as we are, there’s a plot twist (again) involving demolishing her sister’s beloved home to build condos. And Lucy, along with her conveniently still single and attractive high school boyfriend, are the only ones who can save the day.
Why it’s a must watch: This film features a heroine isn’t fresh out of college and has actually lived a little life. It’s nice (especially since the holidays can be tough for singles, whatever your age) to see that true love can happen at any age—and that the measure of a life well-lived isn’t your relationship status.
Christmas at Graceland
Nothing says holiday time like Elvis, amirite? Kelly Pickler (one-time American Idol contestant, now moderately successful country singer and TV personality) stars as businesswoman Laurel who returns to her hometown of Memphis, and somehow ends up in The King’s guest house. She’s got a big deal to pull off (deadline is Christmas Eve, of course) and all is going well until she bumps into Clay (Wes Brown), the boyfriend she dumped around the same time that she ditched her dreams of their double act achieving musical stardom. No spoilers, but this one involves…singing. Lots of singing.
Why it’s a must watch: This is such an OTT pop culture mash up. It’s Elvis, it’s country music, it’s Christmas, and it all shouldn’t work together, or even hang together plot-wise, but it does. Consider it a Yuletide miracle.
Christmas at Pemberley Manor
Despite the title’s allusion to Mr. Darcy’s storied estate in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this film is not, alas, a holiday hang with Lizzie, Jane, Bingley et al. Instead, it’s a kind of adaptation of the novel set in…Connecticut. Canadian-born Jessica Lowndes (who may be familiar from the 90210 reboot a few years ago) plays the spunky (of course) Elizabeth Bennet, who is tasked with organizing the Christmas festival in her small town. The problem? The only available venue is Pemberley Manor, property of Will Darcy (The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants’s Michael Rady), a crusty tycoon who hates joy.
Why it’s a must watch: Jane Austen never wrote holiday content, so this, Pride and Prejudice fans, will have to do. And somehow, given her famous sense of humour and love of social satire, we feel like Jane would be sitting on the couch right next to us for this one.
Like literally every other Hallmark heroine, Joy (Danielle Panabaker) is in line for a big promotion in the lead up to Christmas, and, like everyone else, has her dreams of corporate success derailed by an unexpected detour back to her (say it with me) small home town. And yes, it’s called Crystal Falls. This tale outdoes itself, however, in just quite how low the stakes are plot-wise. Joy’s make or break, meet-cute-allowing challenge? Organizing the Cookie Crawl, a town tradition where home owners vie to outdo each other for the best baked goods. With all the stress and late nights that entails, no wonder the sparks fly with her co-organizer, hospital administrator Ben (Matt Long). And yes, he’s as sexy as that job title.
Why it’s a must watch: There are some particularly interesting female relationships in this one, which makes it not (entirely) about the romantic narrative. In a lot of ways, Joy’s relationship with her female boss is far more pivotal to her life than the companionship of the amiable administrator.
The Christmas Train
We’re not sure when trains became associated with the holidays (see: Polar Express) but Hallmark throws the star power at the locomotive motif in this 2017 film that gets its Canadian premiere this year. This flick—which shockingly does *not* take place in a small town—stars legit celebrities Dermot Mulroney, Joan Cusack and Danny Glover as travellers who find themselves stuck on a train together five days before Christmas. There’s also a boy choir (???) who actually play an unexpectedly pivotal plot point/provide the essential soundtrack of carols. As for the romance we all tuned in for? It’s there in spades—a lonely widower finds a new partner, a young couple settles into their newfound bliss and of course, Dermot Mulroney’s character Tom Langdon unexpectedly rekindles a relationship his long-ago love.
Why it’s a must watch: We’ve mentioned this before, but, guys: JOAN CUSACK. We’d go and see her if she was playing second elf in our local mall Santa display, let alone a Premium Hallmark movie.
Mingle All The Way
It was only a matter of time before Hallmark took on Silicon Valley (the New York of 2018 in the rom com world), so it feels inevitable that at least one of this year’s Hallmark heroines is an app developer. The app, called Mingle All the Way, is a way to find a date—which is exactly what the app’s own creator, Molly, needs to weather the holiday season. This tale is similar to The Wedding Date, but missing the dirty jokes and male prostitutes and with way more twinkly lights.
Why this is a must watch: Shout out to Hallmark for putting a woman in STEM as the heroine of their tale.
Jingle Around the Clock
One of a disproportionately large number of Canadian actors fronting Hallmark films this year, Brooke Nevin (you don’t know her from anywhere) plays a Chicago woman who—you guessed it—is up for a promotion. This is a twist on the classic “girl meets guy, has a magical evening, doesn’t learn his name, and then the next day he’s the evil colleague she’s been dreading meeting” scenario. This is one of the movies where you’ll watch and wonder where the eff have you seen that leading dude? Spoiler, it’s actor Michael Cassidy who played Zach Stevens on The O.C. You’re welcome.
Why this is a must watch: While this isn’t exactly Hallmark tackling #MeToo head on, it is a sideways exploration of office politics and the dynamics that can exist between male and female coworkers, particularly ones who are rivals for advancement. Sprinkled in a heavy dusting of icing sugar, of course.