The holiday spirit has sprung all over network television, and the networks have revved up their countdown clocks for Christmas specials all through the month. The Hallmark Hall of Fame specials have always drawn some of the best stars and stories for their seasonal offerings, and the Hallmark Channel has them all in nearly 24-hour rotation for the month of December, so there is no reason for not catching them at least once, even if it’s 3 AM and you have sticky fingers from wrapping packages. All of the features are quality, fun, family friendly entertainment that sets a high bar, but here are a few picks of the best of the best.
Christmas in Canaan.Although filmed in British Columbia, this 2009 film stars Billy Ray Cyrus in a standout acting role as a dirt farmer in Canaan, TX at the beginning of the desegregation era. Breaking with family and hometown tradition, he refuses to tolerate bigotry, and after a somewhat minor but meaningful altercation involving his son, he imposes his own immersion therapy upon his son and the other child and family involved. The two boys are further bonded through the rescue of a wounded dog, and the loss and rise of family members out of the blue. Beyond the racial, social, and political themes, this story conveys a beautiful message about the true meaning of Christmas having nothing to do with things material, but everything to do with memories, meaning, and the choices made in life. The setting, the images, and the story ring purely authentic of the time. The story is based on the book of the same title by Kenny Rogers and Daniel Davenport, who wrote the screenplay. With kids, a dog, and hard times it’s not hard to bet it’s a heart-tugger, but it goes deeper than most, and is one worthy of more than one look.
The Angel of Pennsylvania Avenue. This 1996 offering was directed by Robert Ellis Miller, who was nominated for two Young Artists Awards in 1997 following its reception. It is based on the real-life events of Bernice Feagan, who made a heroic effort to see President Hoover on behalf of her father, who had been jailed in Kansas City after he traveled there seeking a job. In these times when it seems every nine-year-old thinks a cell phone and an iPad are necessities, this Depression-era saga teaches something meaningful about true need. Beneath its setting, the story revolves around a young girl finding the strength of a woman, and discovering her own identity while forging a new relationship with her mother. Diana Scarwid and Robert Urich head this cast.
Fallen Angel. Worth viewing for acting alone by stars Gary Sinise and Joely Richardson, this 2003 story centers on a rising businessman who has long since cut ties with his past, and the father who always put his work maintaining vacation homes for other families ahead of building relationship with his son. When his father dies, he returns home to quickly close the estate, but instead comes to realize that his father’s work was a gift to many lives, and to question the purpose of his own. An unlikely new relationship with a young mother and her blind daughter emerges, and further changes his definition of worth. Add some popcorn, and you have a perfect story for a stay-in night.
The Christmas Card. Against the relevant backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, this Emmy-nominated gem from 2006 brings humor, a handsome soldier, and a touch of meddling parents into a mix of romance for a young woman who thinks she has her feature nicely plotted along life’s map, not knowing that her simple gesture of a Christmas card will change things forever. This is one that will have you screaming at the characters from your couch in fun, and still make you think about the invisible fallout of war. Ed Asner, John Newton, and Alice Evans are among other veteran actors. The ending provides a fresh kind of “Awww moment”, too.
Personal viewing archives and selection.