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It's been three long years since our last look at Christmas movies in the DVD Advent Calendar and, in that time, Hollywood doesn't seem to have lost interest in churning out festively themed features. While the quality of these movies is largely mediocre, this sub-genre does occasionally throw up a few gems. So, without further ado, let's take a look at twelve more Crimbo-set movies.

'tis the season... The 12 DVDs of Christmas
1. The Polar Express
A young boy's belief in Santa Claus is starting to waver, but that's set to change when he boards the Polar Express, an enchanted steam-train with the destination of the North Pole.

‘Visually astonishing’ would be one term used to describe the ‘first all-digital capture’ film. Another would be ‘pretty boring’ as, despite its impressive visuals, the ponderous narrative is so slow-paced that this will probably only find favour with young children.

Tom Hanks takes the majority of the voice-over parts but his vocals are so instantly recognisable it's hard to differentiate between each character. Producer/Director Robert Zemeckis returned to the world of digital capture with 2007's Beowulf, and looks set to do so again with the 3284th adaptation of A Christmas Carol, scheduled for 2009.

The Polar Express is available as two-disc Special Edition including featurettes, behind the scenes footage and a music video.

2. Surviving Christmas
Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) is a money-obsessed record executive who, after being dumped by his girlfriend, decides to revisit his old family home for Christmas. The fact that the house is now owned by another family does not deter Latham, who offers them $250,000 if he can be a part of the festivities.

You'd be hard pressed to find a Christmas movie quite as lousy as 2006's Surviving Christmas. Even the woeful Christmas with Kranks from the same year (see below) has the edge on this ill-tempered and unpleasant movie. The absence of a single funny moment in the over-long running time and the fact that the likes of James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara are all wasted, means that this is not only one of the worst Christmas movies to ever be produced, but one of the worst mainstream movies to ever be produced.

Dreamworks seemed too aware that they had a stinker on their hands and released the movie in cinemas in October. It staggered to DVD mere weeks later. Best avoided; the disc contains an alternate opening sequence, a storyboard gallery and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

'tis the season... The 12 DVDs of Christmas
3. A Christmas Story
All Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsly) wants for Christmas is a an ‘official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and 'this thing' which tells time’. It's just a pity that his parents seem to be under the impression that those things can ‘shoot your eye out’. An older Ralphie narrates the tale of the lead-up to a Christmas in the 1930's, including a disastrous visit to see Santa Claus and some troublesome dares with his schoolmates.

Missing from the earlier list because it remains unavailable (and largely unknown) in the UK, the enduring popularity of A Christmas Story means it cannot be overlooked again. The region one DVD contains an audio commentary and numerous featurettes.  A Christmas Story has been cited as the chief inspiration for ‘The Wonder Years’, which is reason enough for UK readers to seek out this small-scale, yet decidedly charming, movie.

4. Ernest Saves Christmas
Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) is working as cab driver and picks up a fare who just so happens to be Santa Claus. Unfortunately, when Santa leaves his magic sack of toys behind, it's up to Ernest to track him down and put the festive season back on track.

Sad as it is to say it, if there's one benefit of Jim Varney's untimely death it's that the world has been spared of any more Ernest features. This, the second of eight fully fledged theatrical outings, is one of the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, that's not saying much: Varney mugs his way through a series of comical misunderstandings before we reach a flat and uninspired finale.

It's a travesty! Ernest Saves Christmas is currently unavailable on region two. The region one release, meanwhile, is a vanilla affair.

'tis the season... The 12 DVDs of Christmas
5. Christmas with the Kranks
When their daughter leaves the family nest just before Christmas, the Kranks (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to shun the festivities and take a cruise. However, their lack of festive cheer does not find favour with their neighbours and friends.

An ill-judged movie of epic proportions, Christmas with the Kranks suffers from a woeful script, a hideous premise and wholly annoying performances from all involved. Screenwriter and producer Chris Columbus seems to have lost track at just who the target audience should be for this type of feature: a visit from the 'real' Santa sitting unevenly with sketches involving botox injections.
 
Trailers and a featurette on decorations are the only extras on the DVD but, since you'd have to be criminally insane to want to own this movie, maybe you'll appreciate them too.

6. It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
Kermit the Frog is having a very bad Christmas. The Muppet Theatre will be closed down unless they can find the money to pay an unscrupulous bank owner (Joan Cusack). Believing that his friends will be better off without him, Kermit contemplates suicide... only for an angel (David Arquette) to show him what the world would be like without him.

Proof positive that lightning doesn't strike twice, the Muppets fail to recapture the festive delights of The Muppet Christmas Carol with this tired TV Movie from 2002. It's hard to dislike due to the charm of the felt-covered cast and their affection for the source material ( It's a Wonderful Life), but weak jokes and life-less songs can't really hep matters.

True to its TV Movie roots, the DVD of It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie has very little in the way of extras. Deleted scenes are present on both the region one and two discs.

'tis the season... The 12 DVDs of Christmas
7. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) has settled in nicely as Santa Claus but his problems aren't over yet. This time he has to deal with Jack Frost (Martin Short), who's determined to take over his festive duties.

Undoubtedly an instalment too far with a tired script and a half-hearted plotline. The ‘Escape Clause’ of the title gives the opportunity to bookend the trilogy with a nice retrospective on the earlier chapters; alas the potential is never fulfilled. Instead, this part of the narrative takes about fifteen minutes of the running time, the rest given over to a frankly boring ‘Meet the Clauses’ story that will likely bore the target audience of seven year olds.

An alternate opening and flimsy featurettes are the order of the day for this disc.
 
8. Love Actually
Multiple love-stories abound in this festive romcom, including the UK's Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) becoming romantically entangled with his maid (Martine McCutcheon) and a recently widowed man (Liam Neeson) finding new love with a Claudia Schiffer look-alike (um, Claudia Schiffer).

Following the phenomenal success of Four Weddings and a Funeral, screenwriter Richard Curtis discovered he'd hit upon a winning formula; and reheated it to pleasing box-office with the woeful Notting Hill. Curtis' directorial debut, Love Actually, has the slight edge on that, but it's still a lazy, laugh-less film filled with countless subplots that are far too easily resolved.

The DVD contains an audio commentary from writer/director Richard Curtis and actors Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy and Thomas Sangster, deleted scenes and the full-length Christmas is All Around music video.  

'tis the season... The 12 DVDs of Christmas
9. Just Friends
Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds) used to be fat, unpopular and have unrequited love for his friend Jamie (Amy Smart). Ten years later, and Chris has shed the pounds and has become a highly-successful record producer. However, when he's forced to pay an unexpected visit to his childhood town over Christmas, he realises that his feelings for Jamie have not faded.

Ryan Reynolds is an acquired taste and in no film is this more evident than Just Friends, where his no-holds barred performance is the deciding factor on whether viewers will enjoy or detest this movie. The film is heavy-handed but there are a few laughs throughout the running time, mostly down to Anna Farris offering an extension of her pretentious celebrity role from Lost in Translation.

A half-baked DVD contains featurettes, deleted scenes and bloopers.

10. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Obnoxious house guests and a cranky boss are just two of the problems Clark Griswold and his family have to contend with one Christmas.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
is a perfect example as to why Hollywood continues to produce Christmas themed movies. Despite not being particularly funny, this movie, like so many on this list, has won a loyal band of fans by simply being one of their many traditions each and every December. Show it to someone in March, however, and they're unlikely to see what the fuss is about due to Chevy Chase's frantic mugging and a string of unfunny and increasingly desperate sketches. 2003 saw the film treated to a belated sequel starring Randy Quaid. And, you know it's bad, because it hasn't even made this list.

The DVD contains a trailer, and that's it.

'tis the season... The 12 DVDs of Christmas
11. Bad Santa
Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is not your ideal department store Santa Claus; he's a rude and obnoxious alcoholic. But will a little boy by the name of Thurman Merman be able to melt his cold heart during the festive season?

With production credits for the Coen Brothers, Bad Santa is a slight disappointment. Thornton is wonderfully nasty but the single joke of a foul-mouth man in a completely unsuitable job is not enough to sustain the running time. While this is a welcome relief from some of the other comedies on this list, it's not quite the movie its reputation suggests.

Out-takes, deleted scenes and a brief making-of featurette are the biggest draws in terms of extras on the Bad Santa DVD. Region two fans would be wise to plump for the US Unrated version, either on DVD or Blu-ray.

12. The Holiday
US-based Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) and UK-based Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) both suffer heart-break as the Christmas season approaches. They decide to swap houses to escape their love-problems but both find themselves romantically entangled with new love interests (Jude Law, Jack Black).

Presumably an attempt to recapture the spirit of the insipid Love Actually, The Holiday fares little better, despite concentrating on two plotlines rather than a dozen. Cameron Diaz's character is woefully underwritten and it's hard to feel empathy towards Kate Winslet's when she comes across as so hopelessly pathetic.  

A commentary is present on the region one release, while the region two is  vanilla.

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