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The Yulies: Celebrating the Christmas TV-movie genre

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Locklearchristmas40_lHave you noticed a chill in the air? A charitable smile on a stranger’s face? A monstrous credit-card bill lurking in your mailbox? Oh, it’s so that time of year again, when the networks unleash all of their original holiday movies on America’s flatscreens. At least eleven new two-hour flicks have premiered over the past few weeks—and this doesn’t include animated and variety specials, or repeats from Christmases past. For the last three years, I’ve had the onerous burden distinguished pleasure of watching all of these movies before they hit the air. I know—that’s a lot of joy jammed down my throat. People stop me all the time in the hallways of EW and ask, “Dan, how do you do it? Why do you do it? And did you alphabetize the DVD library like I asked you to yesterday?”

I embark on this masochistic movie marathon each year because my editor, Dalton Ross, and I want to “celebrate” this most festive genre, in which certain plot devices and window dressings are recycled more often than the trash at Ed Begley, Jr.’s house. To see the results, check out our third annual Holiday Movie Cliché Checklist in EW’s Dec. 5 issue. The work that goes into this project is borderline epic. Armed with a master grid and laptop computer, I watch these suckers one after the other—sometimes a few each day—before Dalton and I engage in heated discussions to decide which seven movies will grace the chart. Some are cute. Some are amusing. Some make me want to punch my own face in. And some pack so much cheese, you could grate them over a nice bowl of angel hair. I certainly do not advise anyone to view all of these films for recreational purposes, as you may experience dizziness, nausea, and loss of perspective. (If you find yourself starting to believe that most of the world’s problems can be resolved with the gift of love and/or a spiced dark fruitcake, consult a physician immediately.)

Something did become clear this year while I was mucking through all of the merriment: One chart is not enough guidance for you to figure out which telefilms to watch. So I’ve decided to start another tradition: The Yulies, the only awards that honor absurd achievements in the Christmas TV-movie genre. Herewith, the nominees for this first annual edition, immediately followed by a light lunch and the trophy presentation (after the jump). Update: Now that all but one have aired, I thought it was time to re-visit this PopWatch item (originally posted Dec. 5), so you could weigh in on whether or not I awarded trophies to the correct films:
     •Moonlight and Mistletoe (Hallmark Channel, Dec. 5)
     •Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh (Nickelodeon, Dec. 5)
     •Flirting with Forty (Lifetime, Dec. 6)
     •The Christmas Choir (Hallmark, Dec. 6)
     •Will You Merry Me? (Lifetime, Dec. 13)
     •The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Hallmark, Dec. 13)
     •Snow 2 Brain Freeze (ABC Family, Dec. 14)
     •A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride (Lifetime, Dec. 20)
     •Our First Christmas (Hallmark, Dec. 20)
     •Christmas in Wonderland (ABC Family, Dec. 20)
     •A Kiss At Midnight (Hallmark, Dec. 27)* *Technically a movie about New Year’s Eve

addCredit(“Flirting with Forty: Mario Perez/Lifetime; Christmas Choir: Philip Bosse/Hallmark Channel”)

MOST ENTERTAINING SCENE INVOLVING MAN AND BEAST
Lot of competish in this category. Wendie Malick runs down a beloved reindeer with a car in Will You Merry Me?, while a seal humiliates Carmen Electra in Christmas in Wonderland. But Merry Christmas, Drake & Joshisn’t monkeying around in this category…. Wait, I take that back!That’s exactly what’s going on! In a bizarro flashback, a pet simiangoes bananas and ruins a little boy’s Christmas, destroying hispresents and then urinating on the horrified child. Yulie, monkey.Monkey, Yulie. We’ll slowly back away and let you two get to know each other.

THE “IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!” AWARD
Given to any movie brazen enough to bust out the genre’s most well-worn line of dialogue. Congrats, Will You Merry Me?, you actually went there! And sorry, Moonlight and Mistletoe, you just missed the mark with your “Christmas is a time for miracles!” bon mot. Better luck next year.

RACIEST YULETIDE-THEMED EXCLAMATION
“The last thing a 300-pound man should be doing is trying to squeeze his fat booty down people’s chimneys,” scoffs a child about Santa in Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh. That might raise an eyebrow, but The Most Wonderful Time of the Yearmakes rosy cheeks much rosier when a man takes a seat on the sofa,realizes there’s an uncomfortable problem, and confesses: “I sat onyour nutcracker.”

THE “HEY, IF YOU’RE DONE WITH THAT STORY LINE, CAN I BORROW IT?” AWARD
Both A Kiss At Midnight and A Very Merry Daughter of the Bridefeature a single adult woman whose mother owns a bridal store, andtheir relationship becomes strained when mom falls hard and fast for ajolly if slightly uncouth man. Is it also mere coincidence that thetitles of both movies start with the word ‘A’? (Probably.)

MOST GRATUITOUS RED-BIKINI SCENE
In Christmas in Wonderland,Patrick Swayze’s teenage son is smitten with a blonde girl that he seesfrolicking in an indoor water park. But Heather Locklear isn’t about topass her torch of hotness to someone who can’t even vote yet: In Flirting With Forty,she dons some sexy swimwear—a gift from her twentysomething beau—andwaltzes out the door into the freezing Colorado snow… just to throw outsome old sweatpants! Sorry, Swayze, but the Yulie goes to the cougar.

OUTSTANDING REPRESENTATION OF BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 CAST MEMBERS
With Tori Spelling nowhere to be found in any cast, it was shaping up to be a lean holiday season. But thank goodness for A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride,which boasts two Peach Pitters: Luke Perry plays a conniving son whowants to ruin his dad’s love life, while Jason Priestley cameos as agroom who cheats on his bride right before the ceremony.

BIGGEST HOLIDAY HAM
You’d think that Tom Arnold tackling the role of Santa in Moonlight and Mistletoe would be the easy winner here, but he doesn’t really go for broad shtick. In Snow 2 Brain Freeze, however, another Tom playing St. Nick (hint: it’s Tom Cavanagh) goofily falls out of frame not once but twice! (An Honorable Yulie is awarded to mixed martial arts star Kimbo Slice for his small role in Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh as a prisoner turned Santa.)

MOST UNLIKELY ACTION SAVIOR
In The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,sixtysomething Henry Winkler plays a retired Brooklyn cop who impressivelyschools a bad guy in two different scenes. And just to prove that hislaying down the law was no fluke, Winkler cameos as a hard-nosed judgein Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh.

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN CHRISTMAS SWEATERS
Props to the wardrobe department at… Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh.(Save some Yulie love for the other guys, will ya?) Theseholiday-splattered cardigans and sweater vests are so hideous, theSalvation Army would declare war on you if you tried to donate them.

MOST TOLERABLE MOVIE FOR A JEWISH PERSON TO WATCH
Pickings are traditionally slim during Santa season for the ChosenPeople. (Sample acknowledgment: Mayor of just-saved town tells crowd,“Merry Christmas to everyone! And, um… Happy Hanukkah to our Jewishfriend!”) This year, though, there’s a flick worth its weight inlatkes. In Will You Merry Me?,a Jewish couple from L.A. trek to Wisconsin to meet the frighteninglyfestive Christian family of their daughter’s fiance. It’s a truegefilte-fish-out-of-water tale, indeed.

MOST CONVINCING CHEERS ACTOR PLAYING A PERSON OF THE CLOTH
Oooh, this is a toughie. John “Cliff” Raztenberger neither goes postal nor mails in his performance as a retired preacher in Our First Christmas.  Meanwhile, Rhea “Carla” Perlman has a tall order: to play a nun in charge of a homeless shelter in The Christmas Choir.As an added touch, this nun has a habit she just can’t quit: Smoking!All right, let’s go to the envelope… Ladies and gentlemen, in the truespirit of Christmas, this Yulie will be shared by Ratzenberger andPerlman. And with that, we say: Cheers to all and to all a good night!

All right, PopWatchers, which of these movies did you watch this year? Did you shed a tear while watching any of ’em? Which ones do you think deserve a Yulie? And finally, what isyour all-time favorite holiday TV-movie?