Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Adam & Alison Watch Christmas Movies: Battle of the Christmas Wine Movies!

 by Adam Thas & Alison Thas

A Christmas Vintage, A Perfect Christmas Pairing, and Holiday in the Vineyards. Who will win and be the most drunk?

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the main event!  As we have mentioned previously in this column, between all of the major media outlets they release dozens of these holiday rom-coms a year, so of course it was destined that there would be some overlap. We were going to write about Christmas at the Amish Bakery (Yes, that’s a real movie released in 2023).  However, to our surprise this season gifted us with not one, not two, but three wine-themed holiday movies! By the photos you’d think that the common theme were men with permanent stubble, but I assure you this is all about the wine. So for our final column of the season we ran the gauntlet and watched all five hours worth of them in an epic battle to determine who movie is champion of the 2023 Holiday Wine Movies!
Introducing our first contestant. Coming in at 1 hour and 27 minutes and hailing from the wine producing region of Missouri. The fiery underdog, 2023’s A Christmas Vintage.
Alison: Emily and Tony are in love. The problem? Their families own opposing wineries in the small town of Hermann, Missouri.  Emily (Maddison Bullock) convinces her sister, Samantha (Karlee Eldridge), to romance Tony’s half-brother, Parker (Ignacyo Matynia), in hopes of showing him that it is possible to be in a relationship with someone from an opposing winery. Samantha goes along with the plan since she can’t say no to her little sister. Samantha normally doesn’t spend much time in Hermann due to her job as a flight attendant. She quickly realizes that her family’s once-thriving winery is in need of some updating.  Since she is spending so much time with wine-obsessed Parker, Samantha’s long-lost love of winemaking is rekindled. Just as Samantha’s involvement with the winery grows, so does her relationship with Parker.  She realizes she has feelings for Parker but isn’t sure how to tell him that she’s been hiding her connection to the competing winery. The story culminates in a holiday wine competition where each winery submits a wine made just for Christmas. Out of the three movies, A Christmas Vintage does the best at incorporating elements of the Christmas holiday into the movie.  It uses its small-town setting to its advantage and the holiday wine competition felt organic to the plot and not like an afterthought.  That being said, A Christmas Vintage falls short of capturing the magic of a good holiday movie.  It is missing that cozy merriment that I look for in a holiday film.

Adam: After a rough start, this one grew on me. Even though it does take place further south in Missouri, it is still the only one of the settings that could logically have snow, an aspect that they take full advantage of as this one has the most “Christmassy” feel to it. Most of these movies take place in fictional towns but bonus points to A Christmas Vintage for taking place and being shot in the town in which it takes place: Hermann, Missouri. It gives it a more authentic feel and there is a charm that comes with the extras in the movie very clearly being locals who responded to a casting call. Everyone in the movie is trying their best to make this movie work and Ignacyo Matynia as the main love interest plays a very convincing douche bag. On the flip side, I’m not sure of the budget but this one felt very cheap. With some of these holiday rom-coms, they do a nice job making the movie feel more expensive than it actually was. That’s not the case with A Christmas Vintage.  My biggest issue with this one, though, was with the way the plot was set up. This is now the second movie we’ve watched this season where the plot device asks the audience to excuse cruelty. I get that love will make you do stupid things, and that in movies you sometimes need to suspend belief in reality, but agreeing to seduce someone who genuinely develops feelings for you is cruel. To then continue the ruse after you realize what you’re doing is wrong washes away any sympathy the audience may have for a character. Overall, A Christmas Vintage has a charm to it that I can appreciate and just like a fine wine, got better with time.  
Our next contender, coming in at 1 hour and 29 minutes, hailing from the wine producing region of Georgia, also debuting in 2023, we have A Perfect Christmas Pairing.
Alison: In A Perfect Christmas Pairing, Grace Cooke (Ansley Gordon) is an aspiring chef working in Atlanta. A terrible review causes Grace to return home to her aunt and uncle’s winery. As Grace begins to reconnect with family and friends, she realizes that perhaps she is looking for more than just that Michelin star. A travel author, Asher St. James (Chris Connel), just so happens to be in town when Grace arrives and he keeps pushing back the start of his next tour to Cairo…or Machu Picchu…who exactly knows since every time he mentions it, he names a different location. We are led to believe he is delaying the tour because of his attraction and connection to Grace. I found that hard to believe, however, since there was almost no chemistry between the two. The movie floats along to the inevitable conclusion that is of no surprise to anyone. While I know Adam and I disparaged The Christmas Train earlier this season because of its overly-twisty ending, the plot to A Perfect Christmas Pairing could have either used a twist or two to spice up the story or it could have leaned in to the superficial holiday movie plot and do it really well.  Sadly, it did neither causing it to feel more like a chore to watch this movie than a joy.

Adam: I know it’s a weird compliment to give a movie, but this one was shot like a movie. Many of these holiday rom-coms have a tendency to be shot more like a sitcom than a movie in regards to the lighting and camera angles. That wasn’t the case with A Perfect Christmas Pairing. Ansley Gordon is good in the movie and acts circles around the rest of the cast, which I don’t know if that is a compliment to her or says more about who she’s starring opposite. After the initial first few minutes, this one falls off. Hard. Besides taking place on a winery and a few conversations about wine, a movie marketed as a “wine” movie has surprisingly little to do with wine. Since we are talking about how it was marketed, you’d also think that a movie with “Christmas” in the title would have a bit more to do with Christmas besides some background elements and a scene where they write wishes to Father Christmas. The plot is complete nonsense, and I’m pretty sure the writers were reading a book about screenwriting as they wrote it, so much so that basic stuff like a narrative structure is completely missing. The best I can say about A Perfect Christmas Pairing is that even though it’s bad, this one was a “fun bad.” Alison and I laughed a lot at this one but not for the reasons the writers intended. The name of the winery in this one is Nutwood, which after it’s first mentioned devolved into me making dick jokes for the next hour. You’re a good woman, Alison.
Lastly, from Netflix and coming in at a lengthy 1 hour and 47 minutes, from the wine producing region of California, 2023’s Holiday in the Vineyards.
Alison: For our final movie, we follow along as Carter Baldwyn (Josh Swickard) attempts to get back into his mother’s good graces in Holiday in the Vineyards. The Baldwyn family owns a large winery that is notorious for producing cheap, sweet-tasting wine using grapes from the fictional Los Santos region.  Carter agrees to go to Los Santos to gather information on the sale of Huckabee Winery, a winery that his mother, Margo (Eileen Davidson), would like to purchase. As part of his agreement, Carter hides his identity as the heir to Baldwyn wines. Naturally, Carter befriends the local real estate agent in charge of the sale, Valentina (Sol Rodriguez ) and her two boys. Carter learns more about the charm of the Los Santos area, its locals, and their wines during his stay. Carter also realizes he wants more than just a friendship with Valentina. The only catch is that Valentina is fiercely opposed to the Baldwyn family. This movie was a lot of fun to watch. The storyline was a breath of fresh air after enduring the first two holiday wine movies.  Naturally I was charmed by Real Housewives of Beverly Hills alum, Eileen Davidson. She plays the evil, greed-driven mother very well, perhaps due to her years as a soap opera actress. But Davidson isn’t the only charming supporting actress; in fact, almost all of the actors in the supporting roles were perfectly cast and well-played. The holiday charm is still pretty light when compared to other films we have watched, however, the cast and the story make up for its lack.

Adam: We decided to venture back into the Netflix universe with some trepidation after being burned by the awfulness of Best. Christmas. Ever.  I’m pleased to announce that Holiday in the Vineyards did not make us want to cancel our Netflix subscription. There is a lot to like in this one. It has what is not only a good cast in terms of acting, but also has an attractive cast, thanks mostly to Carlos Solorzano who plays one of the two kids in the movie and is adorable. While the two leads are good, who really steals the show is the “sidekicks.” In pretty much all of these holiday rom-coms there are one or two sidekicks that serve not only as comic relief but also as a way into our main character’s thoughts. Carly Jibson as Cindy and Omar Gooding (yes, he’s related to Cuba Gooding) as Moe are probably two of the best sidekicks we’ve seen in any of these holiday movies we’ve watched. It’s not without its problems, though. As advertised, Holiday in the Vineyards delivers on the wine aspect. Wine is a main plot point and the characters in it know about wine, however it has no business putting “Holiday” in its title. If it wasn’t for a scene near the end with a Christmas tree and someone dressing up as Santa, there is nothing at all to do with the holidays at all.  

So, what’s the final verdict?  Looking at all three of them together, A Perfect Christmas Pairing is out.  Ansley Gordon is the only thing remotely to like. That means we’ve reached the “Thunderdome” portion where two movies enter and only one movie leaves. It’s tough because everyone always roots for the underdog, and from what I know about wine, a Missouri wine movie going against a California wine movie, the Missouri one is definitely the underdog.  A Christmas Vintage delivers on the promise of its title and while it has problems, it has a lot of charm. Holiday in the Vineyards has a better cast, but it does not deliver on it’s promise of being a “Holiday” movie, which is kind of the point of this entire column.  While we did enjoy both of them we are going to declare the winner of the first ever “Battle of the Holiday Wine Movies”: 

Holiday in the Vineyards.  
Adam’s List:
1) Holidate (2020, Netflix)
2) Love Hard (2021, Netflix)
3) Your Christmas or Mine (2022, Amazon)
4) Holiday Calendar (2018, Netflix)
5) Snowed Inn (2017, Hallmark)
6) The Princess Switch (2018, Netflix)
7) Falling for Christmas (2022, Netflix)
8) The Knight Before Christmas (2019, Netflix)
9)  EXmas (2023, Amazon/Freevee)
10) Midnight at the Magnolia (2020, Netflix)
11) The Christmas Train (2017, Hallmark)
12) Holiday in the Vineyard (2023, Netflix)
13) Christmas Under Wraps (2014, Hallmark)
14) Reporting for Christmas (2023, Hulu)
15) The Princess Switch 2: Switched Again (2020, Netflix)
16) A Christmas Vintage (2023, Amazon)
17) The Noel Diary (2022, Netflix)
18) The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (2021, Netflix)
19) One Royal Holiday (2020, Hallmark)
20) Christmas on the Farm (2022, Hulu)
21) Holiday in the Wild (2019, Netflix)
22) Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe (2018, Hallmark)
23)  A Perfect Christmas Pairing (2023, Amazon)
24) Three Wise Men and a Baby (2022, Hallmark)
25) Best. Christmas. Ever. (2023, Netflix)

Alison’s List:
1) The Princess Switch (2018, Netflix)
2) Your Christmas or Mine (2022, Amazon)
3) Love Hard (2021, Netflix)
4) Holiday Calendar (2018, Netflix)
5) Falling for Christmas (2022, Netflix)
6) Holidate (2020, Netflix)
7) The Christmas Train (2017, Hallmark)
8) The Knight Before Christmas (2019, Netflix)
9) Holiday in the Vineyards (2023, Netflix)
10) Midnight at the Magnolia (2020, Netflix)
11) Christmas Under Wraps (2014, Hallmark)
12) Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe (2018, Hallmark)
13) The Princess Switch 2: Switched Again (2020, Netflix)
14) EXmas (2023, Amazon/Freevee)
15) Snowed Inn (2017, Hallmark)
16) Reporting for Christmas (2023, Hulu)
17) The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (2021, Netflix)
18) One Royal Holiday (2020, Hallmark)
19) The Noel Diary (2022, Netflix)
20) Three Wise Men and a Baby (2022, Hallmark)
21) A Christmas Vintage (2023, Amazon)
22) A Perfect Christmas Pairing (2023, Amazon)
23) Christmas on the Farm (2022, Hulu)
24) Holiday in the Wild (2019, Netflix)
25) Best. Christmas. Ever. (2023, Netflix)

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