Â Crowning a Yuletide Smackdown Champ, Christmas 2009
Well, it’s come to this. After three years of polling here at The Smack, our readers have narrowed our field of ten Christmas films in the first season down to three, then last year from three to two, and this year we end it in a showdown with our top two.
In 2007, we asked ten of our SmackRefs to each recommend a Christmas film that they have a special fondness for, something that can stand the test of repeat viewing.Â That poll turned out to be a squeaker with an unexpected winner whenÂ the nostalgia-rama Â “A Christmas Story”Â edged outÂ traditional favorite “It’s A Wonderful Life” with a strong third place by the relatively new “Love Actually.”
Those were the finalists in the 2008 reader’s poll.Â That one turned out to be a photo-finish with Â “Love Actually” taking win, “It’s A Wonderful Life” taking place, and “A Christmas Story”Â only managing to take a semi-weak show.
Now — in Christmas 2009 — we finish the season with our top two finishers in the ring against each other to decide, once and for all who the real champion is in the “No-Humbug Zone.”
Are you ready to rumble? We are. And it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
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“IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” (1946)
Like a lot of Americans, Frank CapraÂ had just returned from World War II and he wanted this picture (basedÂ on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern) to be a celebration of ourÂ country’s ordinary citizens. It wasn’t really all that successful atÂ the time nor was it perceived as a “Christmas movie.” That happenedÂ when it fell starting in the 1970s when PBS stations used it asÂ counter-programming to big network Christmas specials and gatheredÂ steam when a clerical error allowed it to fall out of copyright inÂ 1974.
The audience has grown over the years and many families make it anÂ annual holiday viewing, something that Capra himself in 1984 calledÂ “the damndest thing.” In the 80s, a colorized version was releasedÂ which, ironically, had no problem being copyrighted by has been savagedÂ by film critics although average viewers seem to not be so bothered by.
The film takes place in the fictionalÂ town of Bedford Falls shortly after World War II and stars JamesÂ Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose attempted suicide on ChristmasÂ Eve gains the attention of his guardian angel, Clarence who is sent toÂ help him in his hour of need. Most of the film is told throughÂ flashbacks spanning George’s entire life and narrated by Franklin andÂ Joseph, unseen Angels who are preparing Clarence for his mission toÂ save George. Through these flashbacks we see all the people whose livesÂ have been touched by George and the difference he has made to theÂ community in which he lives.
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“LOVE ACTUALLY” (2003)
In 2003, writer Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,”Â “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) gave us the Christmas gift of “Love Actually”Â as his directorial debut and, for more revelers than you can imagine, it’s turned out to be an annual event. The film is an ensemble romantic comedy set against the backdropÂ of the holiday season and, by our count, there are over 20 mainÂ characters and about nine separate romances. Some play out better thanÂ others but, overall, it’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, youÂ never know what you’re going to get.
Hugh Grant is wonderful, as usual, playing the newly elected PrimeÂ Minister of Britain who happens to fall for a crumpet working for theÂ household staff (played by Martine McCutcheon). He’s as appealing asÂ ever and his story really is the spine of the piece, if you think aboutÂ it. But you never really have the time because there’s so much goingÂ on. Another great story involves Bill Nighy who plays anÂ over-the-hill rocker who’s just scored a big hit by putting an old rockÂ standard “Love Is All Around” to Christmas lyrics and knows it’s notÂ his finest work.
It works as a Christmas movie,Â though, because Christmas really is all around. It’s in the presentsÂ people buy each other in this film, in the songs they sing, in theÂ plays they attend. It’s about people who realize how much they needÂ other people and, even though this message begins the movie as a 9/11Â reference, it’s clearly developed as a holiday theme. Some critics haveÂ tried to slam this film as being too busy but they are just channeling their inner Scrooge, we think. We love these characters and if we could buyÂ them all a present, we would.