Love Actually (2003) -vs- It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
Now that Americans are doing their part to jump-start the national economy by buying things they don't need in order to employ people they don't know, it's time to get this Christmas Smackdown settled once and for all. So, naturally, we have a new poll for you. Holidays are about tradition, right? This is ours and we're sticking with it. Only this time it's the Championship Round!
Two years ago, 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. That poll turned out to be a squeaker with an unexpected winner when the nostalgia-rama "A Christmas Story" edged out traditional favorite "It's A Wonderful Life" with a strong third place by the relatively new "Love Actually."
Those were the finalists in last year's reader's poll. That one turned out to be a photo-finish with "Love Actually" taking win, "It's A Wonderful Life" taking place, and "A Christmas Story" only managing to take a semi-weak show.
In any case, the past is just nostalgia. Now to get you in the holiday spirit again, we're putting 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.
Like a lot of Americans, Frank Capra
had just returned from World War II and he wanted this picture (based
on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern) to be a celebration of our
country's ordinary citizens. It wasn't really all that successful at
the time nor was it perceived as a "Christmas movie." That happened
when it fell starting in the 1970s when PBS stations used it as
counter-programming to big network Christmas specials and gathered
steam when a clerical error allowed it to fall out of copyright in
The audience has grown over the years and many families make it an
annual holiday viewing, something that Capra himself in 1984 called
"the damndest thing." In the 80s, a colorized version was released
which, ironically, had no problem being copyrighted by has been savaged
by film critics although average viewers seem to not be so bothered by.
The film takes place in the fictional
town of Bedford Falls shortly after World War II and stars James
Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose attempted suicide on Christmas
Eve gains the attention of his guardian angel, Clarence who is sent to
help him in his hour of need. Most of the film is told through
flashbacks spanning George's entire life and narrated by Franklin and
Joseph, unseen Angels who are preparing Clarence for his mission to
save George. Through these flashbacks we see all the people whose lives
have been touched by George and the difference he has made to the
community in which he lives.
"LOVE ACTUALLY" (2003)
In 2003, writer Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral,"
"Bridget Jones's Diary") gave us the Christmas gift of "Love Actually"
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 backdrop
of the holiday season and, by our count, there are over 20 main
characters and about nine separate romances. Some play out better than
others but, overall, it's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you
never know what you're going to get.
Hugh Grant is wonderful, as usual, playing the newly elected Prime
Minister of Britain who happens to fall for a crumpet working for the
household staff (played by Martine McCutcheon). He's as appealing as
ever and his story really is the spine of the piece, if you think about
it. But you never really have the time because there's so much going
on. Another great story involves Bill Nighy who plays an
over-the-hill rocker who's just scored a big hit by putting an old rock
standard "Love Is All Around" to Christmas lyrics and knows it's not
his finest work.
It works as a Christmas movie,
though, because Christmas really is all around. It's in the presents
people buy each other in this film, in the songs they sing, in the
plays they attend. It's about people who realize how much they need
other people and, even though this message begins the movie as a 9/11
reference, it's clearly developed as a holiday theme. Some critics have
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 buy
them all a present, we would.