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Celebrating Ten Years of the Christmas Classics “Elf” and “Love Actually”

December 24, 2013

By John Corrado

Elf PosterPlease note that this article was supposed to go up yesterday in my usual Monday slot, but due to the recent ice storm and power outages in Toronto, I was unable to publish until now.  But at least it’s up in time for Christmas Eve…

Has it really been ten years since Elf and Love Actually were both released on the same day in 2003, going on to change the ways that we celebrate the holidays every year since?  Especially in hindsight, these are two of the best and most enduring films of that year, a pair of classics that hold up beautifully with every repeat viewing.

These two movies are obviously quite different, the former being a charming family comedy and the latter is a mature dramedy, but they both share in common the release date of November 7th exactly ten years ago, and a prime spot on my personal list of perennial Christmas favourites.

Buddy (Will Ferrell) is a human who was raised by Santa (Ed Asner) and Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) at the North Pole, before setting out to find his father (James Caan) in New York, who just so happens to be on the naughty list.  Buddy starts to experience human culture for the first time and betters the lives of those around him, finding an unexpected friend in his younger brother (Daniel Tay) and even falling in love with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a department store worker who seems to “share his infinity for elf culture.”

Directed by Jon Favreau, before he went on to command the first two entries in the Iron Man franchise, there are clear throwbacks to the 1954 TV classic Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer during the scenes at the North Pole.  There are just so many wonderful moments throughout Elf – a trip to the mailroom is a comic delight and the whole finale never fails to bring a smile to my face – and every time I see the film I fall in love with it all over again, from the performances to the wonderful music by John Debney.  This is a heartwarming and hilarious film that is filled with more than enough holiday spirit to power Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, right through to that wonderful duet between Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel over the end credits.

The film was unsurprisingly an immediate hit, a year before Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy became another cultural touchstone, and Buddy the Elf is perhaps the first iconic big screen character created by Will Ferrell, remaining his magnum opus.  The film also lives on through annual “Elfalongs,” where audiences come dressed up and quote along with the film, enjoying a delicious dinner of spaghetti topped off with maple syrup.  It’s no surprise that Elf has built up this sort of dedicated fanbase over the years.  This is a timeless classic that holds up every year, even after multiple viewings.

Love Actually PosterBut where Elf become an instant hit with audiences, Love Actually is one that has gained more fans with repeated viewings over the years, proving to have an enduring and dedicated following.  After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2003, “the ultimate romantic comedy” as it was advertised opened in limited release on November 7th of that year, going on to become a modest success at the box office.  The classification of that tagline is still just as true today, and the film has rapidly expanded to reach an even bigger audience on DVD and through repeated showings on television.

Written and directed by Richard Curtis, the film makes full use of a uniformly excellent cast to tell numerous interconnecting stories that all come together beautifully.  Following a group of people in England in the five weeks leading up to Christmas, every moment works perfectly in its own way, never hitting a false note in terms of emotional impact.  Right down to an amusing sidestory with a couple of porn actors (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) who spend so much time naked together that they don’t realize they’re actually in love, and an average guy (Kris Marshall) who travels to America where he has much better luck with the ladies.

All of these characters have become people who I look forward to revisiting every year.  A man (Liam Neeson) helping the son (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) of his recently deceased wife declare his love for a girl at school.  The Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) realizing his affections for his secretary (Martine McCutcheon).  An author (Colin Firth) in the English countryside falling for his Portuguese assistant (Lúcia Moniz).  A woman (Laura Linney) who is afraid of allowing herself to fall in love with her coworker (Rodrigo Santoro).  The singer (Bill Nighy) behind the catchy novelty tune “Christmas is All Around Us” that plays throughout the film, realizing the importance of the friendship he shares with his manager (Gregor Fisher).

There are so many unforgettable moments in Love Actually, and one of them comes late in the film when Karen (Emma Thompson) who yearns for an affectionate gift from her husband (Alan Rickman) stands alone in her bedroom listening to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”  For nearly a minute, she just stands there beside her bed, finally allowing herself to cry before composing herself again.  This is a film that allows the audience to laugh and then cry alongside the characters, breaking our hearts and at the same time fixing them all over again, with a feel good ending that effortlessly proves the timeless message that “love actually is all around us.”

I think Love Actually has become one of those special movies for me over the years that I feel very protective of and almost vulnerable about.  There is just something about the feelings that Richard Curtis captures with the film, offering a beautiful mix of humour and heart filled with little moments that are easy to get lost in.  My feelings on Love Actually could be summed up by that deeply moving scene when Mark (Andrew Lincoln) shows up at the door of Juliet (Keira Knightley) who is married to his best friend (Chiwetol Ejiofor), and declares his love for her through a series of cardboard signs, the last of which reads “to me, you are perfect.”

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