My deep antipathy to “Love, Actually” stretches back to the first night I saw it — with friends in college, while I was our school newspaper’s film critic. We borrowed a car to drive to the suburban multiplex and ran out of gas on the way home. We split up so some of us could stay with the vehicle, and others of us could hike to a gas station and back with a bright red plastic jug, and we all swore not to tell the car’s owner what had happened — and that experience was vastly more memorable than the film itself.
That is to say: I didn’t like the movie then, even though I went in with high hopes (Colin Firth! Emma Thompson!). Now, because it has been canonized into something like a Christmas classic and everyone keeps talking about it like it’s some kind of puppy with a bow around its neck, even smart people on sites I adore, I think it should be fucked in the ass with a toilet plunger.
Here are ten far better alternatives to enjoy this holiday season:
1) WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. The original contemporary romantic comedy where everything pivotal happens over Christmas and New Years. (Just like in real life!) It’s smart and insightful and rueful and funny; Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have the kind of chemistry together that makes you root for them to join the crew of old marrieds whose interviews pop up over the course of the film.
2) THE APARTMENT. Billy Wilder knows what’s up. His version of a mid-century NYC Christmas is about drinking, manipulation, bad jobs, worse sexual choices, unrequited love, suicidal ideation, and card games played at pivotal moments — just like the rest of the year, in fact, only more so. When the two flawed but precious main characters, played by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacClaine, end up finding love and even redemption, we know that they’ve really earned it.
3) THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Before Tim Burton went all CGI-crazy on us and got so involved in his toys that he forgot how to be creative, he gave the world this all-singing, all-dancing, all-Claymation bonanza. A totally creepy and fabulous holiday classic.
4) DIE HARD. An intelligent action movie with a feminist subplot and a delightfully German villain played by Alan Rickman. This movie puts the “pop” in pop culture AND popcorn movie; it is entertainment the way it should be done.
5) Tie: SCROOGED and BRAZIL. Both of these movies scared the shit out of me when I first saw them — in the best possible way. Who’s more of a genius at darkness, Bill Murray or Terry Gilliam? Now that’s a question for the ages.
6) Tie: THE WEST WING Christmas episodes “Noel” from Season 2 and “Holy Night” from Season 4. Two Jewish guys, Josh and Toby, against the background of a holiday they don’t celebrate, get to show us what they’re made of — courage, intelligence, bitterness, vulnerability — and Aaron Sorkin gives them some of the best writing from the entire show to do it.
7) THE SIMPSONS’ very first Christmas episode, “Simpsons Roasting on a Open Fire,” featuring Santa’s Little Helper and Bart’s inspired tattoo.
8) THE OFFICE’s first Christmas episode pulls on my heartstrings so hard I always fear they’ll snap. Jim quietly tries to express his feelings for Pam via a gift that is misappropriated in a “Yankee Swap.”
9) 30 ROCK “Christmas Special.” Bring Elaine Stritch into anything and it immediately becomes 9o times better than anything Richard Curtis could do. Sorry, Dick. Them’s the breaks.
10) THE OC, “Chrismukkah,” again from Season One. Seth Cohen (Adam Brody, who is no less cute for being like 31) celebrates his family’s made up holiday in one of the most enjoyable eps from a highly enjoyable show’s one and only good season.
There. You’re welcome. You have no excuse to open up that cloying box of nonsense that is “Love, Actually” ever again.