One for the Ladies...
As a pleasant dose of holiday cheer, The Holiday is a lovable love story with all the Christmas trimmings. In the capable hands of writer-director Nancy Meyers (making her first romantic comedy since Something's Gotta Give), it all begins when two successful yet unhappy women connect through a home-swapping website, and decide to trade houses for the Christmas holiday in a mutual effort to forget their man troubles. Iris (Kate Winslet) is a London-based journalist who lives in a picture-postcard cottage in Surrey, and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) owns a movie-trailer production company (leading her to cutely imagine most of her life as a "coming attraction") and lives in a posh mansion in Beverly Hills. Iris is heartbroken from unrequited love with a cad of a colleague (Rufus Sewell), and Amanda has just broken up with her cheating boyfriend (Edward Burns), so their home-swapping offers mutual downtime to reassess their love lives. This being a Nancy Meyers movie (where everything is fabulously decorated and romantic wish-fulfillment is virtually guaranteed), Amanda hooks up with Iris's charming brother Graham (Jude Law), and Iris is unexpectedly smitten with Miles (Jack Black), a super-nice film composer on the downside of a failing relationship. --Jeff Shannon
With no fewer than eight couples vying for our attention, Love Actually is like the Boston Marathon of romantic comedies, and everybody wins. Having mastered the genre as the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary, it appears that first-time director Richard Curtis is just like his screenplays: He just wants to be loved, and he'll go to absurdly appealing lengths to win our affection. With Love Actually, Curtis orchestrates a minor miracle of romantic choreography, guiding a brilliant cast of stars and newcomers as they careen toward love and holiday cheer in London, among them the Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who's smitten with his caterer; a widower (Liam Neeson) whose young son nurses the ultimate schoolboy crush; a writer (Colin Firth) who falls for his Portuguese housekeeper; a devoted wife and mother (Emma Thompson) coping with her potentially unfaithful husband (Alan Rickman); and a lovelorn American (Laura Linney) who's desperately attracted to a colleague. There's more--too much more--as Curtis wraps his Christmas gift with enough happy endings to sweeten a dozen other movies. That he pulls it off so entertainingly is undeniably impressive; that he does it so shamelessly suggests that his writing fares better with other, less ingratiating directors. --Jeff Shannon