Movie Project #45 and #46: It’s a Wonderful Life [1946] and The Prestige [2006]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

It's a Wonderful Life [1946, Frank Capra]
It’s a Wonderful Life [1946, Frank Capra]
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore.

It blows my mind that somehow this slipped past me despite being played repeatedly during every Christmas season. It’s easy to see why this is a holiday favorite — it really is the quintessential Christmas film. Equal parts heartwarming and inspirational, It’s a Wonderful Life takes us into the life of George Bailey (Stewart), a man on the brink of suicide. Lucky for him, his guardian angel (Henry Travers) is sent from the heavens to intervene and show him all of the lives he has changed for the better over the years. It turns out that his life isn’t so bad at all.

Admittedly, I was a little worried when the guardian angel appeared. I was concerned that the movie would become overly preachy and attempt to shove religious beliefs down our throats. Thankfully, that never happened. This is just an all-around good-hearted film that is anchored by timeless performances by James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and the rest of the cast. I will give this a slight edge over the other Capra film from this project, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and I could easily see it becoming a yearly Christmas tradition in my household. I still don’t know what took me so long to see it. 10/10

The Prestige [2006, Christopher Nolan]
The Prestige [2006, Christopher Nolan]
Starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine.

When it comes to Christopher Nolan, I am generally a fan of his work, though I do not hold him in as high of regard as most. The Prestige, however, damn near succeeded in making me a fanboy. This intricately detailed portrayal of two magicians (Bale and Jackman) who continually try to upstage each other really impressed me. The movie starts off fairly tame, with both men sabotaging each other’s magic shows, but it quickly grows lethal to the point of multiple fatalities. This culminates in a twist ending that I did not see coming at all, and it is one that warrants extra viewings of the film in order catch on to hints and tricks.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the film’s sudden dip into science fiction (aided by a terrific performance by David freakin’ Bowie as Nikola Tesla), but I quickly grew into the idea and embraced it all the same. The fantasy aspects may turn off some viewers, but I really enjoyed the ride. Bale, Jackman and Caine are all wonderful, and the smaller roles from the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and Andy Serkis are all great additions as well. The Prestige is a thoroughly fascinating movie, and may be my new favorite from Nolan. 9/10

15 thoughts on “Movie Project #45 and #46: It’s a Wonderful Life [1946] and The Prestige [2006]

  1. Matt Stewart says:

    For me The Prestige’s success lies within its brilliant character battle between Hue Jackman and Bale. While it does go into science fiction, the best part of the film is the human side to Bale’s character’s tricks. The ending is more powerful than creative, I think.

    Good reviews!

    • Eric says:

      Thanks, Matt! I agree that it was fascinating to watch the two magicians attempt to top each other’s last “trick”. It didn’t take long for it to spiral out of control. Loved the ending as well, especially as I didn’t see it coming.

    • Eric says:

      Haha yeah, this is an interesting pairing for sure. I don’t know how someone *cannot* like It’s a Wonderful Life. I must hang my head in shame that it took me so long to actually watch it…

  2. rtm says:

    Woo hoo, 10/10 for IAWL, it truly is a masterpiece, glad you finally saw it! I have yet to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington but I will at some point as I like James Stewart a lot.

    As for The Prestige, I actually appreciate it more on second viewing, the story is just amazing. Man, that Nolan.

    • Eric says:

      Yep, I had to go the full monty for It’s a Wonderful Life. My initial thought was to rate it a 9/10, but when writing down my thoughts I couldn’t think of anything I actively *disliked* about the movie. You should definitely check out Mr. Smith if you like Stewart/IAWL; it would make a terrific double feature, actually.

  3. Pete says:

    Still need to see ‘Wonderful Life’ and I promised myself I would this Xmas. Oh well, next year DEFINITELY! Prestige is brilliant, bowled me over by the end. Consider my gob smacked!

    • Eric says:

      Haha, well it’s still not too late to see It’s a Wonderful Life. The holiday season doesn’t feel entirely over, at least to me, so you might still be able to fit it in before the end of the year. 🙂

  4. Chris says:

    I agree about IAWL being heartwarming, just don’t think Capra’s film is perfect, it has some wonderful moments, but the middle section I found a bit dull. Perhaps like life, there are high points, and low points? I like the notion of going through life and affecting other people in a positive way without even noticing ( :

    I jumped on the bandwagon, and also recently reviewed It’s A Wonderful Life:

    Oh, loved The Prestige, Nolan’s film for me was far superior to The Illusionist (with Edward Norton) that year. Its one of my favourites Nolan has directed for sure.

    • Eric says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for the comment! I think that’s a fair analogy for It’s a Wonderful Life, though I thought it was very entertaining from beginning to end. There was just enough humor intertwined to keep my interest. (My holiday booze may have helped as well, haha). I’ll be sure to check out your review.

      I haven’t had the chance to see The Illusionist yet, but I am curious to see how it compares to The Prestige.

  5. jsicktheslick says:

    I just saw The Prestige for the first time last night and thought it was pretty damn awesome as well! My girlfriend and I were looking through movies to watch and I told her I hadn’t seen it not The Illusionist, so we watched them both. The Prestige was better…

    • Eric says:

      Oh, awesome, glad to hear you liked The Prestige! I keep hearing The Illusionist isn’t as good, but I will probably check it out at some point just for comparison’s sake.

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