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