(In theaters, January 2004) You don’t have to be a screenwriter to appreciate the achievement that is Love Actually, but it helps: It’s hard enough to juggle one or two plotlines that anyone with the guts to try to keep seven or eight such stories going at the same time must be congratulated for the effort. Not all subplots are as equally effective, but it doesn’t matter very much when they’re all wrapped in layers of such sugary holiday sweetness. Writer/Directory Richard Curtis succeeds more than he fails in producing a superior romantic comedy, one that is as funny as it is uplifting. He’s helped with a cast of stars (Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson and Colin Firth are as good as always), judicious pacing and a hip sensibility: I’m surely not the only one to find it very interesting that standing up to an “American bully” president would come across as a plot point worth cheering for. Rarely has there been such an effective holiday romantic comedy. One one level, Love Actually is pure manipulation; on the other, it’s truly effective. Bring the whole family or snuggle with your loved one, enjoy the minimalist elegance of the script or indulge in the unabashed sentimentality of it all.