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Find your next favorite holiday movie

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The holiday season means the return of many rituals - some good, some bad, some both. But one of the more low-stress holiday habits is rewatching classic Christmas movies. You could say hello to everyone from George Bailey...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE")

JAMES STEWART: (As George Bailey) You want the moon? Just say the word, and I'll throw a lasso around and pull it down.

DETROW: ...Kevin McCallister...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOME ALONE")

MACAULAY CULKIN: (As Kevin McCallister) I'm up here, you morons. Come and get me.

DETROW: ...To - and I'll just start getting this perennial controversy out of the way right away - the 76 intertwining main characters of "Love Actually."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE ACTUALLY")

NINA SOSANYA: (As Annie) Welcome, Prime Minister.

EMMA THOMPSON: (As Karen) So what's this big news, then?

LULU POPPLEWELL: (As character) We've been given our parts in the nativity play, and I'm the lobster.

THOMAS BRODIE-SANGSTER: (As character) Actually, I'm in love.

DETROW: To talk all things holiday movies, we have brought in ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer and film connoisseur Marc Rivers. Hey, Marc.

MARC RIVERS, BYLINE: Hey, Scott. Good to be with you.

DETROW: I want to start with the thing that everyone gravitates to anyway when you're talking about holiday movies, and I know you have many opinions on them. Why don't we just start with some examples that you think are holiday classic movies that maybe shouldn't be, maybe don't quite hold up or are maybe actually terrible?

CULKIN: We're starting with disappointing potential listeners here, Scott. I don't know. Oof (ph). All right. Well, I got to be honest here, and I recently watched it. "Love Actually" - Scott, what is this movie about? Like, what is this movie?

DETROW: It's about love. It's about love.

RIVERS: I feel like it's...

DETROW: Love is actually all around us.

RIVERS: I think it's about love the way, like, "Crash" is about race, except there are more white people in "Love Actually."

DETROW: There are.

RIVERS: Like, so what does what does this movie tell us? Does it tell us you can find love if you're like, you know, a man with, like, a position of power? Does it tell us, like, the only way you can find love as a woman is if you are a subordinate to that man in power? Does this movie tell us that it's OK to just sneak around your best friend - alleged best friend - to stalk his bride with weird, creepy videos? Is it about just our love of British people? Like, I just...

DETROW: Yes. Yes.

RIVERS: What is this movie?

DETROW: It is the last thing. It is about our love of British people, and it is about, I think, a soundtrack elevating a movie.

RIVERS: Fair.

DETROW: And I think grand, sweepy romantic gestures - we feel moved by them, even if they're totally nonsensical, as most of them are. And the plot of this movie leads that you just get back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back big, sweeping gestures.

RIVERS: You're pummeled with gestures. It's a pummeling of romantic gestures. You're beaten over the head with romantic gestures.

DETROW: And at that point, you're not stopping to think how creepy it is to stand outside the house with the cue cards. You're just like, he's standing outside the house with the cue cards.

RIVERS: Because you're concussed at that point. You're...

DETROW: Yes.

RIVERS: As a viewer, you are concussed, and you're just - you just have to accept what's happening. OK.

DETROW: We've gotten the hating out of the way.

RIVERS: Yeah.

DETROW: What, to you, is actually like a great Christmas movie that you enjoy watching that holds up that you're going to watch every December?

RIVERS: So, I mean, I have a few? One, I mean, just to stick with that year, 2003, it's a little movie called "Elf." Maybe you've heard of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ELF")

WILL FERRELL: (As Buddy) You did it. Congratulations. World's best cup of coffee. Great job, everybody.

RIVERS: This is the Jon Favreau-directed movie with - starring Will Ferrell as this elf who realized that he's actually human. I think one thing that makes this movie really stick out - I mean, it's a classic for a number of reasons, right? But one thing I love about it is it's not a mean movie.

DETROW: No.

RIVERS: I think if you look at a lot of holiday movies, there's kind of underlying thread of humiliation, you know, whether it's something like "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" or even something like "It's A Wonderful Life," where indignity after indignity kind of leads him to wanting to jump off a bridge - or just pick your family movie where, like, secrets come out and melodrama ensues. There's this idea that the holidays kind of set out to kind of humiliate you.

DETROW: It's like a morality play. Like, you're repenting for your choices.

RIVERS: It's a morality play. Exactly. I think what's really key, obviously, is Will Ferrell's performance. You know, this was when he was just coming off of "SNL."

DETROW: It's very earnest and happy.

RIVERS: It's very earnest. Like, he's not playing what he kind of usually does, which is this kind of, like, comedic, like, kind of weapon. He's playing an actual character, and it's an earnest character, and he really wins you over. And just - it's sweet, but it's not so sweet that, like, your teeth fall out.

DETROW: Twenty-year anniversary of two iconic in very different ways...

RIVERS: Indeed.

DETROW: ...Holiday movies. And I will add, just on the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the original iconic Christmas movies. I think "It's A Wonderful Life" does hold up. I feel like there's a little bit of weirdness in the plot points, but I feel like the themes are universal. And even for, like, the deep darkness that it goes down, it is a really good movie that I find something new to think about every year I see it.

RIVERS: And I think it's because the darkness was like, really genuine, right?

DETROW: Yeah.

RIVERS: I mean, like, James Stewart and the director Frank Capra, these people who were in - served in World War II - so it's kind of a PTSD post-war kind of movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE")

HENRY TRAVERS: (As Clarence) What did you say?

STEWART: (As George) I said, I wish I'd never been born.

TRAVERS: (As Clarence) You mustn't say things like that.

RIVERS: I feel like the melancholy and this, like, what purpose does my life have? You know, coming after such a profound world catastrophe, like, it was genuine for both him and the director. And I think that's what, like, we're getting when we watch this movie. It's like when the movie ultimately decides that, yes, like, one person can have an impact for people, like, it comes from someplace, like, real. It's not just some kind of, like, storybook sensibility. It comes from, like, real life.

DETROW: Yeah. Yeah. Is there any movie in your Christmas movie list that you think would surprise me?

RIVERS: Technically not a movie. It's kind of an - it's an hour-long TV special, but I watch it every year. And it's "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol."

DETROW: OK.

RIVERS: So this one is not nearly as well known as, say, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or a "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," but it was kind of the first animated Christmas special to be produced for TV. For those who don't know, Mr. Magoo is this kind of, like, stubborn, grumpy old man who is losing his eyesight, but he, like, refuses to admit it, and it gets him in a bunch of, like, goofy shenanigans.

And in the special, he is, like, this Broadway actor, and he's playing the character of Scrooge from Charles Dickens' classic book. And what - and it follows the plot very closely. But what makes it really stick out is that it's played as a musical. There's a great centerpiece in the special, "When Winter Was Warm," which is about kind of the blossoming romance that Scrooge had with the woman who kind of got away when he realized he liked money more than he liked people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WINTER WAS WARM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing) Winter was warm, summer soft that year. The winter was warm.

RIVERS: And it's just - and it's so beautiful and these wonderful strings. And I get emotional every time I watch it. And this was - and my dad introduced me to this when I was a little kid, and we watched it every year together. And I think for parents out there who are looking for ways to introduce their kids to either Dickens and/or musicals, I think this is a great way to do it.

DETROW: You know what else I have to say, Marc? General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.

RIVERS: All right, Scott. Now we got to end the conversation. You forgot to say "Love Actually." Love actually is everywhere - we got...

DETROW: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer Marc Rivers. Thank you so much. Enjoy your movie watching.

RIVERS: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS ALL AROUND")

THE TROGGS: (Singing) I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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