Saturday, Dec. 23
The holiday spirit reaches its cinematic apotheosis with a screening of It's a Wonderful Life. Written off as Christmas corn for too long, Frank Capra's masterpiece is closer to film noir, peeling back the skin of Rockwellian Americana to locate a suffocating pattern of entrapment, shattered dreams and the specter of suicide. And yes, it also features a cuddly angel, an adorable courtship and a sublimely sappy conclusion guaranteed to jerk some well-earned tears. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Sat., Dec. 23, 4 & 7:30 p.m. (also Thu.-Fri., Dec. 21-22, 7:30 p.m., at the Egyptian Theatre); $12. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
Tuesday, Dec. 26
LACMA's indispensible Tuesday Matinees series will screen Circle of Danger, a 1951 thriller directed by French émigré and suspense expert Jacques Tourneur. The spirit of Hitchcock permeates the story of an American (Ray Milland) who visits England to investigate the mysterious death of his brother during a commando raid. Based on the novel White Heather by Philip MacDonald, the film is an elegant exercise in genteel tension-building. LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Mid-Wilshire; Tue., Dec. 26, 1 p.m.; $4. (323) 857-6000, lacma.org.
The New Beverly Cinema hosts an evening of holiday-themed horror to cure that Christmas hangover. Kicking off the program is Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, Curtis Harrington's sly, stylish reworking of Brothers Grimm material. Shelley Winters stars as a nutty-as-a-fruitcake widow who keeps the skeleton of her dead daughter hidden in the attic; her mental stability is challenged by the arrival of two equally delusional children. This will be followed by Silent Night, Bloody Night, the underrated independent chiller of 1972 that set the pattern for numerous slasher flicks to come. Rounding out the program is a rare showing of To All a Goodnight, yet another slice-and-dicer about a Santa-suited psycho. New Beverly Cinema, 7165 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax; Tue., Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m.; $8. (323) 938-4038, thenewbev.com.
Thursday, Dec. 28
Generally overlooked and underrated, An American Tail is, in fact, one of the best films about the immigrant experience. Don Bluth's carefully animated feature (his second after his dramatic exit from Disney) about a Russian mouse's separation from his family is an exquisitely emotional paean to the American Dream, with a fine feel for the dingy realities of late–19th century New York City and an equally fine ear for ethnic dialects. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; Thu., Dec. 28, 12:30 & 2:30 p.m.; free. (310) 440-4500, skirball.org.
The American Cinematheque is exhibiting a newly minted, exclusive 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia — the fruit of a collaborative effort with Sony Pictures. David Lean's intellectual epic, simultaneously romantic and disenchanted, blends historical drama with high adventure while offering a complex character study in T.E. Lawrence, the British military officer (Peter O'Toole) who helped unite the Arab tribes during WWI. Apart from the justly famous desert imagery, the film's appeal lies in its nuanced and cumulatively rich portrayal of a man who achieves the impossible only to find himself a political and national orphan. There is enough visual excitement for 10 movies, but the film's great theme is the eternal mystery of the human soul. Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Thu., Dec. 28, 7:30 p.m. (also Dec. 29-30); $15. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.