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Comparing Favorite Holiday Flicks With A Pro


Christmas falls on a weekend this year; a chance for many families to curl up with a good film that's stood the test of holidays past. But what if you've already seen "It's A Wonderful Life" and "Bad Santa?" What's left? Cameron Crowe joins us now from Los Angeles. Mr. Crowe is the esteemed screenwriter and director whose films include "Say Anything," "Almost Famous," "Jerry Maguire," the documentary "Pearl Jam Twenty," and the just-released, "We Bought A Zoo," starring Ben Affleck's best friend. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Crowe.

CAMERON CROWE: Good to be with you, Scott. Happy Holiday to you, sir.

SIMON: And Happy Holiday to you as well. Now, I've gotten a sneak peek at your list. First, "Home Alone," the John Hughes, Chris Columbus - can I call it a classic from 1990?

CROWE: I think we can call it a classic.


CATHERINE O'HARA: (as Kate) How could we do this? We forgot him.

JOHN HEARD: (as Peter) We didn't forget him. We just miscounted.

O'HARA: What kind of mother am I?

GERRY BAMMAN: (as Uncle Frank) If it makes you feel any better, I forgot my reading glasses.

SIMON: Kevin McAllister's family goes away for the holidays. They inadvertently leave him behind. Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern are the bad guys. Catherine O'Hara is the funny mother. Why is it on the list?

CROWE: I started sharing this movie, Scott, with my two little boys - they're 11 now. And they started wanted to see it over the holiday. And I've watched them kind of grown up and be more discerning as movie watchers, to the point where one of them now says, dad, that one scene with Kevin is out of tone with the rest of the movie. I'm like, whoa, what am I raising here?


CROWE: But I like that the movie casts its own spell, and for me, that's everything in a Christmas movie. If there's something in the air that lingers when it's over. And the great thing about "Home Alone" it's a tight, funny story, and it doesn't hit you over the head with the holidays. The holidays just kind of slip in to the story in a really seamless way.

SIMON: And, of course, at the heart of the story is Kevin's discovery that old man Marley is - I hope I give nothing away - is really kind of nice.


CROWE: And that's really one of the parts of the movie that takes it to that other level.

SIMON: Second film on your list is "A Christmas Carol." Now, there've been so many versions. You recommend the 1984 version that was made for television, got some great British actors, including Susanna York and Frank Finlay and Roger Reese. But George C. Scott, the one American, plays Scrooge.


GEORGE C. SCOTT: (as Scrooge) These are garments, Mr. Cratchit. Garments were invented by the human race as protection against the cold. Once purchased, they may be used indefinitely for the purpose for which they are intended.

CROWE: I just think it's one of the great George C. Scott performances. It's a little bit a lost treasure. They did not put that out on DVD for a long time. The people who see that version of "A Christmas Carol" tend to really treasure it and make everybody crowd around and watch it. And it's just kind of a hardnosed sentimentality light version of the story.

SIMON: But is this kind of Scrooge is more like Patton than other versions that we've seen?

CROWE: He's just in a very bad mood.


SCOTT: (as Scrooge) Coal is momentary and coal is costly. There will be no more coal burnt in this office today. Is that quite clear, Mr. Cratchit?

DAVID WARNER: (as Bob Cratchit) Yes, sir.

SCOTT: Now, please get back to work before I am forced to conclude that your services are no longer required.

CROWE: He does seem extraordinarily cranky and I love it for that.

SIMON: The third film on your list - one of my favorites - the great Billy Wilder 1960 film "The Apartment." And Christmas because the pivotal scene - or at least as the story line kind of begins - at a Christmas Eve party.


JACK LEMMON: (as C.C. Baxter) Merry Christmas.

SHIRLEY MACLAINE: (as Fran) Thank you. Like you were avoiding me.

LEMMON: What gave you that idea?

MACLAINE: The last six weeks you've only been in my elevator once and you didn't take off your hat.

LEMMON: Well, as a matter of fact...

SIMON: Company party. Jack Lemmon has got a crush on Shirley MacLaine, who's the elevator operator. And she's having a cheerless extramarital affair with the head of the company, played by Fred MacMurray before he was America's dad, and he lets his apartment out for that purpose. Why did you choose this film?

CROWE: Just even as you described the movie I get a little thrill. It's just a great setup. It's one of Billy Wilder's tightest, most modern and ultimately timeless movies. But it's set in that beautiful time between Christmas and New Year's. And, again, he doesn't hit you over the head with the easy sentimentality of the season. What he does is pushes against it. There's one of the great all-time movie Santas in this movie, and watch for it. 'Cause when this Santa pops up in a scene with Jack Lemmon, you are watching Christmas done in the unique Billy Wilder way.


HAL SMITH: (as Santa) Hey, Charlie, give me a shot of bourbon and step on it. My sleigh is double-parked.


CROWE: It's a drunken Santa at a bar. And...

SIMON: A Chinese bar, Chinese restaurant bar, as I remember.

CROWE: Yeah. He uses the Santa to remind you the season and the loneliness of the season and that happy-sad feeling we all sometimes experience, not particularly as intensely as C.C. Baxter in "The Apartment," played by Lemmon. But it's such a thrilling comedy and so much fun to watch during the holidays.

SIMON: Do these films remind you what is really to treasure in a good holiday film?

CROWE: Yeah. I think I like a good happy-sad, warm feeling that's bracing and clear-eyed in it's optimism. 'Cause you're kind of facing the future, you're thinking about the past. Everything's in play.


LEMMON: (as C.C. Baxter) Merry Christmas to you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Janice) Merry Christmas to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Oh, Clebenezer(ph), this is my wife, Janice.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Well, I've come for three reasons: first, to beg your pardon for the things I said about Christmas; secondly, I've come to meet your wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, here she is.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And a very beautiful woman she is too.



CROWE: You love a Christmas movie that gives you a music, a little magic, and also that little sense of a nudge at your shoulder that we've been through a lot this year. I dig that feeling.

SIMON: Tell us, Cameron, about your latest film, "We Bought a Zoo."

CROWE: They told me early on "We Bought a Zoo" was going to come out in December 23, and I immediately started thinking, oh boy, this is a Christmas release. So, I really went for it when we were filming it. I wanted it to feel kind of like those holiday Bruce Springsteen concerts, where Bruce would take a pause and start to tell you this story about growing up in New Jersey and Roy Bidden would be playing piano behind him. And he'd give you this kind of yarn about I came home late, my dad is at the table, and I knew I had the big man in the band, but what am I going to tell my dad who doesn't want me to play rock and roll? And, you know, it's like you just feel warm to your soul.


SIMON: Cameron, thank you so much.

CROWE: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: Cameron Crowe speaking from Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.