Next month, the AFI Silver Theatre will offer a little holiday programming of its own. Consisting of only three films, the mini-festival includes one confirmed classic, Frank Capra's 1946 "It's a Wonderful Life" (Dec. 17-30); the 1983 "A Christmas Story" (Dec. 10-16), which, thanks to seasonal reappearances on cable, has solidified its status in the Christmas pantheon; and last year's Will Ferrell vehicle, "Elf" (Dec. 3-9), which the AFI, in all its wisdom, if not official capacity, has dubbed an "Instant Holiday Classic." (Gee, and I thought you had to earn the title.)

If the rest of the world is anything like my family -- and why shouldn't they be? -- you already either love or hate Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," a celebration of humanity's (or at least Jimmy Stewart's) basic goodness that is as schmaltzy as they come. As for me, the climax under the Christmas tree never gets old, or fails to generate a tear.

Set in the 1940s, "A Christmas Story" concerns the comic adventures of a small boy (Peter Billingsley) who is determined to get a BB gun for Christmas. It routinely makes critics' best-holiday-movie lists.

As for "Elf," what can we say? Other than that it's got Ferrell, I mean, who plays an ungainly, six-foot-tall human raised by elves who travels from the North Pole to Manhattan in search of his true identity. Isn't that enough?

All films screen at the theater, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring (Metro: Silver Spring). Tickets are $8.50; $7.50 for students, seniors and members. For information, call 301-495-6700 or visit

-- Michael O'Sullivan