(Ratings for each film begin with a "star'' rating -- one star meaning "poor,'' four meaning "excellent'' -- followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)
"White Boy Rick": With the distinction of being virtually the only new home-video release on Christmas Day, this fact-inspired drama casts Matthew McConaughey as the father of a teenager (Richie Merritt) who becomes the youngest FBI informant in history. The Detroit youth eventually gets into dealing drugs, then is left largely to fend for himself by the federal handlers who got him into the habit of giving up others by revealing their illegal activities. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane play agents, with Eddie Marsan ("Ray Donovan''), Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie also notable in director Yann Demange's cast. DVD extras: three "making-of'' documentaries; deleted scenes. *** (R: AS, N, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
New releases are very much on the light side this holiday week, so here's a look at several seasonal staples:
"It's a Wonderful Life": Upon its release, this Frank Capra-directed 1946 classic had a lukewarm box-office performance that gave no indication it would become as popular as it long as it has been ... its plentiful television exposure being a huge factor. James Stewart makes the perfect George Bailey, the hapless Bedford Falls citizen whose experience of seeing how life would be without him has been echoed by countless TV-series episodes. Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and -- as wing-earning angel Clarence -- Henry Travers lend great support. DVD extras: theatrical trailer; "making-of'' documentary. **** (Not rated) (Also on Blu-ray)
"Miracle on 34th Street": Is, or isn't, a department-store Santa the real Father Christmas? As others debate the man's true identity, Edmund Gwenn gives an Oscar-winning performance opposite a young Natalie Wood, who plays a skeptical youngster eventually on the verge of becoming a true believer. Maureen O'Hara and John Payne also star in director-screenwriter George Seaton's fantasy that has charmed generations -- and also has inspired several remakes, though those don't come close to matching the overall appeal of this 1947 original. DVD extras: audio commentary by O'Hara; 1955 television version; AMC "Backstory'' episode; "Movietone News'' short subject; poster gallery.*** (Not rated) (Also on Blu-ray)
"White Christmas": As comfortable as an active fireplace on a cold winter's night, this tuneful 1954 retooling of the 12-years-earlier "Holiday Inn'' makes great use of its Irving Berlin score. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are an ideal team as military veterans who become successful entertainment partners, then use their talents to help their former commander (Dean Jagger) re-energize his failing resort. Rosemary Clooney -- aunt of George -- and Vera-Ellen are charmers as the sisters who distract the guys. DVD extras: two theatrical trailers; audio commentary by Clooney; seven "making-of'' documentaries; Christmas television-show appearances by Crosby and Kaye; photo galleries. **** (Not rated) (Also on Blu-ray)
"A Christmas Story": There's never a doubt that this 1983 holiday favorite will come back around, thanks to its annual 24-hour marathon on television. Anyone who ever desired that one special holiday gift can empathize with Ralphie (Peter Billingsley, who grew up to co-produce a stage-musical version of the tale), author-narrator Jean Shepherd's young alias who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun ... the one that his mother (Melinda Dillon) consistently warns will "shoot your eye out.'' Always deserving of citing is Darren McGavin as the gruff dad who doesn't actually curse, though it sure sounds like it. DVD extras: theatrical trailer; three "making-of'' documentaries; audio commentary by Billingsley and director and co-writer Bob Clark. *** (PG: P) (Also on Blu-ray)
"Love Actually": From the outset, writer-director Richard Curtis' much-loved 2003 comedy-drama is about the countdown to a British Christmas -- and also about a lot more, thanks to a labyrinth of characters with involving, ultimately connected stories. Among the best: the new prime minister's (Hugh Grant) attraction to an aide (Martine McCutcheon); an art-gallery manager's (Andrew Lincoln, "The Walking Dead'') secret passion for his best friend's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) new bride (Keira Knightley); and a faded music star's (Bill Nighy) bid for a comeback with a seasonally refitted pop tune. Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney and Rowan Atkinson also have their moments here. DVD extras: deleted scenes; music video. *** (R: AS, N, P) (Also on Blu-ray)
"Bad Reputation" (Jan. 1): The life and career of rock star Joan Jett are traced in this documentary, featuring comments from her and many of her friends and associates. (R: AS, N, P)
"Bad Times at the El Royale'' (Jan. 1): Several strangers try to keep their respective secrets while they're gathered at a rundown hotel; stars include Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm and Chris Hemsworth. (R: AS, N, P, V)
"Night School" (Jan. 1): A man (Kevin Hart) tries to complete the high school education he never finished by studying for the GED test; Tiffany Haddish and Taran Killam also star. (PG-13: AS, P, V)
"Hell Fest" (Jan. 8): Young attendees of a Halloween-themed event don't realize that a serial killer also is present; stars include Amy Forsyth and Tony Todd ("Candyman''). (R: AS, P, V)
"What They Had" (Jan. 8): A woman (Hilary Swank) rejoins her Chicago family as her father (Robert Forster) tries to cope with her mother's (Blythe Danner) illness. (R: AS, P)
"Halloween" (Jan. 15): Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, who again must protect herself -- as well as her daughter and granddaughter -- from the lethal Michael Myers many years later. (R: AS, N, P, V)
Oldies But Goodies:
"Hans Christian Anderson" (1952): Danny Kaye plays the legendary storyteller, who embarks on adventures with his young friend Peter (Joseph Walsh). *** (Also on Blu-ray)
"The Lincoln Lawyer" (2011): A self-styled defense attorney (Matthew McConaughey) represents a playboy (Ryan Phillippe) who insists he's innocent of assault. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
"Notting Hill" (1999): A British bookstore owner (Hugh Grant) and a Hollywood superstar (Julia Roberts) fall for each other, then struggle to make their romance work. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
TOP 10 DVD & Blu-Ray Rentals
(Week ending December 9, 2018, Courtesy of comScore, Inc)
1) "Mission: Impossible - Fallout"
2) "Crazy Rich Asians"
3) "The Meg"
4) "Mile 22"
5) "Incredibles 2"
6) "The Nun"
7) "Christopher Robin"
9) "Ant-Man and the Wasp"
FAMILY VIEWING GUIDE KEY: AS, adult situations; N, nudity; P, profanity; V, violence; GV, particularly graphic violence