Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.
The giving nature of the holiday season can be a bit stressful, especially with the amount of people we want to somehow express love and gratitude to. Luckily, there are plenty of great Blu-rays and DVDs out there in the world, ready to become symbols of your affection. And with even more luck for you, we’re here to help you sift through what’s out there, to give you some ideas as to recommended films or special packages (released in the last 12 months) that will help your shopping. Included are links to each product’s Amazon page to make reading this article one of the most efficient decisions you’ve made this holiday season.
“Mad Max: Fury Road/Fury Road Black & Chrome” (BD Double Feature)
I'm listing this first because it will make your holiday shopping very easy. For the “Mad Max” lover, the “Mad Max” unfamiliar and even those non-savvy with the art form of cinema, “Mad Max: Black & Chrome” is bound to make you the ultimate Santa of your loved ones’ holiday, if for the idea of presenting people with one of the very best films of 2015 or giving them the gift of Doof warrior but in black-and-white. You're bound to earn special points if you give this to a "Mad Max: Fury Road" fan who loved the film but didn't make it out to the theaters when the "Black & Chrome" version had a limited release.
If you want to go a step further money-wise but guarantee the good graces of your loved ones for a lifetime, considering getting the “Mad Max High Octane Collection” which includes both versions of “Fury Road” but also the previous movies in the franchise, “Mad Max,” “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.”
“Punch Drunk Love” on Criterion Blu-ray
Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic masterpiece now has the Criterion packaging to match its quality, which in turn boasts the director’s approval. A perfect gift for someone you love and/or someone obsessed with coupons, the Criterion set of “Punch Drunk Love” gives this 2002 gem everything it needs. Along with its new digital transfer (supervised by Anderson), this release includes new interviews with essential composer Jon Brion and an essay by the one and only artist and filmmaker Miranda July. For the Mattress Man or Woman in your life, “Punch Drunk Love” on Critierion maintains the special features from the earlier lesser release, including the famous “Mattress Man” commercial starring the timeless Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Pioneers of African-American Cinema (5 Discs) [Blu-ray]
Kino Lorber has a great gift idea for the film fan on your shopping list, especially if they appreciate rare pieces of film history. “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” is a self-explanatory five-disc set that collects, celebrates and restores rare films. This set, with 200 minutes of movies on each disc, features 12 feature films and even more shorts. In his extensive review of the collection, our own Sergio Mims called it an “essential and groundbreaking set … brings to light an important aspect of black and cinema history that must be forgotten or ignored.”
“Heart of a Dog” on Criterion Blu-ray
For the artistic pet lover in your life, Laurie Anderson’s experimental, emotional documentary “Heart of a Dog” would make a thoughtful gift, if only for helping make the receiver contemplate mortality and their pet’s life, as Anderson does so beautifully in this life’s work. If said pet lover likes Glenn Kenny’s writing too, you’re in luck, as the film critic himself contributes an essay to this new Criterion package, joining the special features like an alternate no-music soundtrack, deleted scenes and a Christmas card from Anderson’s beloved dog, Lolabelle.
“Southside with You” [Blu-ray]
Distract yourself briefly from day-to-day political anxieties with a look at how President Obama first met Michelle to become one of the most important couples ever. “Southside with You” is a movie for you and your loved ones, especially if listening to people simply walk and talk, Linklater-style, while on a first date in Chicago sounds like a piece of bliss. The movie is getting a disturbing lack of support for some well-deserved year-end awards, but you can help put it at the top of your ten by seeing this film or sharing it with others.
“Twin Peaks: The Original Series, Fire Walk With Me & The Missing Pieces” [Blu-ray]
2017 will probably be a decisive year for the fate of the world world, if for the fact that David Lynch’s beloved TV series “Twin Peaks” will be returning with new episodes and a promised new cast of dozens upon dozens. Help the Eraserhead in your life remember who killed Laura Palmer, and where to find a damn good cup of coffee, with the help of this nine-disc set that also includes the “Twin Peaks” film “Fire Walk with Me.”
“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” on Criterion Blu-ray
Of course, what might be the most essential gift of the holiday season is a Criterion Collection packaging of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” a perfect gift for the budding cinephile in your life. If you aren’t familiar with the film, let’s just say that it’s a special moment in cinematic history, a self-declared kitchen sink bonanza that was born in part with the help of our namesake, Roger Ebert (and people say critics don’t have good taste). Delicious special features on this party of a Blu-ray release include a new interview with John Waters, screen tests from the audition process and an essay by Glenn Kenny.
“The Ultimate Laika Collection (Kubo and the Two Strings / The Boxtrolls / ParaNorman / Coraline) (Blu-ray + Digital HD)”
With “Kubo and the Two Strings” primed for a Best Animated Film Oscar nomination and possible award, knock out shopping for the stop-motion geek in your life with one swoop. Give them the Ultimate Laika Collection, which includes not just a Blu-ray and digital copy of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” but also respective versions of “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.” A test about the growth of LAIKA over the course of two films is entirely up to you, but this packaging (with tons of special features for each film) should provide plenty of education.
“Game of Thrones: The Complete Seasons 1-6 + Digital HD [Blu-ray]”
For the family member or friend who keeps borrowing your HBO password, consider giving them this entire package that has all “Games of Thrones” on it in one set, and without previews of “The Young Pope” before each episode. Featuring the series from the first episode all the way through the end of season six, this huge package includes a whopping amount of special features for each individual season, which is divided up disc by disc (making sharing more of a possibility).
“A Whit Stillman Trilogy: Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]”
Give the eloquent neurotic intellectual something that will last longer than a restaurant gift card, with this copy of the Whit Stillman Criterion trilogy set, which puts the writer/director’s first three films in the same box. Boasting a direct approval from Stillman and digital transfers of each film that he supervised, “A Whit Stillman Trilogy” offers an in-depth look at one of the 90s’ most unusual film series, albeit with lots of chatter about capitalism and philosophy. And for the fan in your life of excellent video essays, this couldn’t be a better option, as this set features a new video essay by Farran Smith Nehme.
“The Ultimate James Bond Collection (Blu-ray + Digital HD)”
Just in case the James Bond fans that you know don't already have the films on Blu-ray, fix that quickly with this whopping franchise-covering set that even includes “Spectre." This one comes with digital codes for all of the films too, so watching Bond films on smaller devices or escalator rides can become more of a reality. If you do the math as well, the box set’s asking price divides up quite nicely with how much it costs per film.
“Dekalog” on Criterion Blu-ray
With the spirit of the holidays seeping in, considering giving the Kieslowki super fan in your life a new version of “Dekalog,” now with the Criterion seal of approval. Along with new, restored 4K digital transfers of Kieslowski’s original ten films plus longer versions of “A Short Film About Killing” and “A Short Film About Love,” this includes a whole seminar of information about the creation of these essential films, with new and archival interviews featuring the filmmakers and cast, and a dissection by film studies professor Annette Insdorf. For the loved one who is most likely to not want to see “Collateral Beauty” with you, this is the perfect package.
“Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro (Cronos / The Devil’s Backbone / Pan’s Labyrinth)” on Criterion Blu-ray
Deemed “one of the Blu-ray events of the year” by our own Brian Tallerico, “Trilogia de Guillermo del Toro” is a new set from Criterion that puts three films from the auteur into the spotlight: “Cronos,” “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Boasting a commentary track for every film, the Blu-ray packaging includes a 100-page hardcore book with an introduction by Neil Gaiman, a massive supply of special features that offer a film school-level look at each film, and digital remasters of each film overseen by del Toro himself.
“Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Collector’s Edition [Blu-ray]”
Give the gift of nostalgia to the Cubs fan with this celebratory Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, which condenses the Chicago Cubs’ historic season into one package. This is a perfect gift especially for anyone who stopped watching the World Series a couple of games in due to the grim conditions of the team’s playing, Vince Vaughn’s version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” notwithstanding. This official package comes with regular season highlights, clinching moments, World Series highlights and the parade. As a two-disc set, it also makes an expensive gag gift for the Indians fan in your life.
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