The Holiday Gift Guide: DVD and Blu-ray

Merry Christmas movie/TV/goat-cheese lovers! As part of our week-long gift guide extravaganza thingamajig we’ve put together a list of Blu-rays, DVD and a few other ideas for you to use when shopping for others or for putting on your own Christmas list. Or both. Some of the films below are from years past, but they all hit Blu-ray and/or DVD this year so they totally count for this gift guide.

Click on the links to be magically transported to Amazon, AmazonUK and other places where lovely things can be found.

For Everyone

In a perfect world this would be a no-brainer, but unfortunately the one we live in is filled with people who choose Whitney and season twenty-three of Two & a Half Men over smart, hilarious and endlessly creative shows like Community. The series has recently gone on hiatus thanks to not enough people giving it a chance, and maybe you’re one of those people. If so shame on you… don’t you realize you get to see Annie’s Boobs here? Luckily you may have a chance to set things right for existing fans and new ones alike. Buy a copy of Community: The Complete First Season for everyone on your list. Then buy them the Community: The Complete Second Season too for good measure.

For Those Who Blinked and Missed Some Of the Year’s Best Releases

Another Earth is one of two smartly affecting indies featuring Brit Marling that I saw this year, but it’s the only one available to own. It’s a thought-provoking and intimate drama that weaves sci-fi elements to tell a very personal story. Attack the Block (also on DVD) is probably the most well-known title in this group as the blogosphere (us included) hasn’t shut up about it since its premiere. But don’t let the hype blind you to the fact that this British import is an incredibly fun little action/horror hybrid. Brotherhood (also on DVD) didn’t get a chance in theaters, but it’s easily a far better thriller than many big budget ones that graced screens this year. It hits the ground running from the opening scene and continues to build momentum as things get more and more out of hand. Ceremony (also on DVD) was unfairly maligned as a Wes Anderson-wannabe, but Michael Angarano’s performance alone makes it a winner. The supporting cast, funny script and smart ending help make it a winner too. Forget Me Not is a no profile little horror film that quietly released on DVD a few months ago but deserves to be seen by more eyeballs thanks to some legitimate scares, solid effects and above average plotting. By all accounts Meek’s Cutoff (also on DVD) should have been a boring slog through the Midwest, but somehow it managed to captivate through strong performances and a surprisingly dramatic dilemma. Plus, Oscilloscope’s packaging is once again stellar. If you had told me that one of my favorite films of the year would be a sports drama I’d have dribbled a hockey puck on your head, but Warrior (also on DVD) is an amazing movie. The family drama is intense, but it takes a back seat to a spectacular face-off in the ring where I honestly would have been thrilled to see either side win. Win Win (also on DVD) features a schlubby Paul Giamotti (as if there’s any other kind) in a film that really sneaks up on you with its warmth, wit and heart.

For Shut-Ins Who Think Wonderful Things Can’t Come From Small Boxes With Asian-Sounding Names

Know someone who doesn’t like leaving the house and has a general disdain for things with holes in them? Roku (roku.com) offers boxes of varied sizes and colors that connect to the TV and internet to bring digital joy into living rooms across America. The box itself has no subscription free and comes packed with lots of streaming content, but owners can also navigate their existing HBO, HuluPlus, Netflix and other services through the box for enjoyment on their TVs.

For Couch Potatoes Whose Arms Are Still Strong Enough to Lift a Box-Set

Without Barney Miller: The Complete Series we never would have had Fish. Something to think about while grinning at the creative box design for this classic series set. Big Love: The Complete Series came to an end this year, and the fact that HBO’s show was able to consistently find engaging drama and spectacular characters in a story about an offshoot of the Mormon religion is a miracle. The Kids in the Hall: The Complete Series is sketch comedy which by its very nature is a hit or miss experience, but these five Canadians earn laughs far more often than they not. Thirty Helens agree. Law & Order: The Complete Series is a monster of a set for a monster of a show. Ripped from the headlines or not Dick Wolf’s iconic series is an endlessly fascinating peek into our justice system. M.A.S.K.: The Complete Series puts a human face on a Transformers-like concept as a group of top secret agents use transforming vehicles to fight baddies. The toys were pretty cool too. Robotech: The Complete Series collects all 85 episodes of this anime classic and tells the story of mankind’s war against alien attackers across multiple generations. The set is loaded with extras too, but even if it wasn’t the series is engaging enough on its own to warrant a buy. Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series (also on DVD) bears a tenuous connection to Dr. Who, but while I’ve never really gotten into that one Torchwood grabbed me early on and kept me engaged all the way through to the end. Some interesting character dynamics at play here alongside stories that deftly move from genre to genre. The Universe: The Complete Series (also on DVD) shouldn’t need an introduction seeing as we all live in it, but trust me when I say the science geek in your life would love this set and its hours upon hours of stunning imagery.

For Fans Who Prefer Their Classics in HD

Amelie finally hit Blu in the US this year, and it was well worth the wait. It remains one of the sweetest and most visually inventive romances ever brought to the screen. I may or may not be dating myself with this, but Broadcast News (Criterion) is probably my favorite film of all time. Fast moving, witty, and heartbreaking, this is a near perfect film. Judge all you want, but I watched Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary for the first time this year. And, predictably, I immediately fell in love with it. Dario Argento isn’t revered in the same way as Orson Welles, and his last twenty years worth of films show that he shouldn’t be, but at one time he managed to churn out several movies that have since become classics of the genre. Deep Red is his best film, hands down, and Arrow Video has released a fantastically presented and packaged region-free Bluray. Charlie Chaplin left us with several pieces of cinematic brilliance, and The Great Dictator (Criterion) may just be the best of the bunch. Sharp satire melded with Chaplin’s patented comedic persona make for timeless entertainment. Rushmore (Criterion) may have only been Wes Anderson’s second film, but it shows an assured hand behind the script, camera, and characters. He succeeds in getting across a simple honesty here that would be begin to get bogged down in excess style and awareness just two films later. And Bill Murray is spectacular.

For Those Who Like Gifts That Keep on Giving Until They Stop

Love movies? Love well crafted packaging? Oscilloscope may just be the best label in the business when it comes to pairing great films with beautifully done sleeves and cases. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Meek’s Cutoff, and We Need to Talk About Kevin are just a few of the titles they’ve released (or will release soon). Any one of them would be a fine gift, but even better is their Circle of Trust gift subscription (Oscilloscope.net) that gets the recipient their next ten releases in addition to a discount on catalog titles. Great deal at a great company.

For Folks Who Begrudgingly Acknowledge That Sometimes Blockbusters Can Be Great Movies Too

Captain America: The First Avenger (also on DVD) had everything going against it including a director in decline, a cinematically untested comic book hero, and a lead actor known more for pretty boy looks than charisma, but I’ll be the first to admit Joe Johnston’s film proved me wrong with thrilling action, true comedy, and a surprising element of heart. It’s unheard of for a fourth sequel in an otherwise unspectacular franchise to become the best of the series, but Fast Five (also on DVD) did just that. Spectacular vehicular action and destruction along with a memorable clash between Vin Diesel and The Rock make it a keeper. Horrible Bosses (also on DVD) is not only the most consistently funny film of the year but it’s also the one with the best ensemble cast. Most folks thought Tim Burton’s craptastic reboot from a few years ago put the final nail in the monkey cage, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes (also on DVD) proved there was still more story to be told in this franchise, and Rupert Wyatt was the man to tell it. Not even James Franco can keep the film from being alternately exciting and eye-opening. X-Men: First Class (also on DVD) wasn’t the only comic book superhero movie of the year, but it is the best.

For Movie Lovers Who Think Region Coding Is Ridiculous

I’ve had a region-free DVD player for several years now and have enjoyed countless imports from other countries that simply never hit US shelves, but this year I went ahead and upgraded to a Region Free Blu-ray Player. There are several sites and models to choose from, but I went with an LG-BD630 from 220-Electronics.com and I couldn’t be happier. It plays any region Blu or DVD from anywhere in the world, offers Netflix and other network features, and its region-free abilities are guaranteed for life. I have no affiliation with 220-Electronics, but their pricing, selection, customer service and shipping time were all top notch.

For Movie Lovers Who Know Region Coding Is Ridiculous

One of the advantages to owning a region-free player is occasionally having access to movies well in advance of a US release. Of the five films below only the last one is available in the US but only on DVD. All of them are worth owning on Blu, and all of them will give you bragging rights with your fellow movie lovers (at least for a little while). These discs are all region-locked, so a region-free player is required to enjoy them.

Certified Copy (also on DVD) is a delightfully romantic and unassuming film that’s already topping many critics foreign language lists. Kill List (also on DVD) is a film that defies labels as it moves through genres with a fierce and surprising intensity, and while IFC is releasing it here next March it’s available overseas in two weeks. No one seems to say or know much about Mr. Nobody (also on DVD), but I have to imagine that’s because this 2009 film has yet to see a release in the States. Having seen it I can’t imagine why as it’s a gorgeous film that intertwines fate and love into a sci-fi setting. The Skin I Live In (also on DVD) is Pedro Almodovar’s latest, and while it’s in limited theatrical release here in the States it hits home video in the UK at the end of the month. It’s not only new films that are worth importing from the UK as Eureka’s new Blu-ray of Orson Welles’ noir classic Touch of Evil proves. Three remastered cuts of the film in two different aspect ratios along with a whole host of extras make this a definitive must-own for cinema fans.

For Cogs In the Global Capitalist Machine

People talk about Google becoming our supreme overlords or Apple deciding the fads of our future, but just as big of a player in our lives is the Amazon empire. They have everything. And they often have it for very, very good prices. If you or someone you love is like the rest of us then an Amazon Prime membership will come in handy for the next year. Benefits include free two-day shipping, no minimum sized order, unlimited streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows, and for Kindle owners a free book rental every month.

For Everyone, Part 2

Like Community above, in a perfect world I wouldn’t need to pimp the upcoming US release of Fish Story on DVD. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s film is beloved by pretty much anyone who sees it, and while it’s been available for import for a while now its impending release on 12/27 should be bigger news than it is. The film posits the end of the world via an asteroid headed for Earth, and while faraway astronauts race to avert the disaster the film focuses on two friends in a record store sharing a story about a pop song with a mysterious but intentional paused silence in the middle of the track. What does the song have to do with humanity’s probably extinction? Easily the best film of 2009 that you’ve never heard of before.

For Fans of International Ass-Kickery and Bloodletting

Black Death (also on DVD) is a British film ostensibly about knights dealing with the plague and black magic, but its true narrative is a stinging attack on blind faith and religious control. Detective Dee & the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (also on DVD) is easily Tsui Hark’s best film in years and features Andy Lau as a pseudo Sherlock Holmes in a magic-filled ancient China. Dream Home is social commentary from Hong Kong at its bloodiest, most violent and darkly comic best. I Saw the Devil (also on DVD) is one of the finest and most brutal serial killer flicks Korea has exported in years. The Man From Nowhere (also on DVD), Max Manus: Man of War (also on DVD) is a true story from Norway, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t filled with action, intrigue and fantastic acting. The adrenaline-fueled Point Blank (also on DVD) sees a husband racing to save his pregnant wife while walking a fine line between adversaries on both sides of the law.

For the Rugrats Who Creep and Crawl Their Way Into Your Life

I don’t pretend to understand half the craziness filling every frame of Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People, but I know it’s mesmerizing and entertaining as hell all the same. Hell, I’m not even sure if it’s for kids, but it’ll be good for them. Someday. Rango (also on DVD) is hands down the best animated movie of the year, and it would probably have been so even if Pixar had a movie out in 2011 too. (Yes, we’re ignoring the abomination that is Cars 2.) It’s absolutely stunning to look at and damn funny to boot. I missed Rocko’s Modern Life: Season One when it originally aired on TV, but I caught up with it this year and loved its odd mix of gags and commentary. Plus, it has a catchy theme song. For some reason audiences avoided Disney’s Winnie the Pooh (also on DVD) in theaters, and it’s a real shame because they missed out on a simple, sweet and entertaining journey with characters that every kid should know by heart. Sure it’s hand-drawn style instead of CGI, but that shouldn’t be seen as a sign that it’s automatically less than anything Pixar releases.

For Film Gluttons Who Want It All or Nothing

Kino’s release of Buster Keaton: Short Films Collection (also on DVD) is a shining reminder of the magic that can be created in a short amount of time and without sound. The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection (also on DVD) collects all of Basil Rathbone’s adventures into one place for your elementary viewing pleasure. Music Box Films has released the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition (also on DVD) which offers up the complete Stieg Larsson trilogy with footage not previously available in the US. These next four Blu-ray sets need no further explanation or introduction so you’ll get none here. Harry Potter: Complete 8 Film Collection (also on DVD), Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy (also on DVD), Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition, and Star Wars: The Complete Saga are all worthy additions beneath the Christmas tree.

For That One Person Who Reads and Enjoys My MOD Column

Hi mom. Both the MGM Limited Edition Collection and the Warner Archive continue to release several fun and exciting titles each month, most of which have never been on DVD before. Some of the ones to look out for include Rolling Thunder, Burn Witch Burn, and Opposing Force from MGM and Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion, The Legend of Billie Jean, and The Andy Hardy Collection from WB.

For That White Elephant Party You Really Don’t Want To Go To

Antfarm Dickhole seems like a film designed entirely around its title. Attract Women with Hypnosis features a cover destined for controversy as it suggests white women need hypnosis in order to date tall guys. Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist pretty much blows its wad right there in the title. Pupaphobia: The Fear of Puppets is a serious look at a stupid phobia that is nowhere near as frightening as coulrophobia. Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is a brilliant adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel about the joy and necessity of self sacrifice.

 For more gift ideas, check out the rest of The Holiday Gift Guide.


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