Each year, we like to provide readers with a two-tiered gift-giving guide. The first gathers together a Top Ten list of great gifts for movie lovers. But while that list covers a lot of ground, the sheer quantity of new releases, anniversaries, knick-knacks and other items that might well be just the thing for that hard-to-shop-for person on your gift list goes far beyond anything a ten-item list can cover. So, with that in mind, here’s a bigger batch of gift ideas.
1st Time on Blu-Ray
Believe it or not, there are hundreds of excellent films (thousands, if quality is not an obstacle) not yet on Blu-ray and Warner Brothers (through their Warner Archive Collection banner), Kino Lorber and Shout! Factory are maybe the three most active and successful distributors bringing us these titles. Here then are eight such films, newly 1080p’d for your pleasure!
Brigadoon, Finian’s Rainbow, The Sea Wolf (Warner Bros., prices vary)
As far as “regular edition” archivists go, Warner Bros. might be the ne plus ultra of the bunch. They always seem to go the extra mile, and this trio is no exception. Upon its original release, Michael Curtiz’s The Sea Wolf was one of the biggest box office hits of 1941. So much so that in 1947, it was given a theatrical re-release but was cut to a running time of 86-minutes. For 70 years, it remained in its truncated form despite various efforts to find a usable version of the original film until it was discovered that there were two entries for a fine grain nitrate master at the Museum of Modern Art, and one of them was the full 100-minute film. After a painstaking restoration and 4K scan, the results are magnificent.
The transfer to Blu-ray of two classic Warner Brothers musicals, starring some of the greatest dancers in movie history, Vincente Minnelli’s Brigadoon (1954) and Francis Ford Coppola’s Finian’s Rainbow (1968) are also wonderfully done, with Warner’s archivists doing exceptional work on bringing these films into the Blu-ray age. The former was Gene Kelley’s follow-up to Singin’ in the Rain and co-starred Van Johnson and Cyd Charisse, while the latter starred Fred Astaire and Petula Clark. I’ll confess to being a little biased towards Finian’s Rainbow, as composer Burton Lane was a close family friend and I had my fifth birthday party at his pool! —Mark Rabinowitz
Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise & Le Gai Savoir, Take the Money and Run, Avanti!, The Flamingo Kid, (Kino Lorber, $18.89)
Most of us grow up with some things so taken as givens by critics (and pop cultural consensus) that we tend to overlook or ignore them in our efforts to define our own critical taste only to “discover” them later. It’s not just the stubbornness of youth—often an artist is so influential that the very landscape is so altered by the time we “bless” it with our own evaluative prowess, creating a buffer between our sensibilities and the impact of the work. Still, if we’re lucky, there will come that moment where the pop cultural sediment settles, we are able to engage with the artist’s work, and we have that, “Oh, that’sctually engage with and discover. But a further suggestion—after you tackle Breathless, Pierrot le Fou and the other usual suspects, check out films like La Chinoise and Le Gai Savoir. Kino Lorber’s new releases add essays, audio commentary and other extras to make this particular niche of Godard’s storied career worth your time.
Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run is one of the earliest mockumentaries and would give audiences a preview of the slapstick genius to come in Bananas, Sleeper and my personal favorite, Love and Death. His Virgil Starkwell is one of the most inept bank robbers of all time and will go down in celluloid history as having the worst penmanship in criminal history. Billy Wilder’s Avanti! stars Jack Lemmon, my favorite actor of all time and Juliet Mills in a comedy-mystery-romance set in Ischia. Written by Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, it boasts the same star/writer/director team as classics Some Like it Hot, The Apartment and Irma La Douce. Garry Marshall’s The Flamingo Kid was a favorite of my teenage years. Fresh off three S. E. Hinton adaptations, Matt Dillon played against type as college-bound Jeffrey Wells who gets distracted by Richard Crenna’s fast-talking car salesman and the girl of his dreams, played by Janet Jones. It’s a sweet and funny coming-of-age film and boasts a pretty stellar supporting cast, including Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman), Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) and Fisher Stevens, among others. —Michael Burgin and Mark Rabinowitz
Dudes, The Moderns, Into the Night (Shout! Factory, various prices)
Shout! Factory, under their Shout Select banner continues to pump out really interesting films that have fallen through the Blu-ray cracks. No simple bargain basement releases these, either! Brand new extras abound on all these of these releases, with Into the Night featuring a newly restored master and featurettes with director John Landis and Jeff Goldblum. The film is also loaded with drop-ins and hysterical supporting turns, including David Bowie as Colin, the charming English hitman, as well as legendary Hollywood directors, writers and stars David Cronenberg, Waldo Salt, John Landis, Rick Baker, Jim Henson, Daniel Petrie, Paul Mazursky, Paul Bartel, Carl Perkins, Amy Heckerling, Roger Vadim, Lawrence Kasdan, Irene Papas, Clu Gulager, Jonathan Demme and Vera Miles, many of them in “blink and you’ll miss them” cameos.
Dudes may be the only punk rock Western Road trip film ever made and definitely challenges Robert Altman’s O. C. and Stiggs as the most oddball film to star Jon Cryer. Seriously, do yourself a favor and look up that Altman film. While I can’t advise anyone to use illegal drugs, if you’re in states where it’s legal, you might wanna get baked, first. This release is loaded with almost two hours of new goodies, including Penelope Spheeris interviews with Cryer and his costars Daniel Roebuck (The Fugitive) and Flea.
If asked to name a great film from the 1980s that no one remembers, Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns would easily be one of my top five. It boasts a stellar cast—Keith Carradine fascinates as painter/forger Nick Hart, Linda Fiorentino smolders as his old flame, Rachel, and John Lone, well, he smolders, too, in his own, Antagonist Prime way. Add to that Wallace Shawn’s most enjoyable comic supporting role not involving a dwarf foiled by iocaine powder, a luscious soundtrack by Mark Isham and a stylized take on 1920s Paris (and its American ex-pats) that you’ll wish was really how it was, and you’ve got a film that invites and rewards multiple viewings. Not every cinematic comfort food needs to be a guilty pleasure. —Michael Burgin and Mark Rabinowitz
Five From Criterion
The Criterion Collection is the only home video distributor whose products I will buy sight unseen and reviews unread. These five recent releases represent classic American cinema, the French New Wave, a modern American cult classic with a current link and a new 4K restoration of a classic music documentary by one of the masters of the genre. —M.R.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Criterion Collection, $22.09)
Considering how highly regarded Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series was, I’d be curious to know how many of its new fans bothered to watch the original series. (I’d wager quite a few.) However, I wonder how many of those same fans watched this criminally underrated film. Originally receiving mixed reviews, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me has been steadily gaining respect for 25 years, culminating in this new 4K digital transfer (not to be confused with 4K UHD) complete with DTS-HD Master Audio sound, both supervised by David Lynch.
Le Samouraï (Criterion Collection, $22.97)
Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic era-bending crime thriller has been given a new HD digital restoration and according to the booklet accompanying this release, the painstaking process involved removing “thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps.” As per usual, Criterion has included copious extras, both digital and printed, including a short doc exploring the friendship between director Melville and actor Alain Delon, archival interviews with Melville, Delon and other cast and a booklet that contains, among other treasures, an appreciation of Le Samouraï by none other than John Woo.
The Philadelphia Story (Criterion Collection, $22.09)
His Girl Friday (Criterion Collection, $27.97)
These two comedies, both from 1940 and both starring Cary Grant, are also two of the best American films ever made. The 19th century Shakespearian actor Edmund Kean’s last words are rumored to have been: “Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” and the fact is, comedy is hard. Both of these films are funny, romantic, impeccably directed and acted and now restored to full glory. Extras, as usual, are legion, with His Girl Friday also including a new 4K restoration of the 1931 pre-code film The Front Page the source material for His Girl Friday.
The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (Criterion Collection, $44.49)
D.A. Pennebaker, one of the deans of American documentary personally supervised the new 16-bit 4K digital restoration of Monterey Pop, one of the all-time great concert documentaries and a record of 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival. An argument can be made that musically, Monterey was more important than Woodstock, seeing as it was the first major U.S. performances by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who and Ravi Shankar, as well as the first (and one of the last) major performances by Otis Redding, who died six months later. Additionally, the bill included one of the earliest performances by Janis Joplin, as well as Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Hugh Masekela. The camera crew on the shoot included Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter) and Richard Leacock and captured Pete Townsend smashing a guitar and Jimi lighting one on fire. The set includes three films: Monterey Pop (directed by D.A. Pennebaker) as well as Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey, directed by Pennebaker and his wife and frequent collaborator, Chris Hegedus, along with every available complete performance filmed by Pennebaker and his crew and additional rare outtakes.
Anniversaries and Boxed Sets
Heck, it seems like there’s a movie celebrating an anniversaries pretty every year! Luckily, between that and all the gatherin’ of movies into gorgeous boxed sets, it makes for some mighty fine shoppin’!
The Dirty Dancing 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Lion’s Gate, $34.99)
For every giant, decades-spanning splash made by a Star Wars or Raiders, there are plenty of other films that make quite the initial splash upon the box office, even if the ripples fade faster than their Lucasian or Spielbergian. When Dirty Dancing came out in 1987, it made just such a splash. It resonated with your mom, your sister, your aunt. And they remember it to this today! Which is all to say—there’s a good chance someone you know loves this film. They won’t be as easy to spot as someone who loves The Goonies or Heathers or the like, but they are there, and for them, this Collector’s Edition is the perfect gift. This boxed set includes unmerous mementos from Baby’s time at the Kellerman’s resort—a brochure, a cottage key chain, four vintage post cards, a compact mirror and a purse. (Of more practical interest to the cinephile wishing to create their own box office success, there’s an annotated shooting script.) With this set, when you find the Dirty Dancing fan in your midst, you will be ready. —M.B.
The DC Universe 10th Anniversary Collection (Warner Bros., $169.99)
For many, it’s conventional wisdom that DC’s animated offerings have far outpaced its live-action fare—especially in the last decade or so. That’s not exactly, completely fair, since much of that rides on the (granted) earned good will of Batman: The Animated Series and, hey, movies with $100 million+ budgets are a little tougher to pull off than animated TV and film. Still, this set of 30 (!) animated films is much more likely to scratch the itch for solid DC-originated superheroing than time spent in the Snyder-verse. In addition to those thirty animated films, this collection includes a featurette “Mark Hamill: Finding the Laugh,” tracing the actor’s journey from a galaxy far, far away to his iconic vocal work as the Clown Prince of Crime. The boxed set also features a batch of panels, including one at 2017’s Comic-Con International and another in 2008. Nibble on those as you will, but don’t fill up because, remember, there are thirty films to check out (and five shorts!). All in all, this set is a prime candidate for buying as a gift, but keeping it for yourself. (The person you originally bought it for doesn’t need to know.) —M.B.
Batman/Superman 9-Film Anthology (Warner Bros., $49.99)
As much of a box office juggernaut at the MCU is currently, it’s important to remember that Warner Bros./DC struck first in the live-action superhero arena. (It’s also a reminder that heaping kudos on the studio for presenting a female-led movie before Marvel is less of an achievement when you consider how long it actually took them.) This nine-film set could be subtitled, “How we got to Nolan and Snyder,” and will likely be the perfect collection for all those comic book fans who spent decades yearning to see their favorite caped crusaders on the Big Screen, and finally got their wish thanks to Donner, Reeve, Burton, Keaton, etc. (Though note, this set features the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, which plays out a bit different than the one seen in theaters.) —M.B.
The Phantasm Collection (Well Go USA)
Writer/Director Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series exists at that spot somewhere short of all-out “horror classic” yet nonetheless firmly ensconced as a cult fave that has influenced its genre. Sure, it’s not Evil Dead level cache, but the movies’ dream-like atmosphere and signature silver (and occasionally gold) lethal spheres are immediately recognizable to anyone who loves horror cinema. The series’ existence in the middle ground makes this boxed set collecting all five films a bit scarcer than one might expect. The collection includes the usual array of behind-the-scenes looks, interviews and commentary from Coscarelli, the Tall Man himself (Angus Scrimm) and others from the cast and crew. For the collector who just has to have a physical copy—the Phantasm movies are easily found and viewed online—this set is the one to have. —M.B.
The Godfather Trilogy: Omerta Edition (Paramount, $29.99)
This limited edition 45th anniversary set is one of those releases that falls squarely in-between “nah, don’t need it” and “need it day one!” On the one hand, the films themselves are previously released versions, as are the extras. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. The Coppola restorations of the first two films in the trilogy are widely considered to be the gold standard of Blu-rays for both video and audio and the feature-length commentaries by director Francis Ford Coppola are nothing less than film school in a box. However, if you already own the 2008 release, there’s no real compelling reason to buy this one.
That said, this might be the perfect gift—I can’t really see where you’re going to get something cooler for thirty bucks. If the number of friends that recently told me that they’d never seen The Godfather is anything to go by, you might want to pick up a few. As far as new content goes, there are several pretty neat exclusives, including new collectible trivia cards, a sheet of magnetic poetry (always fun), an “anatomy of a scene fold out” and quote cards. —M.R.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (Paramount, $7.99 or so)
Amidst all the celebrations, reconsiderations and re-explorations of John Hughes’ teen film canon of the 1980s, it’s easy to overlook the director’s occasional forays into comedies with adults as the protagonists. Of course, when those adult are Steve Martin and John Candy, there’s a decent chance those same folks who were teenagers in 1987 saw Planes, Trains & Automobiles, too. The film has many of what can be considered the “usual suspects for John Hughes films, including a memorable soundtracks and some very quotable lines. (“Those aren’t pillows!”) The 30th Anniversary edition has the same features as the 2012 release, including tributes to Hughes and Candy, a deleted scene and a few other featurettes. —M.B
The Latest and Greatest on 4k Ultra HD
As I wrote in this year’s Top 10 Gifts For Movie Lovers, 4K UHD is no hype. When done well, It’s magnificent to behold and the “worst” I can say is that some are “only” slightly better than a regular 18080p Blu-ray. Also of note is that older films shot on celluloid have a greater potential of knocking your socks off, with the home presentation now only being rivaled by a movie theater.
The following 4K discs were viewed with a TCL 55P607 Roku TV, a Samsung UBD-M9500 and a Vizio SB3651-E6 sound bar. —Mark Rabinowitz
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 40th Anniversary
Sony has gone above and beyond with this one. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the film that at the age of eight made me realize I wanted to be around films for the rest of my life and had a far more profound effect on me than Star Wars, which had been released a few months earlier. I’ve probably seen this film 30 times over the past 40 years on every possible format, save Betamax) and I can honestly say that the only better version you’ll fine is a clean, restored theatrical print. Sony performed a 4K restoration from the original camera negative and as such, is utilizing the full potential of the higher resolution afforded by film.
This is a magnificent presentation. Assuming you have a decent 4K TV and it’s set up correctly (for god’s sake, turn off the damned Soap Opera effect!), you’ll be blown away at the detail. The scene when the Greys come for Barry (Cary Guffey) and every electrical item in the house goes batshit crazy is stunning in a way I haven’t seen in 40 years.
This set also inlcudes the real rarity of all-new extras, in this case a featurette with new interviews: director Steven Spielberg discusses the legacy of the film and J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) talk about the film’s impact. The collection includes all three versions of the film (1977 theatrical, 1980 Special Edition and 1997 Director’s Cut), and it’s all packaged in a “Light & Sound” gift set that plays those oh so familiar five tones.
Christopher Nolan Collection (Warner Bros., $147.92)
Films included: The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception, The Dark Knight RisesThe Prestige, Interstellar (A Paramount-WB co-production) and Dunkirk.
This is a hell of a set. Considering that we’re already sold on the format and that Christopher Nolan seems incapable of directing a bad film, we’re anticipating a deep, deep dive into this box. Seven films in 4K and seven discs of extras (and seven regular BDs that you can give to your friends) … what’s not to love? These are some of the most visually exciting films of the past 10 years. Add to that the fact that movies shot on film (the only medium Nolan works with) often benefit the most from the 4K treatment and you have a winner.
Not only that, but the 4K disc of Interstellar is astonishing (we received it separately from Paramount, a week ago). I am sure I sound like a broken record, but the detail is jaw-dropping. The dust storms are almost claustrophobic, and you can see the cracks in the caked dirt on Matthew McConaughey’s face. Every cornstalk, every blade of grass…. The texture is truly astonishing. Switch to the darkness of space or the ice planet and the whites and blacks are remarkable. It’s as close as you can get to being in the theater
Bottom line? Day one purchase.
Planet of the Apes Trilogy (20th Century Fox, $31.99)
I think it’s fair to say this latest incarnation of the Planet of the Apes constitutes one of the all-time great movie trilogies. Think about it for a minute and try to name 10 film trios that don’t have a weak link? The original three Raiders films had Temple of Doom, and while it’s not terrible, per se, it’s also not nearly as good as the first and third films in the series. Return of the Jedi? Half a good film, at best. The Matrix? One great film, one good one and one steaming pile. For every Lord of the Rings or Toy Story, there’s at least a dozen films like The Godfather, Part III or Superman III that ruin it.
Not so with these films. Not only is this series almost uniformly excellent in every conceivable way but they also get better as the series moves on, and War for the Planet of the Apes had me legitimately weeping at the end. As for the 4K presentation, if you’re someone that gets lost in the visuals of film, 4K with HDR has the potential of giving you more in which to get lost. Where previously there was an inky black cave, there is now a far greater range of grays and blacks. New details emerge from the fog or a white, snowy landscape and the work put into the faces and expressions of the apes is on display. And sure, with modern, digitally shot movies the uptick in quality might be subtle from scene to scene, but the effect is cumulative and at the end I’ll wager that you feel like what you’ve seen is entirely different from what’s gone before.
Harry Potter 8-Film Collection 4K (Warner Bros., $149.99)
Harry Potter: A Cinematic Gallery (Insight Editions, $25.47)
Harry Potter: The Wand Collection (Insight Editions, $19.49)
Like the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, The Harry Potter franchise is one that defied the rules and maintained overall quality over a whopping eight films. Here it gets the 4K treatment from Warner Bros. From what I can tell, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets used new scans from the original camera negative, while the remaining six films used a 2K Digital Intermediate. Without getting too technical, this generally means that the first two films in the series are more likely to produce the “Holy crap, it’s a whole new film!” reaction like Close Encounters, while reactions to the remaining six are more apt to be of the Planet of the Apes variety.
A caveat to that generalization is that the Harry Potter films tend to work either in deep darkness and shadow or in bright explosions of light, whenever magic is employed and these are situations where HDR can shine, as well as very busy scenes. Whether it’s desaturating a dark scene to the point where it’s almost black & white, thus adding a greater feeling of menace or making colors pop with extraordinary vividness, this is where 4K with HDR has a marked advantage over regular 1080p. So, for example, banquets in the great hall or the first years’ initial trips to the dorms are greatly enhanced, with each character and architectural detail presented in sharpness and clarity not seen since their theatrical release. Of course, everyone’s mileage may vary! While there are no new extras, each film includes a 4K disc, a 1080p disc (with the previously released extras) as well as a third 1080p disc with the appropriate edition of the eight-part series Creating the World of Harry Potter.
Also new this season are two extra handsome hardbound volumes for the Harry Potter acolyte: Harry Potter: A Cinematic Gallery and Harry Potter: The Wand Collection, both from Insight Editions. The former is billed as having “80 Original Images to Color and Inspire,” but I would suggest that it is an art book far more than it is a coloring book. (I suppose you could grab your 150-color marker set and have at it, but unless you’re an accomplished colorist, it would be a shame.) As for The Wand Collection, it’s a gorgeous, hardbound, glossy 154-page volume with detailed information on pretty much every aspect of wands and wand lore, pictures of each one and its user and quotes from cast, designers and other creative on how the various wands were made and used in the films. I’d consider both of these ideal gifts for the Harry Potter fans in your life!
Logan (20th Century Fox, $19.89)
While my experience with 4K is relatively limited, only going back a whole four weeks, this might be the most exceptional presentation I have seen. Without getting too technical, the source for this disc was a 4K DI, so by definition the resulting disc is likely to be noticeably more detailed than a 1080p disc and while I have not spent a whole lot of time with UHD, I know the difference between 1080p and a theatrical projection and I know that a well done 4K Blu-ray sits between the two and that an exceptional one is closer to a theatrical experience. Logan is in that camp.
In my opinion the best of the X-Men films, Logan is dark and brutal and dystopian. It’s also, at times, heartwarming and profoundly moving. While I won’t lie and say movies never make me cry, I will say that I can’t remember the last time I was moved to tears, twice, by an action film. Or a comic book adaptation. Or a super hero film. Or whatever Logan is. Honestly, I find it increasingly useless to try and categorize certain films and the bottom line is, Logan is one of the best films of the year. The fact that Wolverine and Professor X and X-23 (Spoilers!) are comic book characters is incidental. The best of these films (Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes to mind) don’t elevate the material (that’s too pejorative to the source) they expand it. Much like that second Captain America film is an astute political drama, Logan is a deeply personal family tragedy. With claws.
Men in Black Trilogy 20th Anniversary 4K Collection (Sony, $39.96)
Remember how hard it is to get an entire trilogy right? Textbook example, here. Men in Black? Great movie. Men in Black 3? Really good movie. Men in Black 2? Seriously terrible movie. Now, I know I am probably starting to sound like a broken record here, but the first and third movies in this set (I couldn’t bring myself to look at the second) look appreciably better than they do on regular old Blu-ray. The detail in Edgar’s clothing, the sharp lines and wacky background hijinks at MIB HQ and oh my, the colors! If you were worried that ramping up the resolution of such effects-heavy films would expose the flaws in the 20-year-old CGI, fret not. If you have a 4K set up and liked the originals, $40 isn’t unreasonable for two excellent movies and a coaster.
Atomic Blonde (Universal, $22.96)
You know those films that for one reason or another you missed in theatrical release and then one day you pop it in the player and are blown away? Yeah, that’s this one. A stylish, beautiful and at times, batshit crazy espionage action-thriller, Atomic Blonde is smart, sexy as hell and tough. Set during the fraught days just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, this spy vs spy (vs spy vs spy) film keeps you guessing and hopping while once again, Charlize Theron shows that she can be a take-no-prisoners bad ass as well as anyone of any gender. She earned more than her salary on the staircase scene alone. Seriously though, how many examples do we need to prove that women can be action heroes and topline a film? The overall look of the film lends itself to the Ultra HD HDR, with the dark and dismal greys of late autumn East Berlin nicely juxtaposed against the neon and bright lights of the nightlife scenes and while it’s a bit gruesome, the various wounds and bruises suffered by our heroine seem all the more….detailed. Watching this film was one of those happy accidents that I can’t wait to share.
Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets
I’m somewhat confused as to why this film didn’t receive better reviews or barring that, at least do better at the U.S. box office. Sure, the plot is half-baked and the leads’ chemistry is only slightly better than Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters, but the box office chart is littered with execrable films that made money hand over fist—have you ever see a Transformers film? Compared to them, Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets is Raiders of the Lost Ark. First of all, it’s one of the most visually stunning films of the past 20 years, and the 4K presentation here just underlines that. And yeah, Luc Besson may have spent more money on this than any European film in history and sure, maybe precious little of it went to script development or cast (my friend Alison Willmore, writing in Buzzfeed, nailed it when she described leads Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as coming across ”...like high schoolers putting on a production of His Girl Friday”), a massive amount went to visual splendor. When you have a comic book space adventure this glorious to behold, I’m generally okay if the script and acting can’t hold water.
Mother! (Paramount, $25.96)
This is not the place to convince you to buy this film, sight unseen. I’m not reviewing it and there are no spoilers, here. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already seen the film so what you want to know is, what does this look like at home? Well, if you’re a fan of movies shot on real film by a director/cinematographer team that have worked together for more than 20 years and know what they want a film to look like and exactly how to get it, then you’re in for a treat. Director Darren Aronofsky and his long-time DP Matthew Libatique have created a stunning film with all the detail and grain you could ever want. In addition, Paramount’s 4K release includes the much-talked-about Dolby Vision HDR (as well as the more prevalent HDR10). —M.R.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Universal, $20.49)
If you’re embracing 4K technology, you’ll want to rebuild that library of classics as well as enjoying the newer releases, and in terms of industry-changing, landmark cinematic events, it doesn’t get much bigger than Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. With this 35th anniversary edition, you get to experience the film that inspired Mack and Me in all its glory, along with more than three hours of bonus features that include deleted scenes, a collectible book and plenty of other extras, though none of which will surpass the pleasure of seeing it all in 4K. —M.B.
The Trip to Spain ( Shout! Factory, $15.79)
The first two films in this series are flat-out uproarious, and you can expect more of the same, here. Steve Coogan (an Oscar nominee for Philomena, as his slightly fictionalized self is more than likely to point out) and Rob Brydon (A Cock and Bull Story and probably the funniest Welshman, ever) are off on their third culinary Trip (following England and Italy) and to be honest, if the next one was The Trip to The Food Court Loo at the Cherry Hill Mall, I’d buy that one, too. —Mark Rabinowitz
Fantastic Beasts Niffler Plush (Quantum Mechanix, $19.95)
Year in, year out our friends at QMx turn out the most amazing things, and every year we include at least a couple of their offerings. This year’s Top 10 TV gifts included a rather unique Tribble as well as this adorable little guy from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. If you’re like me and you like to stage design your Christmas stockings (wait, doesn’t everyone do that?) can’t you just imagine Niffler peeking out the top? Trust me, he’s adorable and he’s got a pouch. Just make sure the kids don’t leave their gelt in his pouch until it melts! —Mark Rabinowitz
Batman Batarang (Quantum Mechanix, $59.95)
Looking for something a little less plushy? Well, QMx has you covered there, too. Your friend who loves Batman might think he (or she) has everything he needs, but does he really? This 1:1 scale replica is made from a zinc alloy that’s pretty much guaranteed to be sturdier than the current iteration of movies from which it comes. Give someone you love the gift of being able to say, “Oh, that’s just my batarang.” —M.B.
Hana-bi (Film Movement, $22.89)
Legendary Japanese actor and filmmaker Takeshi Kitano’s first true masterpiece (and I don’t use that word lightly) is finally getting a U.S. Blu-ray release. Perhaps the film that most exemplified the mid-late 1990s resurgence of Japanese cinema, Hana-bi is deeply intimate and emotional, punctuated with moments of shocking violence. The film is inspired, in part, by Kitano’s own recovery from a 1994 motorcycle accident, during which he took up painting (many of which are featured in the film). Extras on this beautiful transfer include an audio commentary by Rolling Stone’s excellent critic David Fear, as well as a making-of featurette and a nice booklet, featuring an essay by filmmaker/curator Jasper Sharp. —M.R.
Charlotte’s Web and Captain Underpants (Paramount and Fox, respectively)
So, yes, “stocking stuffers” should include actual items for kids. (We know very well who you are getting the Nibbler plush for.) Charlotte’s Web is, of course, a classic, and the film version boasts an all-star lineup, including Dakota Fanning and the voices of Julie Roberts, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi and Oprah Winfrey. This set comes with a book, so parents can also feel comforted than they are helping their kids to read. (Every little bit helps.) It may be too early to declare Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie a classic, but the movie definitely captures the irreverence and fun of Dav Pilkey’s books, and this edition comes with a ton of extras that are guaranteed to elicit chortles, chuckles and snorts from fans of the movie. —M.B.
Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle (GKids, prices vary)
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the waters of Hayao Miyazaki without purchasing the seemingly out of print (and now very expensive) Collected Works boxed set, here are two of the Japanese master animator’s finest. It’s hard to explain how incredible Miyazaki’s films are. Both of these films were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, with Spirited Away taking home the 2001 prize. There are very few films that we can recommend without even the slightest caveat. Here are two of them! —M.R.
Styling the Stars: Lost Treasures from the Twentieth Century Fox Archive (Simon & Schuster, $16.99)
Let’s step back for a moment from all the superheroes, from the animated classics and cult faves. Instead, let’s return to old Hollywood … to Monroe, Gable, et al glamor. Styling the Stars was first released in hardback in 2014, but the book remains a perfect gift for loved ones who love classic Hollywood’s stars and styles. —M.B.
A Die Hard Christmas (Insight Editions, $16.99)
The latest salvo—and winning argument—in the debate over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie comes in the form of this sweet recounting of one festive eve at Nakatomi Plaza, when director John McTiernan and actor Bruce Willis gave everyone a gift in the form of John McClane’s murderous Christmas eve frolic with Hans Gruber and his merry band of criminals. Ho, ho, ho, indeed. —M.B.
Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth 2-Disc Special Edition (Music Video Distributors, $21.47)
Richard Schenkman’s wonderful low-fi sci-fi film is perhaps the highest-rated film on IMDb to not be a blockbuster smash hit. Or even a modest box-office returner. Currently sporting an 8.0 (with over 146,000 votes), The Man From Earth is rated as highly as Rocky, Annie Hall and Jaws. Is it on the same level as those films? Even director Schenkman would say that’s nuts, more than likely but 146,000 Man From Earth fans can’t be wrong! It is indeed a wonderful take on an age-old theme, written by one of the masters of the genre and starring David Lee Smith (CSI: Miami), John Billingsley (Star Trek: Enterprise), Tony Todd (Candy Man, several Star Trek series), William Katt (The Greatest American Hero) and Richard Riehle (Office Space), among others.
Considering the film was shot in 2006 on MiniDV, this restoration is nothing short of miraculous. It’s been up-converted from 172,800 pixels to 2,073,600 pixels in what can only be characterized as a masterstroke of digital legerdemain. The disc also includes copious extras, including a 2006 commentary with Schenkman and Billingsley and a new feature-length documentary, The Man From Earth: Legacy.” —M.R.
Best and Most Beautiful Things (First Run Features, $11.88)
In 2016, I traveled to the Florida Film Festival to serve on their documentary jury and wrote a feature for Paste on the festival. One of the documentaries I saw there was this one, and it blew me away. We ended up awarding Best and Most Beautiful Things a Special Jury Award for “Individuality of the Human Spirit” and said spirit inhabits Michelle Smith, a 20-year-old graduate of the Perkins School for the Blind, who has also been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and who should be an inspiration for all. She’s my hero. While I can’t guarantee that this documentary will change your life, at the very least it may recharge your hope and faith in humanity. But please don’t watch the trailer! There’s a twist to this film that really needs to be experienced organically. —M.R.