The 2018 Movies Gift Guide - Extended Cut

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The 2018 Movies Gift Guide - Extended Cut

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but … there’s a ton of movie-related merchandise out there. That’s probably bad news for the state of our materialistic society, but it’s potentially good news for the gift giver stumped by what exactly to get a movies-loving loved one. We’ve covered some top-of-the-line gift ideas on our 10 Great Gifts for Movie Lovers list, but we recognize that 10 is a small number. You may be super popular, with tons of friend. You may have a gigantic family. And what about the Secret Santas? WHO WILL LOOK AFTER THE SECRET SANTAS?!

Anyway, here’s a truckload of other gift ideas for your favorite movie buff.

The Perfect “Anniversary” Gift

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The Big Lebowski 20th Anniversary Limited Edition on 4K (Universal Home Entertainment, $38.25)
As visual stylists go, the Coen Brothers are among the most original American filmmakers of the past 30-plus years and along with frequent collaborators cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Carter Burwell, have a knack at creating films that are often mostly believable while at the same time, completely absurd. Like a pocket dimension of reality where things are mostly like they are in the real world. This is where The Big Lebowski lives, along with some of the more oddball characters you’re ever likely to meet including, of course, The Dude (who is largely based on a real person. One of the most quotable and quoted films of all time, it’s hysterical, surreal, profane and profound, and even oddly touching. Visually, The Big Lebowski is an exceptionally well-crafted film. Carefully composed, full of color and shade and with a visual style that’s made for the 4K treatment and which takes full advantage of HDR. The set comes with a mini bowling ball bag, bowling ball pencil holder, a polishing cloth that really ties the room together and a teeny little Dude’s sweater for the blu-ray case. —M.R.

2001: A Space Odyssey 50th Anniversary (Warner Bros., $24.99)
Following on the heels of last summer’s limited release of a new 70mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, Warner Bros. Home Video has released the film on 4K UHD in honor of the film’s 50th anniversary. The disc was mastered from the 65mm original camera negative and includes both a remixed and restored 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track, as well as the original 1968 six-track theatrical audio mix, formatted for 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. As with the vast majority of 4K releases (and I am definitely repeating myself, here), the UHD disc only contains the film and the commentary from Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, while the rest of the supplements are on the accompanying 1080p disc. While 2001 might not be the film you put on to occupy the kids during a long Christmas holiday, it’s certainly one that stands to benefit from the increased capacity of 4K. —M.R.

My Neighbor Totoro 30th Anniversary Edition (GKIDS, $44.99)
By now, Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have permeated Western culture to the extent that at least most folks have heard of them or at least recognize a film or two. For parents wishing to introduce their children to animated classics not from the House of Mouse, though, a little discretion is needed—your six-year-old will not be ready for Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away for a few years yet. No worries, there’s a wonderful, ideal Miyazaki film awaiting them (a few, granted)—My Neighbor Totoro makes for an entrancing, enchanted intro to the master. To celebrate the 30th year since the film’s release, GKIDS has released a limited edition anniversary edition that most adult fans will want in their own collection. (You can let the kids watch it, too.) The set comes with a 40-page essay book, a disc of the complete soundtrack, and a main disc with extras that include plenty of behind-the-scenes content (story-boards, locations, etc.). This is one of the few animated films that make my list of “automatic recommend/everyone should see it.” So, do it, already. —M.B.

Die Hard 30th Anniversary 4K (20th Century Fox, $14.96)
Fox has done an excellent job with this release, having newly re-mastered the film in 4K. As with most movies that are shot on film and given a decent UHD treatment (rather than simply up-converting a 2K DI), Die Hard looks incredible. When done right, 4K releases are as close as you’re going to get to watching a film print in a good theater and to have that possibility at home, on a reasonably budget, is a boon of the highest order. However, if you’re one of those weirdoes who like your films all smooth and heavy on the noise reduction (freak), you won’t like this. There’s plenty of the original grain on display but it’s not overwhelming. Alas, Fox has chosen not to upgrade the audio to DTS:X or Dolby Atmos, but the existing DTS-HD-MA 5.1 mix is perfectly fine.—M.R.

50 Years of Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox, $39.99)
The recent reboot of the Planet of the Apes series was justly lauded for the leap in animation and motion capture it represented (even as it continued the difficult work of clawing out more deserved respect for the acting chops of mo-cap specialists like Andy Serkis). But when it comes to dystopic visions of ape-ruled times, one doesn’t have to choose between the newer, sleeker Planet of the Apes series and the original—just grab this collection of all nine movies. Released for the 50th anniversary of the series, this collection includes Blu-ray and digital copies of all the Apes. (The recent trilogy is also available on 4K Ultra HD.) —M.B.


It’s a Big, Big World of 4K Offerings

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As you might remember from last year, we have drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to 4K content and perhaps the format’s greatest quality is, when done right, how it can transform the viewing of older films. These following entries take advantage of the format in varying ways and are all worthy additions to your library. (All 4K discs reviewed in this guide were watched on a TCL 55P607 Roku TV, Sony UBP-X700 blu-ray player and a VIZIO SB36512-F6 36” 5.1.2 Home Theater Sound System with Dolby Atmos which we included in our Top 10 Gifts For Movie Lovers, last month.)

Grease: 40th Anniversary Edition 4K (Paramount, $17.21)
With Grease, I worried about how I was going to balance my fond childhood memories (I saw the original musical on Broadway and wore out the soundtrack record) with my more adult sensibilities. I hadn’t seen it in some time and remembered there being some troubling issues of gender politics in both song and plot and was fully prepared to equivocate in my write up. It turns out Grease is actually a nuanced and at times even feminist story. Yes, at times the film is less than subtle and sure, there are some issues treated less-than sensitively, but viewed as a whole, Grease is a much more subtle look at gender roles that one might think. As for the 4K treatment, the image looks fantastic and Dolby Vision HDR gives what was always a colorful movie a new life of vibrancy. A relative rarity with classic films, this edition comes with quite a few new extras, as well. —M.R.

Saving Private Ryan 20th Anniversary 4K (Paramount, $19.59)
Much has been said of the remarkable first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Kenneth Turan wrote in the LA Times, that “we are shown the invasion of France with a violence and an intensity that is almost beyond describing” and he’s not wrong. It’s not that the previous 1080p releases were bad. In fact, they are, by all accounts, astonishing. Paramount has done something remarkable then … they have improved on astonishing and much of the credit can go to the new Dolby Atmos sound mix and Dolby Vision HDR. This isn’t one of those films where you pop in the 4K and sit bolt upright, stunned at the transformation but it is one where, as you watch it, the cumulative affect of the added detail, both visual and auditory, blows you away. Based on what I’ve seen of Paramount’s 2018 4K treatments (including the exceptional Mission: Impossible collection, they’re taking this relatively new format very seriously. —M.R.

Superman: The Movie 4K (Warner Bros., $22.99)
This is a tough one to review, given the recent spate of exceptional comic book adaptations and the advances made in special effects over the past 40 years. For those born in the ’60s and ’70s, Superman: The Movie is a classic, and we all remember the wonder we felt seeing it in the theater. Prior to 1978, all we had for superheroes were cheesy TV shows and serials from the 1940s and while I loved TV’s Batman and The Adventures of Superman, Richard Donner’s big screen treatment was a whole other creature, entirely. The title sequence with John Williams’ iconic score is burned into my mind so much so that I find myself humming it from time to time, 40 years later. The talent on display is stunning. It stars multiple Oscar-winning actors Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, Oscar-nominees Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Trevor Howard, Valerie Perrine, Terrence Stamp and Susannah York and was shot by the late, great (2x Oscar-winner) Geoffrey Unsworth. Oh and Oscar-winner Mario Puzo (The Godfather, The Godfather II) wrote the original screenplay. On the other hand, there are a few optical effects and sets (the destruction of Krypton and Clark’s long march to the arctic) that are less-than flattered by the increased resolution, especially when compared to more modern fare but comparing those aspects of films made 40 years apart is a pointless exercise. The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack is a nice upgrade, and the Warner Bros. sound technicians have done a fine job using the newer format without overwhelming the viewer with needless bombast. Special note to those parents thinking about showing pre-teens one of your favorites from the past: While it is rated PG, Lois Lane’s death sequence is legitimately terrifying. —M.R.

Predator 4-Movie Collection 4K (20th Century Fox, $54.99)
This is another set that follows the recent trend of including films that are only available on 4K as part of the set. As with the Jack Ryan Collection we included in this year’s Top 10 list, this set contains some films that are not available as single discs, so if you want Predator 2 or Predators, you have to pony up for either this set or the 3-Movie Collection released earlier this year. (Only you know how much of a completist you are.) Predator remains one of the best sci-fi action films of the ’80s and reportedly it and Predator 2 received new 4K scans for their upgrade to UHD. Well, it shows. Fox’s transfers are exceptional and restore the original grain, while the HDR takes advantage of the format’s increased resolution to take advantage of muted jungle color palette of the first film, where previous releases were … murky. Unfortunately, Fox chose not to upgrade the sound mixes to Dolby Atmos. This year’s The Predator does have an Atmos mix, however. As with most 4K releases (especially with older films), almost all of the extras are only included on the accompanying 1080p blu-rays, with the first three films in the series only including the commentary on the 4K discs. (I wasn’t able to inspect the 4th film at press time, but the press release does seem to indicate that the extras will be included on that 4K disc.) —M.R.


Old Reliable: Six from the Criterion Collection

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Since their curation and execution are generally exceptional, it’s impossible to cull a “best of” from the Criterion Collection’s yearly output. And while I will always have my “Hey! What about….” films (Local Hero and Miller’s Crossing top that list), Criterion remains a cinephile treasure trove. —M.R.

Bull Durham (Criterion Collection, $22.97)
Bull Durham is the best baseball movie ever made. Fight me. I understand that cases can be made for films such as The Pride of the Yankees or Field of Dreams, but it ain’t gonna work. Not only does Bull Durham get the baseball right (Tim Robbins’ woeful pitching motion, notwithstanding) but it manages to be a sports movie that romantics can love and a romance that sports fans can’t help but fall for. It’s an odd and rarely successful combo to be sure, but at its heart, baseball, especially at the minor league level, is as quirky as they come, which is probably one of the reasons Bull Durham works so well. I watch it at least twice a year. Criterion has done their typical excellent job on this, with a new 4K transfer, supervised by director Ron Shelton and a new conversation between Shelton and film critic Michael Sragow, along with a long list of excellent, previously available, extras.

My Man Godfrey (Criterion Collection, $21.12)
Depression-era Hollywood produced some excellent films that reflected on the socio-economic conditions of the times and openly questioned the prevailing idea that capitalism and the never-ending desire for wealth was a good idea. Films like Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It with You and this one from Gregory La Cava raise some questions about the validity of the American Dream and class system and while they can be somewhat simplistic—we are talking about Hollywood, after all—they’re still interesting snapshots of the times and exceptionally entertaining. My Man Godfrey was the first film to receive Academy Award nominations in all four acting categories and is both funny and a stinging rebuke to the idea that good behavior and propriety can be ignored if you’re rich enough. The 1936 film received a new 4K digital restoration as well as the typical mini-film school worth of extras expected of The Criterion Collection.

Some Like It Hot (Criterion Collection, $27.99)
Over time, some films age poorly, others hold up quite well and still others gain a newfound layer of meaning or importance due to current events or how modern society views history. There’s a fair amount of film scholarship out there praising Some Like It Hot as being ahead of its time in regard to how it portrays things like cross-dressing and (inadvertently, or not) homosexuality, but as Sam Wasson writes in the included essay, director Billy Wilder likely wasn’t trying to make that point. In every instance where a modern sensibility might see Wilder or writer I.A.L. Diamond as having a more evolved sense of gender roles or sexuality, they were, in fact, probably just going for the laugh. Regardless of intent, the film was ahead of its time in many ways, and were it not a comedy, I find it hard to believe that a studio in 1959 would have made a film with these themes. Wasson also states that one’s appreciation of Some Like It Hot can’t get better over time because it’s brilliant right out of the box. (I mostly agree.) Both during her tragically short life and for decades afterwards, Monroe was largely portrayed as a bimbo who lucked into roles or slept her way to the top, but in recent years there’s been something of a reappraisal of Monroe. She was a remarkable woman with exceptional talent, none of it accidental, and if you had the old impression, watching Some Like It Hot again may give you a new appreciation for the film as a whole. Some Like It Hot is a masterpiece, plain and simple.

The Princess Bride (Criterion Collection, $20.83)
It’s not hyperbole to refer to The Princess Bride and one of the most beloved films of all time. In fact it’s inconceivable that there are people out there who don’t love this film, although I suppose that there may be people with no sense of romance, whimsy or humor. So quotable that at times it seems like every line of the film has entered the public consciousness, The Princess Bride is one of those films that you watch when you’re happy and want to stay that way, as well as something you reach for when you’re sad and need a little lift and it never, ever gets old. There are precious few movies that truly fit that bill. For this release, Criterion has pulled out all the stops, providing a new, magnificent 4K restoration, as well as a new program about William Goldman’s screenplay, a new interview with art director Richard Holland and a new program about the tapestry based on the original novel that author Goldman commissioned, all presented in special packaging made to look like a storybook.

The Tree Of Life (Criterion Collection, $26.08)
Terrence Malick  is probably the American filmmaker who could most be described as inscrutable. After his first two features, 1973’s Badlands and 1978’s Days of Heaven—both widely considered masterpieces—he virtually disappeared, not directing another film for two decades. He returned in 1998 with The Thin Red Line and has directed seven more features in the ensuing 20 years. 2011’s The Tree of Life is one of his more lauded recent efforts, a stunning achievement, presented here in a two-disc special edition which includes a new 4K digital restoration and the first release of the long-awaited 188-minute extended edition, as well as the original 139-minute cut. Nominated for three Academy Awards, The Tree Of Life is an ambitious film in every way. A nonlinear, largely experimental rumination on the meaning of life, it’s a visual, intellectual and metaphysical feast, shot by three-time Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant). I don’t suppose a couple of hundred words in a gift guide are going to hook someone who isn’t already pre-disposed to Malick’s work, but if there ever was a time to buy this film on BD, this is it. In addition to many previously released extras, the set also includes a new interview with star Jessica Chastain and senior visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, as well as two new video essays and a gorgeous 43-page booklet featuring essays by critics Roger Ebert and Kent Jones.

A Dry White Season (Criterion Collection, $26.99)
Starring Donald Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Zake Mokae, Jürgen Prochnow and Marlon Brando, Euzhan Palcy’s A Dry White Season is a film of firsts: The first major studio film directed by a black woman, the first U.S. film about Apartheid South Africa by a black filmmaker and the first time Brando was directed by a woman. Brando emerged from retirement to appear in the film for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, while he, Sutherland and Sarandon all cut their salaries in order to get the film made. A groundbreaking film in many respects, Criterion is releasing this film as a Director Approved Edition, with a new 4K digital restoration and a new interview with director Palcy by film critic Scott Foundas, as well as a 1989 interview with Donald Sutherland, and many other extras.


Give a Gift that Makes them Shout!

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If you’ve read these guides over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed a few distributors and retailers that make repeat appearances and there’s a simple explanation for that: They do excellent work. If there was a Cool Media Hall of Fame, Shout! Factory would be a charter inductee and chief among the reasons would be their Shout Select imprint. From noteworthy films making their first appearance on BD (Valley Girl, Murder By Death) to classics with new scans and new extras (The Jerk, Get Shorty, City Slickers) Shout Factory never disappoints. —M.R.

Valley Girl (Shout! Factory, $24.93)
Shot for $350,000 in just 20 days, Martha Coolidge’s Valley Girl is the standard-bearer for the ’80s teen dramedy. While it had much less of an impact on the national consciousness than, say, The Breakfast Club, for a certain subset, the alt-urban teen if you will, Valley Girl was nothing less than a revelation. Leads Nicolas Cage (in his first film using that name and cast before Coolidge knew he was actually a Coppola) and Deborah Foreman are simply note-perfect. A deft play on Romeo and Juliet with a touch of The Graduate, Valley Girl was about reaching outside your subculture and questioning what makes you truly you. Valley Girl helped lovestruck Punks, Rude Boys and Goths realize that maybe their social life wasn’t limited to the mosh pit and inspired more than a few kids to venture over their own Santa Monica Mountains to see what was going on in the seedier side of town.Thirty-five years later, Valley Girl holds up. The new 4K scan looks fantastic and the disc is loaded with extras, including a fascinating conversation between Coolidge and Cage from 2003.

Murder By Death (Shout! Factory, $19.97)
“Jamesir Bensonum.” “Double negative, and dog.” “Moose, moose, you imbecile!” If you’d seen Murder By Death, those phrases, even out of context, would have you laughing out loud and as dying to re-watch this under-known classic as I am. There are few films that boast a cast of this caliber, fewer still that are comedies and no other that is as start-to-finish funny as this film written by Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore. I dare you to try to list the bold-faced names in this one in one breath: Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote (in his only major acting appearance), James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker, Estelle Winwood (in her final role) and James Cromwell (in his first feature film role). Combined, they have a whopping 22 Academy Award nominations and five wins (and Capote received a Golden Globe nomination). A scathingly funny satire of classic detective fiction, the film features send ups of Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, and Sam Spade, and is a delightful mix of sight gags, slapstick, wordplay and copious racial and class satire.

The Jerk 40th Anniversary (Shout! Factory, $24.93)
A new 2K remaster and some great new extras accompany the 40th anniversary edition of this classic 1979 comedy, which kicked off a run of four memorable films from the genius pairing of Steve Martin and Carl Reiner. (The Man With Two Brains, All of Me, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid followed.) While there are devotees of Dumb and Dumber and it certainly has its moments, it simply wouldn’t exist without Martin’s 1970s stand-up act and The Jerk. While I appreciate the base humor of the Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels film, it lacked the sharp-witted satire and emotional heart of The Jerk. The new 25-minute conversation between Martin and Reiner is alone worth the price of admission.

Get Shorty Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, $28.43)
What would you get if you took The Player and made it funny, while adding some of the style of Out of Sight and one of the masters of crime fiction, Elmore Leonard? Well, Get Shorty, really. Considering the DNA that the latter two films share, that’s no surprise. The ensemble cast of John Travolta, gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo and a pre-Tony Soprano James Gandolfini is exceptional, and the script by Scott Frank (Out of Sight) is as sharp and witty a satire of both Hollywood and gangster films that might just take themselves a little too seriously. Travolta is at the height of his “resurgence,” smooth and confident without being cocksure, his strut on full display, while DeVito is note-perfect as a vain and phony mega Hollywood star, one of the more brilliant satirical elements in the film. While the only new feature is a new a new 4K transfer, the rest of the extras are great, especially a commentary with the always entertaining director, Barry Sonnenfeld.

City Slickers (Shout! Factory, $24.99)
If you’re like me, City Slickers falls into the category of movies you liked when they came out, but you’re not sure if they hold up. Are the jokes dated? Were they funny when I was 22, but not so much now? Well, rest easy. Sure, there are a few jokes that might be a little juvenile and Billy Crystal’s shtick is a tad over the top now and then, but for the most part, this is a film with a well-crafted screenplay and actors who know when to improvise to great effect. Daniel Stern reminds one why he’s one of the best (and most underused) comedic actors around (the birthday party scene is side-splittingly funny), and the late Bruno Kirby (whose life was tragically cut short at 57 due to Leukemia) was simply one of the most versatile actors of his generation. This Shout Select release boasts a new 4K scan, as well as copious existing extras, including a hysterical commentary with Crystal, Stern and director Ron Underwood.


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