An extended global pandemic may have wreaked havoc on studio release schedules, but movie fandom remains. In fact, lovers of cinema of all brow levels could really use a gift about now. Fortunately, there are no shortage of solutions for that particular problem. Here are 10 of them.
1. A Big Shout Out – The Ultimate Laika Collection
The two-disc sets of LAIKA’s greatest hits (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings) are effectively mini-Criterion editions for stop-motion fanatics. Shout! Factory’s new versions are as pristine and crisp as you’d expect from the films’ precise animators, and the bevy of new special features are curated for those LAIKA diehards who want to see every point of articulation in their makings-of. Physical booklet essays from critics and animation historians enhance the new bonus content included with each movie: Alongside feature-length storyboards and copious concept art for each movie, the films come with featurettes of the crews discussing the trials and tribulations of each undertaking. Taken as a whole, they act as a miniature production history for the studio while revealing what the insiders saw as the toughest or most interesting aspects of films unlike nearly any being made today. Add in deep-dives into dozens of individual puppets, and the consistency of the bonus features could make any LAIKA superfan into a walking encyclopedia of the animation house’s work. —Jacob Oller
2. Buy the Book, Part I – This is How You Make a Movie
Being able to write about movies, talk about movies and—yes—make movies doesn’t always require a lot of traditional schooling. Its education is one often done by osmosis. Consuming films teaches you their language, like watching familiar TV in another tongue. You get a sense of the techniques and tropes, the working vocabulary of the form, with just your eyes. So it’s only fitting that Tim Grierson’s This is How You Make a Movie is filled with images. It’s effectively an extended glossary, somewhere between a film 101 course and a movie blog, offering to connect the dots between what you see and what’s done to create it through extensive examples. An informed appreciation of the craft always leads to better filmmaking. But the book’s scope—a generalist’s guide to discussing cinema as informed by some of the greats—particularly lends itself to those that love to talk film, whether or not they want to make their own. To achieve this, Grierson pulls from both his own interviews and those of others where masters like Sofia Coppola, Julie Dash and Mike Leigh lend insight into their filmmaking choices—things like keeping a script’s ending vague, shooting with all-natural light or building characters with the actors themselves. Just skimming the thing will probably add a film or two to your watchlist. Written in plain language and paired with evocative shots or behind-the-scenes stills—with three examples given for each identified element of filmmaking (which span from a director’s framing or shot length decisions to the match-cuts and transitions of editors)—the book holds your hand without talking down to you, which in turn makes it an ideal gift for anyone who enjoys a good movie. —J.O.
3. Setting the Standard, by Any Criteria – The Criterion Collection
Criterion has a permanent place on our Top 10 gift lists for the simplest of reasons—there is always a good gift—a great gift—for the movie lover in your life. We’ll feature some of the new, individual releases in our Expanded Cut gift list, but here, let’s focus on Criterion as a source of larger collections. Forget the small gesture—go big and complete. Do they like Fellini? Then make it The Essential Fellini. If they ‘ve always wanted to see some Tati, give them The Complete Jacques Tati. They love large beasts that embody the fears and trauma inflicted by Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Hard to go wrong with Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975. Bergman, you say? Time to go full Bergman with Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema. For that loved one who likes the freshest Criterion releases, there’s Once Upon a Time in China: The Complete Films for an collection of Tsui Hark’s “epic cycle” that is “not only a dazzling showcase for some of the most astonishing action set pieces ever committed to film but also a rousing celebration of Chinese identity, history and culture.” There’s simply no better place to look when you want to render a movie lover speechless. —Michael Burgin
4. An Animated Erin Go Bragh – The Irish Folklore Trilogy
Cartoon Saloon has quietly been setting the gold standard for animation over the last decade and change, capping their recent run with last year’s stunning Wolfwalkers. Combined with 2009’s The Secret of Kells and continued with 2014’s Song of the Sea, their Oscar-nominated Irish Folklore Trilogy has been collected into an incredible Blu-ray set with enough special features to sink The Emerald Isle. All of that goes towards gleaning a deeper understanding and appreciation for a house style that our own Andy Crump describes as “an immediately identifiable visual language defined by vivid bursts of colors and a pair of conflicting aesthetics: Woodblock printing for the urban; free-form expressions for literally everything else.” Watching all three of these movies will convince you that magic exists right outside your door; digging into the interviews, behind-the-scenes production videos and hefty booklet will explain how it was created right before your eyes. J.O.
5. Puzzle Power – Tenyo’s 2,000 Piece Disney All Characters Stained Glass Jigsaw Puzzle
By now, your average pandemic puzzler has logged some serious hours piecing together 500- and 1,000-piece collections of cardboard galore. Pop culture poster collages, vintage drawings of plants, cool animal scenes—they’ve seen it all! But there’s still room to grow! Challenges remain! Tenyo’s stained glass puzzle provides weeks and possibly even months of fractured pondering for that film fan who also loves the Mouse. —M.B.
6. Buy the Book, Part II – Fun City Cinema: New York and the Movies That Made It
A meaty tome about New York City, the movies, and their constant and continued intersection, film critic Jason Bailey’s Fun City Cinema is a fascinating historical and cultural document. So thorough with its investigations into the city and its cinema that it needed to spin out a separate (and excellent) podcast featuring bonus interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Walter Hill, Alex Winter, Lizzie Borden and every film critic under the sun, the Fun City Cinema project is catnip for those that want to dive deeply into its highly specific subject. If the films of New York were a grad school seminar, this would be its textbook and each class would feature the smartest guest speakers you’ve ever heard. Looking at movies like The Jazz Singer, King Kong, The Naked City, Sweet Smell of Success, Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver, Wall Street, Kids, 25th Hour, and Frances Ha, Fun City Cinema is that fascinating and all-too-rare project that leaves you more interested in its subjects than when you started. —J.O.
7. Putting the Fun(ko) in Movie Fandom
We’ve long sang the praises of our list’s other perennial inhabitant, Funko Pop! There’s simply, seemingly, no corner of pop culture that hasn’t yielded a Funko figure. No matter how one slices their own fandom—by franchise, by time period, by actor, by genre, by moment—Funko has a figure for that. In fact, they likely have multiple figures. Do you like Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty in Bladerunner, then here, choose between Batty “basic” and the “tears in rain” version. Like John Wick? Choose between early in the movie and … later. Ultimately, figuring out which Funko Pop! is the best gift for a loved one or colleague can be an exercise in friendship undertaken well before the gift is given. Casual conversation, an eye for the stray detail, and to the internet for an affordable sign you’ve paid attention. —M.B.
8. Pop Open a Six-Pack – Columbia Classics Collection, Vol. 2
Are you, or do you know anyone with a 4K setup? If so, look this way. The six films in this set (Anatomy of a Murder, Oliver!, Taxi Driver, Stripes, Sense and Sensibility and The Social Network) are all bona fide classics with approximately 8,000 Academy Award nominations combined. (This last figure may be a slight exaggeration.) Five of the films have been restored from the original camera negatives (The Social Network was shot digitally), and the set includes 1080p Blu-rays, with all but The Social Network sourced from the 4K masters. Also included are over 30 hours of new and previously released extra features, an 80-page hard-bound book on the history and impact of each film, as well as a bonus Blu-ray featuring 20 classic Columbia Pictures live-action and animated shorts, ranging from the Three Stooges to Puppy!: A Hotel Transylvania Short and including four Academy Award nominees and two winners. Last year’s Volume 1 sold out in a jiffy and fetches upwards of 2.5x its retail price on the secondary market. To date, only one of those films, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, has been released as a stand-alone title. —Mark Rabinowitz
9. Fill in Your Blanks – Ultimate Movie-Lovers Fill-In Poster
Birding life lists. Bucket lists. If we love it, if we find it worthwhile, we like to track it. (And frankly, during the pandemic, if we want to even remember we saw it, we might want to track it, too.) This 2×3 foot poster provides film lovers with both an archive and future directions for 1,500 must-see movies, organized by genre. Whether you’ve been meaning to finish off, explore further, or start a journey in movie watching, this poster is a good way to chart the experience. —M.B.
10. All Mediums Converge – Scott Pilgrim Miniatures the World Board Game: Painted Edition
For many, their exposure to the world of Scott Pilgrim comes from Edgar Wright’s 2010 film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley 2004-10 graphic novel series. But since a Scott Pilgrim enthusiast probably already has the movie (in several iterations), why not shift focus and give them this game from Oni Press? In doing so, you’re embracing the fluidity of it all, as these days, movies are books are games are TV are movies again are … you get the picture (and they get the gift). —M.B.