With only two shopping weeks left before Christmas Day arrives it’s time to start thinking about what DVD and Blu-ray titles you’ll be picking up for your loved ones this year. CityNews.ca’s resident film critic Brian McKechnie has been endlessly viewing DVD and Blu-ray titles the past few months to find the best titles to recommend and has found something for everyone on your list.
To make our 2010 DVD/Blu-ray Holiday Guide more user-friendly all titles link to Amazon.ca. Most of these titles can also be found online or in-store at Chapters-Indigo, HMV, Best Buy, Future Shop, Walmart, or your local video store.
This year a lot of great films from Hollywood’s past got the Blu-ray treatment. The original King Kong is definitely one that deserves the high-def transfer and is a worthy gift to the collector on your list. Same goes for the Humphrey Bogart films The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which both look excellent on Blu-ray.
If you have someone into musicals on your list the Blu-ray upgrades of The Sound of Music, The Music Man, and A Star is Born come highly recommended. Dad or grandpa into war pictures? Mutiny on the Bounty, Apocalypse Now (Full Disclosure Edition), and The Bridge on the River Kwai are all must-get titles that are loaded with amazing extras.
My ultimate classic recommendation on Blu-ray has to be Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest though. Not only is it one of the greatest films of the 70s (and one of Jack Nicholson’s best roles) but the Blu-ray set is packed with extras, including a 52-page companion book, themed deck of cards, and an envelope of photos and reprints of posters (set is pictured above). Plus the film itself just looks stunning on Blu-ray.
For the person on your list who has not upgraded to Blu-ray yet Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection will earn you enough brownie points to make up for that birthday gift you forgot. The collection comes with 24 films featuring Bogart, including Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Key Largo. The set also comes with a feature-length documentary about the Warner brothers and their relationship with Bogart, and a companion book.
I watch more TV shows via DVD and Blu-ray than I do on actual TV these days. And there are some great shows I would never have caught or been able to keep up with otherwise. Comedies like Glee (The Complete First Season on Blu-ray), Modern Family (The Complete First Season on Blu-ray), Parenthood (The Complete First Season on DVD), and Party Down (Season 1 & Season 2 on DVD), as well as the drama Gossip Girl (Season 1 – 3 Giftset on DVD), are all shows I’ve gotten hooked on courtesy of being able to watch episodes back-to-back in marathon sessions.
If more serious TV is what you need, look no further than the amazing Spartacus: Blood and Sand (The Complete First Season on Blu-ray), the WWII HBO mini-series The Pacific (complete set on Blu-ray), and Durham County (Season 1 & 2 on DVD). These titles, along with the complete series of HBO’s kick-ass western Deadwood (Complete Series on Blu-ray), The Tudors (The Royal Collection on DVD), and Rome (Complete Series on Blu-ray), should get you lots of smiles and hugs on Christmas morning. The made-for-TV movie Temple Grandin (DVD), starring Claire Danes, is also must-see dramatic TV.
Retro TV is another great gift idea that is not only nostalgic but fun. Both The A-Team (Complete Series on DVD) and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (Complete Series on DVD) have special sets that come in wicked packaging that replicates the vans used by the characters in both shows (a GMC Vandura for The A-Team and the “Mystery Machine” for Scooby-Doo). The van packaging holds the DVDs in unique ways and looks awesome on a bookshelf or DVD rack. Bionic Woman (Complete First Season on DVD) is also a nice oldie-but-goody to reminisce over.
The almighty box set is the best gift to give or get on Christmas Day. And there are some that will make even the hardest person to shop for jump for joy. The Alien Anthology on Blu-ray is hands-down the best set ever released for the Alien series. The quality of the films (even Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection) in HD are mind-blowing, and the set itself is extremely sweet. Some other excellent Blu-ray sets include the Back to the Future Trilogy: 25th Anniversary Edition, the Robocop Trilogy, and The Goonies: 25th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which comes with a Goonies-themed board game, souvenir magazine, and 10 collectible prints.
Other worthy Blu-ray box sets I recommend are the Elvis Blu-ray Collection (includes Jailhouse Rock, Viva Las Vegas, and Elvis on Tour), the Martin Scorsese Collection (includes The Departed, Goodfellas, and The Aviator), and the Oliver Stone Collection (includes Natural Born Killers, Any Given Sunday, and Alexander Revisited). Each can be picked up for a good price and are quality gifts.
A regular DVD box set I’ve enjoyed recently is the Ultimate Comedy Box Set from Alliance Films. This set comes with 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Zack & Miri Make A Porno, and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. It doesn’t take up too much shelf space, costs about the same as one DVD, and features some hilarious comedies. Also from Alliance Films are two wonderful director sets I recommend: the Coen Brothers’ Collection (includes No Country For Old Men, Intolerable Cruelty, The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and A Serious Man), and the Terry Gilliam Collection (includes Time Bandits, Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, and Brothers Grimm). While both are not complete collections they too don’t take up much space are quite affordable for what you get.
Something not a lot of people think about giving as gifts are documentaries. While I agree a film on how chemicals are killing us is not something I would be happy to receive as a gift, there are many feel-good docs available that are just as entertaining as a feature film. Some of these include Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel (DVD), Banksy’s graffiti doc Exit Through the Gift Shop (DVD), and for comic book lovers Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics (DVD) is an absolute must.
Disney has been doing great with their Disneynature line, and Oceans and The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos are both quality Blu-ray releases for the nature lover on your list. Disney also released three excellent docs surrounding their studio recently: Waking Sleeping Beauty (about the struggles the Disney animation department had between 1984 and 1994), Walt and El Grupo (about Walt Disney’s political visit to South America during the 1940s), and The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (about the duo who gave us memorable musical moments in films like Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks). These are only available on DVD but film buffs and Disney fanatics will be keen to pop these into the player as soon as they get them Christmas Day.
Out Of This World And Under Your Skin
Sci-fi and horror movies as gifts are always big hits with fans of these genres. This year saw cult favourites The Exorcist and The Evil Dead make their way onto Blu-ray in excellent releases, and a recent film that covers both genres and would be perfect under the tree is Splice, starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. It’s equally geeky as it is creepy.
The Criterion Blu-ray release of David Cronenberg’s twisted 1983 masterpiece Videodrome will get you the best results from your beloved sci-fi nerd. The film tells the story of a local Toronto TV station manager (played by James Woods) who enters an unknown world when he becomes obsessed with a pirated video signal for a reality show called “Videodrome”. The Criterion Blu-ray is a beautiful set that has an amazing HD transfer and comes with a booklet of essays and a ton of special features.
If you have someone into B-grade sci-fi or horror to buy for then the Blu-ray versions of Mars Attacks! and Forbidden Planet should be high on their list, along with Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. Regular DVD releases of Roger Corman cult classics like Piranha, or the double features The Terror Within/Dead Space and The Evil/Twice Dead, are all fun (and cheap) titles that no one will expect to receive.
George Lucas’s pre-Star Wars film THX 1138, and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (Steelbook Edition) are both beautiful Blu-ray releases that I’ve picked up for a couple of people on my list. And the 3-Disc Extended Collector’s Edition of Avatar is a must for any home theatre enthusiast as it will show off their system capabilities perfectly.
On the animated sci-fi front the Warner Home Video titles Batman Under the Red Hood, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, and Superman/Shazam! Return of the Black Adam are all awesome on Blu-ray. The series Star Wars: Clone Wars is a show I recently discovered on Blu-ray and have fallen in love with it. Season One and Season Two are both available, and if you have a Star Wars fan that doesn’t have this in their collection go ahead and cross them off your list now.
Kids will watch anything you put in front of them so why not get something you and them both will enjoy? Recent animated titles like Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, and Despicable Me (available December 14) are three of the best films of the year, and all of them look amazing on Blu-ray (these are must-own Blu-ray titles too). If you’re a fan of the Shrek movies then you’ll be pleased to know that Shrek: The Whole Story was just released on DVD and Blu-ray too. All four Shrek films are included and the set is loaded with special features. Needless to say the Blu-ray version is the one I would recommend as the HD image showcases the animation brilliantly.
Older kids might be interested in Disney’s Camp Rock 2 (Blu-ray and DVD), which is surprisingly tolerable considering the Jonas Brothers star in it. The classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang got an excellent Blu-ray/DVD combo release recently and is one of those magical Hollywood musicals that kids still seem to adore. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Blu-ray) and Ramona and Beezus (Blu-ray) are also fun little family films.
With the recent surge in 3-D televisions hitting the market you might be looking for some 3-D Blu-ray titles to surprise the family with. While I’m not a huge proponent of the new technology, I did find the animated films Open Season and Monster House quite stunning in the 3-D format, and Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore was a much more enjoyable watch in 3-D than I expected it to be.
I admit holiday films are not good gifts unless they are received before Christmas Day. Getting something to open on Christmas Eve though is always a nice idea, and if you can sit down and enjoy it with your family (and it’s holiday-themed) why not pick one of these titles up for someone close.
The classic White Christmas was recently released on Blu-ray and it looks and sounds great in HD. The Peanuts Holiday Collection, which includes A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and comes with stick-on window ornaments, is a very sweet set and is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Although Disney’s A Christmas Carol was not well-received when it hit theatres last year, I quite enjoyed it and feel the Blu-ray release is a worthy watch around Christmas.
For kids Phineas and Ferb’s A Very Perry Christmas (DVD) is a cute little Disney title the youngsters should get a kick out of, and for adults Coopers’ Christmas (DVD) is a hilarious and raunchy flick starring Dave Foley and The Daily Show’s Jason Jones and Samantha Bee.
One of my favourite recent Christmas movies is Elf, starring Will Ferrell as a man who was raised in the North Pole and then heads to New York City to find his real father (played by James Caan) when he finds out he’s not actually a Christmas Elf. It’s silly, sweet, and extremely funny at times. This year Elf got an Ultimate Collector’s Edition release on Blu-ray and it comes in a wicked tin can loaded with goodies. Besides the HD version of the film and the cool tin, you get a stocking, an Elf-themed magnetic picture frame, an Elf magnet, gift tags, and a soundtrack sampler.
Did I miss something you would recommend? Post a comment below or email email@example.com.