Posted Fri Nov 14, 2014 at 12:00 PM PST by Kevin Yeoman
The holiday season is right around the corner, which means it's never too early to start stocking up on all the great gifts and stocking stuffers for your film-loving family and friends.
This year has seen plenty of Blu-ray releases and other High-Def goodies that are sure to satisfy everyone. Have a hard-to-buy-for uncle who loves horror movies? Cross him off the list with titles that run the gamut from terrifying, to hilariously gross, to artfully sublime. Action fans will be delighted by the onslaught of blockbusters that lit up theaters and will do the same for their living room. Whether you're in the market for some family films, comedies, the latest collection of great television programs, or even a Criterion release, there's a good chance you can find it (or some inspiration) here.
Without further ado, let us present High-Def Digest's 2014 Holiday Gift Guide to get you started with the most important part of your holiday gift-buying needs:
It may be more well known for Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas,' but that doesn't mean 'Holiday Inn' isn't also a fantastic movie. This recently released Blu-ray offers viewers the chance to choose from a brilliantly restored black-and-white version or the less-than-stellar colorized one, which may prove to be just the thing to quiet your philistine relatives when they come visit your house during the season. Like 'It's a Wonderful Life,' 'Holiday Inn' is the kind of film that creates a near-perfect holiday atmosphere, meaning it's ready to be watched again and again throughout the season.
While it may be hard to believe that Joe Dante's 'Gremlins' could possibly qualify as a "holiday" film, it is equally unfathomable that the film is now old enough to be thinking about buying a sports car to fill the nameless mid-life dread it feels deep inside. That's right, 'Gremlins' has hit the 30-year mark, and to celebrate, Warner Home Video will release the film in December – officially putting it on your unconventional holiday movie list (along with 'Die Hard'), and your actual holiday shopping list.
It seems as though 30 years ago, many movies had Christmas on the brain. And while 'A Christmas Story' is a little more conventional than, say, 'Gremlins,' it nonetheless skewers the Christmas season with some pointed observations about family and how they can be driven a little mad over the holidays. Since its release, the tale of Ralphie and his quest to own a Red Rider BB gun has inspired countless quotes and leg lamp imitations that don't just recall the film, but have come to evoke the spirit of the holidays as well.
Classics making their way to Blu-ray are nothing new – especially when the holidays roll around – and the release of the Barbara Stanwyck-starring farcical holiday film 'Christmas in Connecticut' is certainly one that could easily find a place in anyone's Christmas-themed library. Whether you've seen it a million times, or you've never seen it at all, the genuine holiday atmosphere created by this 1945 holiday effort is likely the film's greatest strength, seconded only by its narrative's ambitions. There are more modern films that could be part of your holiday screenings, but sometimes the season just calls for the classics.
The sequel to one of the strongest offerings from Dreamworks Animation in a very long time, 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' was, more or less, a forgone conclusion after the initial offering grossed more than $500 million worldwide. But the film still managed to deliver a rousing second effort that built on the series' specific, scaly mythology, while also providing some new characters and scenarios that make the story feel decidedly less like a shameless cash-grab, and more like something the whole family can get behind.
Miyazaki films aren't just great entertainment for the whole family; they're works of art that often take the magical and the realistic to new heights, enhancing them both. This historical, aeronautical effort from the celebrated director was hailed as one of his greatest accomplishments, which is saying something for a man who has directed over 25 films, television programs, and shorts since the '70s. There's no shortage of Miyazaki's magic touch here, which makes 'The Wind Rises' an even more impressive and meaningful effort, considering it is believed to be the director's last.
Earnest family films can be something of a hard sell these days, but 'Earth to Echo' may be one of the few releases in recent memory that manages to evoke the charm of popular '80s – or, specifically, Spielberg – films without solely feeling like a blatant rip-off. This charming family film is not without its faults, but the audience it's aiming for is unlikely to notice or be bothered by them. It may not appeal to those who have matured and (probably) become cynical, but for those looking for a film that will delight younger audiences, this is a solid bet.
Competing for the biggest hit with kids and their parents, 'The Lego Movie' seemingly came out of nowhere to take a ubiquitous children's toy and give it a whole new (animated) life, thanks to the directing duo of Philip Lord and Chris Miller. This tale of an average Joe (voiced by Chris Pratt) finding himself suddenly thrust into an extraordinary adventure is not unfamiliar, but the film's blend of charming humor and sly pop culture references (which includes a whole new kind of Batman) makes this a treat for everyone in the family.
By now most parents are negotiating with their children to let go of 'Let if Go,' but that doesn't mean one of the biggest Blu-ray releases of the year isn't going to be on someone's wish list. The Disney animation machine created a tremendously popular film that rebirthed the notion of the Disney princess, and reestablished the value of these film's musical components, which, since the popularity of Pixar redefined what it meant to be an animated film, had seemingly fallen by the wayside. 'Frozen' has been out for several months and still it seems like a shoe in for a very popular holiday gift.
One of the biggest films of the summer also cemented Angelina Jolie's status as a true A-list actor. This revisionist telling of a classic fairy tale – and one of Disney's earliest and most enduring animated films – takes the point of view of the villain and manages to transform it a unique origin story in its own right. In addition to bringing a new perspective to the standard hero-villain model, 'Maleficent' is also the kind of effects-heavy blockbuster that has come to define the summer movie season, and because of that, this feminist tale has plenty to offer home theater enthusiasts as well.
Over the last few years, YA novels have suddenly become synonymous with post-apocalyptic, dystopian societies. The success of 'The Hunger Games' spawned numerous contenders to the throne, like 'Divergent,' 'The Giver,' and certainly 'The Maze Runner.' But of those titles, only 'The Maze Runner' felt like it was trying to branch out and discover something different in its YA sensibilities and its setting – which has more to do with 'Cube' than Katniss Everdeen. The film was a solid performer in theaters over the summer, and will certainly make for a great gift for fans of the book, or those who like their dystopias filled with plucky teens.
Unlike 'The Maze Runner,' this sequel to the 2011's 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' takes a look at the beginning of the end, through a very particular and familiar lens. Directed by 'Cloverfield' helmer Matt Reeves, 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' takes the next step in the tale of Caesar and his chemically enhanced brethren, as they do battle with – which, as we know, thanks to Charlton Heston's 1968 classic – the species they are destined to overthrow for control of the planet. This is one of the rare occasions where a reboot/sequel combination was highly anticipated and well-received, making it not only one of the better films to grace theaters this summer, but one that will undoubtedly make it on many a holiday wish list as well.
After a two-film absence, Bryan Singer returned to the director's chair for the biggest entry in the franchise he launched all the way back in 2000. The fact that 14 years have passed since the first 'X-Men' film is almost as unbelievable as Hugh Jackman's outrageously veiny, fat-free physique. This time-traveling adventure based on the memorable X-Men two-parter by Chris Claremont and John Byrne spins a universe-building yarn that successfully combines the 'First Class' mutants with the more modern versions Singer is associated with. The film was a hit with audiences over the summer, and considering it only recently hit the Blu-ray market, 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' is a worthy addition to any fan's library.
What would a Holiday Gift Guide be if it didn't include the biggest movie of the year? Marvel hit it out of the park (box office-wise) with its two theatrical releases in 2014, but few would have guessed this space-faring gamble that was James Gunn's slightly off-kilter, '70s-music loving 'Guardians of the Galaxy' would awkwardly dance its way into the hearts and minds of American (and global) audiences. And with the recent announcement that 'Guardians of the Galaxy 2' would be hitting theaters much sooner than anyone anticipated, this Blu-ray isn't just a holiday must-have, it's practically required viewing for the next spate of Marvel movies.
Yes, the four anthropomorphic, amphibious "brothers" named for some of history's greatest artists may have been given a Michael Bay-approved digital makeover – which included the addition of somewhat distracting (and flaring) nostrils – but that doesn't mean 2014's live action 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' doesn't qualify as a great gift for that young-ish person on your list. It's totally the pixel-crush video-game version of what was at one point a beloved – and ubiquitous – part of pop culture, and that is, to a certain extent, a part of this particular iteration's appeal. Make no mistake; this one will make probably make someone very happy.
Certainly one of the biggest and best surprises of the year, 'Edge of Tomorrow' didn't quite receive the love it deserved in theaters over the summer, but the "reference quality" Blu-ray that was released in October – complete with curious semi-re-branding as 'Live. Die. Repeat.' Is deserving of a spot on someone's shelf. This energetic Tom Cruise actioner by way of 'Groundhog Day' also proved why Doug Liman is at the top of his game doing these kinds of solid action features with strong, charming leads. Action films are popular around the holidays, and as one of the best to have been released in 2014, 'Edge of Tomorrow' should be at the top of everyone's list.
'Sideways' is one of those films that could easily be considered a straight comedy, but, at its core, it can also be considered a drama with comedic elements about failure, loneliness, and sorrow. The fact that it's so funny is just another great example of how well the film balances tone and intent. One the finest films in Alexander Payne's catalogue, and certainly a shining jewel in Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church's oeuvres, it's been a long while since this film was a serious awards contender (and winner), so perhaps this 10th anniversary edition will make a nice gift for those who were fans of it back then, and have worn out their DVD (or previous Blu-ray) copy.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the phrase: "Philip Seymour Hoffman starring in a film based on the work of acclaimed spymaster John le Carré." Yes, 2014 was a difficult year, due to the very untimely passing of Hoffman, but he left us with an amazing collection of films (including this one) to remember him by. Here, le Carré steps away from the Cold War to focus on the War on Terror with chillingly poignant political and social results. Featuring an all-star cast that includes, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, and Willem Dafoe, this could make for the best gift that no one knew they wanted.
Another anniversary edition, this one is of an influential and controversial Oliver Stone film. Featuring fantastic performances from Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, and Robert Downey Jr., 'Natural Born Killers' explores the media's obsession with violence by becoming an orgy of mayhem and hallucinogenic images that flirted with the boundaries of cinematic decency. This edition would make the perfect gift for that Oliver Stone fan on your list (you'll know if you have one, believe me) or a younger cinephile that perhaps hasn't had the chance to partake in one of Stone's most nightmarish and pointed critiques of American culture.
John Michael McDonagh made a splash with 'The Guard,' and his most recent effort sees him reteamed with Brendan Gleeson to tell the tale of an Irish priest who's heard too much in a confession. Blending the kind of black comedy and drama he and his brother Martin McDonagh are so well known for, John Michael has crafted one of the strongest, and unsurprisingly overlooked dramas of the year. With fantastic performances all around, this Blu-ray would make an excellent gift that may just broaden the horizons of its recipient.
One of the easiest calls someone can make when buying a gift for a film buff is that he or she will almost certainly have an interest in picking up a "new" version or "cut" of a film that was said to have been ravaged by the meddling hands of a studio that didn't know any better. This reassembled 251-minute cut of Sergio Leone's 'One Upon a Time in America' is (for the time being) the closest fans will get to seeing what the director had originally intended for his four-hour crime saga, starring the likes of Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, and more. Whether the film buff on your list has seen other versions of this film a thousand times, or you're just introducing them to a film with a storied Hollywood history, this Blu-ray is a sure bet.
By now, the found footage subgenre has all but run its course. What makes 'As Above, So Below' different from the Dollar Store horror of, say, 'Paranormal Activity' is that it has ambitions beyond the domestic. It can be difficult to take a relatively new concept that has become rather tired and make it feel interesting again. While this Paris-set horror film doesn't necessarily break new ground in terms of the subgenre, it at least takes the concept of found footage and gives it a spark of life that keeps it from feeling so static. Still, for fans of shaky cam scares and POV kills, there's a good chance this fright-fest will make someone's holiday.
Zombies are not inherently funny, and neither are Nazi's, and yet somehow, the 'Dead Snow' franchise (apparently this is a franchise, now) has managed to turn them both into the bloody premise of a cultish horror-comedy. This time, the game is all about upping the ante and finding even more inventive, gory, and unsettling ways to kill those characters unlucky enough to have crossed paths with the undead villains of WW II. For those who're looking for a little chuckle to go along with all the bloodletting, 'Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead' might just make the perfect gift.
Future 'Doctor Strange' director Scott Derrickson brought this creepy exorcism drama to filmgoers over the summer. While it offers some genuine scares (for those inclined to be terrified by religious horror), it also features some truly strong (maybe too strong) depictions of a New York accent by Eric Bana and his on-screen wife, Olivia Munn. This stylish film makes for good viewing on Blu-ray, and while it may be the antithesis of what the season represents, there are likely a horror fan or two who wouldn't think it blasphemous to receive as a gift.
Some might debate the placement of Jonathan Glazer's sumptuous, seductive 'Under the Skin' in the horror section, but, well, they'd be wrong. This eerie, hypnotic, and often surreal take on the collective fascination/fear we have with what lies beyond the stars, is also a powerful examination of the male gaze. With a stunningly understated performance from Scarlett Johansson, gorgeous cinematography, sound design, and enough subtext to choke a horse, this artfully crafted film might just be the perfect gift for that special someone who is always on the look out for something special.
Sure, the film's release coincided with an event that had the actions of the police being scrutinized mightily, but the film still managed to quietly become a modest hit that suggested the future bankability of its stars (and stars of 'New Girl'), Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. This comedic tale of law enforcement gone wrong takes a simple premise and lets it spiral out of control (which will be familiar to those who followed the news this summer), but most of the laughs come from the film letting Wayans and Johnson do their thing. At any rate, whether the recipient saw it in theaters and loved it, or is constantly on the lookout for new comedies, 'Let's Be Cops' might be exactly what's needed to put a smile on someone's face this holiday season.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller continue their box office and critical dominance with the follow-up to their unlikely smash-hit/television reboot, '21 Jump Street.' This time, instead of looking incredibly old and going undercover in high school, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum take to looking old in college and offering various turns on the gags that made the first one such a success. Sometimes you can't recapture lightning in a bottle, but if '22 Jump Street' proves anything, it's that you can make a full-length feature out of commenting on that fact.
'Weird Al' Yankovic had a banner year in 2014, so it makes sense that his 1989 foray into being an unlikely leading man would find its way to Blu-ray, courtesy of the fine folks over at Shout! Factory. With gags on everything from 'Rambo' to 'Indiana Jones' to 'Gandhi,' 'UHF' wasn't just a loser-with-a-heart-of-gold story, it also turned into an unexpectedly hilarious riff on popular culture, complete with a 'Weird Al' spoof of Dire Straits' 'Money For Nothing.' This will make the perfect gift for the 'Weird' person in your family.
Jenny Slate gets a well-deserved chance at a starring role (since she's arguably the best part of almost everything she's in), in this sharp comedy about a young, struggling stand-up comedian who is suddenly faced with the prospect of having an abortion. And yet, despite its hot-button topic, the film is, at its heart, a charming romantic comedy that offers enough of an edge on an otherwise conventional narrative to make it seem wholly original and entertaining. If you have a fan of rom-coms on your list, this slightly different approach to the genre might be exactly what they're looking for.
Not many people would have thought Seth Rogen and Zac Efron would make for a charming and hilarious comedic duo, but 'Neighbors' certainly proves that theory wrong. This coming-of-age story tells the tale of a reluctantly maturing young couple and the temptation/annoyance that is the fraternity that just moved in next door. With plenty of off-the-cuff humor and pratfalls, this film became one of the biggest comedy hits of the summer. For those who love raunchy humor with a little heart, this one might be a perfect stocking stuffer.
The final season of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' has come to Blu-ray, and would make the perfect gift for the resident Trekkie/completist on your shopping list. This 6-disc set includes all 25 episodes of the season, along with high-def extras exploring the impact 'TNG' had on the 'Star Trek' universe and how the series was far more influential than many might be aware. Winter can sometimes feel like its own 5-year mission, so why not make it a little easier with this season of a sci-fi classic?
Although Peter Capaldi just wrapped his first season as the new iteration of The Doctor, fans of 'Doctor Who' can relive all his adventures with this 4-disc set that includes every episode, exploring Clara's relationship with this new, distant, and somewhat dark Doctor. 'Doctor Who' has never been bigger, so it's a good bet this series will make for a great gift come time for the holidays (and the 'Doctor Who Christmas Special').
Several years after Jack Bauer walked off the screen and out of our lives forever, '24: Live Another Day' brought the anti-terrorist expert back for a surprisingly well-made, entertaining, and fast-paced 12-episode season that suggests the best of Bauer is not necessarily behind him. This collection of the most recent season is a must for fans of the series, and those who are always itching to see Kiefer Sutherland reprise his most famous role.
Comic book fans don't have to venture to the theater to see their favorite heroes onscreen. In its second season, The CW's 'Arrow' managed to raise the bar for comic book series on television. Combining a thoughtful examination of familiar hero themes with fantastic action sequences that make the most of what a TV series has to offer, the ongoing adventures of the Emerald Archer is a perfect gift for the comic book fan who like his epic stories in 23 installments.
One of the greatest American filmmakers of all time gets the box-set treatment, just in time for the holidays. Containing 'Duel,' 'Sugarland Express,' 'Jaws,' '1941,' 'E.T,' 'Always,' 'Jurassic Park,' and 'The Lost World,' chances are this magnificent box set will have something for everyone. More that just a box of movies, though, this set contains a boatload of extras that dig deep into Spielberg's career and his impact as a filmmaker. You don't have to know a Dawson Leery to know that the 'Steven Spielberg Director's Collection' will make for a great gift.
This year, Shout! Factory released 'Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series' on Blu-ray, much to the appreciation of '80s children everywhere. Since its run ended in 1991, the series (as well as star and creator Paul Reubens) has become something of a slightly tainted cultural relic that is both bizarre and beloved at the same time. With the recent Broadway revival of the Pee-wee Herman character, this box set was put out on the market just in time to capitalize on the vapors of that resurgence. At any rate, this will make for an amazing gift for those nostalgic few who like to be reminded of their childhood over the holidays.
One of the greatest television series of all time has finally been released in its entirety on Blu-ray. 'The Sopranos: The Complete Series' offers fans who like their media physical a chance to pour over the tale of Tony Soprano and his modern-day crime family, as they traverse the tricky landscape of organized crime in the 21st century. This is landmark television at its best, and with a host of terrific extras, it will make for the perfect gift for the television lover in on your shopping list.
This is the perfect gift for anyone who likes the Dark Knight a lot less dark and knightly (think semi-gallant court jester). 'Batman: The Complete Television Series' gives fans of the ultra-campy mid-'60s TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward access to every POW! BANG! and BIFF! they could ever want. This box set contains all 120 episodes of the series, remastered in HD with over three hours of extras. Whether you know someone who is a Bat-fanatic or would appreciate a different take on DC's ultimate crime fighter, this box set will likely have them dancing the Batusi.
Sure, another one of these "Anniversary Editions" comes out every five years, but when you're closing in on a century of still being regarded as one of the best films of all time, you've earned the right to remind people that you have existed long before many of them. This sweeping epic has been given yet another impressive edition that includes the film (naturally), two new documentaries, memorabilia, and a 36-page companion booklet. Maybe you have a long-time fan of this film who would love this edition, or you know someone who is ready to fall in love with the film for the first time. Either way, this will make for a terrific gift.
Co-written by Truman Capote, 'The Innocents' is a frightening adaptation of Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw,' featuring Deborah Kerr at her best. The film has been given a 4K restoration that showcases Freddie Francis' exquisite cinematography, while offering a handful of interesting supplemental features that only Criterion can offer. Although this terrifying tale of a governess and her supernatural suspicions of her charges might have made for better viewing in October, getting this as a gift for the holidays just readies the lucky recipient for next Halloween.
This beautiful, uncompromising look at Bob Fosse through the lens of Bob Fosse takes the idea of biopic and transforms it into something slightly different. This examination of an artist pushing himself to the brink of destruction is entertaining and thrilling from start to finish. With tremendous performances by Roy Scheider and Jessica Lange, 'All That Jazz' blends drama, comedy, and musical numbers like no film before. And this Criterion edition offers fans a deeper look into the world of Fosse and Broadway alike.
The film that made Federico Fellini an international star, 'La Dolce Vita' has been given a tremendous 4K restoration and the full Criterion treatment. The disc features plenty of new supplemental material that explores Fellini and the film's relationship with stardom and how its biting critique of celebrity culture was as relevant in 1960 as it is today. This tremendous film features some of the best work Fellini would do with Marcello Mastroianni, and would make a great gift for lovers of Italian cinema.
David Lynch's debut as a feature filmmaker is also one of his most impenetrable. And that's saying something from the creator of 'Mulholland Drive' and 'Inland Empire.' This stylish, unsettling film has perplexed and fascinated fans of Lynch's brand of surrealist storytelling for decades, and now it has been given a fantastic Criterion edition that is sure to please both fans of the director and those looking for a compelling film that can launch a thousand conversations.
So that's our Holiday Gift Guide for 2014. Any titles you'd add to the list? Please follow the link below to join the conversation.
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