High-Def Digest's Essential Picks: December 2015

Posted Thu Dec 31, 2015 at 07:00 AM PST by
essentials december

Every month, dozens of Blu-rays hit shelves, littering stores with High-Def temptation. New releases, catalog titles, complete TV seasons, and elaborate box-sets all vie for attention, and with so many worthy releases targeting our wallets, choosing which discs to spend our hard earned cash on can be rather tricky. To make things a little easier, we here at High-Def Digest thought it might be helpful to bring you our top three must own recommendations for the month.

From important classics to contemporary blockbusters, these are the discs that we consider to be the absolute cream of the crop. High quality releases with great video, audio, and supplements, these are the Blu-rays that are truly worth every penny.

Last month we spotlighted an emotional animated adventure, a masterpiece of Japanese cinema, and a promising TV spinoff. Be sure to check out the Essential Picks for November 2012December 2012January 2013,February 2013, March 2013, April 2013May 2013June 2013July 2013August 2013September 2013October 2013November 2013, December 2013, January 2014February 2014March 2014April 2014May 2014June 2014July 2014August 2014September 2014October 2014November 2014,December 2014January 2015February 2015March 2015April 2015May 2015June 2015July 2015August 2015, September 2015, October 2015, and November 2015.

For December, we're covering a groundbreaking sci-fi series, a very tiny superhero, and an impossible mission (if you choose to accept it).   Please be aware, that if you haven't already seen them, there are some SPOILERS for the discs listed. 

If you only buy three titles that hit Blu-ray in December, here's what we suggest you pick up, starting with the most essential...

'The X-Files: The Collector's Set' - The current golden age of TV owes a lot to several key shows that helped pave the way for the many complex, cinematic series that now flood cable networks. And hovering high atop that list like a shimmering UFO, is Chris Carter's 'The X-Files.' Balancing classic episodic storytelling with an ever-expanding conspiracy-fueled mythology of serialized plotlines, the show has had an invaluable influence on small screen narrative structure and remains a brilliant mixture of sci-fi, horror, and mystery.  

Alien abductions, black oil, human cloning, shapeshifting bounty hunters, super soldiers, Lone Gunmen, and an infamous Cigarette Smoking Man are all just part of what makes the show's evolving mythology so engrossing and addictive. And in in between all of these serialized bits, the writers make sure to turn in some truly memorable "monster-of-the-week" episodes as well. In fact, some of the shows very best installments are self-contained mysteries featuring creepy cases that force Mulder and Scully to question everything they think they know... even if Scully still refuses to believe. And it's this central dynamic between "believer" and "skeptic" that becomes the heart of the series, allowing the characters' relationship to evolve and grow even as little green men, parasite monsters, in-bred horrors, and the deadly effects of secondhand smoke threaten them on a weekly basis.

Sure, the final two (mostly) Mulder-less seasons definitely reveal a drop in quality and the show's once compelling mythology does start to become rather convoluted as it reaches the home stretch… but when viewed as a whole, 'The X-Files' remains one of TV's very best shows. Available in a fantastic Collector's Set and as individual seasons -- all with great video, audio and supplements -- the series hits Blu-ray with the love and care that it deserves, resulting in the month's top release. Yes, the truth is indeed out there… and it's in this box-set!   


'Ant-Man - 3D' - I love comic books. At their best, they can be just as entertaining or artistically deep as any other medium… but even I can admit that sometimes they can also be pretty damn silly. Case in point? The general premise behind Marvel's Ant-Man -- a superhero who can shrink down to microscopic size and communicate with ants. Even in a cinematic universe that already includes a talking raccoon, bringing such a character to the big screen is by far the studio's riskiest move yet, requiring just the right balance of tone to avoid a complete and utter embarrassment. Thankfully, despite some behind-the-scenes shuffling, director Peyton Reed's take on the famous pint-sized Avenger proves that good things can come in small packages. That is, as long as those good things look and act like Paul Rudd.     

When it was first announced that original director Edgar Wright was leaving 'Ant-Man,' I was extremely disappointed. The initial prospect of Wright getting to play in Marvel's big-screen sandbox always seemed too good to be true, and when their relationship fell apart I pretty much lost all interest in the flick. A few ho-hum trailers didn't help matters much either, and I actually ended up missing the movie when it ran in theaters. Thankfully, I've now had a chance to make up for that mistake, as the resulting film is an absolute blast. Peyton Reed's sensibilities fit nicely within Marvel's established mold and the director does a great job of balancing the movie's potentially tricky tone, resulting in a genuinely funny superhero flick that doesn't take itself too seriously or come across as unintentionally dumb. Likewise, despite the lighter mood, the emotional stakes still feel real and there is some solid character work. Hell, I even cared about the ants! Sure, this might not be one of the studio's very best efforts, but the sheer fact that the creative team somehow manages to make a film that features a tiny man riding a flying bug that isn't a laughable mess is a rather impressive accomplishment on its own. Much of this success can likely be chalked up to star Paul Rudd's limitless charm -- a charm that somehow turns Scott Lang into a perfectly believable everyman ex-con expert thief divorced-father turned superhero.

A comic book heist flick marked by some creative shrinking special effects and a playfully self-aware sense of humor, 'Ant-Man' strikes just the right balance, salvaging what could have easily been Marvel's first real disaster. In fact, the flick is so entertaining that it almost makes me forget what could have been if Edgar Wright had stayed on to direct. Almost…            


'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation' - What's a sure-fire way to keep a long-running movie franchise fresh? Well, why not replace the director with each new installment? At least, that's what seems to work for the 'Mission: Impossible' series. Taking the reins from previous filmmakers like Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird, franchise newcomer Christopher McQuarrie places his own adrenaline fueled stamp on the TV show turned big-screen blockbuster -- and the results are appropriately explosive. But while the man behind the camera might be different, series mainstay Tom Cruise is once again back in action… and he's found a whole slew of new and exciting reasons to constantly be on the run!

Seriously, the man is a cardio beast. And as he races through exotic streets by foot and by car and by motorcycle, Cruise effortlessly reminds us why he remains one of Hollywood's most enduring action stars. In fact, he genuinely shoves it in our faces by hanging off a damn airplane! Was climbing up a towering 2,722 ft. skyscraper in 'Ghost Protocol' just not harrowing enough? Of course, Cruise doesn't get to hog all the action, and Rebecca Ferguson turns in a memorable performance as the kick-ass Ilsa Faust -- a woman so dangerous that she turns a piggy-back ride into a deadly attack. Throughout it all, McQuarrie brings an assured and exciting sense of style to the loud set-pieces while handling the plot's "everybody's gone rogue!" conceit with enough twists and turns to result in a very satisfying ride. 

Among the franchise's most entertaining and spectacular entries, 'Rogue Nation' ramps up the action while still giving audiences a reason to care for Ethan Hunt and his fellow IMF agents. After all, what good is seeing Tom Cruise perilously hanging from an airplane as it takes off, if viewers won't give a damn if he falls? With solid supplements, stellar video, and a powerful Dolby Atmos soundtrack, this disc is an easy mission to accept.     


So, there you have it. While there were many titles worth picking up this December, those are our top three must own recommendations. We'll be back next month with three more essential picks, but for now, what do you think of our selection? What are your choices for December's must own titles?

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Tags: High-Def Digest Essential Picks, Essential Picks, Fun Stuff, Steven Cohen (all tags)