Welcome to the Movies.com 2013 Blu-ray and DVD gift guide. We've broken it down by genre, so if you know you've got a horror fan to shop for, head to the horror section, and so on. But before you do, it's worth noting that we're not necessarily saying these are the best movies of the year (though some of them are); we simply think this is a sample of some of the most interesting discs of the year. Think of it more as a "Hey, don't forget this came out this year" list than a "This is the best 2012 had to offer" list-- and to that end, we've intentionally left off the year's biggest blockbusters that everyone already knows about.
When the second season of The Walking Dead started, we'd pretty much written it off. The show's creator, Frank Darabont, was essentially run off the project, and it was looking like the groundbreaking zombie series would continue its downward slide in quality. But it didn't. After Darabont was given the boot it just kept getting better and better and by the time it ended, it was one of the most entertaining shows on TV. If you've got a zombie fan in your life, the awe-inspiring effects in the show - which collectively represent the best zombie makeup work ever put on-screen - make it worth it all by their gruesome self.
For those who like their TV with a bit more laughs, however, there's a trio of shows that should all fit the bill. Louie is one of the finest pieces of unflinching comedy ever produced for television. Each week's episode is like a masterful little short film that takes us into the brutally honest world of a lonely, but not despondent, middle-aged man, and it's painfully hilarious. If you like Danny McBride but haven't really liked him on the big screen in a while, don't worry, he's still turning in great work elsewhere. The second season of his HBO show Eastbound & Down was a little rough, but this third season is a very funny, very vulgar trip. And if you liked Lena Dunham's special brand of self-depricating realist humor in Tiny Furniture, you're going to really dig her Judd Apatow-produced serie Girls.
And finally, for those who don't care for new TV series, check out The Incredible Mel Brooks, an exhaustive, six-DVD set filled with rare TV specials, appearances and short films the great comedian has made over the years.
This is perhaps the hardest section to put together because there are far too many great classic films that receive new collector's editions or new releases every year. You could shop exclusively from the Criterion Collection or Kino Lorber catalogs and go bankrupt buying worthy gifts, but if affordable releases of impeccable films is more your speed, all of these are fine options that hit Blu-ray for the first time this year. Chinatown and Jaws may come in no-frills packaging, but don't take that to mean these are barebones discs. Both feature incredible transfers (Jaws has one of the best HD restorations we've ever seen) and plenty of bonus features.
The same goes for Little Shop of Horrors, which arrives on Blu-ray with the long awaited director's cut of the film and its infamous alternate ending. Ed Wood, on the other hand, is a relatively barebones release, but it looks great and it's a welcome reminder of a time when Tim Burton made truly incredible films.
And then there's Lawrence of Arabia, inarguably one of the best films ever made. There are two purchase options available, a simple Blu-ray set and an elaborate collector's edition, so it all comes down to how many other goodies you want in the box. Either way, you'll be getting a stunning film with an immaculate high-definition transfer.
Multi-film box sets may not be the cheapest gift you can give someone, but they can be some of the safest options, as they're bound to contain at least a few personal favorites. Even if someone doesn't love every single one of the Indiana Jones films, the Lethal Weapon quadrilogy, or Marilyn Monroe's filmography, you might as well pick up these sets for their corresponding fans, since you're not going to find a better per-film value.
Things do get a little pricier on some of the older collections, like Universal's Classic Monster series or this Alfred Hitchcock Blu-ray box set, but if either of those legacies will be a nice fit for someone you know, you should absolutely look at their British releases instead (here and here). They'll play on any U.S. Blu-ray player, and they come in considerably nicer packaging and are actually cheaper than their American counterparts.
The Raid: Redemption is one of the most invigorating action movies you can find these days. It's packed to the gills with incredible stunt work that you flat out cannot find in American films. However, that doesn't mean American action films have lost their touch entirely. In fact, Safe may just be one of the most underrated action movies of the year, and is one of Jason Statham's best. The plot is oh so familiar, but if you like action movies with sketchy moral compasses, it's a must.
Heading back across seas, though, we've got the very slick French offering Sleepless Night, which is about one man's increasingly bloody night trying to get his son back from a kingpin-owned nightclub, and Mandrill, a Chillean tribute to the action films and stars of the '70s and '80s starring the awesome martial artist Marko Zaror. And speaking of the '80s, we've got Miami Connection, a movie that is more '80s than the actual '80s. This lost gem was dug up from oblivion by Drafthouse Films and is a dream come true for those of us who love the truly wacky martial arts films that all went straight to video. It's a marvel to behold.
Genre films are always one of the easiest categories to shop in because there's just so many options to choose from. Most of these are instantly recognizable titles from decades gone by, so you just need to know your target's tastes to know whether they like the psychedelic nature of Altered States or the sincere geekiness of WarGames.
There are a few new films from 2012, however, that fans of good sci-fi should certainly see. Beyond the Black Rainbow is filled with wild visuals and big ideas; Hell is a fairly derivative story, but worth it to fans of post-apocalyptic films; and then Sound of My Voice is a clever, deceptively simple story about a time traveler told with expert precision.
Even moreso than sci-fi, there's always a big pool of horror movies to choose from every year. If new releases are your thing, 2012 did see the release of some really great horror. Genre fans have been beating the Cabin in the Woods drum all year long, and for a very good reason: It's smart, original, fiercely entertaining, and a breath of fresh air in a niche that's been done to death. The Innkeepers is yet another masterful exercise in slow-burn horror from the director of The House of the Devil (though it's a much funnier film than that implies). The Loved Ones' demented sense of humor and gnarly visuals make it a perfect movie to watch with a crowd. Lovely Molly is an effective, unsettling spin on haunted houses from the codirector of The Blair Witch Project. Truth or Die is a simple, but worthwhile British flick about the dumb things teenagers do.
On the classics front, you've got plenty to choose from, new and old. You've got more family-friendly movies like Arachnophobia and Gremlins 2, and more pure horror movies like Rosemary's Baby and The Ring. Just know your target's tastes and pull the trigger.
Is there someone in your life who hates Hollywood movies and only loves the underdog? Get them any of the above. Goon may be a hockey movie, but it's funny and touching and smart enough to appeal to non-sports fans. Headhunters is a slick thriller with a dark sense of humor. The Hunter is a gorgeous movie about life and loss that not enough people are talking about. Love Exposure is a new Japanese masterpiece. And Take Shelter is the best indie movie of the past year that was completely overlooked in award's season.
Anime films have dwindled in numbers in recent years thanks to the rise of anime TV shows becoming the dominant format within the niche, but there are still some fantastic feature films out there. On the classic front there's Grave of the Fireflies and Whisper of the Heart for those who like their anime to be sentimental and beautiful. If you like it to be violent and brutal, there's Ninja Scroll and Berserk: The Golden Age (a remake of a phenomenal TV series). And if you just want to see something you simply couldn't see anywhere outside of anime, there's Redline, which is a sensory overload in the most wide-eyed, take-it-all-in kind of way.
If you know someone who just bought a new TV, chances are it's 3D and even if they didn't buy it explicitly for the 3D, they're inevitably going to try it out. If they're anything like me, they'll be instantly hooked on the clarity of at-home 3D (which can be surprisingly superior to theatrical) and be hungry for more. Some studios are starting to put 3D versions of their older films on Blu-ray, and the results can be pretty impressive. Up and Finding Nemo both recently received eye-catching Blu-ray 3D releases that'll please kids as much as they do adults. Then there's Titanic. It was post-converted into 3D, but the effect is actually very nicely handled and a prime example of how post-conversion can be done right.
Avatar finally came out on retail Blu-ray 3D this year (in the past you had to buy specific brands of TVs to get it bundled in), and it does indeed look dynamite, though it's worth noting that this is only for the theatrical version. And lastly there's Prometheus. Say what you will about the script for Ridley Scott's Alien prequel, but it's got some of the most impressive visuals of the year and this Blu-ray set shows it all off flawlessly.
2012 has been a stellar year for documentaries, so the above five are just a sample of the fantastic films out this year. Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss is a heart-wrenching but evenhanded look at the death penalty and the lives it affects. Senna is a captivating look into the life of a beloved athlete whose rise to prominence was both glorious and doomed. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry showcases one man's seemingly impossible crusade to stand up for what he believes in. Last Call at the Oasis is a very smooth and sobering look at the water crisis our world is facing. And Chimpanzee is a just plain heartwarming story about an orphan chimp and the unlikely parent who takes him in.
This year's crop of new family films is fine all by itself, but it's new Blu-rays of older films that really stand out. Most of these happen to be Disney films, but that's just because Disney happens to make the best family films around. For the slightly more mature but still young crowd, there's the playfully gritty Dick Tracy. For the Halloween lovers there's the always charming Hocus Pocus. Newsies is, well, Newsies. Treasure Planet is just one of many smaller profile animated films the Mouse House put out on Blu-ray this year. And finally, we have the long awaited Blu-ray release of one of the greatest family films ever made: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. It looks great, and it's always a perfect film to watch around the holidays.