The Movies.com Holiday Gift Guide: Part 1, Blu-rays and DVDs

The Movies.com Holiday Gift Guide: Part 1, Blu-rays and DVDs

Dec 17, 2013

Shopping for movie fans can be hard considering most of us tend to buy our own movies, so it's tricky to not only tell if someone already owns a film, but if they'll even like it. Hopefully we can take the guess work out of that with the Movies.com Holiday Gift Guide.

We've put together a list of several dozen Blu-rays and DVDS all newly released from the past six months (so the chances are smaller your intended recipient has bought them), and are all good films that may not be on most people's radars. That means we've left off most major studio movies, because chances are your brother who is a huge Superman fan already bought Man of Steel. However, your young nephew who loves to read when he's not watching kids movies probably doesn't have a copy of The Pagemaster on Blu-ray. Those are the options we're trying to tell you about.

Enjoy and happy holidays!


For the Horror Fan

Plenty of old horror films got stellar Blu-ray upgrades this year, and you could certainly argue films like John Carpenter's The Fog or Night of the Comet are better films than Idle Hands, but I still say this is one of the most underloved, underseen horror films of the late '90s. It's got a good cast, a twisted sense of humor, a delightfully strange Satanist plot, and some wicked makeup effects. Plus, it holds up well beyond sheer nostalgia. If you know a horror fan who was a teen in the '90s and loved MTV, get them this.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane may have been made way back in 2006, but it finally, finally got a U.S. release this year. It's a smart, sexy slasher film that launched Amber Heard's career and should definitely be of interest to anyone who likes watching a group of high schoolers try to survive a hellish night out in the middle of nowhere. Of course, you could argue we'd never have a Mandy Lane without the Friday the 13th franchise, which is now available in one big Blu-ray box set. It's one of the best horror franchises of all time, and while die-hard fans probably already own some of these films, this set is a great value.

Fans of indie horror should look toward Jug Face, a creepy film about a backwards village with a very scary tradition: whoever's face gets carved into a jug must be sacrificed to a pit in the woods. And a little less creepy but no less memorable is Resolution, a film that takes a creative look at cabin-in-the-woods horror movies (and is very, very different from Cabin in the Woods, so don't let that sway you). And lastly we mentioned a ton of old horror films getting fancy new Blu-rays this year. You can just look at any of the Scream Factory titles to find more, but we'd recommend getting the genre nut in your life something unexpected, and Renny Harlin's 1988 Prison starring Viggo Mortensen certainly fits that bill.


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For the Action Fan

The best (nonsuperhero) Hollywood action movie of the year is not The Lone Ranger, but the latest from Pirates of the Carribbean trilogy director Gore Verbinski has all of the grand scale adventure and action that only Hollywood can deliver. If you think of it as a mixture of an Indiana Jones film with the Pirates series, you may not be too far off. It's long, but it's a kind of deceptively simple yet clearly elaborate level of filmmaking that should impress anyone who likes movies that are big, fun and more than a little weird.

As for the actual best Hollywood action movie of the year, that honor belongs to the violent and charming Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg flick 2 Guns, which is the best buddy-cop comedy to come along in quite some time. It's got great, charismatic leads, a memorable supporting cast all around, and a constantly spinning moral compass. It's definitely recommended.

The rest of the picks fill one void or another. I Declare War is a smart, funny, inspired tribute to how action movies filter down from generation to generation. Man of Tai Chi is an utterly badass martial arts movie with a load of style and flare that certainly marks Keanu Reeves as a director we should all hope keeps making more movies. And lastly we have the double bill of Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Yes, they both have the same premise, but the former (starring Gerard Butler) is a gritty, R-rated affair with a surprisingly high body count, and the latter (starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Fox) is a tad more lighthearted and reminds us of what fun character moments Roland Emmerich can deliver when he's not just blowing up the planet.


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For the Documentary Fan

Stories We Tell is one of the best films of 2013. That it's also a documentary is just a bonus because it means we get to make it our top gift pick for the doc fan in your life. This is a riveting, emotionally raw film from actress Sarah Polley about her family, the search for who her real dad is, and the way families can invent their own realities to cover up things that aren't quite so picturesque. 

The rest of our documentary picks cover a wide swath of issues that you should choose from depending on the tastes of whomever you're buying for. A Band Called Death is a tremendously entertaining film about a trio of bothers who should have been a musical phenomenon but weren't, and you don't actually have to know any history of punk rock to appreciate how unreal their story is (if it weren't a documentary, you'd think parts of it were scripted). For the environmentalist in your life, grab a copy of Chasing Ice, which does a harrowing job of making a portrait of our planet's drastically changing landscape.

Buying for someone who loves international politics? Consider The Gatekeepers, this Oscar-nominated film about the notorious Israeli security agency Shin Bet. If you like your political issues a bit closer to home, then check out The House I Live In, the 2012 Sundance Best Documentary winner that chronicles the effect the War on Drugs has had on American society.


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For the Animation Fan

The Pagemaster rules. You know it, and I know it, and we also know the sad thing is that Hollywood doesn't really make animated films like this anymore. Is it the best the '90s had to offer? No, of course not. However, it does have a really great sense of magic and adventure, and more importantly it's got a lot of welcome literary references and is a total celebration of how reading is fundamental to not only one's imagination, but awareness of the world. It's not as flashy as the kids' you'll find below, but it's certainly worth giving to the youngster (or nostalgia lover) in your life who loves to read.

For my money The Croods is the best of this year's batch of CG-animated films. The animation is often stunning (Roger Deakins was a visual consult!), it's creative, the voice cast is aces (seriously, it's Nicolas Cage's best performance in a while) and it's got a really great family unity message at its heart. It does get a bit too slapsticky at times, but it's all worth it just for the twinge you'll feel when Grug invents the hug. 

Escape from Planet Earth is not a great movie for adults, not by a long shot. But as the parent of a young boy, I can certainly attest that it will get watched over and over and over, so if you're looking for something that isn't from the major studios, you can certainly do worse than this. But speaking of the major studios, Monsters University is absolutely worth checking out. It's such a big film that we feel a bit silly listing it here, but if you wrote it off because you thought it was just a cash-in prequel, do give it a shot. If that's the case, it's much better than you'd think.

If you want to get a bit more old school with your gifts, then two of Disney's finest, hand-drawn animated films of all time both hit Blu-ray this year: The Little Mermaid and Robin Hood, two movies that'll leave you with a song in your heart.


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For the Sci-fi Fan

If you spent any amount of time browsing video store shelves in the '90s then you probably know Dark Angel by its other title, I Come in Peace. And if so, then you no doubt know how amazing this movie actually is. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, though, and you suspect the sci-fi lover in your life will be equally clueless, then surprise them with one of the craziest sci-fi obscurities from the '90s. It's got wild effects, some pretty big stunt work, a nutso plot, and freaking Dolph Lundgren being a total badass cop. Seriously, this movie rules.

The sci-fi fan in your life is probably more aware of the 1975 cult classic A Boy and His Dog, which is a truly a staple of the postapocalyptic genre. They may not have seen it in years, though, and they probably don't have it on Blu-ray, so now is a good time to fix that. If spaceships are more your intended target's speed, then you should consider Europa Report, about a team of scientists heading to one of Jupiter's moon to do a survey of its surface. It's one of the more intelligent sci-fi films to come out this year.

Speaking of space, you probably have a Star Trek fan in your life, and if you do, you should think about getting them the Star Trek: Stardate Collection. It does not contain either of J.J. Abrams' new films, but it does contain all 10 films starting with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and ending with Star Trek X: Nemesis, which is great for fans of classic (and newly classic) Trek

If you're looking for something a bit more random to go with that Dark Angel Blu-ray (which you've clearly already ordered because, seriously, that movie rules), then grab Tank Girl. This is the kind of movie that simply does not get made anymore. It has big production design and set work for a story that's super silly, and that's precisely why it's a beloved film despite the actual film being a tad, um, rough. For something more polished, just grab a copy of The World's End. It's Edgar Wright's best film, and anyone who appreciates a good, humanity-threatening invasion story will love it.


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For the TV Fan

You could make a case that Hannibal is one of the finer TV adaptations of a film franchise ever made and I doubt anyone would punch you in the mouth for making such a claim. At the very least, it is without question the best-produced show currently on network TV. It's got a dynamite cast, a great look, and actually some pretty horrific material. If you know someone who either loves Hannibal Lecter or cop procedural shows, give 'em this.

Bates Motel isn't as good as Hannibal, but it does some interesting things with the psychological horror and mother-son dynamic from Alfred Hitchcock's classic film. It'll probably enrage most Psycho purists, but if you like to see classic storylines get experimented on in new ways, it's worth a shot.

Sticking with the TV shows spawned by movies theme, Beetlejuice: The Complete Series hit DVD this year in one big box set. You probably forgot this show was ever even made since it seems like it never gets talked about, but it ran for four seasons from 1989 to 1991 and should give a nice nostalgia high to anyone who watched it as a kid.

Had Behind the Candelabra not been a made-for-TV movie, there's a chance people would be talking about it for more end-of-the-year awards consideration. Regardless of where it premiered, though, this is a great gift idea for anyone who appreciates actors playing outside their normal types. And sticking with the HBO theme, The Newsroom is worth gifting to anyone in your life who watches The Daily Show regularly and loves the writing of Aaron Sorkin. It is far from his best show, but it's a good series with an even better cast.

Getting away from TV with cinematic ties for a second, if you want to give someone between the ages of 25 and 32 a huge smile, give them the Boy Meets World Complete Collection box set. This was just a great TV show that's no doubt burned into the brains of that entire generation.


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