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2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Movies

These days, if you don’t own a Blu-ray player, you’re missing out, especially with a variety of classic movies being offered in high definition for the first time ever. But while we could easily fill several pages with suggestions of great films and cool box sets that deserve a spot on any holiday wish list, we’ve picked some of our favorites released over the past 12 months. If you can’t find anything worth buying here, then chances are that the person you’re shopping for doesn’t like movies.

Click on the image next to each item to purchase it online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy will likely go down as one of the best franchises in movie history, so it’s not too surprising that Warner Bros. has decided to capitalize on the films’ success with a fancy Ultimate Collector’s Edition box set. Though most people have probably already purchased the movies individually, this limited edition six-disc set (with only 141,500 copies produced) is geared more towards diehard fans – the kind that would gladly buy all three films again if it meant getting their hands on the exclusive bonus disc (featuring a new retrospective on the series and an interview between Nolan and “Superman” director Richard Donner) and the Happy Meal-sized reproductions of the Batmobile, Batpod and Batwing. The set also includes an introduction letter from Nolan, a glossy photo book, and a series of cool art cards by Mondo artist Jaw Shaw featuring the trilogy’s villains. The only thing it’s missing is your very own Batsuit.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition

It was never going to be an easy job adapting “The Hobbit” for the big screen, especially after the success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and although that likely played a hand in Peter Jackson’s initial decision to let another director take the reins, at the end of the day, it just wouldn’t have felt right with anyone else behind the camera. Not only does Jackson know the source material inside and out, but in keeping with the same tone and breathtaking visuals from the original trilogy, the movie feels like it’s part of a bigger story. Though it’s not as great as the “Lord of the Rings” films, “An Unexpected Journey” is still a delightfully fun trip back to Middle-earth with a solid lead performance by Martin Freeman. And for those diehard fans who have been patiently awaiting the customary Extended Edition, it’s arrived just in time for the holidays with 13 minutes of additional footage, an audio commentary by Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens, and two entire discs of supplemental material clocking in at over 9 hours. If this doesn’t satisfy your “Hobbit” fix, nothing will.

Star Trek: Stardate Collection

Most diehard “Star Trek” fans probably already own all of the films on Blu-ray, but for those that still haven’t gotten around to picking up high-def versions of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s first 10 big screen adventures, the Stardate Collection is the easiest and most cost-effective way to remedy that. This 12-disc set combines the previously released Original and Next Generation Motion Picture Collections into one massive box of sci-fi goodness, including every feature-length film starring the respective crews of Captain Kirk and Picard, from 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” to 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Additionally, there’s over 25 hours of bonus material like audio commentaries, featurettes and the 70-minute roundtable “The Captain’s Summit.” While “The Wrath of Khan” remains the only installment to have received a 4k restoration (though likely not for long with the original show’s 50th anniversary just around the corner), the rest of the movies still look and sound better than ever.

Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy

The wraparound title of this trilogy sounds absurd, and the manner in which it was bestowed upon these three films – “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” – is almost as bizarre (the movies really don’t have much to do with ice cream). What does connect them, however, are their creative talent: writer/director Edgar Wright, star/co-writer Simon Pegg and star Nick Frost (not to mention maybe a dozen other folks who play in the peripheries of these stories). These vibrant, energetic comedies showcase the sort of irreverent, whip-smart sense of humor that the Brits are so well known for, alongside absurd riffs on violence, played in an animated, over the top fashion. Yet at their core, they’re simple stories about good people learning to care for one another while banding together through their battles with zombies or cults or aliens. Simply put, they’re just incredible amounts of fun, and brimming with huge amounts of good will. “Shaun” and “Fuzz” have been around for some time, so for people who already own that pair, the final movie of the trilogy, this year’s “The World’s End,” is available separately.

The Jack Ryan Collection

Tom Clancy might’ve created a memorable character in Jack Ryan, but trying to get anybody to play the guy for more than two movies in a row has proven to be an insurmountable task, as can be seen in the new Blu-ray release of “The Jack Ryan Collection.” The saga starts with “The Hunt for Red October,” starring Alec Baldwin as Ryan, although most people remember the movie more for Sean Connery’s role as a Russian submarine commander with a Scottish accent more than they do for Baldwin’s work. Either way, though, it’s generally considered the best of the four films. Next up came the twofer starring Harrison Ford in the Ryan role, “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger,” which are each pretty solid…so much so, in fact, that you’d probably have to flip a coin to figure out which is the best of the two. And then there’s “The Sum of All Fears,” starring Ben Affleck as Ryan. It’s arguably the least of the foursome, but it’s still a solid action flick. In short, guys really can’t go wrong with this set…well, you know, unless they’ve already got the films individually. (The bonus material is identical to those discs.)

World War Z

“World War Z” may have gone through a battle of its own on the way to theaters – with rumors of a ballooning budget, massive reshoots and more – but you wouldn’t know it from the final product. Staged more like a socio-political thriller than a typical zombie film, even the creatures themselves are unique compared to the classic kind. Not only are they fast and twitchy, but they behave like insects, swarming together to create large, living structures in order to attack helicopters or traverse walls. It’s a really interesting, nature-based approach to the timeworn zombie mythology, and it makes the action sequences even more intense as a result. The movie is also peppered with some great actors in small supporting roles, although it’s essentially the Brad Pitt Show, and he’s one of the few guys that can pull off such a star-centric performance without making it feel flashy. Fans of Max Brooks’ bestselling novel will undoubtedly be disappointed by how much was changed from page to screen, but “World War Z” is an immensely entertaining film that’s smarter than your average summer blockbuster.

Man of Steel

The Superman franchise was practically DOA before Warner Bros. enlisted the aid of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer to press the reboot button, and in doing so showed that the studio is finally starting to think about the bigger picture. Henry Cavill proves himself more than capable of carrying the Superman torch with his performance, while Russell Crowe and Kevin Coster both turn in solid work as Kal-El/Clark’s respective fathers. The best thing about “Man of Steel,” however, is the action. The fight scenes are lightning fast and brutal, playing up the superhuman angle in a way that’s never been done before. The fight between Superman and Zod’s soldiers in the streets of Smallville is particularly memorable, delivering everything you’d expect from a modern day Superman film. Granted, it’s not as groundbreaking as what Nolan achieved with “Batman Begins,” but considering Warner’s recent track record with DC Comics characters, it’s a big step in the right direction.

Pacific Rim

“Pacific Rim” is about as close to a Transformers/Godzilla mash-up as you’ll probably ever see, so it’s not surprising how quickly fanboys got behind Guillermo del Toro’s latest film. Though the movie isn’t without its problems (particularly the lack of variation in the action sequences), it delivers exactly what people were expecting when the project was first announced, and that’s giant robots fighting giant monsters. There’s no shortage of CGI-fueled destruction on display (almost the entire third act is wall-to-wall carnage), but the character-based stuff is pretty good as well, thanks to performances from Idris Elba, Charlie Day and del Toro regular Ron Perlman. It may lack any real substance, but it’s an enjoyable popcorn flick that taps into your inner 12-year-old – the kind of movie best reserved for those days when you just want to be entertained. The two-disc Blu-ray edition is also jam-packed with tons of great bonus material, including a director commentary, over an hour’s worth of production featurettes, and an interactive look at one of del Toro’s notebooks.

Argo: The Declassified Extended Edition

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the multi-hyphenate moved away from the comforts of Boston to a much larger stage, delivering his best film in the process. One part political thriller and one part Hollywood insider comedy, Affleck blends the movie’s contrasting tones effortlessly by using laughs to break up the tension that mounts over the course of the hostage story. It’s been a while since a film literally had us on the edge of our seats, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. Winning the Oscar for Best Picture was well-deserved (especially after Affleck got snubbed in the Director category), and now fans can revisit the movie with the Declassified Edition, which includes an extended cut of the film, three new special features, and other goodies like a behind-the-scenes photo book, a map of Tehran and a reproduction of Tony Mendez’s CIA ID card. It goes without saying that this one’s strictly for diehard fans only.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – The Rich Mahogany Edition

The sequel is about to be released, so fans of Ron Burgundy will be in heaven through the month of December. You can make it even better with “The “Rich Mahogany Edition” Blu-ray. This two-disc set is a fan’s dream, because it’s loaded with features, including three versions of the film: the theatrical version, an unrated version and “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie.” This set also includes bloopers, table reads, cast auditions, deleted and extended scenes, filmmaker and cast commentary, celebrity interviews and the recording session for “Afternoon Delight.” It also includes the classic Ron Burgundy ESPN SportsCenter audition, a 32-page Ron Burgundy diary and 12 trading cards. Fans of Will Ferrell and Ron Burgundy can spend hours with this two-disc set, so it will be easy to make certain people happy with this gift. There’s also a special gift package that includes a t-shirt available exclusively at Walmart.

All the President’s Men

This classic film starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (and directed by three-time Oscar nominee Alan J. Pakula) is now available on Blu-ray in a two-disc special edition that includes a new documentary narrated by Redford called “All the President’s Men Revisited,” as well as hours of vintage special features. This film was based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s best-selling book about their investigation and series of articles published in the Washington Post about the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. It’s a thrilling detective story, and we strongly recommend the book as well. The performances are excellent and the film won four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Love Actually: 10th Anniversary Edition

Yes, it’s a bit difficult to believe this movie’s already been around for a decade, but if you’re anything like us, it’s become a go-to flick for the holiday season. Indeed, what movie simultaneously says “I love you” and “Merry Christmas” as effortlessly “Love Actually?” Epic in scope, while intimate at heart, this is a movie that gains new fans every year of its existence. And the sprawling cast is a force to be reckoned with. Half were famous upon the movie’s release (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Laura Linney) and the other half have gone on to make names for themselves since (Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln, Martin Freeman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, January Jones). Now for the bad news – this new edition (featuring a Blu-ray, a DVD and a digital download code) is probably not one for double-dippers, as the content is all but identical to previous editions. It does, however, include a sturdy metal tree ornament in the shape of a heart that declares “Love Actually is All Around.” Be sure the giftee doesn’t already have this one, and you’re set.

Before Midnight

Over three movies and 18 years, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (with Richard Linklater behind the camera) have been playing this ongoing sweet and sour love affair, and it’s been one of arthouse cinema’s most exciting and popular experiments of that time period. Whereas many film series begin to sag with their third segment, “Before Midnight” bucks that trend by quite possibly being the best “Before” picture yet. It’s certainly the most adult, as it explores the problems of marriage and long-term relationships, all set against the gorgeous scenery of Greece. If you’ve been through a lot of crap with a certain person, but you’re still with that person because you love each other unconditionally, well, then this is the movie for you to give that person (and it works just fine even if you haven’t seen the previous two). To hear tell, the trio of Hawke, Delpy, and Linklater has no intentions of abandoning the ongoing project, and it’s entirely possible we’ll someday see “Before the Early Bird Special.”

Mickey’s Christmas Carol: 30th Anniversary Edition

There are more film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” than perhaps any other piece of literature, and some of the best versions star talking animals. You’d be hard-pressed to find a pair of more enjoyable, family-friendly retellings of the classic tale than “The Muppets Christmas Carol” and “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” the latter of which has been released for the first time on Blu-ray in celebration of its 30th anniversary. Featuring a digital restoration that breathes new life into the animated movie and five bonus shorts (including the all-new “Yodelberg”), no Disney collection would be complete without “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” to watch during the holidays. Though it’s a fairly barebones retelling of Dickens’ novella, the idea of casting Disney characters in the various roles is one that Jim Henson would later mimic in the Muppets version, while the basic themes of the story remain intact, and that’s why it’s still so popular to this day.

Room 237

There are film fans, film lovers, film aficionados… and then there are film obsessives. The latter type inhabit the pseudo-documentary “Room 237,” which aims to show sides of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” that you’ve never seen before. The film made quite the splash on the festival circuit last year, and deservedly so, as there’s never been anything quite like it. Five disembodied fanatical voices narrate an energetic, ongoing collage of imagery – much of it taken from the film’s subject, but plenty from other sources, including just about every movie in Kubrick’s filmography. The deeper theories espoused by these obsessives include the genocide of the American Indian, the holocaust, and perhaps most peculiar of all, the theory that “The Shining” was Kubrick’s way of dealing with the guilt he felt over his part in helping to fake the Apollo 11 moon landings. “Room 237” does not ask you to believe in all of the insanity being espoused (there’s no way Kubrick could’ve been working through everything presented here), but it does effortlessly demonstrate in a dizzyingly entertaining fashion that there is no one way to see and interpret a movie.

Fearless

This stunning, emotional dramatic gem from 1993 stars Jeff Bridges, delivering some of the best work of his career, as an airplane crash survivor who now believes himself to be invincible. Co-starring Isabella Rossellini as the wife struggling to understand his newfound sense of self, and an Oscar-nominated Rosie Perez as a fellow survivor tortured by the loss of her baby, “Fearless” is now available on Blu-ray in its proper aspect ratio for the first time since laserdisc. It is available exclusively from the Warner Archive Collection, an online-only ordering program that delivers movies and TV on home video that might not be of interest to wide audiences, so Warner takes your order and presses a disc just for you. Turnaround is fast, and the quality is the same as “regular” DVDs and Blu-rays. The Warner Archive is the place to go shopping for the film connoisseur who has everything.

Seconds

Science fiction comes in different shapes and sizes, and many of those don’t include spaceships, monsters and lasers. Case in point: “Seconds,” the rarely seen 1966 sci-fi thriller from director John Frankenheimer, starring Rock Hudson as you’ve never seen him before. Arthur Hamilton (an ashen-faced John Randolph), a middle-aged banker, is dead inside. A nebulous organization called The Company offers him something seemingly magical – for a price, they will give him a new face, a new identity and in turn a whole new life. After numerous intense surgical procedures, Hamilton is transformed into celebrated artist Tony Wilson (Hudson), and almost immediately his world and psyche being to unravel. Often described as a feature-length episode of “The Twilight Zone,” even that does it an injustice, as “Zone” rarely plumbed the terrifying crevices of humanity that “Seconds” explores, as more can be said in 107 minutes than a half hour. And “Seconds” has much to say about the human condition, and much of it is haunting. Can we ever really escape the person we are on the inside? Maybe the answer is in this hypnotic Blu-ray from Criterion.

Looking for more movie content? Check back each week for reviews of the latest new releases and Jason Zingale’s Blu-ray column.

  

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