I apologize for delivering this holiday gift guide so close to the end of the season. This would have come sooner if I did not have to prepare for final exams. Nevertheless, as long as it is not yet December 25th, I can still offer movie fans some good holiday gift ideas.

This was the year in which I converted from DVDs to Blu-rays, and I have not regretted it once. The picture quality is such that you can see every cobblestone in the road, every shingle on the road and every line in person’s face. If you haven’t considered a Blu-ray player before, I’d say it’s about time to start. My model is a Panasonic DMP-BD45, which works fine despite not having Internet capability. If you want a regular player, I suggest a higher-level Panasonic unit. The best one I’ve seen, however, is Sony’s Playstation 3, which is Internet capable and loads discs at a much faster speed (not to mention Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best video games I’ve ever played).

There are plenty of great movies with which you can start building your Blu-ray library. First, I’ll name ones from previous years that are well worth purchasing. I have been most impressed with how clear and pristine animated films look on Blu-ray, so Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, WALL-E, Up and Ratatouille are must-owns. For live-action films, I’ve greatly enjoyed the Blu-ray editions of The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration, The Dark Knight, The Wizard of Oz and Young Frankenstein. But this is just a sample of all the movies that have been released so far. Peruse or any online retailer to see if your favorites are available.

Now for the Blu-rays and DVDs released throughout 2010. Two of Disney’s greatest movies have just been released, and they both look fantastic. Fantasia has been giving an extensive restoration that reveals details I’d bet the public has not seen in decades. Fans may disagree about some of the color corrections (“Night on Bald Mountain” looks a bit brighter than before), but this is still a movie every serious film fan should own and cherish. Another high-profile Disney release is Beauty and the Beast, a film whose worth and merits have surely become redundant to list by now (okay, one gush: good God, what songs!). The film looks and sounds great, and the supplements are highly informative about the film’s hurried production.

There are some great new animated features as well. Toy Story 3 is the best animated film of the year so far (the other Toy Story movies are also available) with How to Train Your Dragon not too far behind it. Both movies demonstrate the cinematic highs that computer animation can achieve. Two of last year’s Oscar nominees, The Princess and the Frog and The Secret of Kells, represent the enduring magnificence of hand-drawn animation. Both movies are handsome, lively and colorful productions, and their bonus features illustrate the development and production stages of the animated feature (especially the amazing work-in-progress version of “Princess”).

For Disney fans who would like to learn over the holidays, three excellent new documentaries have arrived on DVD. Walt & El Grupo chronicles Walt and his artists’ goodwill trip to South America, showing how these research trips inform and influence a studio’s upcoming movies. Waking Sleeping Beauty is a fast-paced and personal look at the Disney studio from 1984 to 1994, a period that brought the animation department out of the doldrums and into the global spotlight. My favorite of these is The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story, which is about the songwriting duo who wrote the scores for Mary Poppins, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Jungle Book and many other family films. Being a fan of theirs practically since birth, I was enthralled by this funny and heartbreaking look at their relationship.

This year also produced some great live-action films. The Kids Are All Right is a good choice for those who like dramatic comedies, largely thanks to a great cast that includes Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World s a very funny spoof of comic books and video games that will hopefully find the audience it did not obtain in theaters. My highest recommendation goes to Inception, Christopher Nolan’s tricky and impeccably produced science-fiction story about the power to invade dreams. Its strong box office performance should show Hollywood that mass audiences are not afraid of thinking a little while they go to the movies.

The always reliable Criterion Collection released many classics on Blu-ray and DVD this year. These included the company’s new acquisitions (Modern Times, Stagecoach, The Night of the Hunter and Paths of Glory) and new editions of older titles (M, The Red Shoes and Seven Samurai). On the basis of the movie, I think I’d recommend M, Modern Times, The Red Shoes and Paths of Glory the most. When it comes to bonus features, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like “Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter.” It’s a two-and-a-half hour compilation of outtakes that offers a first-hand look at the repetitious trial and error film crews endure to nab the perfect take.

Finally, for fans of any creative art form, I strongly suggest Stephen Sondheim’s new book, Finishing the Hat. It’s his collected lyrics from the first 27 years of his songwriting career. This includes musicals like Gypsy, Company, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd. His lyrics are marvelous, of course, but his commentary on his own work is hilarious and thoughtful, providing many lessons on how Broadway songwriting ought to be.


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