Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

12/16/2010 Posted by Admin

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

By Christopher Smith

So, you've put off the holiday shopping until the last minute--perfectly understandable. If things have to come to push and shove, which they will at this point, you might as well do it with the hardcore late shoppers.

At least they're in it for real.

Still, what to get now that you're in such a pinch? Socks? Frowns all around. Underwear? A bum gift--and that pun is intended. Tasers? Mace? Pepper spray?

You might need them if your shopping really does begin today.

The good news is that a DVD always makes a swell gift--and a quick, no-stress, often low-cost purchase to boot. Since the options can be overwhelming this time of year, included here are many newer releases, all of which come recommended and all of which can be found at local retailers for much less than the official retail prices listed below.

High definition is hotter than ever, so we'll start with the clarity it offers. As with all of the titles that follow, the retail prices are listed--but don't be startled. You will be happy to know that each title can be found locally and online at steep discounts.

One of the year's most anticipated movies on DVD and Blu-ray disc is Christopher Nolan's "Inception" ($35.99).  It’s one of the year's best movies--it's complex and ambitious, it’s daring in how it isolates viewers by piling on the layers, and it’s cunning in how it draws them back in when those layers suddenly come together. This is a movie that turns in on itself--and then in on itself again--until what you’re left with is a kind of compelling confusion of ideas that oddly makes sense as the movie expands into its nearly 2.5 hour running time. If you think “Lost” was complicated, it’s kitten chow when compared to this.

Two of the best choices on Blu-ray are from the BBC. First up is "The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection" ($179.98), which is so good, it’s worth watching twice. The set includes the BBC’s acclaimed series “Planet Earth,” as well as the documentaries “Galapagos,” “Wild China” and “Ganges.” The second in the series, "The BBC High-Definition Natural History Collection 2" ($149.99), includes the documentaries "Life," "Nature's Most Amazing Events," "South Pacific" and "Yellowstone." In each set, the photography is as rich as anything you’d expect from the BBC, which has some of the world’s finest--and most patient--cinematographers.

Also recommended on Blu-ray are "Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" ($19.98); Disney's "Fantasia 2000" ($45.99); "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" ($39.98); Warner’s comprehensive "Gone With the Wind: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition" ($84.99), which looks fantastic in high definition; the complete, uncut and restored series "Space 1999" ($99.95); "Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy" ($79.98); "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas" ($29.99); "Shrek: The Whole Story" ($28.99), which includes all four movies; and two children’s movies in "Despicable Me" ($39.98) and "Nanny McPhee Returns" ($39.98).

Also available on Blu-ray are the PBS documentary "Salt" ($19.99); the History Channel's excellent series "Earth and Space" ($79.95), which is on six discs; the first season of "Human Weapon" ($49.95); and "Gangland: Season Six" ($44.95). For those seeking comedies on Blu-ray, look to no further than the terrific “The Mel Brooks Collection” ($99.99), which features a book based on the director’s life as well as the these films: “Blazing Saddles,” “Spaceballs,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Silent Movie,” “Twelve Chairs,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” “High Anxiety,” “History of the World: Part 1” and “To Be or Not to Be.” Tough to beat that.

Rounding out recommended Blu-ray titles are "The Home Alone Collection" ($39.99); "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" ($24.99); and several titles presented in 3D, though you do need a special 3D television and equipment in which to view them--"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" ($39.95); "Open Season" ($39.95); IMAX's "Wild Ocean" ($24.98); IMAX's "Space Station" ($44.98); "Monster House" ($39.95) and "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" ($44.98).

Obviously, all of the Blu-ray titles mentioned above also are available on standard-definition DVD. They’re equally recommended and, as a bonus, all are less expensive than their Blu-ray counterparts. The downside? They won’t look or sound nearly as nice.

Boxed sets abound this holiday season and many score big with content and value, such as "Monk: Complete Series Limited Edition Box Set" ($89.98), which is a must for fans of the show, as is "Nip/Tuck: The Complete Series" ($198.98); "The Sopranos: Complete Series" ($299.98); "Mystery Science Theater 3000: XIX" ($69.97); and the beautifully restored "The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition," which is best viewed on Blu-ray ($84.99).

Additional offerings include "Columbia Best Pictures Collection" ($135.95), which includes 11 films, all of which won the Academy for Best Picture. A broad range of movies are featured, from 1934’s “It Happened One Night” and 1953’s “From Here to Eternity” to 1954’s “On the Waterfront,” 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” and 1982’s “Gandhi,” among others.

Another must is "Alfred Hitchcock: The Premiere Collection" ($119.98), which features eight key films, including “Lifeboat,” “Notorious,” “Sabotage” and “Rebecca.” Extras abound. Also look for "Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection" ($89.98), which includes such films as "The Long Hot Summer," "The Hustler" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," as well as 10 other movies.

From the BBC, there are more titles worth considering, including the vast Michael Palin Collection ($249.98), which includes on 19 discs all of his previously released, globe-trotting adventures; the seriously good comedy series "Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely Everything" ($129.98); "Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series" on Blu-ray ($89.98); and "'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Collection" ($249.98), which is set during World War II and follows the carousing French café owner Rene Artois as he flirts with his waitresses while trying to handle a difficult wife and mother-in-law. He might not always succeed, but this show does.

Same goes for the five must-have television shows from the network--"Sherlock: Season One" ($34.98); "Criminal Justice 2" ($39.98); "Robin Hood: The Complete Series" ($99.98); "Being Human: Season Two" ($49.98" and Helen Mirren in her iconic crime series "Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection" ($124.98.)" Among the best of the BBC lot is "Monarch of the Glen: The Complete Series" ($198.98), which takes place in the Scottish Highlands at the Glenbogle estate, which Archie MacDonald (Alistair Mackenzie) is charged to save from financial ruin. To do so, he'll need to reconcile with his father, hardly an easy task, but as this engrossing series proves, nothing really is easy in the life of this young laird.

Other titles of note include the first season of "Bionic Woman" ($39.98); "V: The Complete First Season" ($39.98); "The Sergio Leone Anthology ($59.98); "Rocky: The Undisputed Collection" on Blu-ray ($69.99); as well as several titles from A&E, including "Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset ($149.95), which is a boon of hilarity; "Empires: DVD Megaset" ($99.95); "Great Detectives Anthology" ($149.95); and "Rumpole of the Bailey: Complete Series Megaset" ($99.95), which is based on John Mortimer's best-selling books and is featured on 14 discs.

Finally, since nobody likes an unhappy child during the holiday season, unless of course it's a cruel sibling with esteem issues or your Uncle Film Critic, recommended titles to keep them smiling--at least for the moment--include Pixar’s “Toy Story Trilogy” ($100.00) on Blu-ray; “Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics 2” ($99.95); “Abbot and Costello: The Complete Universal Picture Collection” ($119.98), which is perfect for kids, as is the "Harry Potter Years 1-6 Giftset,” ($99.98).

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