Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film
Author/illustrator Edward Ross pens this hybrid of graphic novel and film school text, complementing elegant ink drawings of classic films, stars, and filmmakers with a surprisingly dense and informative text on cinema history and theory. Or, to put it another way: it’s probably the first graphic novel in history to include the phrase, “As James Naremore posits…” or, “As cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek puts it…”
Awakening the Eye: Robert Frank’s American Cinema
Frank is mostly regarded for his still photography, subversive portraits of American iconography (and famous people), but his station as a documentary filmmaker has been getting its proper due as of late, thanks to a new documentary and this outstanding volume from film studies professor George Kouvaros. Adroitly connecting the filmmaker’s life, films, and photography, Kouvaros peers deep into the work of an under-appreciated yet endlessly influential artist.
Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane
Look, there’s no shortage of Orson Welles books out there, or deep dives into his work. But this bulky bio (747 pages, minus notes and index) isn’t just another walk down the well-trod path of his sharp rise and long fall — in fact, Patrick McGilligan’s book ends with Welles calling “action” on Citizen Kane, the point in his life most volumes would rush to get to. And given the room to luxuriate in the early years, McGilligan is free to study the man and not the legend, resulting in the most comprehensive portrait yet of this vital artist’s formative period.
Woody: The Biography / Woody Allen: A Retrospective
It’s a tricky time to put out a Woody Allen biography, and credit where due: David Evanier’s biography engages with the recent firestorm around the filmmaker, though it is (unsurprisingly) sympathetic to Allen. But he’s also not an apologist, and the book offers a fair assessment of Allen’s life and work. The latter is the key interest of Tom Shone’s Retrospective; following his similarly subtitled volume last year on Martin Scorsese, it’s a handsome coffee-table book that tackles the Allen oeuvre film by film, pairing gorgeous illustrations with Shone’s customarily insightful text.
Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir
We encouraged you to pick up Terry Gilliam’s “pre-posthumous memoir” (which became an even funnier title after a certain trade publication’s embarrassingly premature obituary publication) via a text excerpt, but this is one you really have to hold in your hands. Gilliam, ever the inventive designer, has put together an autobiography as ingeniously and busily laid out as his old Python cartoons, chock full of photos, goofy illustrations, scrapbook ephemera, and general silliness. Other former Pythons have written volumes as informative, but none have been this much fun.
The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road
Another one we’ve mentioned before, and sure, it’s been out a while (since roughly the movie’s release, unsurprisingly). But as 2015 comes to a close, it’s hard to think of a movie more visually striking than George Miller’s miracle masterpiece — and this knockout coffee-table book walks you through every step of its journey to the screen, from concept drawings to storyboards to behind-the-scenes photos, all of them downright stunning.
W.C. Fields: Comedy Essentials Collection
The DVD availability of Fields’ films has proven wildly uneven — while the best were collected in two handsome box sets, the rest were damn near impossible (or, at least, pricey) to attain. Thankfully, this definitive collection of his Universal output includes not only the pictures in that earlier box set, but titles that were previously available only on DVD-R, in other performers’ box sets, or internationally. It’s a tad pricy ($75 on Amazon), but a must for fans of classic comedy; every movie isn’t a home run, but Fields always is.
Sure, it’s a TV show — but Mystery Science Theater 3000 is TV show for movie geeks (and a newly relevant one at that). Their 34th four-movie collection replicates their usual, crowd-pleasing two Joels/two Mikes formula, giving us two titles from the early days of the Sci-Fi Channel era (The Undead and The Sea Creature, which both hold up better than I remembered) and two classics from Season 3. Viking Women and the Sea Serpent is a Roger Corman programmer that offers up the usual pleasures, but the jewel of the set is War of the Colossal Beast, not only for the thoroughly goofy feature (a sequel to the earlier third season giant-radioactive-guy movie, The Amazing Colossal Man), but for one of their most notorious short films, the absolutely baffling Mr. B. Natural. Add in the usual assortment of intros (this time by TV’s Frank), trailers, and a mini-doc on American International Pictures, and you’ve got yet another must-have set from Shout Factory.
The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special
Again, this is technically television — but seriously, find me a movie geek who doesn’t love Paul Reubens’ beloved creation, or the five-season Saturday morning CBS program that featured it. This prime-time special from 1988 (originally titled Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse) is a fine showcase of what he did well — goofy running bits, high-energy comedy, and early appearances by the likes of Laurence Fishburne and S. Epatha Merkerson — coupled with Christmas cheer and a cavalcade of guest stars, from timeless icons like Frankie and Annette, Cher, Little Richard, and Joan Rivers to such wonderfully of-the-moment folk as Charo, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Grace Jones. Yes, it’s a Christmas special with Grace Jones. Do with that information what you will.
Forbidden Hollywood Volume 9
A few years back, Warner Brothers shuttled their essential Pre-Code series off to the Archive Collection, but we’ve seen no marked decrease in the quality of the titles — witness the latest collection, which gives us four terrific flicks from before (and one after) the Hays Code was properly enforced. The most famous of the bunch is the Bette Davis vehicle The Cabin in the Cotton (aka The One Where Queen Bette Says “I’d Love To Kiss You, But I Just Washed My Hair”), but my favorite is the wonderful When Ladies Meet, a sophisticated, sparkling, witty comedy of adultery starring a fast-talking Myrna Loy and a charming Robert Montgomery. As in many of these films, there’s a marvelous dexterity to the musicality of the dialogue, and the discussions of female sexuality are (sadly) unusual now, to say nothing of then. It’s a lot of fun; same goes for the set.
Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Trilogy
A true movie nerd certainly already has the BTTF trilogy — quite possibly on Blu-ray, via the 25th anniversary trilogy set from 2010. But we movie geeks are also completists, and this new set (pegged to not only the first film’s 30th anniversary, but also the “Back to the Future Day” Doc and Marty traveled to in Part II) features a new disc of bonus features, including Doc Brown shorts, featurettes, and episodes of the BTTF cartoon. Plus, y’know, the movies, which remain great.
The Apu Trilogy (Criterion Collection)
Legenday Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s immortal trilogy finally gets the Criterion treatment, with three features (1955’s Pather Panchali, 1956’s Aparajito, and 1959’s Apur Sansar) tracking the early years of a young Bengali man named Apu. Adopting a slice-of-life approach and a playful sense of narrative, Ray’s films — shot primarily with amateur actors and crews — capture the rhythms of village life, the episodic nature of young adulthood, and the complexity of family relationships. His work glows with warmth and affection for these characters; they’re modest films, yet the smallest moments tremble with recognition and empathy.
Walt Disney Short Films Collection / Inside Out
Anna, Elsa, and Olaf are front and center on the cover of this short film collection from the Mouse House, but such abbreviated sequels as the flaccid Frozen Fever and Tangled Ever After aren’t even close to the highlights of this solid collection. This viewer’s much more partial to the bold experimentation and narrative ingenuity of films like the elegant life-via-dog tale Feast, the black-and-white, dialogue-free Paperman, the jazzy Lorenzo, and the clever bait-and-switch Get a Horse! Conspicuous in its absence is Lava, the most divisive Disney short in recent memory; it turns up on the Blu-ray release of its original accompanying feature, Inside Out, which also includes a new sequel short of its own, Riley’s First Date? Wherever you sit on Lava, there’s no denying Inside Out is one of Pixar’s all-time best, by turns wise, heart-wrenching, and uproariously funny. The 3D Blu-ray presentation makes a great movie even more fun at home.
The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki
At 215 big ones, this is the priciest item on our list — and worth every damn penny. This Amazon exclusive from Disney features gorgeous Blu-ray transfers of the Japanese master’s 11 feature films, from 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro to 2013’s The Wind Rises, beautifully housed in a hardbound case, with a companion book (including biographical analysis and film-by-film notes by the filmmaker) and a bonus disc of short films — and, sadly, his retirement press conference. It’s an appropriate tribute to the work of one of cinema’s finest artists, and the movie geek drool object of the season.