‘Tis the season… for losing your damn mind trying to figure out what to get the obsessive pop culture junkie on your gift list. Look, we get it, these people are impossible to shop for – but have no fear, for we are here to help. Flavorwire has combed through the best new stuff for book lovers, music fans, movie buffs, and more, and are happy to present to you our suggestions for the stuff they have to have this holiday.
FOR ARTY BOOKWORMS
We’ve made no secret of our love for The Folio Society, who create handsomely bound, newly illustrated editions of classic books. They’ve been on a real host streak lately, with creepy reissues of The Shining and The Exorcist, an ingeniously designed Philip K. Dick double-header, and their ongoing James Bond series. Other recent highlights include two more jaw-dropping Jane Austen volumes (Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey), a sensational new edition of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, and my personal favorite, a beautiful new reissue of The Little Prince that preserves Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s iconic illustrations, but adds a second “commentary” volume of preliminary sketches and drawings, with page-by-page descriptions.
If you’re looking for something a little less highbrow, then Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction, a meticulously researched, energetically written, and entertainingly illustrated compendium of trends, publishers, creators, and all those fabulous covers.
FOR CINEPHILE BOOKWORMS
Film historian and biographer Scott Eyman usually tackles either a single iconic film figure (John Wayne, Cecil B. DeMille, Ernst Lubitsch, John Ford) or a particular element of the movie business. For his latest, Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart, he undertakes the ambitious notion of a dual biography, tracking the rise of two of classic Hollywood’s most beloved leading men, via both their numerous intersections and divergences.
On last year’s list, we heartily recommended the deluxe companion book to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth; this year, we again give the stamp of approval to Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, which glances a bit further back in the master’s filmography via gorgeous stills, sketches, storyboards, and behind the scenes photos; insightful text from two of our faves, Matt Zoller Seitz and Simon Abrams; and an introduction by GDT himself.
And the University of Mississippi’s “Conversations with Filmmaker” series – an invaluable resource for film scholars, film students, and filmmakers – has a new addition in the form of Wong Kar-wai: Interviews, which collects nearly thirty years of thoughtful conversations with the director of Chunking Express, In The Mood for Love, and Happy Together.
FOR BOWIE-LOVING BOOKWORMS
If we’re being honest, a book like Pat Gilbert’s Bowie: The Illustrated Story is straight-up catnip for this site, where we’ve been known to obsess a bit over the late, great singer/songwriter/actor/genius. The design is lovely, the photos are aces, and the text is breezy, if a bit slight; those looking for a bit more heft should complement it with the new David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones’ definitive (until the next one comes along) biography, which is dense and well-researched but still engaging and chatty.
FOR BINGE-WATCHING BOOKWORMS
Alan Sepinwall, the razor-sharp TV critic for UPROXX, pens the new Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion, a very deep-dive, episode by episode, into Vince Gilligan’s landmark television series. It’s a must-have for any fan of the show, or of good television writing; the structure of the book gives it the definitiveness of a recap collection, but recaps written with years to ponder each episode, rather than a couple of hours before a tight deadline.
And for those with a soft spot for shows a little older and lighter – but no less groundbreaking – there’s You’re Gonna Make It After All: The Life, Times, and Influence of Mary Tyler Moore, in which author Marc Shapiro profiles (with grace and affection) the woman who fronted not one, but two of the most important sitcoms ever made.
FOR BINGE WATCHERS
There are always plenty of TV box sets worth picking up, but the season’s must-have is Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series, which collects all 18 episodes of David Lynch’s riveting revival – plus an impressive array of featurettes, photos, panels, and riddles – into one dazzling package. But hell, they could sell this thing in a gunny sack for all we care: it’s got all of those shows, spellbinding, beautiful, baffling, and terrifying.
FOR CULT MOVIE FANS
In The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema, author Michael Vaughn assembles a smorgasboard of bizarre, horrifying, and straight-up inexplicable flicks, organized by genre and title, and written in the fast, funny style of a viewer that clearly enjoys these pictures without sneering at them. That book pairs nicely with editor Stephen Jones’ The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History , a coffee table book for horror geeks, which supplements its thorough decade-by-decade history of scary movies (each from a different author) with a remarkable array or rare posters, ads, and archival illustrations original artwork. The result is a terrific volume that’s both chic and disreputable.
If your recipient’s interests are a tad more narrow, may we suggest Spinal Tap: The Big Black Book, in which author Wallace Fairfax gives England’s loudest band the full-on deluxe Beatles Anthology-style treatment, with nary a wink to the fact that they’re, y’know, fictional. The book is full of fun “facts,” photos, and even several items of “priceless facsimilie memorabilia.” It’s a gas.
And finally, if you really wanna bring Christmas morning to a grinding halt, look no further than the American Genre Film Archive’s new, deluxe Blu-ray restoration and release of … Bat Pussy. Widely considered the first porn parody movie, Bat Pussy – whose makers, and even exact date of production and release, are a mystery – is a genuinely terrible movie, but one so mind-boggling in its badness, in its sheer chutzpah and profound lack of eroticism, it sort of has to be seen to be believed. Sort of.
FOR CLASSIC FILM FANS
For its 80th anniversary, the Frank Capra classic Lost Horizon gets a snazzy Blu-ray release, pairing the utopian fantasy with a fine array of bonus features and a sharp new booklet. The movie’s never looked better, and it’s still a sugar-coated treat, an outlier in the Capra filmography that reminds us of the scope of his considerable gifts.
Two late-period vehicles from Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace leading man Cary Grant are also getting the special edition treatment, via Olive Signature. And while neither Father Goose nor Operation Petticoat are likely to supplant North by Northwest or Only Angles Have Wings as anyone’s favorite Grant, they have their pleasures – not the least of which is Grant’s considerable charm, which he wears as comfortably and off-handedly as an old pair of sneakers.
And the folks at Twilight Time have been putting out some real bangers as of late – check their catalogue for proof – your film editor particularly enjoyed recent viewings of Martin Ritt’s The Long Hot Summer and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Suddenly Last Summer, which beyond their obvious qualities, are also a welcome escape into sweltering climes as the temperatures drop around here.
FOR HOLIDAY MOVIE LOVERS
It wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas movies, and Holiday Inn is one of the best – the O.G. “White Christmas” movie, thank you very much, with Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds just a-hoofin’ and a-singin’ and a-holidayin’ it up. And it looks fabulous, thanks to Universal’s new 75th anniversary Blu-ray release.
And speaking of big anniversaries, Fox has put out a snazzy new 70th anniversary Blu-ray for Miracle on 34th Street, and it is truly one of the all-time great holiday flicks, the good-hearted story of a department store Santa who might be the real thing. (Also, accept only the original, none of those trash remakes.) And Fox is also putting out a new Blu-ray edition of Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, which your film editor had always assumed was kind of a thruway forgotten cash-in sequel, but many of the ‘90s Kids on social media assure me is a beloved yearly revisit, a regular It’s A Wonderful Life for that set. Learn something new every day!
The online educational seminar Master Class has put together a genuinely astonishing array of celebrities to teach you, the lowly computer owner, their craft: you can learn acting from Samuel L. Jackson, filmmaking from Werner Herzog and Ron Howard, singing from Christina Aguilera, composition from Hans Zimmer, comedy from Steve Martin, fiction writing from Judy Blume, tennis from Serena Williams, basketball from Steph Curry, fashion design from Marc Jacobs, fiction writing from Judy Blume… you get the idea. Personally, I’m planning to take David Mamet’s dramatic writing class, in the hopes that, if nothing else, I can learn how to better curse people out in advance of my holiday family gatherings. Anyway, the courses run $90 a pop; the far better deal is to give an All-Access Pass, offering unlimited access to all the courses for only $180.
FOR COMEDY BUFFS
Anyone who’s seen the wonderful documentary Joan Rivers: A Piee of Work knows the late comedian kept everything – all her old joke cards, clippings, files, and photos – and that archive makes up the bulk of Joan Rivers Confidential, assembled by her daughter Melissa (with Scott Currie). It’s impeccably designed and remarkably thorough, painting a complete picture of the legendary comic and her remarkable career.
And you couldn’t ask for a better companion to the new Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – though Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy will scratch a bit of that itch as well. The author is James Curtis, who has also written stellar biographies of W.C. Fields, Spencer Tracy, Preston Sturges, and William Cameron Menzies, among others; here, he takes a close look at Mr. Sahl, the topical comic whose laid-back monologues, often drawn from the day’s newspapers, were innovative then and (surprisingly enough) still funny today.
And last year, Universal did us the tremendous service of finally piecing together all of the W.C. Fields movies they’d slapped onto various sets and singles into one big, super-collection; this year, they’ve done the same with another legend of the era, putting together the most excellent Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection. And yes, the painfully unfunny TV specials and unenlightened social and political views of Mr. Hope’s later years colored current perceptions pretty significantly. But once upon a time, he was funny as hell – and sharp, and hip – and we’re seeing a bit of a public rehabilitation for the comic, thanks to Richard Zoglin’s excellent 2014 biography and the forthcoming American Masters special on Hope. It’s included in this set, along with 21 of his funniest pictures, including Monsieur Beaucaire, The Ghost Breakers, The Paleface, and four of his Road movies with Bing Crosby.
We included Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection in this guide all the way back in 2012, but now they’ve supplemented this array of Hitchcock classics (including Psycho, Rear Window, and North By Northwest) with two more discs of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes directed by the man himself, and dubbed it Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection. So, sorry, you have to buy it again – and if you were holding out, well, congratulations, well-played.
Silent film aficionados will drool for Fritz Lang: The Silent Films, in which Kino collects all the surviving silent features of the incredible German stylist, including Metropolis, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, and Spies. The restorations are beautiful, the soundtracks are crisp, and the entire set is a ravishing tribute to one of cinema’s first true artists.
And if you’d like to spend a few less ducets, Kino also put out a new Blu-ray restoration of The Last Laugh, the miraculous and heartbreaking silent classic from director F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu, Sunrise). His camerawork and compositions are as breathtaking as ever, but the big draw here is Emil Jannings, whose performance as a hotel doorman undone by his pride is one of the greats of all silent cinema.
The Criterion Collection released the first collection of titles from the World Cinema Project, a showcase for world cinema from Martin Scorsese’s invaluable preservation organization The Film Foundation, all the way back in 2013; its follow-up was worth the wait. Painstakingly restoring six masterworks – the oldest from 1931, the newest from 2000 – from the Philippines (Insiang), Thailand (Mysterious Object at Noon), Soviet Kazakhstan (Revenge), Brazil (Limite), Turkey (Law of the Border), and Taiwan (Taipei Story), Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, No. 2 is an exhilarating introduction to new cinemascapes, and the fresh voices that have filled them.
If your taste for international film runs closer to the grindhouse than the art house, Scream Factory also has a sequel box set for you. The Paul Naschy Collection II assembles five more Spanish horror flicks starring Mr. Naschy, a regional superstar with the versatility of Lon Chaney, the ubiquity of Bela Lugosi, and the charisma of Vincent Price. Even the titles are juicy: A Dragonfly for Each Corpse is probably my favorite, but The Werewolf and the Yeti is running a very close second.
FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE MUSIC IN BOXES
Issac Hayes was one of the true geniuses of ‘70s soul, and his unmatched albums from the era (like Black Moses and Hot Buttered Soul) are rich symphonies of funk and seduction. But he was also one of Stax Records’ most valuable jacks-of-all-trades, making his bones at the company as a songwriter and producer before stepping into the spotlight himself. The true value of Craft Recordings’ must-have four-disc set The Spirit of Memphis (1962-1976) is that it honors both of those legacies, devoting a full disc to his efforts at the knobs, another to his own hit singles, a third to his powerhouse cover recordings, and a fourth to extended jams from his marathon sessions, most of them previously unreleased. This set is simply indispensible, especially for any old school R&B fans.
Perhaps winking at the unlucky number of its chronology, the latest Bob Dylan archival set, The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 – Trouble No More (1979-1981) , covers possibly his most controversial period (yes, even more than going electric): his years as a strident “born again Christian,” during which he released three sharply evangelical records and gave his most contentious concerts since his British tour with the Band in 1966. But the period is due for reappraisal, and worth the trouble: while the lyrical content of some of the gospel songs remains dubious, there’s no denying the skill of the instrumentation and production. And the live recordings are particularly rousing; Dylan was working with one of his best backing ensembles in this period, and their shows cooked – particularly, it’s clear, once Dylan backed off his original vow not to perform any of the old songs.
And finally, the ongoing series of fancy-ass David Bowie reissue box sets continues with brick number three, A New Career in a New Town (1977-1982) . So, yes, it kicks off with the Berlin Trilogy, the live album Stage, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), and the new singles-and-b-sides compilation Re:Call 3, plus an assortment of other miscellanea (depending on your choice of media). It’s one of the artist’s most fertile and fascinating periods – and that is saying something.