Back in 2013, after the tragic shuttering of the great film site The Dissolve (RIP), distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories and Scott Tobias (one of the site’s editors) began an ambitious venture: a new, side site for Oscilloscope called Musings, in which film writers could explore the history of the medium and the great films within it, without being tied to the click-demanding confines of new releases and significant anniversaries. And now we have Musings: Volume One and Musings: Volume Two, a pair of lovingly curated volumes of the best writing from that site, by some of our favorite film writers, including K. Austin Collins, Alissa Wilkinson, Matthew Dessem, Keith Phipps, April Wolfe, Bilge Ebiri, and Flavorwire alums Judy Berman and Alison Nastasi. If you’re shopping for someone whose tastes lean more towards the classics, good news: Letters from Hollywood is a fascinating peek behind the curtains of the industry – or, more accurately, into its offices and boardrooms, compiling memos, notes, letters, and telegrams from executives, filmmakers, and stars. Plenty of books dive into what’s on the screen; few are this fascinated with exactly how it got there. And if their tastes run wilder, there’s a new volume of Werner Herzog’s Scenarios, which we told you about in this space last year; the idiosyncratic filmmaker’s screenplays are less “scripts” than free-flowing novellas, and Scenarios III includes his treatments of Stroszek, Nosferatu, Where the Green Ants Dream, and Cobra Verde.
If someone in your family or crew of friends adores action/adventure movies – and has the full set-up, with the big-screen TV and 4K disc player – look no further. The new 007: The Daniel Craig Collection presents Mr. Craig’s four outings as James Bond (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and SPECTRE) in glorious 4K and subwoofer-rumbling sound, to better immerse yourself in 007’s adventures. Or you can pick up Mission: Impossible – 6-Movie Collection, which assembles all the entries to date of the only all-good franchise (look into your hearts, you know it’s true). And if you think they’re covered by having these on Blu-ray already, well, take a look at those big IMAX action scenes in 4K, and think again.
Why did movie villains always have the good cars, the good toys, and most importantly, the good hideouts? Look to Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains, which takes an up-close look at the homes of the bad guys in Body Double, Superman, North by Northwest, Ex Machina, Dr. Strangelove, and, yes, several Bond movies. With still photographs, meticulous architectural illustrations and renderings (by Carlos Fueyo), text, and interviews, editor Chad Oppenheim investigates what these lairs say about both their films’ contemporary architecture and society – and how they influenced both.
For the past two-plus decades, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency has collected some of the finest and funniest writing on the web – so much so that their new collection of those pieces, Keep Scrolling Till You Feel Something, is as thick as a Bible. So they just leaned into that, with appropriate art and binding surrounding uproarious pieces by John Hodgman, Ellie Kemper, Megan Amram, Mike Sacks, Jesse Eisenberg, Josh Gondelman, and many, many more. Those who like their comedy a little more old-school (and on their TV or laptop screens) will want to grab Shout Select’s new Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection, which gives the Blu-ray bump to an astonishing twenty-eight of their classic comedies, including Buck Privates, Who Done It?, Hold That Ghost, and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (and the Invisible Man, and the Mummy, and…).
The box for Cinephile: A Card Game is small, and the set-up seems simple: a couple of decks of cards, a pad for notes, and instructions. But that simplicity is deceptive. Players can use those cards – which feature a variety of classic and contemporary actors, in one of their best-known roles – to play five different, ingenious games, drawing on the player’s knowledge of their filmographies. It’s a terrific party game for movie geeks. If you’re shopping for a music geek instead, grab The NME Music Quiz Book, which collects over one thousand questions from the beloved music mag’s 66-year history (!!), on topics ranging from all-time bestsellers to near-death experiences.
If you like to give gifts early, you’re in luck: Hingston and Olsen are back with another edition of their Short Story Advent Calendar, which offers up a daily dose of short fiction (from the likes of Lauren Groff, Anthony Doerr, Omar El Akkad, Ian Williams, and Casey Plett)– one per day, through the holidays. And if you want to get your reader recipient ready for next fall, or just want them to enjoy a spooky Christmas, the publisher also has Ghost Box III, the latest (and last) installment of the individually-wrapped scary story series edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt, with stories by Richard Matheson, Poppy Z. Brite, Gertrude Atherton, and many more.
When Cobra Kai, the 34-years-later series sequel to the Karate Kid movies, premiered on YouTube Premiere last year, it sounded like the worst kind of desperate, nostalgia-tinged cash grab. Instead, viewers were treated to an uncommonly thoughtful (and still cleverly entertaining) meditation on dwelling in the past and living in the future, drawing heavily on co-star/co-executive producers Ralph Macchio and William Zaba’s complicated feelings on living with these characters for all these years. YouTube’s premium channel is still a bit spottily-viewed, so the new Cobra Kai Collector’s Edition: Season 1 & 2 DVD set should relieve fans (who even get a two-sided headband for their trouble). And Star Trek lovers, the original superfans, will delight in the Picard Movie & TV Collection, which assembles (in advance of the forthcoming Star Trek: Picard CBS All-Access spin-off series) all four of Patrick Stewart’s big-screen adventures as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and two double-length TNG episodes, for one low price.
Mary J. Blige’s HerStory, Vol 1, assembling her first batch of brilliant ‘90s hits, is getting the treatment you’d expect for a music legend: CD, 2LP, and digital versions. But the true fan of Queen Mary J. will want the real “box set,” which collects her first eight singles on 45rpm, with contemporaneous remixes on the B-sides. They’re a little more work to listen to, but boy are they worth it – those first records still crackle with her scrappy energy and attitude, and remain some of the finest R&B recordings of the era. And if you’ve got a classic rock fan on your list, it’s become easy to take Apple’s annual 40th anniversary reissues of the Beatles’ discography for granted – but the new Abbey Road Anniversary Edition is one of the best of the series, with gorgeous new mixes of the original, classic album (on both CD and a stunning Blu-ray) and two session discs, featuring working versions, outtakes, and alternate versions from the Fab Four’s final time together in the studio. (Vinyl versions are also available of this one.)
As the Criterion Collection neared spine number #100, cinephiles speculated in hush tones over what might get that milestone marker – presumably something Important and Serious, like the Ingmar Bergman box set (a highlight of last year’s guide). Instead, Criterion went full-on fun, with Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975, a knockout Blu-ray collection of fifteen Godzilla classics, in their original form, plus the usual assortment of peerless Criterion extras. It’s a must-have for fans of genre cinema, Japanese filmmaking, and, well, giant friggin’ monster movies. If your film fan leans towards older (and, okay, a bit more serious) fare, then Kino-Lorber’s Ida Lupino Filmmaker Collection is the way to go. This excellent box collects four selections – The Bigamist, Never Fear, Not Wanted, and the stunning The Hitch-Hiker – from Lupino, the groundbreaking female filmmaker of the 1940s and 1950s. So they’re vital from a historical standpoint, but they’re also a blast, tasty slices of vintage drama and noir from a true master. And if your cinephile’s tastes run a little… well, let’s just come out and say it, pervier, Kino Lorber has also granted us the gift of The 3-D Nutie-Cuties Collection, restoring two rare three-dimensional sexploitation features (and a pair of shorts). And, bonus, one of them is The Bellboy and the Playgirls, a film whose 3-D sequences were directed by a hungry young filmmaker named Francis Ford Coppola.
The Folio Society’s handsomely bound and beautifully illustrated editions of classic books are ideal for the bibliophile on your list, and two recent releases are especially ideal for anyone with an interest in women and their stories. Helen Castor’s Joan of Arc: A History was already an essential read; the Folio edition supplements Castor’s meticulously researched text with illustrations, maps, and a new introduction by the author (read an excerpt here). And while The Handmaid’s Tale is presumably in any applicable library, Folio Society’s edition of Oryx and Crake shines a spotlight on one of Margaret Atwood’s other essentials; check out a gallery of its illustrations by Harriet Lee-Merrion here.
But Folio’s crowning achievement of the season is their heavyweight Marvel: The Golden Age 1939-1949, a beautiful, hardbound collection of four full-color classics from the forties (The Sub-Mariner #1, The Human Torch #5, Captain America Comics #10, and All Winners Comics #19), plus a stand-alone recreation of Marvel Comics #1, dated October 1939. The art is gorgeous and the storytelling is sharp, but this collection is also a frankly heart-warming reminder that once upon a time, this dominating cultural force was just an upstart comic book label, telling timely stories with bold new heroes.
Look, I know the last thing you want to hear about is a new Twin Peaks box set - after all, they've already put out the original series on Blu-ray twice, and The Return once. But here's the thing: Twin Peaks: From Z to A is kind of essential anyway, collecting every damn piece of David Lynch and Mark Frost's innovative and brilliant series in one place: all three seasons, Fire Walk with Me, The Missing Pieces, tons of behind-the-scenes stuff, and 4K UltraHD versions of the original series pilot and the mind-melting eigth episode of the most recent series. And it's ingeniously put together, making it, y'know, a great gift.
Some people just live and breathe the holidays, and as soon as Christmas has passed, they’re ready for it to come back around again. So why not keep them in the spirit with great holiday movies? Paramount just put out a drop-dead gorgeous 4K version of It’s a Wonderful Life, which also includes the film’s already stellar Blu-ray edition; it’s one of the all-time holiday classics for a reason. And don’t forget, in its big “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!” climax, George Bailey lobs a holiday greeting at the movie house, which is playing The Bells of St. Mary’s – which itself has a sharp new Blu-ray special edition out for the season. And that, my friends, is a feel-good double-feature.