The Film Stage’s 2017 Holiday Gift Guide
The holidays are upon us, so whether you looking for film-related gift ideas or simply want to pick up some of the finest the year had to offer in the category for yourself, we have a gift guide for you. Including must-have subscriptions, the best from Criterion, Olive Films, and more, the television season to own all television seasons, book picks, and more, dive in below.
Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick)
A new restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s gorgeous period recently arrived on The Criterion Collection, making for one of the year’s most essential releases. Featuring a wealth of special features, this tale of an Irish man’s rise to English nobility is a slyly funny, picturesque achievement. Upon a rewatch of Barry Lyndon, I was also struck how much Andrew Dominik must have drew on the film when it comes to voice-over and tone for his 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. – Jordan R.
The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 by Tanya Lapointe (Genuine Entertainment/Alcon Entertainment/NECA)
There isn’t a film released in 2017 that better warrants a large-scale artistic appreciation than Blade Runner 2049. Denis Villeneuve’s wondrous, critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing sequel has as much visual ingenuity and verve as Ridley Scott’s predecessor. The film’s background, design work, and production are brought to vivid life in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049. Intriguingly, author Tanya Lapointe breaks down the rights issues that slowed down the development process, as well as the reasons why Scott stepped out of the director’s chair. And throughout the book are concept art and production stills that document how sequences like the three-person “sex surrogate” scene and end-of-film “Sea Wall” fight came to be. The Art and Soul is a truly illuminating companion to a modern classic. – Christopher S.
Back in 2013, Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project landed on The Criterion Collection, featuring such under-appreciated international classics as Touki Bouki and The Housemaid. Four years later, we now get the second edition of his ongoing mission. The latest set features all films that were new-to-me, with the best of the bunch being Mário Peixoto’s thrilling avant-garde work Limite, Edward Yang’s tenderly-constructed story of an evolving city, Taipei Story, and Lino Brocka’s uncompromising melodrama Insiang. – Jordan R.
Metaphors on Vision by Stan Brakhage (Anthology Film Archives/Light Industry)
Avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision has long been out of print. But the book, originally a special issue of Film Culture, has been reissued by Anthology Film Archives, and has never looked better. Filled with interviews and stunningly designed, this is one of 2017’s most essential texts. It is a “beautiful and strange object,” as the book’s French introduction called it, that is now easier to read thanks to the corrected text. It is also carefully annotated. Most impressively, this fitting textual tribute to one of the artist’s greatest works is highlighted by his own words. – Christopher S.
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
To call Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker a sci-fi epic might be a touch disingenuous when we think of the term in a Hollywood context. However, few other films are able to so fully transport the viewer to a distinct environment such as “The Zone” created here, and on the “epic” side, deliver existential questions that will stir in the soul far after the credits roll. Stalker is a monumental experience and, like many great films, one that might shift in meaning as the viewer returns to it again and again. – Jordan R.
The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History by Stephen Jones (Applause Books)
Poster art is also featured prominently in The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History, a delightful companion to 2015’s The Art of Horror. Editor Stephen Jones has compiled a comprehensive overview of the genre, stretching from “sinister silents” like Pabst’s Pandora’s Box to recent efforts like Crimson Peak, The Babadook, and even Coraline. But the standouts are the depictions of icons like Vincent Price in 1960’s The Fall of the House of Usher and Peter Cushing in 1965’s The Skull. – Christopher S.
Suspiria (Dario Argento)
This is a bit of a cheat as it doesn’t arrive until less than a week before Christmas and we don’t have our hands on it yet, but Synapse Films has done a new 4K restoration of the original uncut, uncensored Italian 35mm camera negative of Suspiria and a 3-disc Blu-ray steelbook will arrive this month. Supervised by cinematographer Luciano Tovol, this is the ideal gift before Luca Guadgnino’s version of the Dario Argento classic premieres next year.
Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni)
It’s fitting that the first English-language Michelangelo Antonioni film joining The Criterion Collection is also his debut in that regard. After crafting his impeccable trilogy on modernity in Italy, the director ventured to London for what would become a countercultural touchstone. Gorgeously restored for this release, with its vibrant color palette popping like never before, Blow-Up is a transfixing exploration of artistic self-expression and existential mood. As with the majority of Antonioni’s films, it’s one that only grows more impressive the farther one is removed from it, as its intoxicating images linger in the mind. In an expanded accompanying booklet, Criterion have outdone themselves, featuring a piece about the film, one that goes behind the scenes of its creation, and another featuring the Julio Cortázar short story it’s based on. On the disc, the highlight is a new 53-minute documentary which recalls the making of the film as well as visiting its locations in the present day. – Jordan R.
Twin Peaks: A Limited Series Event (David Lynch)
Most of us watched Twin Peaks in huddled masses, cast under the spell of anticipation and surprise just as we were subjected to the limited A/V qualities of cable. Streaming services were an upgrade, but there was often the sense that something larger was waiting to be unfurled. Lo and behold, then, the Blu-ray release of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s grand creation, which can now be experienced in durations closer to its conception as an 18-hour movie. Special features do not disappoint, and especially impress in the case of Richard Beymer’s (a.k.a. Benjamin Horne) two behind-the-scenes documentaries, whose level of access is the closest we, personally, will ever come to being on-set with Lynch and co. This is one for the grandkids. – Nick N.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch)
Undoubtedly, 2017 was the year of Twin Peaks. The third season dominated summertime pop culture talk for 18 weeks, and the capper was the eagerly awaited Criterion release of Fire Walk With Me. Lynch’s once-maligned, now justifiably praised series prequel has lost none of its grim power, and it’s never looked or sounded better. Plus, the disc includes the famous “Missing Pieces” deleted scenes. From the Tremond-centric inner artwork to the gorgeous menu screen (yes, even the menu screen is a beaut), the Criterion release of Fire Walk With Me ranks with company’s most thrilling efforts to date. – Chris S.
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
Personal Shopper, a film that, like Fire Walk With Me, drew jeers at its Cannes’ debut. Watching the film more than a year later, it’s difficult to understand that reaction. The emotionally devastating ghost story is so unique, so exhilarating, and so wonderfully acted by Kristen Stewart that it deserves to be on year-end lists aplenty. And Stewart should not just be a Best Actress nominee — she should be the frontrunner. Alas, this most likely won’t prove to be the case. We have the Criterion Blu-ray, however, and that may help Personal Shopper achieve the cult status it so deserves. – Chris S.
Luca Guadgnino’s sensual coming-of-age romance is only playing in a few theaters at the moment, but thankfully there’s more than one way to pass the time before it hits theaters near you. A new edition of André Aciman’s novel has come out (another option: you can listen to the swooning sounds of Armie Hammer narrate the audio book). Having read it in between viewings of the film, it’s a great expansion/addition and, I believe, necessary to the complete experience. Of course, it goes great with the Sufjan Stevens-heavy soundtrack. – Jordan R.
What if arguably the greatest artist within what is arguably cinema’s most influential movement remained underseen outside his native country for entire decades? Seemingly inconceivable, yet so’s the case with Jacques Rivette. A lack of accessibility and the generally enormous length of his films has given many impression that these are difficult, obstinate works, yet the pictures in question are as enjoyable as they are open to possibility. Seen in pristine form, they’re more than ever like a window into a world heretofore unknown — and in the case of, say, Out 1, simply some of the finest films ever made. – Nick N.
The Making of Dunkirk by James Mottram (Insight Editions)
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk deserved a handsome behind-the-scenes book, and here it is — The Making of Dunkirk, from Insight Editions. The stills are plentiful, and yes, plenty feature Harry Styles. But the on-set photography and accompanying text is what makes this so fascinating. Much of the film, of course, was shot on water, and that carries with it a number of issues. One of The Making of’s finest sections deals with this element of the production, and includes this great tidbit from first assistant director Nilo Otero: “One of the first things I said was, ‘Where are we going to do the water stuff?’ Chris said, ‘I really want to do it on the Channel.’” Otero told Nolan the experience would be “horrible,” but they battled the Channel anyway. If you’ve seen Dunkirk, you know the production difficulties were worth it. – Christopher S.
In the next three picks, you’ll be getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to film-viewing. First up, putting the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, etc. to shame is FilmStruck, whose library full of titles from The Criterion Collection, TCM, and more will have you hesitant to get up from your couch. For those that purchase a yearly gift subscription, it comes with a free Roku Express for a limited time, making for easy access on your TV screen. – Jordan R.
If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices when it comes to the various streaming services, look no further than MUBI. With a constantly rotating list of 30 or so films, and a new one replacing the oldest each day, their platform features discoveries from both the United States and far abroad as well as exclusive runs and more. A quick glimpse at the current line-up and you have Jean-Luca Godard, Sion Sono, Andrzej Żuławski, Seijun Suzuki, Abel Ferrara, Andrew Bujalski, Spike Lee, and more. How’s that for variety? – Jordan R.
On the theatrical side, I’ve been a MoviePass member for years, but they made waves a few months ago when their one-movie-a-day service dropped to a jaw-dropping $9.95. While many questioned if the company will sustain itself at this pricepoint, they seem to be confident in their business plan, so while we see how it shakes out, one might as well jump in on the deal. – Jordan R.
In full disclosure, I work on the digital team for Film Comment, but in further disclosure, I was a subscriber (and great admirer) of the bi-monthly magazine prior. Featuring the best critical writing and features you’ll find in print, one can currently gift a free subscription with the purchase of another. Also available are bundles of the best issues of the ’80s and ’90s, making for the perfect throwback gift as well as collector’s items. – Jordan R.
Before Trilogy (Richard Linklater)
As the years pass in any relationship, one wishes they might have recorded that first interaction — the overwhelming euphoria of attraction and mutual edification of getting to know one another. This is one of the magnificent abilities of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, taken to even more romantic heights in his follow-up Before Sunset, both ravishingly restored in Criterion’s new trilogy box set, which also includes the feature-length documentary Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny. Upon watching all three films back-to-back, the few years of distance from Before Midnight also further strengthens its effect. The sheen of 35mm in the first two films — an idyllic correlation with the arc of Jesse and Celine — gives way to the more unforgiving use of an Arri Alexa in the most recent film, which feels like a culmination of the conversational strands of mortality their younger selves previously found delight in discussing. It offers a more mature, realistic depiction of love, with all of its bumps and bruises, and ultimately, the effort required for a reconciliation. While the release of the box set trilogy may signal a definitive end to series, throughout various conversations on the discs — most notably an excellent black-and-white documentary on the set of Before Midnight directed by Chevalier‘s Athina Rachel Tsangari — the trio never rule a return out, but the earliest they would start thinking about it is 2018. So, as we await a potential quadrilogy expansion in 2022, this Criterion set is one of their most remarkable releases: a beautiful tribute to perhaps cinema’s finest trilogy, and with its special features, a comprehensive reflection on its lasting, eternal power. – Jordan R.
The Lovers on the Bridge (Leos Carax)
Nine years before the fin de siècle came the brutal romance of Leos Carax’s The Lovers on the Bridge — well, nine years if you lived in France. American audiences could not experience Carax’s wounded, fragile love story until 1999, just one more bit of controversy for an already controversial film. Thankfully, Lovers now has a rightful place amongst the classics of the twentieth century. Starring Carax’s frequent leading man Denis Lavant as a street performer and a twentysomething Juliette Binoche as a one-eyed artist, it’s a film as noteworthy for its locale — Paris’s Pont Neuf bridge — as it is for its acting. Nevertheless, Lavant and Binoche are breathtaking, just like the glorious fireworks that explode during the film. Kino Lorber’s stunning Blu-ray release features a wonderfully insightful essay by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky as well as a fine video essay by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin. But the real treat is the film itself, a crucial effort from the filmmaker who would find his greatest success with 2012’s Holy Motors. While the latter is one of the most memorable efforts of the last decade, there’s no question that The Lovers on the Bridge is Carax’s mightiest achievement. – Christopher S.
Launched last year, Olive Films’s Signature label features beloved films in the finest quality one can want when it comes to home entertainment. Two highlights were just recently released with Max Ophüls’ heart-stirring melodrama Letter From an Unknown Woman and Elaine May’s dark comedy A New Leaf. With only 3,500 copies of each being mastered, not only would this holiday gift be essential, but it’ll also be rare. – Jordan R.
The Essential Wrapped In Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks by John Thorne
When Twin Peaks debuted on ABC in 1990, there were no message boards in which fans could argue and dissect the latest episodes. Starting in 1992, however, there was Wrapped In Plastic, the immortal Peaks’ fanzine. Just in time for the series return on Showtime is The Essential Wrapped In Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks. Here, WIP co-editor John Thorne brings together some of the publication’s most vital, important essays. Every episode is included, but what makes the book a must-read is the analysis of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Featuring everything from a probing look at the film’s strange critical response upon release to a convincing argument that the Chet Desmond section is actually “the dream of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper,” The Essential Wrapped In Plastic mesmerizes the reader with vivid, startling discoveries. – Christopher S.
Off the Cliff: Making of Thelma & Louise by Becky Aikman (Penguin Press)
The career of Ridley Scott is full of peaks and valleys. One of the peaks was the release of Thelma & Louise in 1991. The cultural impact of this story of two female outlaws cannot be overstated, and Becky Aikman’s account of the making of the film helps explain why. Thelma & Louise involved a unique cast of characters, including stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, as well as a young hunk named Brad Pitt. But the most memorable figures here are Scott, who knew his career needed a change but could not originally see himself making a movie “about women talking about guys and what assholes guys can be,” and screenwriter Callie Khouri, who “liked going to the movies but hated most of what she saw.” Off the Cliff is wonderfully readable, and a reminder of how much society craves great films centered around women. – Christopher S.
Tampopo (Jûzô Itami)
As the most basic level, Tampopo can be sold as Rocky with ramen, but the eccentric contours of Jûzô Itami’s 1985 hit make this more than a simple underdog story. Following a pair of truck drivers (including a young Ken Watanabe) who assist a widow in revitalizing her business and creating the perfect bowl of ramen, there’s also cuisine-centered erotism, gangster drama, spaghetti-eating lessons, a death-inducing final meal, and much more. Excelling both as a film about process and a swirling fantasy about culinary ecstasy, Tampopo is one of the best films about food ever made, perhaps even besting another Criterion release, Babette’s Feast. Along with the new mouthwatering 4K restoration, there’s a wealth of new interviews with those involved, as well as a Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos video essay, and a 1986 documentary on the making of the film narrated by Itami. – Jordan R.
Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-in Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s by Charles Taylor (Bloomsbury)
With Opening Wednesday, film critic Charles Taylor has written a glorious appreciation of the B-movies of the 1970s. This makes for a cinephile must-read. Many of the films Taylor includes here are well-known, such as Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop and Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. But several are much less-heralded, most notably Floyd Mutrux’s American Hot Wax and Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut. All are explored with enthusiasm and insight. The standout chapter is Taylor’s look at Jonathan Demme’s Citizen’s Band. For obvious reasons, it now feels like an epitaph for one of cinema’s greatest chroniclers of the “American outcasts.” As Taylor puts it, “the love of everyday weirdness, the texture of middle-class and working-class lives, made Demme, for a time, the natural heir to Preston Sturges.” – Christopher S.
Othello (Orson Welles)
One of the essential disc releases of the year was Criterion’s new edition of Orson Welles’ legendary adaptation of Othello. The film had an infamously protracted and fragmented production period, and its spotty availability on home video was only exacerbated by the problematic 1992 restoration. Now, the film is fully restored and available in two cuts on the new disc. The jewel of the set, however, may be the inclusion of the long unavailable Filming Othello, a 1978 documentary that represents Welles’ final feature-length effort and a great film in its own right. – Ryan S.
Ultimate Lego Star Wars by Andrew Becraft and Chris Malloy (DK)
Ultimate Lego Star Wars is tremendously entertaining. This definitive guide includes every Lego Star Wars figure and set ever made, right up to Rogue One. (I want little Ben Mendelsohn!) I asked my Lego and Star Wars-obsessed son for a review. His short and sweet take? “The Lego sets and minifigs are amazing.” I can’t disagree with Evan. Kids (and adults) will find much to covet in both books. – Christopher S.
Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison)
I could’ve included any number of excellent 2017 releases on this list, but I’ll specifically single out one that will surely stand the test time, partly due to how much it invests in exploring the unwieldy power of time itself. Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time focuses on an event in the 70s in which over 500 thought-to-be-lost nitrate film prints from many decades prior were discovered. Using these rare films and other archival materials, he tells a formally-fascinating tale of a lost era and delivers a call-to-action for current film preservation. Check out our review, where we said it might “just be the ultimate found footage film.” – Jordan R.
Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker by Stephen Galloway (Crown Archetype)
There is no overestimating Sherry Lansing’s impact on Hollywood history. As the first woman to be name president of a major studio (Paramount), she helped pave the way for countless female execs to come. As Stephen Galloway’s new biography Leading Lady demonstrates, she did so with poise, charm, and humility. The book includes colorful backstories of troubled films that eventually worked (Fatal Attraction, Titanic) and some that didn’t (Sliver). It’s compulsively readable, and full of juicy tidbits on her dealings with the likes of (gulp) Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin. – Christopher S.
Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola)
Emerging from the production of The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola retained much of the same crew (and some of the same cast) for his back-to-back follow-up Rumble Fish, which follows brothers (Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke) as they navigate lust, liquor, and longing. After being considered a disappointment amongst audiences and critics, its debut on Criterion is a much-deserved distinction. Featuring a sinewy new 4K restoration in all of its black-and-white glory, Coppola’s atmospheric, often experimental drama may initially catch one off guard with its heightened tone, but it quickly settles into being one of the most impressively emotional films of the director’s career. Highlights amongst the new special features includes an interview with author and co-screenwriter S. E. Hinton, who details her experience in a male-dominated circle of friends, and a fantastic conversation between cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and production designer Dean Tavoularis about the many technological advancements they were a part of. – Jordan R.
The Art of Mondo (Insight Editions)
If there is a “must own” book on this list, it is probably The Art of Mondo. The glorious, wildly imaginative posters collected in this Insight Editions coffee table book will be familiar to many; the designs from Scarface, Boogie Nights, The Thing, Drive, and others are oft-shared on social media. What makes The Art of Mondo so impressive, though, is the less-seen work made for films like her, Mood Indigo, Creepshow, and The Master. It’s a stupendous collection, and happily, the names of the artists are presented, in full, at book’s end. – Christopher S.
Sid & Nancy (Alex Cox)
It is fitting to see the long out-of-print release of Sid & Nancy, the story of the doomed romance between Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, back on Criterion in the year in which co-star Gary Oldman and cinematographer Roger Deakins are both part of the Oscar conversation. The supplements are wondrous, including insightful commentary tracks recorded in 1994 and 2001, but above all else is the film. From Oldman and Webb to the infamous “My Way” sequence, Sid & Nancy is one of the finest films of the 1980s. – Chris S.
This set may sound familiar as an earlier iteration first arrived back in 2012, but now Universal Pictures has upgraded the collection dedicated to The Master of Suspsense. While the films remain the same — Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, The Trouble with Harry, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot — this set now includes DVDs featuring seven episodes from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as three episodes from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and bonus features for each. If you have yet to add Hitchcock’s films to your collection, now is the time. – Jordan R.
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Source: The Film Stage