What do you give the committed cinephile with discerning taste? Even by limiting your options to new books and DVDs, the possibilities are dense and incredibly broad. In constructing this list of 10 options, we’ve emphasized a diverse range of options. Whether you’re shopping for a blockbuster junkie or arthouse enthusiast (or the rare breed equally enamored of both), just remember to do your homework first. The serious moviegoer gets feisty when misunderstood.
“Masters of Cinema: George Lucas”
Recently departed L.A. Weekly critic Karina Longworth’s contribution to Cahiers du Cinema’s “Masters of Cinema” series hits bookshelves in the wake of Lucas’ alleged retirement from filmmaking and the news of more “Star Wars” movies on the way, providing the ideal opportunity to look back on the filmmaker’s creative development. Filled with gorgeous, colorful stills on every page, Longworth’s overview combines biographical data with analysis of Lucas’ influences, beginning with the early stirrings of his cinematic awakening when exposed to experimental film in the early 1960s. Those non-commercial origins set up the stinging indictment of the book’s final chapter, when the “Star Wars” phenomenon is critiqued in Lucas’ own words, as he decries his role as the head of a corporate enterprise by comparing himself to Darth Vader. Published by Phaidon. Available on Amazon.
Highlights from the Criterion Collection.
It’s hard to know where to begin when perusing the typically plentiful options available from the Criterion Collection’s latest output, so we’ll stick to highlights from its December releases (although last month’s Director’s Cut of “Heaven’s Gate” also belongs on your radar). Your options are especially diverse: Viewers saddened by the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman series can take a look at the filmmaker’s origins with his cryptic debut, “Following,” a haunting black-and-white noir about a writer stalking people in London and drawn into seedier antics by one of the targets of his voyeuristic impulses. The story is told in a perplexing nonlinear fashion, but the DVD contains a “chronological edit” that puts the pieces together. However, those interested in an even more fragmented experience should look further than “The Qatsi Trilogy,” a gorgeous box set of Godfrey Reggio’s lyrical, Philip Glass-scored depiction of civilization’s deleterious impact on the natural world. From the rush of urban development in “Koyaaniqatsi” to the influx of digital technologies in “Naqoyqatsi,” Reggio’s vision is a fluid one, if persistently overwhelming. If you’d rather find a more overtly entertaining route to exploring the pratfalls of technology, stick with Criterion’s long-overdue Blu-ray treatment of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” available in a meaty package that contains both the bleak Director’s Cut and the “happy ending” theatrical version, both of which remain potent indictments of today’s media-saturated culture. Available on Amazon and the Criterion site.
“The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide: Make Your Feature Film for $2,000”
Filmmaker Glenn Berggoetz’s slim, accessible volume stands above countless other how-to guides to filmmaking by breaking down the entire process into seven breezy chapters ranging from “The Script” to “Funding.” His conversational tone gives the impression of a friendly advisory session rather than an attempt to tell you everything you need to know, but the final two chapters — “Getting Your Film Released” and “Checklist” — close things out on a practical note. Available on Amazon.
“Sokurov: Early Masterworks”
Cinema Guild’s newly translated collection of diverse efforts by master Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov is a must-have for fans of better-known achievements like the essential “Russian Ark”: Primarily a collection of short documentaries, the films span 20 years of output, including several literary achievements ranging from the Dostoevsky-inspired “Whispering Pages” (on Blu-ray) and “Save and Protect,” the director’s take on “Madame Bovary.” There’s also audio commentary by critic James Quant, a BBC program directed by Sokurov about Anton Chekov’s house and intriguing oddities like the 10-minute short “Sonata for Hitler.” Available on Amazon.
“The Story of Film”
Mark Cousins’ sprawling 15-hour treatment of film is one of the best overviews of the medium in recent years. With Cousin’s affable voiceover guiding viewers from one hourlong installment to the next, “The Story of Film” pushes for an international appreciation of the art form’s industrial developments while also foregrounding its distinctive linguistic qualities. As a result, it’s not only a guide to the process behind great filmmaking but an example of it as well. Released by Music Box Films. Available on Amazon.
“Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made”
Unless you’ve been privileged enough to view the fan film remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” produced by Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos in their adolescent years, you’ve probably just read about its legendary development. The shot-by-shot remake stars the young aspiring filmmakers and their friends, who grew up over the course of making the project — only to find it land in Steven Spielberg’s lap some 20 years later. Alan Eisenstock’s delightful narrative history of the production is an alternately charming and thrilling coming-of-age yarn with more palpable intrigue than any given installment from Indiana Jones’ life — because while Indy’s drama was a work of fiction, the perils that these boys went through to remake his adventures went one step further. Available on Amazon.
“Film After Film: (Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?)”
J. Hoberman’s unique look at cinema in the first decade of the twenty-first century takes a characteristically broad view of the medium, grappling with the ramifications of digital technology in examples ranging from “Avatar” to Joe Swanberg’s oeuvre. Excerpting reviews from his tenure at the Village Voice, “Film After Film” is both a concise history book and one of the best viewing guides available. Available on Amazon.
We might live in the golden age of television, but episodic storytelling of the highest order dates back to the glory days of silent era. Kino’s lovely two-disc collection of Italian master Louis Feuillade’s peculiar 1915 tale of a jewel thieves in Paris offers a surreal twist on gangster drama spread across 10 parts. The Blu-ray includes an essay on the production history as well as two comedy shorts by the director, one of which features the “Les Vampires” cast and crew and was produced to raise funds for French war orphans. Available on Amazon.
“If You Like Tarantino…”
With “Django Unchained” hitting theaters Christmas Day, now’s the perfect time to get in the spirit of Quentin Tarantino’s reference-heavy universe. Katherine Rife’s highly entertaining and stunningly comprehensive roundup of 200 films, TV shows and other cultural objects that inspired the filmmaker provide a systematic means of sifting through the collages that constitute Tarantino’s approach. The final chapter is dedicated to “Django Unchained,” so it’s an especially timely overview. Published by Limelight Editions. Available on Amazon.
“The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies”
Few critics use prose to convey the emotional sweeps of film history like David Thomson, and his latest opus is no exception. The book takes on a seemingly impossible feat — encompassing the entire history of the movies with a single narrative throughline — and comes pretty damn close to achieving exactly that. Thomson’s overarching theses about the impact of new technologies on the viewing process and the ways cinema reflects our internal views of ourselves sustains a dense narrative that leaps across decades from one paragraph to the next — and sometimes in the middle of them. Not for novice readers of film history, “The Big Screen” will certainly challenge you to look at it in new ways. Available on Amazon.