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Criticwire Survey: Cultural Gift Guide

Criticwire Survey: Cultural Gift Guide

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: Hannukah starts on Wednesday and Black Friday follows soon after. What are you buying your culturally savvy loved ones this year?

Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Tor.com

This year, no question: The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz.

Robert Levin, amNewYork

Matt Zoller Seitz’s amazing The Wes Anderson Collection offers a definitive portrait of the filmmaker, packaged and presented in a fashion that reflects the whimsical spirit of Anderson’s work. It’s a must-have for anyone who loves movies.

Richard Brody, the New Yorker

Everyone loves Wes Anderson (and those who don’t, should), so Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection — aptly, the apotheosis of the coffee-table book — ought to do just fine in the absence of further evidence. But, of course, the whole point of a gift is in the further evidence, to make it appropriate to the particular tastes and interests of the recipient as well as to the role it will play (or symbol it will become) in the relationship (see the scene involving the pre-war Viennese recording of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto in A Letter to Three Wives). I know one person (who, I hope, isn’t reading this) for whom the right present this year will be the Douglas Sirk triple-header from Universal, Taza, Son of Cochise, Captain Lightfoot, and Thunder on the Hill; another who will certainly delight in the paperback set of the Complete Calvin and Hobbes; still another whose treat would be the Mosaic set of Woody Shaw’s complete Muse sessions; someone else who’d love to get the 37-disk set of complete Haydn symphonies conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. Which is to say that it’s impossible to say what the perfect cultural gift would be — though 1) I detect a pattern: the word “complete”; and 2) I’d venture to say that the most universally significant boxed set of movies this year (and may I be forgiven for mentioning a set in which I have an essay and be justified on the grounds of having, long before, written with uninhibited adoration of the movies in it) is Criterion’s release of the Roberto Rossellini/Ingrid Bergman trio of Stromboli, Europa 51, and Voyage to Italy.

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second, Periodical

My weapon of choice at this time of year is Andrew Sarris’ The American Cinema, and has been for some years now. It meant so much to me upon being gifted many moons ago that I can’t think of anything that stands as great a chance of opening up entire worlds to any lucky receiver. Back up ideas include anything from the Masters of Cinema series, Matt Zoller Seitz’s book on Wes Anderson and Mark Kermode’s recent tome

Josh Larsen, Filmspotting/LarsenOnFilm

My go-to gift for movie lovers is Phillip Lopate’s American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now. A treasure trove of important essays/reviews from most of the greats, with thoughtful introductions by Lopate.

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, What the Flick?!

Having already shamelessly plugged my own Christmas movies book in the past, I will instead say that the best thing to give this year is Matt Zoller Seitz’s breathtaking book on the films of Wes Anderson, a tome as exquisitely art-directed and full of delights as its subject matter. A close second would be a gift card from Barnes & Noble, to be used only during one of the chain’s periodic 50% off all Criterion titles sales.

John Keefer, 51Deep

Going to have to go with The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz or Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions by Guillermo del Toro. Either of these gifts will win you big points in the eyes of the receiver who will know you are cultured, cool, and possess that indefinable “it.”

Christopher Campbell, Nonfics, Movies.com

I don’t have a lot of huge film lovers on my gift list, actually, but if I wanted to give something film-related it’d be the new book Tell Me Something: Documentary Filmmakers, which includes interviews with and advice from pretty much every documentary filmmaker you can think of. And it’s filled with great portraits, making it a nice coffee table addition.

Robert Greene, Sight & Sound, Hammer to Nail

I’d give the gift of nonfiction cinema and send a lucky person to the 2014 True/False Film Festival for four days of the best documentary programming in the world. All the hype is justified. T/F is at the center of a community that is truly alive and is basking in its moment. Screenings of the best nonfiction films are matched by an infectious joie de vivre that can’t be topped. It has a parade, for starters, and music, drinking, mayhem, meaningful debate and the loveliest small town atmosphere. The lucky recipient would be my BFFL, I promise.

Kristy Puchko, Cinema Blend, Pop Crush

For a movie-lover living in NYC, the best gift I can recommend is a membership to the Museum of the Moving Image. Just a short subway ride from Manhattan, this Astoria landmark is entirely dedicated to the craft and evolution of filmmaking. There are interactive exhibits like an ADR room and sound effects station as well as a seemingly endless string of visiting exhibits that give fans a closer look at movies like Men in Black III and the TV series like Breaking Bad. Membership costs as low as $75 a year and entitles holders to free admission year-round as well as free tickets to movie screenings held every weekend. Some of these are new releases like The Man With The Iron Fists or The Croods, others are revival screenings like Singin’ in the Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Suspiria. Plus, you get discounted tickets for special Q&A events — like an upcoming one with David O. Russell for American Hustle — and discounts at surrounding restaurants and Cinema Village. As that good ol’ sales pitch goes, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. And it is an especially smart present for New Yorkers whose disposable income is limited. 

Katey Rich, Vanity Fair

My sister has watched every re-run of Friends probably countless times, so this year I’m giving her the full series of Happy Endings, the terribly missed, fantastically weird update on the Friends formula that went off the air earlier this year. Anyone who thinks the golden age of television is only about difficult men and high drama owes a visit inside this show’s frantically paced world.

Josh Spiegel, Mousterpiece Cinema

So many great choices, but I’m going to reach back to one of this year’s earlier Criterion Collection releases: the Blu-ray of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Though Criterion released this 1943 wartime epic on DVD a few years ago, it came to Blu-ray in the U.S. in March. As with the other Archers works from the 1940s, Colonel Blimp is an essential film for everyone. Seventy years after its initial release (one mired in controversy because of how Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger took the comic-strip source material into something people like Winston Churchill feared was anti-war commentary), this is as passionate, humane, and entertaining as the best films of this or other recent years. It’s also a fine introduction to the work of Powell and Pressburger for someone who’s never seen other classics (also on Criterion Blu-ray) like The Red Shoes or Black Narcissus

Pat Padua, DCist, Spectrum Culture

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero with Tom Bissell. It’s a revealing and surprisingly touching look at the struggles behind one of the most wonderful movies of the century. And even if you don’t know who Tommy Wiseau is, reading that he owned a book called Shower Power: Wet, Warm and Wonderful Exercises for the Shower and Bath should be entertainment enough.

Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress, Women and Hollywood

I want to give every single one of my friends who hasn’t read it yet The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, which was the book released this year that hit me hardest. Wolitzer is one of those authors who seems to be primarily read by women — I tend to think of her in the same stream of thought as Curtis Sittenfeld and J. Courtey Sullivan — even though she really ought to be read by everybody. And The Interestings is my favorite of her novels. It’s about a group of friends who meet at summer camp and stay close for the rest of their lives, which in their case, means through an awful sexual assault case, one member’s astonishing professional success, and another’s husband’s periods of severe depression. The Interestings is a kind book, which isn’t the same thing as keeping readers safe, but that kindness does mean that the novel can go places that very few other pieces of art seem to venture these days. I just want to talk to everyone about it.

Scott Meslow, The Week

I suspect I’ll be giving many, many cultural gifts this year, but I’ll share the one I bought for a friend earlier today: All three of Dark Horse’s Achewood comics collections, which began with The Great Outdoor Fight, continued with Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar, and ended (as far as I can tell) with A Home for Scared People. For the uninitiated, Chris Onstad’s Achewood is a dense, hilarious, linguistically brilliant comic about a series of animals who live in a thinly-veiled version of Palo Alto. Though Achewood began life as a web comic (and sporadically continues to this day), the gorgeous hardbound volumes — which collect the beginning of the series and its most popular story arc — offer a perfect entry point for anyone who’s put off by the idea of reading hundreds of comics on a computer screen. It doesn’t hurt that each volume is stacked with extra material, from hilarious new asides written by Onstad to strip-by-strip commentary that offers valuable insights into his creative process and the evolution of the series. My only complaint is that the last volume was printed in 2010, omitting hundreds and hundreds of as-yet uncollected strips that include many of the best arcs in Achewood history. If Dark Horse and Onstad would pickup where they left off — or better yet, print some massive, glorious omnibus collection — it would instantly shoot to the top of my wish list.

Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online

I’m going to go with the most recent astonishing bit of culture I just recently consumed: Albert Camus’ The Plague, which, in its constant stream of insights into human nature put under extreme physical and spiritual stress, is surely one of the greatest piece of art, in any medium, I’ve yet encountered in my (admittedly young) lifetime. Arguably the most refreshing thing about The Plague is how un-cynical it ultimately is about humanity’s capacity for good, even as it remains defiantly unsentimental about it; Camus doesn’t let his characters off the hook, but nor does he succumb to the kind of nihilism that might be expected from a scenario as bleak as this. For all its sober surface detachment, The Plague may well end up surprising you with the depth of its vision, wisdom and emotional power.

Peter Howell, Toronto Star:

If I had the coin, I would gift my Dylan-loving pals his complete album package, which is currently going for upwards of $250 a pop. He remains the single greatest songwriter of all of our lives, Street Legal, Saved and Dylan notwithstanding (these album clunkers are in the set, too). If I had any money left over, I’d pay for a group therapy session, where we could all discuss the distressing instances of plagiarism that Dylan thinks we’re all “wusses” for worrying about.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

I thought about a book or a movie, but I have to say, the one thing I want to share most with people at the moment is the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack, so that’d probably be the gift from me. I find it impossible not to basically listen to it on repeat all day long, and I think many others would feel the same way.

Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute

With all the remakes coming our way, I was thinking a grab bag of originals might be in order. Selections vary from the extraordinary A Prophet to the starry musical Annie. Personal preferences include It’s A Wonderful Life (a movie I think should never be remade, by the way) and anything by the reuniting Monty Python because no one should go through life without seeing, at least “The Ministry of Silly Walks” or The Meaning of Life.

Jeff Berg, ABQ Arts, Las Cruces Bulletin

If there was someway to do it, I would like to be able to introduce people to film or other media that they don’t pay attention to, but would expand their horizons and get them out of the mainstream ‘groove’. Beyond that, it might be fun to give subs to The New Yorker since it covers such a wide array of arts and news in a form that most people are able to approach and appreciate. 

Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

When it comes to cultural gifting, I would suggest books or films that will spark discussion or debate. This year is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and we saw the release of 12 Years a Slave. I would encourage folks to get a copy of Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer. This book is a magnificent keepsake, a collection of 150 photographs that illustrate and illuminate “what freedom looked like” for black Americans in the Civil War era. It’s a fascinating history, filled with some truly remarkable images. My favorite photograph may just be Russell Lee’s 1939 image of a formerly enslaved man holding the horn with which slaves were called, near Marshall, Texas. 

Zac Oldenburg, HavingSaidThat.net, Movie Mezzanine

The Upstream Color Blu-ray, because it is most likely one of the most inventive films they will have ever seen, showing them the possibilities of the film medium. Sorry to sound so pretentious. 

Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037

For the respectable folk: The Middletown box set from Icarus Films.

For the less respectable folk: The Night of the Comet Blu-Ray from Scream Factory.

For the degenerates: Membership in the Drafthouse Films Alliance.

Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

Perfect cultural gift? Well, I’d say either this Walking Dead Blu-ray set with floating heads in a  tank — because it’s a show all about how Americans have crazy apocalyptic
paranoia yet come together to survive, in a gift set that depicts
ridiculously excessive violence in shelf-friendly format and and makes
it totally cool — or Batman on a surfboard action figure. Sums
up everything about me you’d need to know – comic book hero born of
dark trauma and costumed to scare criminals, decked out in cute and
campy gear to make fun of the inherent concept with a total straight
face…and marketed to kids.
John DeCarli, Film Capsule
For me, the gift that keeps on giving is The Master on Blu-ray. The film
is full of so many compelling mysteries, not narrative but emotional
and thematic. Each time I see it it gains new resonances. This is alive
and vital filmmaking. And as if the film weren’t fascinating enough, the
special feature comprised of 20 or so minutes of extra footage is
beautifully edited and functions as a short film in its own right.

Q: What is the best movie in theaters?

A: 12 Years a Slave

Other movies receiving multiple votes: All Is LostBlue Is the Warmest Color

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