Criticwire Survey: Last-Minute Gifts Movie Lovers

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions. (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: Three days ’til Christmas, and two nights of Hanukkah to go. What are you buying the cinephile in your life as time runs out?

Adam Nayman, Cinema Scope, Globe and Mail

2014 was the year that a lot of my colleagues either started or in some cases continued expanding their journalistic bylines into full-length books. I read a lot of fine new volumes written wholly or partially by colleagues this year, but the one that stands out for me is (my good friend and Reverse Shot editor) Michael Koresky’s study of Terence Davies for the University of Illinois Press Contemporary Directors series. The best film criticism, at least for me, is that which vividly evokes the movie being described — a sensation akin to being inside its images and action — while simultaneously apprehending it from a measured, considered distance. Finding a writer who can do this effectively for 1500 words is rare enough, but Michael sustains that feat for about a hundred pages, and at no point does he draw attention to his own balancing act. This book illuminates Davies’ amazing body of work so that it shimmers even more brightly. 

Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine

There are so many great books on film that I’d recommend for any cinephile, even sight unseen: Jason Bailey’s “The Ultimate Woody Allen Companion,” Peter Labuza’s “Approaching the End,” and Tina Hassannia’s book on Asghar Farhadi come to mind immediately. In terms of films themselves, I was particularly pleased — though it came out at the beginning of the year — with Criterion’s release of the splashy comedy “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” It’s a massive film that was given an appropriately massive box set, even if I imagine its big and raucous humor isn’t for everyone. Lastly, because I just can’t help mentioning it one more time this year, I’d recommend that anyone with a passing interest in animation pick up the “Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad”/”Fun and Fancy Free” Blu-ray, but for the sole special feature: “The Reluctant Dragon,” the 1941 behind-the-scenes look at the Walt Disney Studios of the period. It’s a compelling, if slightly fantastical view of what it was like to animate some of the greatest films of the period.

Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today

This year, after an inspired birthday gift from my husband, I’m grooving on screenplays, since they give obsessives a way to go over and over the same ground, looking for new riches. Even more fun would be great screenplays paired with the novels they’re based on. (I don’t know that all these are available yet, but it’s a wish list, right?) A screenplay by P.T. Anderson is always fun to read because of his crazy-obsessive attention — so “Inherent Vice” paired with a copy of Pynchon’s novel. “No Country For Old Men,” Coens and McCarthy. My all-time favorite: “Wonder Boys,” Chabon novel and Kloves screenplay. And then, for fun, or for the young cinephile, a triple whammy: “Where the Wild Things Are” — screenplay by Jonze and Eggers, children’s book by Sendak, and the novelization by Eggers.

Miriam Bale, freelance

The best gift or stocking stuffer for any cinephile should be Adam Nayman’s “It Doesn’t Suck.” It’s the gift of a really interesting strategy for approaching film, one far outside of best and worst lists.

Also the best movie gift for any noncinephile (or nonfiction filmmaker) in your life is the Criterion Les Blank box set, “Always for Pleasure.” Do you know any family members really into music or food, or America? Then this is the perfect lowkey revelation for them (or you).

Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online

This year I finally caught up with the film criticism of James Agee, and really, all I needed to read was the first paragraph of his essay on silent comedy — in which he manages to articulate an astonishingly fresh and original way to categorize different types of on-screen humor — to thrill to his level-headed yet impassioned writing style as well as his often-insightful, consistently humane and endlessly inquisitive perspective. I treasure my copy of The Library of America’s collection of his film criticism and selected journalism, and I’d like to think that the cinephile(s) in my life would treasure it, too, if I offered it to him/her as a gift.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

A pair of 2014 books: Anne Thompson’s “The 11 Billion Dollar Year” and Mark Bailey’s “Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History.” Read about the business today and drink to the business of yesterday — a perfect holiday double bill.

Robert Levin, amNewYork

I am consistently impressed by the extraordinary volume of great movie books out there. You’ve got Robert De Niro books by Glenn Kenny and Shawn Levy; Karina Longworth’s “Hollywood Frame by Frame,” Amy Nicholson’s Tom Cruise tome, Mark Harris’s “Five Came Back” and Matt Zoller Seitz’s upcoming “The Grand Budapest Hotel” take among many others. I would get the cinephile in my life some combination of the above, or other written works of similar quality, because great writing and writers should be supported.

Glenn Kenny,, Some Came Running

For some reason I think it’s tacky to give people movies so I’m going to recommend everybody give everybody Farran Smith Nehme’s wonderful cinephile novel “Missing Reels.”

Nell Minow, Beliefnet

For teenagers and fanboys and fangirls of any age: “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the most purely entertaining film of the year, and with an exclusive early glimpse of “Avengers 2.” For 20-something cinephiles: Matt Zoller Seitz’s “The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel” gives the director most inviting of obsessive attention exactly the obsessive attention he deserves. For Wall Street Journal readers in your life: “The Unknown Known” and “Hank: Five Years from the Brink.”

Ben Travers
, Indiewire

At a time like this, all I can think about are movie theaters. Well, I shouldn’t say it like that. I usually only think about movie theaters. Sure, the freedom of speech issue raised by “The Interview’s” removal from the Christmas Day schedule has us all a bit…pissed. After all, they’re the cinephile’s cathedral. How dare anyone other than giant conglomerations control what we see in cineplexes nationwide? So this year, give your favorite film fan gift certificates to their favorite local theater. It’s the gift good now and always.

Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post, Self-Styled Siren

A membership to the local art/revival house benefits a movie lover in more ways than one. Here in New York, that would mean Anthology Film Archives, Film Forum, IFC Center, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art — or, if your favorite cinephile has been very, very good indeed, all five.

Gary Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

I would love to give folks in my weekly cinema salon a Hudson Pass for the Tribeca Film Festival, but alas, I just can’t afford to be that generous. I do think that it would be great to receive a MoviePass which allowed me access to any film I wanted to see all year long, though I would want this to extend to arthouses not just the multiplex.

Richard Brody, New Yorker

The cinema’s glorious past is increasingly a millstone around the necks of cinephiles. Even as each year brings joyous rediscoveries of long-overlooked classics, it also brings new films of original artistry that get overlooked or dismissed by the same cinephiles whose eyes and minds are heavily conditioned to the styles of the past. As the understanding of the history of cinema digs deeper, the shock of the new becomes ever more shocking, and historical knowledge serves as ready insulation. The number of great films only recently available on home video or still unavailable is astonishing — and sometimes I think that only filmmakers should watch them. I’m tempted to say that the gift that keeps on giving isn’t one boxed set or another but a multi-zone DVD player that opens the door to a literal world of movies, recent or not, though lack of subtitles may be a problem. In any case, maybe the best thing one can offer isn’t this additional portal for potential further absorption in and of the past, but a good word in a card to recommend a New Year’s resolution: a year of only new movies, a deliberate abstinence regarding classics. The only risk is that craving will set in, along with resentment, wrath, and other emotions that get in the way of open-hearted reception of new movies. So maybe a practical compromise is a goody bag of DVDs of some of the year’s best and boldest new releases, including “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Last of the Unjust,” “Memphis,” “It Felt Like Love,” “Happy Christmas,” and “Jimmy P.”

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second

This year I’ve given out copies of the UK Blu-ray of “Violent Saturday,” which I worked on (it’s things like this which help to “prove” to rarely-seen-family members that writing about film is a legitimate profession). Shameless self-promotion aside, it’s a great edition of a brilliant film.

Ethan Alter, Film Journal International, NYCFilmCritic

It’s not like cinephiles really need to be reminded about the riches offered each year by the Criterion Collection, but I was particularly thrilled to see that the company filled in two key gaps in ’90s cinema in 2014 by releasing long-overdue Blu-ray versions of a pair of previously hard-to-find films: Steven Soderbergh’s “King of the Hill” and Todd Haynes’ “Safe.” Two decades years on, King of the Hill remains my favorite Soderbergh film and the fact that Criterion’s set also includes his less-heralded follow-up, “The Underneath” (an enjoyable, if deeply flawed movie that the director loves to pick apart, to fascinating and hilarious effect) makes it a perfect 2-for-1 stocking stuffer. Meanwhile, Haynes’ “Safe” is, if anything, even more potent in the wake of the recent (and, in some countries, still ongoing) Ebola crisis. And since star Julianne Moore seems on track to win an Oscar this year for “Still Alice,” it’s a great opportunity to revisit one of her earliest — and still one of her best — performances. 

Alonso Duralde, the Wrap

The Criterion Collection put out three terrific box sets tied to some legendary directors — Les Blank, Jacques Demy, and Jacques Tati — that belong in the library of anyone who loves movies of any sort.

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

This year, I had the pleasure of reading William Friedkin’s autobiography “The Friedkin Connection.” It’s a thoroughly engaging — and often brutally honest — memoir that anyone who cares about film should read. The Criterion Collection added some great titles to its lineup this year, including David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” and David Cronenberg’s “Scanners,” both of which would make great gifts. Last, but not least, I highly recommend the Ghostbusters set that LEGO put out in 2014. Not only was it enormous fun to put together the Ecto-1, it also makes a nice decoration for your home theater.

John Keefer, 51 Deep

If you want to really make the cinephile in your life happy this Christmas then get them the Tati box set from Criterion. If they don’t love the films of Jacques Tati then inform them they are not really cinephiles and they also are, most likely, dumb. But if you still want to get this hypothetical not-Tati loving dummy something else then get them “The Wes Anderson Collection” by Matt Zoller Seitz. If they don’t like that then smack them. Smack them right in the face. Merry Christmas!

Jason Shawhan, Nashville Scene, Interface 2037

Quality gifts for the cinephile in your life: 

Firstly, blank physical media (DVD-Rs and CD-Rs) is always good to keep things backed up and existing lest an errant EMP or digital corporate shenanigan render cloudstuff useless. Milestone’s blu-ray of “Portrait of Jason” is a staggering achievement, with Criterion levels of bonus material and effort put into the package. Speaking of Criterion, that they’ve rescued “Safe” from virtual oblivion makes them even more a treasure, and they’ve put out a lot of great new films this year. O can personally vouch for “The Innocents,” “Thief,” “Breaking the Waves,” and “Scanners.”

If by chance you’re shopping for someone like me (fuzzy, critical, working through a bad breakup, mercurial), my hypothetical list includes Shout Factory’s new blu-ray of the “Lord of Illusions” Director’s Cut (truly Clive Barker’s cinematic masterpiece), Strand’s Blu- of “The Strange Color of your Body’s Tears,” the aforementioned Criterion “Safe,” one of those Walkman steelbooks of “Guardians of the Galaxy” 3D that a certain unnamed chain store totally screwed up the release of, and a region A-friendly blu-ray of that spectacular European set for “You and the Night.”

Monica Castillo, Movie Mezzanine, Paste

Does Criterion have gift certificates?

Q.V. Hough, Vague Visages

You can never go wrong with a Criterion box set and complimentary book combo, but it’s important to maintain a surprise factor from year to year. For example, maybe a Werner Herzog Speaking Santa is the way to go; something that speaks to you (or your favorite film freak) literally and figuratively. Cinephiles typically have plenty of films and books to show off, but a well-placed poster or life-sized figure (Giant Godard) allows guests to take your viewing realm seriously and improves the overall vibe for solo movie-watching experiences.

I haven’t requested any specific gifts for Christmas, but I’m looking forward to purchasing a year-long “Movie Pass” and have been researching professional video cameras for 2015 short film projects. #FargoTrilogy

Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter

A Diamondback Response mountain bike, to encourage cycling; and Werner Herzog’s of Walking In Ice: Munich-Paris, 23 November-14 December 1974, to encourage walking.

Boys threw firecrackers between the legs of uniformed girls, who broke ranks and scattered in all directions, regrouping in the lavatory of a nearby bistro to pee. When Santa appeared with his sunglasses up on the balcony, I was completely convulsed by a paroxysm of laughter. A few people gave me strange looks and I retreated to the bistro. While eating my sandwich I ate one end of my scarf, as well, which cracked me up inside so much that the whole table started to shake, though outwardly my face gave no signs of laughter, however contorted it must have been.

Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

It’s not technically cinema, but the “Batman” TV Blu-ray set is a must have, and since it’ out of the budget range of most people I know, one can only hope for it as a gift from a more affluent benefactor. I presume I don’t need to go into why the show is great; speaking as one who remembers deriding it in the ’80s, I’m just happy that I and most everyone else has come back around on it to realize who groundbreaking and cool it really is.

Jeff Berg, Las Cruces Bulletin, ABQ Free Press

For me, as a New Mexico film historian, I would love to find copies of the films that were shot at least in part in NM that I need for my library. Most probably aren’t available, but Christmas is for dreaming! John Grant’s “Film Noir Encyclopedia” for someone else or signed copies of my NM film history book… well, promises for same, when it comes out.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

I’ve always enjoyed giving movies to people, but an interesting alternative, especially to someone who might be in our line of work and watches online screeners, is the Google Chromecast. It allows you to stream things from your computer to your television, so you won’t have to be hunched over a laptop again. I picked one up a month or so ago and it’s really been an asset, especially during this season.

Marc V. Ciafardini, GoSeeTalk, The Film Stage

If you know someone who loves films, it’s a good bet they love film music. Even if they’re not die-hard fans of the symphonic Hollywood sound, they should still appreciate ‘he Sound of Pictures by Andrew Ford. It, as the blurb on the cover states, is all about “listening to the movies, from Hitchcock to High Fidelity” which encapsulates enough filmic content to keep anyone with an ear for music interested.

Also, on the rare chance someone you know doesn’t have a Netflix subscription, get them one, ASAP! There’s so much great content they’re missing out on that it’s almost criminal not to help get them into the now.

Q: What is the best movie in theaters?

A: “The Babadook”

Other movies receiving multiple votes: “Inherent Vice,” “Selma”

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