The trick to the holiday gift-giving ritual is to lovingly bestow the unexpected. People WANT to be delighted. Sure, they also want what they’ve achingly, privately added to their sad, practical Amazon Wish Lists, but you’re not here for that. You’re here for something more. Something unique. A gift that, at its best, elicits a frisson of astonished ecstasy.
People see a gift-wrapped box that’s shaped yea high and yea wide, lightweight, feels hollow, and yep…they know it’s a DVD. But which one? How will something so little pack so big of a promised punch as ecstasy? Here, let me help you with these little-known gems and forgotten canonical treasures that will surprise and delight even the most hardened Grinch in your family, and even the most cynical cinephile in your circle.
LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF
This most definitive documentary on the city of Los Angeles has only been available to own for the past two years. Before that, Angelenos had to wait for the annual screening at the Egyptian Theater, and as for the rest of the world? Well, good luck.
The 3-hour running time flies by as Thom Anderson’s comprehensive media study takes us through the development and portrayal of Los Angeles exclusively through film clips. Anderson argues that Hollywood has overshadowed Los Angeles’s legacy from the beginning of the city’s inception – just try and name another city as with such little self-regard and as to consistently abbreviate its own name. The war between socio-cultural identity and cinema wages through an inordinate amount of film rights in this unmissable doc, for the movie- and LA-lovers and haters alike.
THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY
This 2011 documentary is a truly epic adventure through the history of cinema, as narrated by film historian Mark Cousins. This 15-part love letter to film is for the unabashed cinephile on your list, the one who didn’t fall asleep in the midnight screening of Wim Wenders’s 3-hour long road “adventure” King of the Road (ahem). Beginning with the invention of motion pictures in the 19th century and methodically cycling through to today, The Story of Film is an odyssey Homer would have loved to live to tell. Doh.
Victoria was one of the most exciting, nail-biting, beautifully-shot, earnestly-performed films of 2015. Oh, and it was all shot in one take. An extra bang for your nerve-struck buck when you’re along for the cinematic ride.
It has one of those synopses that sound eye-rolling: a Spanish woman who just moved to Berlin meets a group of guys with a “dangerous secret” as a night out turns deadly but listen to me when I tell you it is a TRUE NON-STOP THRILL RIDE. Get it for your dad, your friend, your boss, your boyfriend, your mom, your neighbor. Expect many texts with all caps and prolific exclamation points once they’ve finished watching it.
THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY
Experimental thriller? Check. Starring Joe Swanberg? Check. Also starring the inimitable, always perfect Robert Longstreet? Cheeeeck. As pretty as a Malick flick? Checkkkkk. Sexual depravity??? Holy Jolly Christmas Checkmate!!!!!
THE CHAPLIN COLLECTION: VOLUME 2
With such myriad offerings as City Lights, The Circus, The Kid, A Woman of Paris, and A King in New York, no film-lover’s library is complete without a collection of Charlie’s classics. Chockablock with special features and new restorations, this collection has everything your gift-receiver didn’t know they needed. And then some. Cue a gentle tip of the tophat.
Absurdist anarchy reigns supreme in this impossible-not-to-love Czech New Wave feminist gem. Released two years before the Prague Spring, and ostensibly banned by the Czech authorities for “wasting too much food in the making of the film,” Daisies follows two young Czech girls as they sigh over the “spoiled” state of the world (hardly, under the Soviet state) as they go on to exact pranks all over town – on men, food, their rooms, their city, and each other. It’s chaotic, it’s beautiful, it’s surrealist, it’s coded. It’s brilliant.
Speaking of the Czech New Wave, no Christmas list would be complete without the addition of Milos Forman’s delicious first film made in color: The Firemen’s Ball. Nothing goes right and no one is innocent in this absurdist satirical send-up of the Czech authorities which eventually received a LIFETIME ban from those sensitive sissies in charge, and hence prompted Forman’s move to America. Boy, the humorless governing forces really didn’t know how to appreciate an ahead-of-its-time screwball comedy in those days. Nothing like what we’ve got now!
The ultimate gift is the gift that keeps on giving, and an annual subscription to FilmStruck does just that. For the gift-giver that doesn’t know how to choose, FilmStruck is a platform that offers instant streaming to hard-to-find cinematic indie gems, cult favorites, and critically acclaimed masterpieces.
Created by the master cinephiles behind Turner Classic Movies AND Criterion Collection, FilmStruck is the tall, handsome movie platform you’ve been saving yourself for. Watch Daisies, Wild Strawberries, a Hard Day’s Night, and no less than 13 Les Blank documentaries, among thousands of others. For $99 a year, you get all of FilmStruck plus The Criterion Channel plan. One for them, one for you.
YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS
Want to give a gift, but don’t have any money? Send a loving note and a link to the You Must Remember This podcast, a stellar collection of stories from Karina Longworth of the secret and forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. You know what they type these days…”a link is worth a thousand gifts.”