Massive box sets devoted to movie legends. Limited edition Blu-rays. Complete collections of classic TV series.
Yep, it’s the holiday season, when Hollywood makes it easy to find the perfect gift for just about everyone on your Christmas list.
This year, there are plenty of carefully curated sets sure to thrill action, comedy and musical fans as well as single Blu-rays and DVDs which make nifty presents too.
So, cue the jingle bells and break out the mistletoe. Here’s a look at 15 of this year’s most irresistible entries.
DIE HARD – NAKATOMI PLACE COLLECTION: (1988-2014, Fox, PG-13 and R, $129 ) Housed in a gorgeous, 18-inch replica of the Los Angeles high-rise where the original film was set, this way-cool collection boasts all five movies on Blu-ray plus a bonus disc of extras, collectible cards and a 32-page booklet. The first film, in which blue-collar hero John McClane (Bruce Willis) single-handedly battles an army of international thieves to save his wife (Bonnie Bedelia), is arguably the best action movie ever made. The sequels, which are more expansive, have their pleasures, especially “Die Hard 2: Die Harder,” in which McClane takes on terrorists at D.C.’s Dulles International Airport. The Christmas time-frames of the first two films make these pulse-pounders perfect holiday viewing for families who like rooftop fire-fights with their figgy pudding. Yippe-Ki-Yay.
DOWNTON ABBEY – SEASONS 1-5: (2011-2015, PBS, unrated, $109) Romance, heartbreak, scandals, rumors, blackmail, and betrayal: the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series delivers the goods with style. Created by “Gosford Park” scripter Julian Fellowes, the show revolves around the Earl of Grantham (Huge Bonneville) and his family and staff as they weather some tough times from the early 1910s through the 1920s. Michelle Dockery is terrific as Lady Mary Crawley but “Downton” is likely to be remembered as the show which gave Maggie Smith the chance to shine. Every one of her zingers is a savory little treat.
THE X-FILES – THE ORIGINAL SEASONS 1-9: (1995-2002, Fox, unrated, $299) Here’s what “X-Files” fans have been waiting for: all nine seasons of the show in hi-def, with enough bells and whistles to keep you busy until the new mini-series premieres on Jan. 26. One of the first series to alternate a complicated back story – or a “mythology” – with stand-alone episodes, the sci-fi landmark is enlivened by the oddball chemistry between true-believer Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and skeptic Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Since “The X-Files” went off the air, deadly conspiracies and paranormal mysteries have fueled countless shows but this series is still the gold standard. Dig in.
W.C. FIELDS- COMEDY ESSENTIALS COLLECTION: (1932-1941, Universal, unrated, $99) Anyone who likes to laugh will want to own this set, which boasts 18 of Fields’ best features. Sure, the movies have all been issued on DVD (or DVD-R) before but they’ve never been packaged together in one nifty volume. The line-up runs the gamut from 1932’s “Million Dollar Legs” to 1941’s “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.” In between, Fields is at his best, boozing and bumbling his way through “The Bank Dick” (1940), “It’s A Gift” (1934) and “My Little Chickadee” (1940), among other treasures.
ELF – BUDDY’S MUSICAL CHRISTMAS: (2014, Warner, unrated, $20) After originally airing on NBC back in 2014, this adorable animated adventure makes its Blu-ray/DVD debut in a jolly package featuring the voices of Jim Parsons, Mark Hamill, Kate Micucci and Edward Asner (who played Santa in the original Will Ferrell “Elf.” ) The ‘toon is given a boost by songs from “Elf: The Musical” as well the relentless good cheer of its hero. As in the original film, Buddy (Parsons) leaves the North Pole in search of his human father and winds up rekindling the spirit of Christmas for all of New York City. It’s a real charmer.
GAME OF THRONES – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON: (2015, HBO, unrated, $80) The first season of the Emmy-winning HBO series gets the limited edition, deluxe steelbook treatment with a release that boasts plenty of extras, including featurettes, audio commentaries and a collectible Sigil magnet. Based on the bestselling fantasy book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin, this sprawling show delivers the story of two rival families locked in a battle for the Iron Throne. There will be blood — and romance, turmoil and humor (thanks the scene-stealing Peter Dinklage.)
JULIEN DUVIVIER IN THE THIRTIES: (1930-1937, Criterion, unrated, $60) Before he came to Hollywood in the late 1930s, the underrated French filmmaker best known for directing “Flesh and Fantasy,” “The Great Waltz” and “Pepe Le Moko” helmed a series of French films, four of which are preserved by Criterion in this lovely set. The best selections are “Poil de Carotte,” a sad look at the life of a lonely tweener desperate for love ; and “Un Carnet De Bal,” a hard-to-shake dramedy which focuses on a wealthy widow (Marie Bell) as she tracks down suitors from her youth. This set is a sweet treat for classic movie lovers.
ZOOLANDER – THE BLUE STEELBOOK: (2001, Paramount, PG-13, $20) Available exclusively at Walmart, this limited edition Blu-ray follows the adventures of male model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) as he tries to prove that there’s a lot more to life than being “really, really, ridiculously good looking.” But first Zoolander has to fight off evil fashion guru Mugatu (Will Ferrell) with help from the hippie-chic model Hansel (Owen Wilson) and reporter Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor.) This well-designed set, which is housed in a steelbook, includes new special features as well as a headband and a ticket to “Zoolander 2” which arrives in theaters Feb. 12.
FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD – VOLUME 9: (1932-1934, Warner Archive, unrated, $40) Before the movie industry began policing itself with the rating code, scores of dramas with adult themes snuck into theaters. This five-movie set, the latest in Warner Archive’s invaluable tribute to these naughty cinematic delights, revives five little-seen stunners, including “Big City Blues” starring Joan Blondell, “Hell’s Highway” with Richard Dix, “When Ladies Meet” with Myrna Loy, “I Sell Anything” with Ann Dvorak, and “The Cabin In The Cotton” with Bette Davis. In the later film, Davis famously tells Richard Barthelmess, “I’d love to kiss you, but I just washed my hair.” Irresistible stuff.
THE CIVIL WAR – THE 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION: (1990, PBS, unrated, $129) Newly remastered for its latest Blu-ray release, Ken Burns’ exquisite, nine-hour series was described by the New York Times as “the most significant historical documentary PBS has ever shown.” That about covers it. From stories about celebrated generals and ordinary soldiers to an incisive exploration of Abraham Lincoln, the episodes bring history alive with expert use of haunting photographs and poetic voice-over narration. Buy this for the history buff on your holiday list.
MY FAIR LADY – 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION: (1964, Paramount, unrated, $20) Movie musicals might have been on the wane back in 1964 but director George Cukor brought Lerner and Loewe’s songfest to the screen with so much panache that even Oscar took notice. The Best Picture-winner has been given a 4K facelift for its latest Blu-ray/DVD release, and, boy, does it look loverly. Audrey Hepburn stars as Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl who is turned into a sophisticate by elitist professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison.) But, in the end, it is Higgins who is given a tough lesson or two in love (and misogyny).
MCHALE’S NAVY- THE COMPLETE SERIES: (1962-1966, Shout Factory, unrated, $169) Climb aboard the PT-73 and set sail for 21 discs and 138 episodes of funny business. Ernest Borgnine stars as veteran seaman Quinton McHale who, along with his crew of swabbies, lives to make mischief. Most of the comedy comes from McHale’s rule-breakers clashing with rigid base commander Binghamton (Joe Flynn). For fans of ‘60s sitcoms, this set is an unsinkable delight.
THE QUAY BROTHERS – COLLECTED SHORT FILMS: (1984-2015, Zeitgeist, unrated, $35) For the first time on Blu-ray, here are 15 shorts by the Norristown, Pa. twins Stephen and Timothy Quay as well as “Quay,” a valentine to the filmmakers directed by Christopher Nolan. The movies directed by the Quays, including “Street of Crocodiles” which Terry Gilliam once hailed as one of the Top 10 ‘toons of all time, combine puppetry, stop-motion and animation for a bizarre, eye-catching blend. This set includes three new films never before available as well as audio commentaries on six of the shorts.
JEANETTE MACDONALD & NELSON EDDY COLLECTION – VOLUME ONE: (1935-1938, Warner Archive, unrated, $40) Oh, Sweet Mystery Of Life! Warner Archive has done MacDonald and Eddy aficionados a big favor by packaging together the pair’s first four musicals in one collection. You’ll be able to tag along with the crooning couple as they court and quarrel their way from colonial New Orleans (“Naughty Marietta”) to the Canadian wilderness (“Rose-Marie”) to Napoleonic Paris (“Maytime,” arguably their best film) to the Wild West (“The Girl of the Golden West.”) A second volume of the pair’s last four films is also available for $40.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: (1995, Twilight Time, PG-13, $30 ) Impress the Jane Austen fan on your gift list with this superb Blu-ray available in a limited edition run exclusively from www.screenarchives.com. Emma Thompson, who won an Oscar for writing the film’s screenplay, and Kate Winslet star as sisters who take different paths on the road to romance. The level-headed Thompson (as Elinor) falls for Hugh Grant while the flighty Winslet (as Marianne) sets her sights on a dashing suitor (Greg Wise) only to discover the charms of a more literate man (Alan Rickman). Intelligent, witty and filled with compassion, the Ang Lee-directed film perfectly captures Austen’s comedy of manners.
Story by Amy Longsdorf/Digital First Media.