Holidays

Last-Minute Box Sets: Home Video For Everyone On Your List

The cover of Quentin Tarantino XX.

If you're running out of time for holiday shopping and you can't stand to buy another gift card, there's still hope.

Over the last few holiday shopping seasons, I've become something of a specialist in hunting down specific DVD and Blu-ray sets that will most appeal to friends and family on my list. I usually have a pretty good inkling of these things: My sister gets the art-house movies. My uncle gets the old-school sitcoms. My nephew gets anything that involves baseball, superheroes and/or ice road truckers (don't ask).

When giving the gift of home video, the key is to find something with a little shelf life – collections that can be returned to time and time again. You also want material you just can't get anywhere else. Below are 10 suggestions for gift items across a range of genres and prices. Each features original material or bonus extras that you can't find online or via the various modes of digital distribution. The prices listed are approximate retail costs, though it pays to shop around – you can often find specific sales online and off. But if you're ordering online and you've got a tight deadline, don't wait: the window for Monday deliveries is about to close.

Last-Minute Box Sets: Home Video For Everyone On Your List

  • 1. Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection

    The cover of Quentin Tarantino XX.

    (Blu-ray, $70, 10 discs)

    Packed with extras, this 8-disc set collects the seven feature-length films Tarantino has directed – Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds – plus the excellent True Romance, based on Tarantino's screenplay. You get the bonus materials from all previous DVD iterations, plus two discs of new features and retrospectives. Tarantino's many co-conspirators tell some great stories here, especially John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, who aren't afraid to give specifics and name names.

  • 2. The World Series: History of the Fall Classic

    The cover of World Series: History Of The Fall Classic.

    (DVD, $30, 4 discs)

    Major League Baseball is notoriously protective of its video archives, "express written consent" and all that. As such, these official DVD sets are the only place to get material from the vaults; you can't find this stuff on YouTube. The 4-disc History focuses on baseball's annual championship game and it digs deep, all the way back to the first World Series in 1903. If you have a San Francisco fan on your list, you might also consider the recently released 2012 World Series Collector's Edition (DVD, $70, 8 discs). Important safety tip: Do not give this to a Detroit Tigers fan.

  • 3. All in the Family: The Complete Series

    The cover of All In The Family: The Complete Series.

    (DVD, $180, 28 discs)

    A good option for pop culture scholars, this generous set collects all 213 episodes of the groundbreaking television series, along with two documentaries, alternate pilot episodes and a new interview with creator Norman Lear. Family was a huge victory for ambitious artists over cautious network execs, and it paved the way for our current bounty of smart and sophisticated TV shows. Or it can just be enjoyed as a very funny sitcom. The various extras demonstrate how much thought and energy went into the endeavor. Highly recommended.

  • 4. Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection

    The cover of Coppola.

    (Blu-ray, $30, 5 discs)

    This lean, mean set packages Apocalypse Now and the director's cut Apocalypse Now Redux with three more Coppola films – Tetro, The Conversation and One From The Heart. While all the films here have been issued in various formats before, this is a great price for five Blu-ray titles and each film comes with its own set of extras – interviews, behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes and mini-documentaries. It's also a chance to see the very underrated Tetro, Coppola's most confessional and personal film.

  • 5. The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland 1965

    The cover of The Rolling Stones - Charlie Is My Darling.

    (DVD/Blu-ray, $75, multimedia box set)

    For the discerning Rolling Stones fanatic, this fascinating tour film flew under the radar a bit among all the other 50th-anniversary hoopla this year. The film chronicles the boys on an early sprint through Ireland, and it's like a time machine back to an era when rock and roll was still sexy and dangerous. How young they look! The film is available on single-disc DVD or Blu-ray for under $20, or the box set adds two bonus CDs, a 40-page booklet, a replica poster and a 10" vinyl record. (Younger readers may need to Google that last term.)

  • 6. Mankind: The Story of All of Us

    The cover of Mankind: The Story Of All Of Us.

    (DVD/Blu-ray, $30/$35, 3 discs)

    From the team that brought you America: The Story of Us comes this rather radically expanded special subtitled The Story of All of Us. Personally, I'm a sucker for these History Channel specials and their heady mix of dramatic recreations and earnest pop scholarship. Actor Josh Brolin handles narration this time around, and the flash-forward structure of each chapter is interesting – fire leads to forge leads to bronze leads to war leads to nuclear detente. Lots of cocktail party trivia, too. For instance: Historical peoples were shorter than we are, right? Right – except for the very first homo sapien hunters, who were strong, fast and two inches taller on average. How about that.

  • 7. The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection

    The cover of The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection.

    (DVD, $200, 22 discs)

    They really and truly don't make 'em like this anymore: Carol Burnett's groundbreaking comedy-variety show ran for more than 10 years, from 1967-1978. This mammoth box set collects 50 full episodes plus 20 hours of bonus materials including cast reunions, interviews and testimonials from literally hundreds of guest stars. It's more than a nostalgia trip; this is original source material for comedy scholars of any age. (Abridged 6-DVD and 2-DVD sets are also available.)

  • 8. Javier Bardem 3-Film Collection

    The cover of the Javier Bardem three-film collection.

    (DVD/Blu-ray, $20/$25, 3 discs/2 discs)

    In Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, Javier Bardem delivers one of the scariest 007 villain ever – no mean trick after 50 years of Bond films. The Javier Bardem 3-Film Collection features the actor's previous freaky villain turn in No Country for Old Men, along with the Spanish-language film Mondays in the Sun and the harrowing drama Biutiful. These 3-disc collections are an interesting new trend in home video packaging, usually centering on a particular actor or film series. It's a good way to find older movies and streamline your gift-giving.

  • 9. Magic School Bus: The Complete Series

    The cover of Magic School Bus: The Complete Series.

    (DVD, $60, 8 discs)

    Here's a TV show collection for kids you can feel good about giving, and that won't get the parents mad at you. This Emmy-winning animated series follows the intrepid bus driver Ms. Frizzle as she takes her wards on alarming field trips – under the oceans, through outer space, or into the human body – via her magic school bus. The books have been a staple of science education since the 1980s and the TV adaptations are both genuinely funny and good for kids in an eat-your-vegetables kind of way. Single disc episodes are also available, but the complete series set gathers all 52 specials, 30 of which are available here for the first time.

  • 10. The Story of Film: An Odyssey

    The cover of The Story Of Film.

    (DVD, $70, 5 discs)

    Film historian Mark Cousins' hugely ambitious 15-part documentary series on the history of cinema, originally broadcast last year in the UK, spans more than 100 years of movie history and covers every corner of the globe. The series has gotten rave reviews and is already being shelved among the classic scholarly reference works on film history. Odyssey is less a gift than a totally pleasurable semester-long viewing assignment. For the humbly endeavoring film student on your list, this should hit the spot.

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