DVDs For Videophiles Who've Seen It (Almost) All DVDs are a sure-fire holiday gift, though avoiding predictable picks can be tricky. If you want to eschew the expected — or your friends are just more eccentric than most — critic Nathan Lee has a few suggestions.
NPR logo DVDs For Videophiles Who've Seen It (Almost) All

DVDs For Videophiles Who've Seen It (Almost) All

Holiday DVD

Sure, you could always get Dad the Coppola restoration of the Godfather trilogy, or pick up Mamma Mia! for Mom.

But what's the must-have holiday DVD for your shy indie-rock boyfriend? (Answer: Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket.) And what to do for the avant-garde musical Marxist in the family? (Answer: Moses und Aaron, the intractable 1975 adaptation of Schoenberg's opera by the legendary filmmaking duo Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub.)

Herewith, our holiday DVD-giving recommendations — from among 2008's very best new DVDs — for various underserved demographics:

For The Unreconstructed White Supremacist: White Dog

White Dog
The Criterion Collection
Number of Discs: 1
List Price: $29.98

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Samuel Fuller's snarling parable about the rehabilitation of a "white dog" trained to kill black people was shelved by a nervous Paramount in 1982. Finally released a decade later to rave reviews (and a complete lack of race riots), this furious blast of pulp outrage is only now available on home video thanks to a scrupulous new package from Criterion.

For The Design Aficionado: Wall-E

Walt Disney Pictures
Number of Discs: 1
List Price: $29.99

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Surely the cutest of all post-apocalyptic, anti-capitalist sci-fi blockbusters, Pixar's latest smash is the requisite kiddie disc of the year. But it's also a must-have for engineers, furniture makers, industrial-design geeks and modernist nerds. There's more suavely conceived and exquisitely wrought design per square inch of Wall-E than anything this side of an Eames retrospective. EVA, the sleekly bulbous she-bot heroine, is the chicest product release since the iPhone.

Included on a generous second disc of bonus materials is an engrossing feature-length documentary on The Pixar Story; directed by Leslie Iwerks with a minimum of heavy-breathing reverence, this chronicle of the Hollywood powerhouse looks back to frontier days of the early digital-animation era and traces the singular rise of an entertainment behemoth that gives the media-industrial complex a good name.

For The Media Theorist: JFK (Ultimate Collector's Edition)

Warner Home Video
Number of Discs: 3
List Price: $39.98

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There's more passion and verve in the credit sequence of Oliver Stone's epic 1991 inquiry into the assassination of JFK than in all of his turgid biopic W. Scene for scene, JFK may be the most information-packed procedural in the history of cinema. As for this superdeluxe DVD release, it's mostly packed with kitsch: a feature-length documentary on the Kennedys; a set of high-quality photographs; reproductions of memos, speeches and postcards — everything but a leather-bound copy of the Warren Report.

Cheesy marketing aside — the movie is available without the "collectible" extras — it's a great time for another look at this mad, passionate, dizzyingly dense historical meditation. JFK would make an inspired (if intolerably exhausting) double feature with David Fincher's Zodiac; both films contemplate the obsessive quest to come to terms with spectacular acts of violence engulfed by elaborate, bewilderingly complex information systems. They're parables of the information age, essays on the limits of empiricism, procedurals concerned with procedure itself.

For Those Unhappy About Prop. 8: The Boys in the Band

Boys In The Band
Number of Discs: 1
List Price: $26.98

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Hey, it used to be a lot worse. William Friedkin's big-screen adaptation of Mart Crowley's seminal off-Broadway play remains a bracing blast of gay solidarity and self-loathing. Assembled in the Manhattan pad of a supremely bitter alcoholic with an extravagant collection of cashmere sweaters and silk scarves, this acerbic time capsule pits a group of witty, bitchy queens against each other on the occasion of a friend's birthday.

The script's theatrical contrivance is tiresome, the misanthropic banter can feel arbitrary, and the compressed intensity of the drama induces claustrophobia. But this landmark of feel-bad gay cinema still packs a mincing punch. Few films since have taken on the ugly side of gay culture with such head-on ferocity nor addressed themselves so bluntly to a gay audience. It's a movie told from the inside out, uncompromisingly self-critical and unapologetically queer.

For The Truly, Madly Movie-Crazed: Irma Vep

Irma Vep
Zeitgeist Films
Number of discs: 1
List Price: $29.99

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Olivier Assayas' delirious meta-movie masterpiece gets an overdue upgrade from Zeitgeist Films. Maggie Cheung, aka the most beautiful woman in the world, stars as, basically, herself: a radiant Hong Kong action star recruited by a high-minded French auteur (Jean-Pierre Leaud) as the lead in a remake of Les Vampires, the famous silent serial by Louis Feuillade.

Shot fast and cheap but very much in control, Irma Vep is a backstage comedy "enjoyably steeped," per the apt appreciation of critic J. Hoberman, "in six sorts of cinephilia." New Wave verve meets Hong Kong kinesis meets avant-garde doodling in a latex cat suit with a Sonic Youth soundtrack. French movies were never the same.

For The Feminist Aesthete: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

Mizoguchi's Fallen Women
The Criterion Collection
Number of Discs: 4
List Price: $59.95

The 13th release from Eclipse, the budget division of the mighty (and mighty pricey) Criterion Collection, is a lucky number indeed: a box set of four exquisite feature films by Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi. Deploying his trademark silken camerawork and devastating emotional precision, Mizoguchi tracks the fates of switchboard operators (Osaka Elegy), geishas (Sisters of the Gion, Street of Shame) and women reduced to prostitution (Women of the Night). Here are the most melodic of melodramas, and a perfect entree to the vision of a director whose sympathy for the social position of women and refinement of style suggest a Japanese Henry James writing with celluloid.

For The David Lynch Completist: The Lime Green Set

Lime Green Set
Number of Discs: 10
List Price: $179.99

Most of this stuff — and there's tons and tons of it — can be had on separate discs: Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, Dumbland. Appearing for the first time on DVD is Industrial Symphony #1, a collaboration between Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti that plays like a feature-length music video for the ethereal chanteuse Julie Cruise.

Truth is, though, this hefty release is all about the "Mystery Disc," a delirious compendium of Lynchian miscellanea featuring avant-garde film school shorts, weirdness culled from the DavidLynch.com archive, and nearly two hours of deleted scenes from Wild At Heart. More miss than hit, but catnip for the Lynch cult, this unseen footage is worth the investment for some priceless scene-stealing by Diane Ladd. As Marietta Fortune, the wicked witch of this Lynchian West, Ladd storms and plots to keep her daughter Lulu (Laura Dern) away from her beloved Sailor (Nicolas Cage). "He's pure slime," she rants through gritted teeth, "and he's leaking all over my baby!"