Ah, yes: the most wonderful time of the year, tinged with muddy snow and the creeping darkness of our most recent Depression. You're probably broke, no money for vacations or a night at the bar, and spending a lot of time on your soon-to-be-repossessed couch. When planning to spend what little money you have left on holiday presents, then, you might want to invest in the gift of movies, which will keep you and yours comfortable at home at relatively low cost.
Like just about everything else this year, the dour economy has affected even those shiny silver discs that replaced the VHS cassette. Which isn't to say that DVDs are going anywhere just yet, but sales have seen a rapid decline, as more and more people are getting their entertainment fix through the ease of digital downloading. Meanwhile, the Blu-ray format, with its superior quality, is holding steady.
With up to 50 gigs of storage space available on a single Blu-ray disc (or "BD"), the sound and image capabilities dwarf anything currently available for download — and certainly anything available for streaming or on cable, with their lower-end definitions of hi-def. Simply put, there's no better way to enjoy movies at home.
Of course, before you rush out to buy the latest movie on Blu-ray for your favorite friend or co-worker, make sure they actually own both a Blu-ray player, which is finally available for under $200 — that mass-market sweet spot — and a hi-def TV, which is not. Even a PlayStation 3, which recently saw its own price drop from $399 down to $299, can play these discs. In fact, the Criterion Collection, a company that's "dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements," uses the PS3 as its playback standard.
Still, BDs — and their requisite top-notch equipment — might strain your already-tight holiday budget. But, trust us, it's worth it. With the rampant poor projection and sound found in most cinema chains, exacerbated by the chatting and texting, this might just be the best way to experience movies, period. Movie-lovers will certainly appreciate your generosity during these difficult times. (And should your unfortunate intended gift recipients have none of the necessary media players, we've also included DVD recommendations.)
Keep in mind that the prices noted below are only the suggested retail prices. In most cases, the discs can be purchased for significantly less online, at e-retailers like amazon.com, or even in locally owned, brick-and-mortar retailers like Newbury Comics. Tell 'em we sent you.
A Criterion Christmas
Staying true to its above-stated mission, Criterion used last Christmas season to launch its first Blu-ray offerings, which included Wes Anderson's debut, BOTTLE ROCKET ($39.95/BD; $39.95/DVD); Wong Kar-wai's icon-making CHUNG- KING EXPRESS ($39.95; $39.95); Nicolas Roeg's David Bowie–headliner, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH ($39.95; $39.95), and Carol Reed's now already (and sadly) out-of-print The Third Man. Since then, it's released a steady offering of the important classic and contemporary films for which it's known.