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2010 Holiday Gift Guide: Part I

November 26th, 2010

This weekend is Thanksgiving and that means Black Friday and Cyber Monday plus 48 hours of shopping in between. Personally, I've done my Christmas shopping, and I have been for weeks; in fact, I've even finished wrapping everything. For the rest of you, here is the first part in our annual Holiday Gift Guide. This week we will look at some of the major first-run releases, but we start with a short talk on...


Right now, if you are interested in 3D TV, you will need to spend anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000, maybe more, on a 3D TV, 3D Blu-ray player (or PS3), and, in many cases, the glasses come separately and cost $200, each. Additionally, there are only about 30 or so Blu-ray 3D releases that will be out by the time Christmas rolls around, so even if you are interested in all of them, you will have to spend $100 per movie in hardware to watch them. Most people will only be interested in a few of the major releases (Despicable Me in 3D, Disney's A Christmas Carol in 3D, etc.). In that case, you would have to spend $3,000 in hardware and will only have 4 or 5 movies to watch in 3D, which means the price per movie is astronomical.

On the other hand, I don't think 3D is going away. Computer animation is easily converted into true 3D, and filming techniques pioneered in Avatar will become more readily available to lower budget productions. Granted, some people think 3D is a fad and it will fade away, but they said the same thing about color, and the same about sound before that. Seriously. The only problem right now is that studios are sometimes using it as a cheap gimmick to charge extra money for tickets. But assuming enough filmmakers learn to use 3D to enhance story telling and not just as a gimmick before bad 3D ruins the format, it will be around for a long, long time. I don't think there will be a time when every movie is in 3D, not until you can make 3D without glasses, but I don't think it is going away either.

If you wait a year, the prices will likely be substantially lower (total price for good sized TV, player, and four glasses should be lower than $2,000) while the selection of films will be much higher (perhaps close to 100, or more). At that point, it will be worth the upgrade.

And now we move onto the actual movies worth adding to your Christmas list...

For those that can't wait for 3D...
Avatar - Extended Collector's Edition: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: The biggest movie of all time. It's so big it made more internationally than the second place film made worldwide. If you don't know what it's about, you likely found this site by accident, in which case, "Hello there!"
Pros: Not only the biggest movie of all time, it is also one of the best-reviewed movies of 2009, it was also a major winner on Oscar night, although it didn't quite win as many as some had expected. Also, it shines in High Definition and the Extended Collector's Edition is loaded with extras.
Cons: Some have made fun of its simplistic story, while there is a good chance anyone interested in this movie has either this version or the previous version already. Plus, it is very, very, very likely a 3D version will come out as early as this time next year.

For those that want not just the biggest, but the best...
Toy Story 3 - Four-Disc Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack
Description: The biggest movie of 2010. The latest film in the Toy Story franchise came out about a decade after Toy Story 2 and takes place about decade later. In the film, Andy, the owner, is going to college and the movie tells the story of what happens to the toys as a result. Will they be stuck in the attic, will they be thrown out, or will they be donated to the local daycare? And which fate is worse?
Pros: The best movie of the year. One of the best movies of the decade. An absolute must-have, and it was released on a loaded Blu-ray that is arguably the best looking Blu-ray I've seen.
Cons: The 3D version will be coming out sooner rather than later. Likely as early as this time next year.

For those that want to show that Pixar isn't the only studio capable of producing amazing animated films...
How to Train Your Dragon - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
Description: Jay Baruchel provides the voice for Hiccup, a misfit viking who first tries to prove to his father that he has what it takes to be a dragon slayer. And after realizing he really doesn't have what it takes, he spends the rest of the movie trying to use the very traits that makes him a bad viking to make him a great dragon trainer. Of course, being different is still a bad thing in Viking society.
Pros: While Dreamworks tends to put out more movies than Pixar each year, and tend to have better box office numbers, they don't have the same track record with critics. However, How to Train Your Dragon is one of the few films that could compete with Pixar's best in terms of Tomatometer Score. Also, the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack has a great selection of extras and it is actually cheaper than the equivalent DVD release.
Cons: The 3D version will be coming out sooner rather than later. Likely as early as this time next year. (Noticing a trend? On the other hand, if that's the worst complaint you can have, it's praising it with faint damnation.)

For those that want to check out the latest player in the Digital Animation field...
Despicable Me - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
Description: Gru is a super-villain who can't seem to get out of the shadow of his much more successful evil villain rival, Vector. He thinks he has finally gotten the advantage by using three orphans, Margo, Edith, and Agnes. Of course you know right from the start that this is a story of redemption for Gru, but it is still a fun journey.
Pros: This was a surprise hit, both at the box office and with critics. In fact, it is quite possible that it could pick up the third Oscar nomination for Best Feature-Length Animated Film. (It's a close race between it and Tangled, with the latter having to deal with comparisons to fellow Dinsey Princess movies from this past.) The Four-Disc Combo Pack includes the Blu-ray 3D version, which means you don't have to worry about double-dips later on.
Cons: It doesn't come out until the 14th of December, so I'm not sure what extras are included. Sure, there is a Picture-in-Picture track, three short films, etc., but I don't know if they are worth checking out, or mostly filler. Then again, it also means you won't have to fight Black Friday crowds to get the movie, so that's a positive as well.

For those that like their animation a little more old school...
Beauty and the Beast - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
Description: A horrible monster kidnaps a young woman and forces her to fall in love with him. It's The Stockholm Syndrome: The Movie. It's actually a little more complicated than that, involving a curse, a narcissistic hunter, a wacky inventor, and a whole lot of people turned into cutlery.
Pros: Arguably the best animated movie of all time; it was the first to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Additionally, Disney went all out on the Blu-ray release by re-mastering the film and loading the three-disc set with a ton of extras.
Cons: It's one of three Blu-rays on this list that could arguably be called the fastest-selling Blu-ray of all time. Although it was released as a Blu-ray / DVD combo pack while their DVD only release didn't come out until seven weeks later, so that's mitigating circumstances. Regardless, a lot of people who are interested in the movie already have it on Blu-ray, which is an issue when giving gifts.

For those that like their animation really old school...
Fantasia / Fantasia 2000 - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
Description: Only the third theatrical feature-length film released by Disney, and also the first commercial film released with any form or surround sound. It is not a feature-length movie, but a series of shorts based on famous classical music. The most famous of these is The Sorcerer's Apprentice, but other segments feature abstract art and / or are less plot-driven. Fantasia 2000 has the same format, and even includes The Sorcerer's Apprentice, with live action introductions from Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin, and others.
Pros: The first movie is widely considered one of the greatest movies ever made, and while the sequel isn't as good, it is still excellent in its own way. The screener just arrived yesterday, so I haven't have time to fully explore the four-disc set, but it is loaded with extras, including a feature-length documentary called Dali and Disney: A Date with Destino, as well as the 2003 short film, Destino, that was first proposed in the 1940s, but not completed for nearly 60 years. Film history buffs will love this Blu-ray.
Cons: It's the censored version of Fantasia, so there's no Sunflower the servant. On the one hand, that's a pretty minor cut. On the other hand, I'm sure they could have included the scenes as they were originally shown, as well as the censored version, but given people the option as to which one they wanted to see. Plus, it would have been a good opportunity to discuss some of the less sensitive portrayals of African-Americans, and other ethnic groups, in cartoons from the era. That is certainly a topic worthy of discussion and there are a lot of film historians who could be interviewed.

For those that want equal parts intellect and action in their movies...
Inception - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
Description: The plot practically defies description. It is certainly too complex to describe in this little blurb.
Pros: A very high concept film with a surplus of talent on both side of the camera. Writer / director Christopher Nolan managed to combine an intellectually interesting topic with stunning visuals and amazing action scenes to create a movie that should be in contention for the Best Picture Oscar. And it's practically a lock for at least a nomination in almost every single technical award out there (editing, sound, special effects, etc.). It should look awesome in high definition.
Cons: Doesn't come out for another week, so it won't be part of Black Friday sales.

For those that don't mind that it's not quite as good as the original...
Iron Man 2 - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
Description: The follow-up to Iron Man, this time Tony Stark battles Ivan Vanko, who is the son of his father's former partner, who died penniless in Russia after being deported. Ivan returns in a suit of his own, plus numerous drones. When I first heard about some of the plot details, I was hoping it would be like the Armor Wars storyline, which is one of the few storylines with multiple villains that would work in movie form. It's close, sort of.
Pros: Iron Man was a surprisingly good movie, so, while Iron Man 2 earned great reviews, especially for a summer blockbuster, it likely would have earned even better reviews if so many critics didn't complain that it didn't live up to the original, or that it simply didn't feel as original, which is something that was unavoidable. Great action, great actors, and it shines on High Definition.
Cons: It's possibly the highest-selling Blu-ray of all time (it might have lost that record already, but we don't have the official results yet). So a lot of people who are interested in the movie have it already.

For nerds that didn't support the theatrical release...
Kick-Ass - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
Description: A different kind of super hero movie. In Kick-Ass, Aaron Johnson plays an average Joe who decides to become a super hero, which goes about as well as you would expect. The result of his beating makes him stronger, and soon a video of him confronting muggers goes viral and he is contacted by other regular people trying to be super heroes: Big Daddy, Hit Girl, and Red Mist.
Pros: Based on a cult comic book from the U.K., this film generated a lot of buzz when it was first announced, and every step of the way that buzz grew. In the end, the reviews were amazing, but the box office numbers were not. It did make enough that the studio is working on a sequel, while the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack has a great selection of extras.
Cons: The film's target audience is definitely limited, as the level of violence, gore, and language will turn off more people than it will entice.

For nerds that didn't even support the home market release...
Scott Pilgram vs. The World - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
Description: Michael Cera plays the titular Scott Pilgram, a bass player in a garage band (basement band?) who falls for a hipster girl named Ramona Flowers. However, if they are to be a couple, he has to fight her seven evil exes.
Pros: I hate nerds. I consider myself to be a nerd, but sometimes my fellow nerds piss me off. Scott Pilgram vs. The World is in many ways a quintessential nerd movie. It is based on an independent comic, which is nerd material on top of nerd material. It's about a nerd, played by Michael Cera, who is the poster boy for nerds, and it is filled with video game and pop culture references. It really should have been a major hit. Fortunately, while it bombed theatrically, the Blu-ray has an incredible number of extras, while the visual nature of the movie makes it one of the best Blu-rays to grab.
Cons: The film's box office numbers were the weakest of any film on this list, and it hasn't done any better on the home market. You could consider this an undiscovered gem, or there might be a reason it did so poorly and the target audience is just too small.

Finally, there are a few other major releases that came out this year, like Alice in Wonderland and Eclipse that have either already come out on Blu-ray or is about to come out on Blu-ray, but they only earned mixed reviews, so they are not really "Gift Guide" material. Also, there are a couple of major releases from last year, like The Princess and the Frog and The Blind Side, which did earn critical praise. However, their Blu-ray releases came out so long ago, that most people who were interested in the movie will already have it.

Next week we will get to some Box Sets, including franchise collections as well as TV on DVD releases.


Filed under: Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 (IMAX), Fantasia 2000 (Theatrical Release), Inception, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Kick-Ass, Avatar, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World