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2019 Holiday Gift Guide

December 19, 2019

By John Corrado

Christmas is just under a week away. Hanukkah starts on December 22nd. It’s gift giving season, and here is my holiday gift guide, featuring a selection of recent movies, TV shows, books and even a board game that I can personally recommend. There’s something for everyone on this list, and all of the items below should be widely available either in stores or online for last minute purchases.


Mission: Impossible 6-Movie Collection (4K Ultra HD): Tom Cruise’s awesome and increasingly insane stunts in 4K? The Mission: Impossible 6-Movie Collection has it all. This compact set includes every single one of the Mission: Impossible films released so far in 4K Ultra HD, from Brian DePalma’s 1996 film to Christopher McQuarrie’s 2018 instalment Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and to sweeten the deal, the whopping 13-disc set also comes with all six films on Blu-ray, housed in their own plastic snapcase within the cardboard outer box.

The set even includes an extra Blu-ray disc of bonus features for Fallout, and is also packaged with Ethan Hunt’s Case File, a nifty little booklet featuring information about the character and his missions in the different films. This is one of the greatest and most purely entertaining franchises currently going, and the Mission: Impossible 6-Movie Collection is is the perfect gift for any action movie fans on your list, especially for those itching to watch or rewatch all of these films in order. This is something that actually came out last year in December, but it would still make a great gift.

It’s a Wonderful Life (4K Ultra HD): Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, starring James Stewart in one of the finest performances of his career as a depressed man learning how his life has touched so many others, is not only one of my favourite Christmas movies of all time, but also one of my favourite films, period. I went to see it last week at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and it still holds up beautifully, with a script that brilliantly moves between flashbacks, present day scenes and chilling fantasy to offer a complete portrait of one man’s life and all the joy and regret that comes with it. You simply can’t go wrong with a timeless classic like this, and now it’s been beautifully restored in 4K for this new edition.

The disc comes with a selection of new bonus features as well, including the three featurettes The Making of a Beloved Classic in 4K, Scenes From the Vault: It’s a Wonderful Life, and It’s a Wonderful Wrap Party. The set also includes a regular Blu-ray, which unfortunately only has the colourized version on it, so if you’re looking for the film in its original black and white glory on Blu-ray, I would recommend going with the 70th anniversary edition that was released in 2016. But for those with a 4K system in place who are looking to upgrade, this set would make a great gift.

Anna and the Apocalypse (Blu-ray): Here’s something for you; a Christmas zombie musical! If that doesn’t get you interested in this small gem from 2018, which was recently released on Blu-ray, then I don’t know what will. This amusing, gory and surprisingly heartfelt film is a good choice for any genre fans on your list who are wanting to watch something that will get them in the spirit of the season, but aren’t necessarily looking for traditional holiday fare. The disc also includes a brief featurette that is much too short but does offer some cool “behind the scenes” footage of the makeup and practical gore effects, which is fun to see if you’re into that sort of thing. I recently rewatched my copy of the film, (which I reviewed when it came out last year), and it still holds up. Pair it with a copy of the movie’s incredibly catchy soundtrack for an especially great gift.

Downton Abbey (Blu-ray): Based on the popular TV series of the same name, which ran for six seasons from 2010 to 2015, the movie Downton Abbey continues the saga of the Crawley family and finds them preparing for a visit from the Royals. Bringing back the same cast as the TV series, including great character actors Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, the film proved to be hugely popular with fans of the show, and did decent business at the box office this fall. While familiarity with the show is practically a must to properly follow the story, I imagine many viewers would be delighted to find a copy of this handsomely made and well acted period piece underneath their trees. The disc also features a commentary track by director Michael Engler, and boasts over thirty minutes of bonus content, including a selection of deleted scenes and featurettes.

More Suggestions: Abominable (Blu-ray), Blinded by the Light (Blu-ray), The Farewell (Blu-ray), It: Chapter Two (Blu-ray), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Blu-ray).


Game of Thrones: The Complete Eighth Season (Blu-ray): Whether you loved it, hated it or liked it with reservations but thought it needed a few more episodes, now you can watch and argue about the final season of the acclaimed and wildly popular HBO series all over again! This nicely packaged set features all six episodes from the eighth season of Game of Thrones spread over three discs, as well as recaps and previews, commentary tracks on each of the episodes, and in-episode guides that offer pop up text to help viewers keep track of the complex mythology. The third disc also holds three “making of” documentaries which range in length from half an hour to nearly two hours, as well as several animated background pieces and some deleted scenes. It’s a solid gift for fans of the show, especially those who already have the other seasons in their collection.

Chernobyl (Blu-ray): This critically acclaimed 5-part HBO miniseries, which recently received four Golden Globe nominations, dramatizes the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union and its fallout, documenting political corruption and how government officials tried to keep the severity of the disaster hidden, leading to an increase in radiation poisoning. Led by a stellar cast including Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård, this harrowing and disturbing docudrama has already been celebrated as one of the greatest series of all time, and the 2-disc set also includes a good selection of bonus featurettes. It’s not exactly cheery viewing, but it is an important and finely crafted piece of television.

The Loudest Voice (DVD): Russell Crowe stars in this 7-part Showtime miniseries as Roger Ailes, the disgraced former head of Fox News who stepped down amidst multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Spanning from 1995 to 2016, the series documents how Ailes built an empire that would not only change TV news, but would shake up the political landscape as well. Covering similar ground as the upcoming film Bombshell, this timely series received two Golden Globe nominations, including for Crowe’s performance. It’s the sort of thing that seems worthy of binge-watching over the holidays for those interested in media and politics, and the 3-disc set also includes a bonus featurette.

More Suggestions: Catch-22 (DVD).


Rotten Movies We Love (Running Press Adult, 2019): This book, written by the editors of Rotten Tomatoes and featuring a forward by filmmaker Paul Feig, focuses on a selection of movies that have received a “rotten” score from critics of 59% or less on the review aggregator website, but have still managed to connect with audiences for one reason or another.

The book aims to shine a spotlight on films that received negative reviews from critics but are generally liked by a lot of audiences, from comedies that are now considered genuine classics like Twins, Billy Madison, Wet Hot American Summer and Step Brothers, to nostalgic childhood favourites like Hocus Pocus and Space Jam, and modern box office hits like Maleficent and The Greatest Showman, all of which are below 60%. It’s divided into different sections, including ones devoted to movies that are considered to be so bad they’re good, as well as others that were simply misunderstood upon their release but have since been reevaluated, like The Cable Guy and Jennifer’s Body.

Editor-in-Chief Joel Meares even acknowledges the problem with a site like Rotten Tomatoes in his introduction, recognizing how assigning a score that many see as a reflection of whether a film is worth seeing or not can in some cases be more hurtful than helpful. Some of the movies that got the green splat are generally considered to be legitimately good in hindsight, even if they didn’t attract positive reviews from the majority of critics when they were first released. For example, Wes Anderson’s fourth film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which is profiled, surprisingly only sits at 56% on the Tomatometer. And Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, a Christmas favourite of mine with immense replay value that in my humble opinion is on par with the first film, is at a shockingly low 32%.

Other titles in the book have understandably been panned, but still have great entertainment value, and others still, dare I say, deserve their low scores. But as Feig, no stranger to bad reviews, eloquently talks about in his foreward, all of this is subjective and our perception of movies often changes depending when we see them, which is kind of the beauty of cinema. There are also longer essays by film critics that appear throughout, which offer more in-depth analysis of some of these titles. Whether you agree with all of these picks or not, this well written and nicely assembled book is a lot of fun to look through, offering plenty of things to mull over and add to your watch list.

Christmas in the Movies (Running Press Adult, 2018): The latest by film historian and Turner Classic Movies commentator Jeremy Arnold, this hardcover book focuses on thirty Christmas movies, ranging from well established classics like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life to more modern favourites such as Elf and Love Actually, as well as some more obscure picks like Miracle on Main Street, Remember the Night, 3 Godfathers and Trail of Robin Hood. Arnold also broadens his definition to include films that aren’t entirely set at the holidays but feature Christmas prominently within them, like Meet Me in St. Louis and Holiday Inn.

The book itself is attractively put together, filled with pictures from these films to accompany Arnold’s essays for each of the titles, in which he explains why he chose to include them as well as talks about how they relate to the season and offers background information on their production. Arnold also gets extra points for reaffirming Die Hard‘s rightful place as a Christmas classic. Each film entry is accompanied by a list of credits, which is a very handy resource to have included, and the book serves as a great guide of what to watch over the holidays from old favourites to new discoveries. Smaller than your standard coffee table book, it’s the perfect size to curl up with and flip through, and makes a great display item.


Blockbuster Party Game: Nostalgia for video stores is a very real thing, and the Blockbuster Party Game, made by the indie board game company Big Potato Games based in London, England, capitalizes on this perfectly. First off, the presentation of the game is one of my favourite things about it. The game itself comes in what looks like an oversized VHS case, and when you first open it up, the game board is folded in half to look like a cassette tape. When unfolded, the board looks like a parking lot, complete with a little plastic Blockbuster sign that stands in the middle of it. I’m honestly tempted to just keep it open as a display item, you know?

The game itself is sort of like a mix between Scene It? and charades, with players having to shout out the names of movies that fit into different categories in the first round, before selecting cards for the second round that offer players the chance to quote and act out scenes from classic movies, with the goal being to collect as many movie titles as possible. The cards that you collect look like cute little VHS tapes, and the first team to collect at least one title from all eight genres wins the game. The package also comes with a blue buzzer that is used in gameplay. Made for four or more players, the Blockbuster Party Game is perfect for playing with friends, and serves as the perfect crossover between movie night and game night, if those are the sort of things you do in your household.

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