In a year in which the lines between on-screen movies, on-demand movies, streaming movies and DVDs got even more blurred, certain films — and collections — are still best permanently placed on your bookshelf. We’ve culled through some of our favorites this year and picked out twelve that would make a bountiful present for the cinematics on your list. Please note that while we often recommend the Blu-ray editions of many of these discs — for reasons of enhanced clarity and sound, among other things — each can be found in standard DVD format and would also make an excellent gift.
By 1997, the country still hadn’t completely converted into the currency of sarcasm. As a result, a female cartoon character with a withering wit and a deadly sarcastic outlook was still seen as something of a novelty. The character, of course, was MTV’s Daria (voiced by Tracy Grandstaff), who for five 13-episode seasons brought the idea of eternal disappointment and ironic detachment to the masses. -Piers Marchant – Full Review
The film can be viewed as a commentary on the stark separation between country and city life: Director Götz Spielmann is not above the decidedly unsubtle placement of idyllic country and dramatic city scenes framed side by side in order to convey the heaviness of his comparison. Still, Spielmann coaxes solid performances all around from his cast, and crafts the suspense and anxiety of their emotions with confident skill. By the time the film has reached its résolution, you will undoubtedly feel suitably wrung out. -Janday Wilson – Full Review
To a large degree, in an effort to better compete with niche cable channels, the major networks have branded themselves with their programming. Thus, Fox (outside of their “news” division) is the young, foul-mouthed rebel; CBS the dowdy, easily amused grandparent; NBC, the wanna be cool kid whom very few people actually care to hang out with; and ABC the namby-pamby suck up (easy “Lost” fans, that was the exception, hardly the rule). You can understand, then my hesitation at buying into any comedy on ABC — the network of “According to Jim” and, years earlier, “Home Improvement” seemingly had little to offer. But too many people raved about “Modern Family” for it to a mirage. When I finally succumbed, I was pleasantly surprised. Bottom line, the show is pretty funny in spots, even if continuously pulls in its claws before the closing credits roll. -Piers Marchant – Full Review
9. 8 ½ – Criterion Blu-ray Edition
Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning masterpiece probably resembled a self-indulgent, autobiographical mess on paper. The story of a director beset by artistic confusion and drowning in a flood of beautiful Italian women could hardly hope to establish a connection with your average Giuseppe. But Fellini’s knack for splattering the human subconscious across the silver screen makes this movie far more than a behind-the-scenes tale of filmmaking — it’s a bona fide work of art. –Lance Duroni – Full Review
Charles Chaplin is one of cinema’s great humanists and perhaps none of his features is more empathetic (and none more relevant to today’s economic crisis) than Modern Times. Released almost a decade after the Jazz Singer had ushered in the ‘Talking Motion Picture,’ the film is still largely silent, that is if you don’t count music and sound effects. When his Tramp character speaks on screen for the first time ever in the film’s penultimate scene, it is to sing a song of gibberish made-up sounds and syllables, a comment on Chaplin’s belief that words only got in way of being truly funny (his art was first and foremost about pantomime, and it is no coincidence that he retired the Little Tramp character with this film). -Sal Cannestra – Full Review
Terrence Malick’s elegiac 1978 film, concerning a romantic triangle on a large wheat farm deep in Texas comes complete with its own mythos. The story goes that Malick was so unhappy with the line readings of his two young leads (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams), that he threw out most of his carefully crafted script and kept the dialogue to a bare minimum. The result is an almost unexpectedly gorgeous — and largely visual — film that, in many critic circles, is considered one of the more beautifully filmed movies of all time. -Piers Marchant
Much as a seminal horror film, Milos Forman’s 1975 masterpiece has become so ingrained in the pop culture zeitgeist, it seems hard to imagine a time when it was not referenced. Beyond the obvious roll call of sane-person-in-the-asylum flicks (Girl Interrupted, Gothika and, most recently, It’s Kind of a Funny Story to name but three), the film also further launched the ‘charismatic stranger who enlivens the lives of the downtrodden regulars’ trope, as well as help cement the entire Jack Nicholson character. -Piers Marchant – Full Review
There are also many of the Anderson golden main-stays — like the grand aqueous pans of multiple scenes at once, the story-book character introductions and chapters, and of course, a reverent soundtrack filled with ‘60s rarities, Beach Boys ballads and original honky-tonk diddies by Jarvis Cocker. Mr. Fox simultaneously manages to be a sweet, tender and complicated, larger-than-life action film — and in the heart of this particular critic, it was also one of the very best films of 2009. -Abigail Bruley – Full Review
If ever a TV show has successfully cultivated its own pathetic fallacy to enhanced dramatic effect, it’s this one. The adventures of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), high school chemistry teacher, lung cancer survivor and master crystal meth manufacturer, and his young accomplice, Jesse (Aaron Paul), might have started out as something of a black comedy, but as Walter has dipped further and further into morally murky waters of drug production and distribution, the entire vibe of the show has grown progressively darker and more haunting. -Piers Marchant – Full Review
A luminous masterwork from Fritz Lang. The story of a child murderer let loose upon an unnamed German city is less about heroes and villains than it is an examination of the basic laws of society in the face of what appears to be unmitigated evil. A landmark of both social mores and evocative story telling, 80 years after its initial release, it remains a high-water mark of cinematic art. -Piers Marchant – Full Review
Over the course of three tangled, soliloquy-rich seasons, Milch brought in so many side characters and fascinating opposing elements that you could forgive him the inevitable dull sequences where you were stuck having to pay attention to a particularly loathsome, petty or irritatingly verbose character, whose cares and aspirations you found utterly without engagement. In that way, I suppose, the end of the last episode, in which our rag-tag group of original settlers leave Swearengen’s bar to engage in a winner-take-all battle against the beyond-evil capitalist George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) and his personal army of mercenaries, is fitting enough. We’ll never know what happened (well, again, unless we read some history books), but, like Butch and Sundance, we depart never having to witness them beaten, bloody and broken. Half-sprawling masterpiece, half-long-winded mendacity, Milch’s magnificently lurching creation was as close to witnessing the very beginnings of a civilization’s growing pains as the TV might ever capture. -Piers Marchant – Full Review
It has been readily established that war is hell, but the particular level of misery these men endure — mud slides, pouring rain, disease, faulty equipment, insufficient rations, constant terror of a Japanese guerilla attack — is almost beyond comprehension. What the series captures better than anything else is just how severe the depth of suffering the soldiers experienced. Island after island, bloody battle after battle, the men are subject to a never-ending assault on their souls. That the war in the Pacific was eventually resolved not by the taking of strategic islands, but by the dropping of two nuclear bombs, is irony left to the viewer. The men are just glad to be getting out of there and back home. A series of events the series happily dramatizes. Part of the enjoyment of the experience is finding out what eventually becomes of these brave, forever scarred young soldiers as they finally get to live out the remainder of their lives. -Piers Marchant – Full Review
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.