Hello and welcome to the 2019 Holiday Gift Guide! For those who may be new to the guide I figured I’d give you a little lay of the land. This is the very first time the guide has appeared on Birth.Movies.Death., but there’s a little bit of history to this thing.
I started my movie-writing career at a site called Ain’t It Cool News and it struck me sometime in the mid-aughts that most gift guides that showed up online were small, hardly curated at all and just a basic list of basic things. I grew up in the glory days of the Sears Catalog, a huge phone book-sized tome that would come in time for Christmas. This is what was handed to me by grandparents and I was told to circle the toys I wanted the most.
So I decided to try my hand an online movie geek version of that and the Holiday Gift Guide was born. I did it every year I was with Ain’t It Cool and when I left in 2017 I took the Guide with me. This year it’s gonna live here at BMD and I’m very excited about that. BMD is filled with kindred spirits, both on the writing side and the reader side. You’re my people.
Before we begin, I want to break a few things down for you. There will be multiple parts to this guide, each highlighting a different category. This is Home Video, for instance. Coming up will be Art, Books, Music, Apparel, Gaming, Housewares and Toys/Collectibles.
Each category is broken down by price: Cheap ($24.99 and Under), Moderate ($25.00-$70.99), Expensive ($71.00-$249.99) and For The Super Rich Only ($250.00 and Up).
While doing my research for the guide I did my best to find the best available price for each item taking into consideration free shipping and ease of use, etc. That said, the prices below were accurate as of the writing of the guide. This time of year prices can change by the minute, especially on Blu-Rays, as Black Friday deals roll out, so make sure to shop around.
Also, any Amazon link you find will have my affiliate code embedded in it. No, I’m not spying on you. I can’t tell what you specifically are buying, but it does mean that if you click through and buy something I’ll get a little percentage of your purchase. It doesn’t cost you anything more, but I want to be upfront about that. I spend a ton of time curating and assembling the guide, so I hope you don’t begrudge me the affiliate links.
Speaking of curation, that’s the last thing I want to touch on before we get rolling. The 2019 Holiday Gift Guide will be extensive (by my count we’re landing somewhere around 400 total items), but it is curated by me. That means you’re going to see me leaning heavily into the stuff I think is cool. It won’t be a complete picture of every possible thing out there, however there should be a little something for everybody here. Expect to see a lot of Jaws, Stephen King, Haunted Mansion and Star Wars stuff.
Without any further ado, what say we start this thing?
Physical media is still beloved in this household. Streaming is crazy convenient, but often schizophrenic. The video and audio quality is subpar compared to Blu-Ray (it’s a stunningly big difference watching, say, Season One of Stranger Things on Blu-Ray instead of Netflix) and when you have a physical copy of a movie or show you don’t have to ever worry about a license running out. When you have it you have it. With that in mind, let us take a look at what goodies are out this holiday season, whether it’s a gift for a friend or family member or for yourself.
Cheap ($24.99 and Under)
If you’re going to double dip then there’s no better title to do it with than Stanley Kubrick’s kinda good-looking classic The Shining, especially when it’s a brand new 4K remaster. I’m as guilty as any physical media fan of getting excited when a favorite title gets a new media upgrade, even if it’s a simple up-rez. But there’s nothing like seeing a real deal remaster in 4K and The Shining got the white glove treatment here. Now you can see the old granny bathtub hag’s bush in crystal clarity!
Keeping the Stephen King trend going (get used to it. My man is represented all throughout this guide) the next title up is Stand By Me’s 4K edition. I have no idea if this is an immaculate transfer or not (I’d guess a 2K up-rez), but the movie is an all-timer for me. There’s something about the friendship on display between the four boys here that spoke to me at a very impressionable age. That and the ‘50s nostalgia and emotional outbursts and laughter and sadness all mix together to be a cinematic comfort blanket for me.
This one I know for sure is a UHD remaster. The original Alien Quadrilogy DVD Box Set was one of my sound and picture quality show-offs and the trend continues with this gorgeous high-def transfer of one of the best-looking horror movies of all time. There are a lot of potential UHD upgrades that didn’t make the cut for the guide this year, but Alien was an early “keeper.”
There’s nothing like eye-popping Technicolor to really justify a home video upgrade and you don’t get more eye-popping than Wizard of Oz. Yes, I may have owned every version of this moving going back VHS, but Wizard of Oz is just one of those guaranteed upgrade titles for me. It’s remarkable how much longevity this film has. I watched it a couple years back with my nephews and they loved it just as much as I did, which was just as much as my mom did and as much as her parents did. That’s all to say this one is gonna look very purty on your fancy 4K TV.
Gremlins is one of my favorite Christmas movies (eat shit It’s A Wonderful Life) so naturally this new 4K release caught my eye. Yes, I realize we’re only five items into the 2019 Holiday Gift Guide and we’ve already featured two different Corey Feldman movies. That wasn’t intentional, but I’ll be damned if that’s not some kind of proof that there’s a higher power at work guiding this thing. Anyway, Gremlins rules, Phoebe Cates is the most beautiful woman ever to walk this Earth and her “Why I Hate Christmas” speech is an all-timer.
Duncan Jones’ debut feature, Moon, has grown in popularity over the years. Some of us old bastards have been championing it since day one. This weird, scrappy sci-fi tale featuring more than one Sam Rockwell and (thankfully only) the voice of pre-cancelation Kevin Spacey still rules and deserves your thoughtful consideration for an UHD upgrade.
I was lucky enough to be in Los Angeles when they put this new cut and transfer in theaters and got to watch it on the Cinerama Dome’s giant curved screen. The Final Cut looks and sounds amazing, but that’s not all you get with this 40th Anniversary release. You also get the theatrical cut and the Redux cut, so you can pick whichever version of the movie you most want to watch.
I’ll take any excuse to give props to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, so here’s this new Blu-Ray steelbook edition for your consideration. We know what Conner4Real thinks of the Mona Lisa and the pyramids, but I think he’d like this much more. So, Donkey Roll your ass over to Amazon and pick up your own copy.
You know how sometimes it takes people, like, 10 years to figure out a widely dismissed movie is Good, Actually? Cut out the whole waiting a decade thing and get in early on appreciating the bonkers LA noir Under the Silver Lake. Andrew Garfield as a hipster investigating the disappearance of his hot neighbor is so goofily endearing that you’re along for the bizarre ride from the first time you meet him. It’s an ambitious swing from director David Robert Mitchell and will almost certainly be filling rep houses in a few years with its small, but dedicated fan base.
Sometimes all you need in a movie is a bunch of killer alligators in a flooded basement. Crawl is a reminder that not every horror movie has to be arty psychological creepfests to be rad as hell. Alexandre Aja joints are always worth watching and this one ended up being one of the most surprising fun times I had at the movies this year.
Just when you think the Conjuring films are going to run out of steam you get this third Annabelle movie that very smartly takes a Friday the 13th: The Series approach by having all the haunted artifacts in the Warren’s locked off room of scary shit come into play. Much like Crawl, the focus this time out is to go all out and have a blast. There’s some surprisingly good character work mixed in as well. And a werewolf. Did I mention there was a werewolf? There’s a werewolf.
Overlord is another movie that feels like it’s going to build a cult following over the years. It’s unapologetically a B-movie with a pretty sizeable budget, about two-thirds of which was put into its massive opening plane crash scene. I mean, I’m guessing it was because this movie starts out with a bang. Plus you get a plot that feels like an unofficial adaptation of the original Wolfenstein in all its R-rated genre glory.
While I personally prefer Ari Aster’s first film, Hereditary, there’s no question that he has firmly cemented his unique style with Midsommar. It’s a film that is both emotionally devastating and also blissfully cathartic with threads of surprise humor tying all the trauma together. Without question one of the most visually iconic movies of the year and definitely deserving of shelf space on any self-respecting genre fan’s blu-ray shelf.
Fantastic Fest favorite Anna and the Apocalypse is also a great gift option this holiday season. It’s a cute Scottish musical set in a bloody zombie apocalypse. You know, that old chestnut. That means the appeal for this flick is a little wider than your usual guts and viscera zombie flick. It’s not often you can call a zombie movie adorable, but this one certainly is.
Speaking of adorable, how about Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut? Booksmart didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, but there’s very few people who saw it that don’t flat out love it. In fact, I remember seeing it at the local mall theater and hearing two different lesbian couples in the lobby enthusiastically discussing how rare it is to see themselves represented in a real way in a movie like this. What’s groundbreaking here is it’s not a message movie. One of the main characters is gay, but that doesn’t define her any more than the two leads being straight defined Superbad. First and foremost it’s a funny, gross teen sex comedy and all the progressive stuff aside it’s just a funny movie with funny people.
In a year overflowing with great TV it’s saying something that Chernobyl is one of the best shows to air this year. It’s a drama that has the tension of a top tier horror movie, the emotion of a melodrama and a bit of comedy that comes from realistically written characters reacting under pressure. Chernobyl is a riveting, adult show that’ll piss you off and make you cheer in equal measure.
The culmination of over 10 years of world-building resulted in Avengers: Endgame, which, among other things, introduced the world to America’s ass. It made all the money, so you don’t need me to sell it to you. If you want to own it and not depend on Disney+ or gift it to the MCU lover in your life this is what it’ll run you. (FYI the 4K edition is on a lot of brick and mortar store doorbuster deals for Black Friday. Amazon will sometimes match those prices, so maybe hold off on ordering the 4K until you see what happens on Black Friday).
Between you and me… I like this Tom Holland fella. He makes a good Spider-Man and, more importantly, he makes a great Peter Parker. Jake Gyllenhaal really brought it as Mysterio, we get a sub-plot where Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan gets to make sexy time with Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May, and the movie makes some shockingly big choices in the finale that I can’t wait to see play out in the coming Spidey films.
I love the MCU movies. Like, a lot. But if I had to pick my favorite superhero movie of 2019 Shazam would be right up there at the top of the list. I take my young nephews to a lot of movies and Shazam was their favorite thing we watched together by far. They flipped for it even harder than I did. In fact, it’s the only film I’ve shown them that I’ve heard that them prosthelytize, insisting friends and family to watch it. Shazam reminds me so much of the kids movies I grew up with. It’s not afraid to be scary when it needs to be, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s not afraid to show the hero as a straight up asshole that finds the right path. Big fan of this one.
Speaking of scary superhero movies, Brightburn was another quality flick this year. Produced by James Gunn, this mean little piece of work combines two genres I love: killer kid movies and superhero movies. Full disclosure, the director, David Yarovesky, is a friend of mine, but rest assured if I really didn’t like his movie I’d just conveniently leave it off this list. I mean, this movie has a super powered kid making a dude’s jaw fall off and that’s not the most fucked up thing that happens! C’mon!
This ain’t the first time we’ve seen an HD copy of Big Trouble In Little China on the market, but by God it’s the first time we’ve seen one from the geniuses at Scream Factory. You know what ol’ Jack Burton says about the folks at Scream Factory when they announce one of the best movies of the ‘80s (and of all time) is getting their special treatment, don’t you? Yes, sir. The check is in the mail.
Pre-Order, December 3rd. $24.88
Silver Bullet is a personal favorite of mine. Call it nostalgia if you want, but I’m very fond of this ‘80s tale about a wheelchair bound Corey Haim and his crazy uncle, of course played by Gary Busey, who has to fight a werewolf in a small town. As an adaptation of Stephen King’s story it’s maybe not the most faithful thing in the world, but it’s a fun, charming story that constantly has a handicapped kid in mortal danger. What else do you want out of cinema?
Pre-Order, December 17th. $24.99
Here’s a neat one that a lot of genre fans might have overlooked. Road Games is a thriller from Richard Franklin that stars a post-Halloween Jamie Lee Curtis and Stacy Keach as two souls who meet on the road that just happens to be the hunting ground for a serial killer. This movie’s so good at evoking a Hitchcock suspense feel that Franklin was hired to make Psycho II (which he also knocked out of the park, by the way). Quality flick, so a great gift idea for the genre fan in your life that thinks they’ve seen all the good ‘80s movies.
Do you want a wild movie? Like a really goddamn wild movie? Then look no further than this coke-fueled exploitation flick that has Wings Hauser turning in the craziest performance this side of Gary Busey or Crispin Glover. He plays a murderous pimp named Ramrod. I’m not kidding you. This movie is bonkers, bananas and every other synonym for crazy you can think of. Highly entertaining and Scream Factory loaded this release to the gills with extra features and a fancy transfer based off a UHD scan of the negative.
Scream Factory also worked their magic on another ‘80s horror flick that is finally getting its due. The Blob is not interested in being a corny no-stakes remake of its ‘50s counterpart. The movie’s mean and constantly defies horror movie tropes. The characters you think are safe are very much not, I promise. Written by Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell, this one still packs a punch. The gooey, gross make-up effects are still on point. This one creeped me out as a kid and a lot of the same imagery still gets under my skin to this very day.
The Craft was a formative movie for a whoooooole lot of people of my generation. Empowering for the young women, especially those living in repressive households, and funky and weird for the guys. I can personally attest to the effect that powerful witch Fairuza Balk can have on a tweenage boy. Scream Factory’s release has a bunch of new extra material, like interviews with a ton of the behind the scenes players including director Andrew Fleming.
Silent Hill gets a nice glam up in this release, loaded to the brim with new features (interviews with the cast, director and makeup effects guy) and a new HD transfer personally approved by Christophe Gans. We may not have gotten a perfect video game adaptation yet, but Silent Hill comes the closest. It for sure captures the disquieting imagery and tone from the famous horror game as well as the oppressive dread you feel when playing late at night. The movie goes a little off the rails at the end, but it’s still damn good and has some of the best horror imagery in the last 20 years.
Even though the home video market has been shrinking these last few years we are living in a golden age of distributors that really give a shit about preserving off-kilter titles. You’ve seen a bunch of Scream Factory stuff already, we have Criterion coming up and then there’s Arrow. They have some amazing stuff out this year, including this Blu of Ringu. There’s a 4K remastered transfer supervised by the original film’s DP, a new commentary track, a series about the Ringu legacy and even a lossless DTS audio track. There’s a case to be made that the original Japanese Ringu is one of the most influential horror movies of the last thirty years and now you get it in as pristine a presentation as it’s ever had.
Audition is one of my favorite films to introduce to fellow cinephiles, especially if they’ve never heard of it. If you can start it without them seeing the cover or menu then you’ve got a front row seat watching them react to the bag moving for the first time. I’ve introduced this to people as a romantic comedy and the first good chunk plays exactly that way and then blammo, it takes a left turn and becomes one of the most disturbing things you’ve ever seen. Miike recorded an intro for this release 2K restoration that features some older commentaries, a brand new one and a bunch of new interviews and video essays on the flick.