How'd this happen? It's December already, the Oscar campaigns are upon us, the bookshops and video stores (are there still video stores? - yes, a few) are decked in tinsel and candy cane, and e-commerce sites are abustle with Yuletidey pop-up ads.
Here's a list of 10 guaranteed-to-please gift ideas - books and disc sets, too - for the cineaste in your family, the film buff in your circle of friends, the James Bond and Star Wars obsessives, too. Enjoy.
The Apu Trilogy. Satyajit Ray. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray, $99.95 Originally released between 1955 and 1959, Ray's Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished), and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) follow Apu from boyhood to manhood, from ancestral village to bustling city. A number of actors play Apu at different ages, different stages, but the film's sense of life's magnitude, mystery, and sad turns of fortune remains a constant throughout. Acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa compared life without experiencing the three Apu titles to "existing in a world without seeing the sun or the moon." The Criterion set collects the restored and reconstructed prints that played earlier in the year at art houses.
Bond by Design: The Art of the James Bond Films. Meg Simmons. DK Books, 320 pps, $50 A deluxe coffee table compendium of production design tableaus, from the first 007 film, 1962's Dr. No (Ken Adam's sumptuously unsettling black-and-white sketch for the Tarantula Room), to the latest, Spectre (Dennis Gossner's almost surrealist vision of the Mexico City Day of the Dead opening set piece). There are elaborate action storyboards, cool product designs for Bondian gadgetry, costumes, cars, logos. Ridiculously handsome, and hefty, with its own elegant slipcase. A must-have for Bond movie aficionados, but also for anyone interested in the way images are transformed and translated from sketch pad and easel to the big screen.
The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki. Disney Blu-ray, $249.99 No surprise: When the creative forces at Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks are asked to cite their influences and inspirations, one of the first names mentioned is invariably that of the great Japanese animator. Miyazaki's work, at once dreamlike and playful, vivid and profound, takes cartooning to higher spheres. Of the 11 films included in this retrospective set, my favorite has to be 1988's My Neighbor Totoro, with its forest spirits and magical transformations, but maybe that's just because it was my introduction to Miyazaki. His stories often pivot around plucky young heroines; soaring flight is a theme; dream logic pervades; and nature - the oceans, the mountains, the rain and snow - is a primal force.
David Lynch: The Man From Another Place. Dennis Lim. New Harvest, 192 pps, $20 A thoughtful, provocative study of the films, the art, the philosophy of the creator of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Twin Peaks. Lim, a film critic and curator, marks four turning points in Lynch's life and career. One was his move to Philadelphia in 1967 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where the nightmare visions that informed Eraserhead and much of his later work were born. Living in close proximity to a city morgue will do that to a guy.
Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film. Edward Ross. Self Made Hero, 200 pps, $24.95 Cartoonist Ross delivers far more than a mere history of movies in this charming, insightful comic book. In ingenious panels, Ross takes us from the birth of cinema to its latest digital iterations, analyzing how our minds process the moving image, and how film fits into the larger cultural landscape - and takes from that landscape, too. Citing critics, historians, and filmmakers, Ross pulls the curtain back to look at the mechanics behind the "magic" of movies, referencing well over 300 films while doing so. His drawings of iconic scenes and characters - from Blade Runner, Clockwork Orange, King Kong, Memento, Modern Times, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz - are a treat.
How to Watch a Movie. David Thomson. Knopf, 244 pps, $24.95 If anyone should know how to watch one, it's the prolific critic Thomson, whose Biographical Dictionary of Film is essential stuff. In this unapologetically subjective survey, he parses the elements of a film - music, sound, editing, dialogue, and, of course, the actors ("If you want to watch films, you must never give up on the beauty of the people"). He references classics like The Big Sleep in unexpected ways ("Our most audacious screwball comedy"), fires a broadside at Quentin Tarantino ("So besotted with movie talk that it often obscures his ignorance of life"), and draws the vital link between the experience of watching a film and the experience of life (the movie "has altered our status as watchers by insisting that we question ourselves about watching"). Brilliant.
Mystery Science Theater 3000. XXXIV. Shout Factory DVD, $59.99 The Kickstarter campaign to fund a new round of MST3Ks has raised more than $3.6 million - no joke - with movie buff funnyman Patton Oswalt already cast as a new evil henchman dude. But while we wait for series creator Joel Hodgson's grand reboot, here's a package of four seminal episodes of yore (two from the Comedy Central era, with Hodgson hosting, two from the Sci-Fi Channel days with Mike Nelson). In all four, robot wiseguys Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot join in the smart-alecky commentary, riffing on the ridiculous Grade Z fare unspooling on the big screen, the titles (and victims): Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent, War of the Colossal Beast, The Undead, and The She-Creature. The MST3K catchphrase "I'm a Grimald warrior!" was spawned in the midst of watching Roger Corman's Viking Women classic.
Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1. Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larocca, and Delgado. Marvel Comics, 160 pps, $19.99 The first six issues of the Darth Vader comics are collected in this volume, providing a new point of view - the Dark Lord of the Sith's, that is - on the epic battle between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. To be read while standing in line to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day, Dec. 17.
William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Things to Come. James Curtis. 416 pps, $40 "William Cameron Menzies [is] a man impossible to over-praise," comes the praise from one Orson Welles, saluting Menzies' spectacular visual design on the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Thief of Baghdad. With a retrospective of Menzies' work currently at New York's Film Forum, the visionary artist/art director/production designer/filmmaker is getting his due, and Curtis' biography confirms his genius. Menzies' contributions to films as wildly diverse as Gone With the Wind, It's a Wonderful Life, the 1933 Alice in Wonderland, and Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra proved essential. And the Menzies-directed low-budget 1953 Invaders From Mars still stands as one of the eeriest studies of childhood anxiety and dread this side of a Freud casebook.
Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane. Patrick McGilligan. Harper, 832 pps, $35 Deeply researched and deeply informative, McGilligan's biographical study of the childhood and early adulthood of the man who would make one of the most groundbreaking and influential pictures in Hollywood history goes back to Welles' Midwestern roots, his family, his early mentorship by Thornton Wilder, Welles' poetry, his school days, and school plays. (Picture a 13-year-old Welles hanging out at a fancy Chicago club, having lunch with a fledgling playwright, Preston Sturges.) "A genius?" Welles said with a hearty laugh when interviewed by a newspaper writer after his Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar hit Broadway. "Perhaps. I'm either the genius they say I am or the world's godawfullest ham. It's a 50-50 split."