Some suggestions for the movie-lovers in your life (and face it, that includes everyone)!
For the movie historian: Three sensational documentaries from Disney and about Disney.
Walt & El Grupo is a fascinating look at one of the turning points in the early days of the Disney company. The country was on the brink of WWII and the US government asked Walt Disney to be a cultural ambassador to South America. What Disney and his top artists (who referred to themselves as “El Grupo”) saw there was revelatory. The trip was an adventure in itself, but what is breathtaking is the chance to see the first glimpses of the images that would define the studio’s visual style for the next decade and beyond.
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story is the story of the brothers behind some of Disney’s most beloved songs, from “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocous” to “Chim Chim Chir-ee,” “I Wanna Be Like You,” and even “It’s a Small World” and “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.” There was loss and sadness behind the cheery songs, and the movie is a frank but sympathetic and very touching look at the partnership with enjoyable contributions from some of the stars who worked with the brothers over the years.
Waking Sleeping Beauty After a series of undisputed classics, Disney animation had lost its way with a series of expensive but forgettable duds, putting the entire corporation at risk. And then, in one of the most extraordinary corporate turn-arounds of all time, the studio re-vitalized the business at its core, captivating audiences with “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” and then the record-breaking blockbuster “The Lion King.” Its drama is as gripping and its characters as endearing as the films it produced; the story behind the stories is an inspiring story about business, about art, about dreams, and about life.
For the Anglophile:
Acorn Media is the place for cosy mysteries (Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot), dashing heroes (Poldark), historical drama (Enemy at the Door, about the German occupation of the Channel Islands in WWII), and of course sharp and very silly comedies (Keeping Up Appearances, A Bit of a Do, Slings and Arrows, Beyond the Fringe, and more). And for comedy, drama, and a very sweet middle-aged love story, try the magnificent Dame Judi Dench with her real-life husband in A Fine Romance.
For the sports fan:
ESPN Films 30 for 30 Gift Set Collection, Volume 1. The 30th anniversary of the sports channel featured 30 films about sports from 30 top directors. The first six are now available in this box set: Kings Ransom directed by Peter Berg, The Band That Wouldn’t Die directed by Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson, Muhammad & Larry by Academy Award-nominee Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplan, The U by Billy Corben, Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks by Peabody Award-winner director Dan Klores, No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson directed by Academy Award-nominee Steve James, Straight Outta L.A. directed by Ice Cube and June 17th, 1994 by Academy Award-nominee Brett Morgen.
For anyone and everyone:
Give that new Blu-Ray player a test drive with the truly spectacular new edition of Fantasia/Fantasia 2000. It jumps off the screen with its glorious color and crystal-clear sound and it includes lots of great background and historical information plus the legendary “Destino,” designed by Salvador Dali and completed more than half a century later based on his plans. It’s available for a very limited time, so grab it now.
For the film buff who reads:
My Year of Flops: The A.V. Club Presents One Man’s Journey Deep into the Heart of Cinematic Failure is a rollicking romp through the many different categories of awful, from so-bad-it’s good to downright unwatchable. Whether you read for a twinge of schadenfreude-ish pleasure in knowing you will never have to suffer through big budget train wrecks like “Battlefield Earth” to justifiably unknown oddities like Johnny Cash’s tribute to Jesus, “Gospel Road” or to come up with some cinematic dreck for your Netflix queue, this is a great read.
Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction is the story of the people we know call production designers, the people responsible for making sure that every detail you see on screen, whether a meticulous re-creation of an historical site or the depiction of a wholly-imagined fantasy setting helps to tell the story. The reason these fantastically creative and hardworking miracle-workers are unsung is that they don’t want you to look at the screen and say, “Wow! That is an interesting futuristic car!” They want you to accept their vision so completely that you don’t realize what you are noticing. This book gives you what the movies do not — a chance to revel in the artistry of the creative geniuses who took the written words “yellow brick road” and “blade runner” and “chariot race” and “Rosemary’s baby” and Howard Roark’s blueprints” and made them come alive for millions of people.
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M: Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s tells the story of the making of the movie based on Truman Capote’s novella Holly Golightly, glamorous on the outside, struggling between her heart and her wallet on the inside. It’s also the story of its era and its influence on that era. If you’ve always wanted the perfect LBD, this is for you.
Hail, Hail, Euphoria!: Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made is humorist Roy Blount, Jr.’s appreciation of one of the most deliriously delightful movies ever made, Duck Soup. Remember, this is the movie that made Woody Allen decide life was worth living in Hannah and Her Sisters. Blount tells us how it was made and why it was not appreciated as a classic for almost 30 more years. A lot of fun to read, this is witty and insightful and a good reminder to sit down and Hail Freedonia!
The Elephant to Hollywood is the autobiography of one of the most disarmingly charming actors in movies, Michael Caine. Filled with anecdotes about his encounters, the book benefits from an endearing humility as Caine describes his adjustment to working as a character actor instead of a leading man, recognizing that his love for his art was more important than his pride. (This, of course, led to acclaim and an Oscar.) This is also a rags to riches, follow your dream saga as gripping as any feature film, and a tender love story as well.