The holidays are upon us, so whether you looking for film-related gift ideas or simply want to pick up some of the finest the year had to offer in the category for yourself, we have a gift guide for you. Including must-have subscriptions, the best from The Criterion Collection and more home video picks, apparel, music, book picks, and more, dive in below.
With her commanding screen presence, Marlene Dietrich was an early cinema force to be reckoned with. Taking far more control over her image that her colleagues, the German actress found a fruitful relationship with Josef von Sternberg in Hollywood. The handful of Paramount films they made together were feats of immaculate production design and powerful onscreen charisma, courtesy of Dietrich. The Criterion Collection’s beautiful box set is a gem, complete not only with sparkling restorations and special features, but a selection of illuminating essays about both Dietrich and von Sternberg’s singular, often overlooked collaborators. – Jordan R.
Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (Random House)
The rhythm between one writer and another quickly grows comfortable: and-then-this-happened / yes-this-happened-but-also-I-once-had-a-great-milkshake. What any fan seeks from Room to Dream will likely be provided, at least in stops and starts — it’s thorough enough with anecdote, digression, confirmation, and refutation alike to have, essentially, something for everyone. Lynch and his bullshit-clearing hopes probably among them… Room to Dream will not answer every question you have, nor does it scan as a last will and testament. It settles for a kind of enlightened restlessness, the book’s poignant-but-unsettled final passages telling us there’s always something to make, someone to hear–work to do. I’m grateful that Lynch and McKenna feel this text earned their devotion. – Continue reading my full feature. – Nick N.
The Tree of Life: Extended Edition (Terrence Malick)
How can you improve upon one of the greatest films of all-time? Terrence Malick’s “Extended Version” of The Tree of Life–188 minutes long and now available on The Criterion Collection–is less a radical reinvention and more a gratifying expansion, giving a deeper imprint to various threads of the original, ultimately sculpting a more affecting, fleshed-out picture of a story that remains boundlessly evocative in its ambition. Continue reading my full feature. – Jordan R.
The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together by Adam Nayman (Abrams)
Adam Nayman’s The Coen Brothers is the book the directors of Blood Simple, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men have long deserved. A big, bold walk through every feature they’ve ever made (up to ending on Hail, Caesar!), this is, indeed, the book that really ties the films together. Nayman, whose book on Showgirls is another gem, finds insightful connections between films like The Hudsucker Proxy and Hail, Caesar! while also diagnosing the significance of each entry in the duo’s filmography. (“True Grit,” Nayman explains, “was a big-tent movie for the Coens”–in other words, a major box-office success with real cultural impact.) In addition to analysis, plot details, stills, and behind-the-scenes photos, the text includes interviews with collaborators like Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell. What is most endearing about This Book is that it spends a comparable amount of time on each entry in the Coens’ filmography. Even the lesser-regarded likes of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers are explored with thematic insight and detailed photographic analysis. There’s no doubt this is one of 2018’s must-own books for film lovers. – Christopher S.
Arrive at your holiday parties in fashion with this set of t-shirts featuring female directors that deserve a great deal more acclaim, notably Barbara Loden, whose sole directorial effort Wanda received a restoration from The Criterion Collection this summer. Others available include Debra Hill, Amy Heckerling, Kathleen Collins, and the original: Elaine May. – Jordan R.
Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson (Simon and Schuster)
Is there more to say about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey? Indeed there is, as Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey makes clear. It’s an exhaustive exploration of how the greatest science fiction film in history came to be, a collision of monumental figures like Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Douglas Trumbull. While the behind-the-scenes details are fascinating, most memorable is the story of the film’s release. Benson explains how the film’s New York premiere was “one of the darkest nights in Stanley Kubrick’s life.” The evening saw 241 (!) walkouts, boos and hisses, a tearful Clarke, and a despondent director. Soon, of course, 2001 became a box office hit and earned its status as a classic. However, Benson’s book shows that the journey of 2001: A Space Odyssey — now celebrating its 50th anniversary — was not an easy one. – Christopher S.
If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices when it comes to the various streaming services, look no further than MUBI. With a constantly rotating list of 30 or so films, and a new one replacing the oldest each day, their platform features discoveries from both the United States and far abroad as well as exclusive runs and more. A quick glimpse at the current line-up and you have Steve McQueen, Joseph Losey, Lee Chang-dong, Ben Wheatley, Guru Dutt, Margaret Tait, Xavier Dolan, Li Yang and more. How’s that for variety? – Jordan R.
October may be over, but for those look to continue the fright fest at home, there’s no better, more expansive cinematic offering than this box set of Universal’s classic monsters in their heyday. From classic touchstones like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, and Werewolf of London, along with their sequels and Abbott and Costello’s amusing cross-overs, there’s a wealth of delightful scares to be had in this 30-film set. When you finish the films, there’s also commentaries, documentaries, a collectible book, and more. – Jordan R.
Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film by Don Graham (St. Martin’s Press)
The column’s juiciest book must be Don Graham’s appropriately sprawling account of the making of Giant. The author humanizes the film’s trio of complex icons — James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson. There is some delicious gossip here (much of it involving Dean), but there’s also an appreciation of Giant’s place in the pantheon of classic cinema. By the time the book is done, it’s hard not to be incredibly impressed with all involved with the film, and also with Don Graham. – Christopher S.
The single greatest home release of the year, The Criterion Collection’s 39-film Ingmar Bergman box set arrives for the centennial of his birth. Comprising nearly all of his work, including 18 films never before released by Criterion, it’s curated akin to a film festival with Opening, Centerpiece, and Closing Films, along with many double features in between. The set also features 11 introductions and over five hours of interviews with the director himself, six making-of documentaries, a 248-page book, and much more. We can’t imagine a gift that will better please the film lover in your life. – Jordan R.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Vintage)
This summer, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio will embark on their sixth feature film, an adaption of Killers of the Flower Moon. From David Grann (also responsible for the source material of The Lost City of Z), his exhaustively researched, thrilling, and damning tale of a dark criminal streak in the American Midwest is one of the best books of the last few years. The page-turning story follows the real-life conspiracy surrounding the murders of people in Oklahoma’s Osage Indian tribe after oil was found on their land. – Jordan R.
The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies by Ben Fritz (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Modern cinema has long needed a book like Ben Fritz’s The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies — in short, an observant, sharply written analysis of this world of big brands (like Marvel), streaming giants, foreign influence, and the now-archaic star system. Fritz adds the Sony hack to this stew, and the result is extraordinarily insightful. The Steve Jobs chapter alone, in which Amy Pascal desperately tries to keep the film at Sony, makes this an absolute must for any reader with an interest in how Hollywood got to its current state, and where it’s going. In fact, The Big Picture might end up alongside such greats as Julie Salamon’s The Devil’s Candy, Steven Bach’s Final Cut, and Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters’ Hit & Run as one of the essential books on the business of moviemaking. – Christopher S.
In full disclosure, I work on the digital team for Film Comment, but in further disclosure, I was a subscriber (and great admirer) of the bi-monthly magazine prior. Featuring the best critical writing and features you’ll find in print, recent issues featuring Burning, Happy as Lazzaro, The Other Side of the Wind, Roma, and If Beale Street Could Talk. Also available is the magazine’s 50-plus years of back issues featuring iconic interviews and much more. – Jordan R.
Transcendental Style in Film by Paul Schrader (University of California Press)
With First Reformed still making critical waves and Taylor Swift concert pics going viral, we are in the midst of a Paul Schrader renaissance. (A Schrenaissance!) It is an ideal time, then, for a rerelease of his essential 1972 study of Transcendental Style in Film. Schrader specifically looks at three filmmakers: Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr), Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story, An Autumn Afternoon), and Robert Bresson (Diary of a Country Priest, A Man Escaped). His analysis is startlingly profound (“Zen art and culture is an accurate metaphor for Ozu’s films”), and just as important is his new introduction. In “Rethinking Transcendental Style,” Schrader looks closely at the “slow cinema” style that followed the book’s release, from Tarkovsky to Van Sant. This is a joy to read, and all the more startling when discovering that Schrader was 24 years old when he wrote the original text. – Christopher S.
Clint Eastwood: Icon (Revised and Expanded Edition) by David Frangioni (Insight Editions)
David Frangioni’s Clint Eastwood: Icon is a visual wonder. The approach is simple: film art is used to trace the career of one our most vital, uniquely personal filmmakers. Newly revised and expanded (it ends with posters for Sully and The 15:17 to Paris), the nearly 250-page book is oozing with visual pleasures. One can see how the Eastwood persona was cultivated artistically, resulting in properly iconic status. Some are silly (the Kelly’s Heroes sandwich poster), some bold (the startling Magnum Force half-sheet). All are worth studying closely. It’s all here, even the Eastwood-directed 1973 romance Breezy, starring William Holden and Kay Lenz. – Christopher S.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin (Vintage)
As we await the release of Barry Jenkins’ beautiful adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin’s original novel is an essential fall read. While the director of Moonlight successfully brings the beating heart of Baldwin’s work to the screen in elegiac fashion, there are a number of key differences, notably the final scene as well as the fleshing out of certain characters. Parsing out the differences is not a strictly who-did-it-better analysis, but rather an edifying look at an interpretation of a dense text, which makes for a wonderful read. – Jordan R.
My favorite summer 2018 read was Jason Bailey’s gloriously insightful analysis of the private eye classics of the 1970s — films like The Long Goodbye, Shaft, Night Moves, and Chinatown. The author of some of the finest books on cinema in recent years (most notably, The Ultimate Richard Pryor: American Id), Bailey traces how these films paid tribute to genre tropes, but also subverted them with great success; the “tension between the old and new” in Chinatown’s setting (the 1940s) and era in filmmaking (the 1970s) is part of what makes the film so perversely powerful. Yes, Bailey has real insight into films that have been analyzed endlessly — no easy task — and also succeeds in highlighting lesser-known entries like Hickey & Biggs. – Christopher S.
FilmStruck may be saying goodbye for the time being, but The Criterion Collection has their own plans to live on in the world of streaming. They’ve recently announced The Criterion Channel will launch this spring as a standalone streaming service. If those you are giving gifts to can have a bit of patience, Criterion is now accepting subscriptions ahead of the launch, and you’ll get the reduced rate of $89.99 a year vs. the standard $100, as well as a 30-day trial to test the service when it launches, a holiday gift-certificate present for Criterion, and more. – Jordan R.
An Illustrated History of Filmmaking by Adam Allsuch Boardman (Nobrow)
Want to introduce someone in your life to film history in a graphical, inspired manner? Then Adam Allsuch Boardman’s Illustrated History of Filmmaking is a must. However, it is also a must for anyone with a deep appreciation for cinema. The author-illustrator shows the earliest days of filmmaking (Muybridge, Lumière, Méliès) in loving detail, but also tackles important movements in cinema from decades past to today. There’s even a page dedicated to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It’s hard to do justice to this eye-popping book in just a few sentences — this is one you need to see for yourself. It’s another fine release from Nobrow. – Christopher S.
After being responsible for releasing some of the year’s finest films, the upstart distributor Grasshopper Film is now venturing into exciting new territory: music releases. Their first album comprises fourteen tracks from Bertrand Bonello, including their own release, Nocturama, as well as Saint Laurent and House of Tolerance. Not many soundtracks are so intrinsically tied to their director’s artistry, so this limited LP edition makes for a must-listen. – Jordan R.
The Endings: Photographic Stories of Love, Loss, Heartbreak, and Beginning Again by Caitlin Cronenberg and Jessica Ennis (Chronicle Books)
One of the most thrilling photographers on the planet is Caitlin Cronenberg, the marvelous shooter of Drake’s Views From the Six album cover (the memorable shot featured the Canadian artist perched atop Toronto’s CN Tower), among other gems. Cronenberg’s latest project, a collaboration with art director Jessica Ennis titled The Endings, is her most stunning achievement to date. A series of photographic vignettes featuring the likes of Keira Knightley, Tessa Thompson, Julianne Moore, Patricia Clarkson, and Juno Temple, The Endings is audacious, gorgeous, and nakedly emotional. As American Psycho director Mary Harron puts it in her introduction, “Caitlin and Jessica think of these stories as stills from a film that was never made.” Indeed, each set of images carries the dramatic weight of a full-length film. Several “histories” at the book’s end outline the imaginary backstories of each vignette. Yet there is also room for the reader to imagine different tales. This is an extraordinary creation; a book of startling beauty and great mystery. – Christopher S.
101 Movies to Watch Before You Die by Ricardo Cavolo (Nobrow Press)
Artist Ricardo Cavolo’s work is an explosion of color and creativity, and 101 Movies to Watch Before You Die is a fine example. Framed as his movie diary, 101 Movies is a joy to behold. Cavolo’s studies of films like Buffalo ’66 and Drive are almost as delightful as the films themselves. Also fun is his rundown of “eight people from the movie world I wish were my friends,” highlighted by his question for Hitchcock: “I need to ask Alfred how I can throw all my fears and obsessions into my work, just as he did.” Whether Cavolo realizes it or not, he pulls off the obsession angle in this wonderful collection. – Christopher S.
More of the Best Disc Releases of 2018
2001: A Space Odyssey 4K
The Age of Innocence
La Belle Noiseuse
Call Me by Your Name
Heaven Can Wait
The Iron Giant
The Magnificent Ambersons
A Matter of Life and Death
Memories of Underdevelopment
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
On the Beach at Night Alone and Claire’s Camera
Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers
A Raisin in the Sun
Rocco and His Brothers
Sacha Guitry: Four Films
sex, lies, and videotape
The Silence of the Lambs
A Story from Chikamatsu
The Virgin Suicides
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Wild at Heart