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Two years ago, Criterion released ESSENTIAL ART HOUSE: 50 YEARS OF JANUS FILMS, a 14-pound hardcover, linen-bound box set comprising a 240-page, full-color book and 50 DVDs (featuring 50 undisputable film classics) celebrating the famed film distributor with roots in Harvard Square's venerable Brattle Theater. However, its $850.00 price tag was a bit much. Now, Criterion has begun releasing the DVDs in budget-priced chunks. First up? ESSENTIAL ART HOUSE: VOLUME ONE ($99.95), a seven-film set containing Jean Cocteau's fantasy romance, Beauty and the Beast; Jean Renoir's pacifist masterpiece, Grand Illusion; Roman Polanski's psychological thriller, Knife in the Water; Peter Brook's 1963 adaptation of William Golding's classic fable, Lord of the Flies; Akira Kurosawa's perspective-shifting Rashomon, and Ingmar Bergman's meditation on memory and dreams, Wild Strawberries.

Criterion also celebrates its ongoing partnership with another classic-film distributor with 10 YEARS OF RIALTO PICTURES ($149.95), a 10-disc set highlighting the breadth of Rialto's growing collection. Included are Jean-Pierre Melville's tragic portrait of French resistance fighters, Army of Shadows; Robert Bresson's portrait of human greed and folly, Au hazard Balthazar; Jean-Luc Godard's breezy B-noir, Band of Outsiders; John Schlesinger's comical Billy Liar; Luis Buñuel's surreal social satire, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie; Alberto Lattuada's dark comedy, Mafioso; Jean-Pierre Denis's harrowing Murderous Maids; Jules Dassin's crime caper, Rififi; Carol Reed's unforgettable noir, The Third Man; and Jacques Becker's crime drama, Touchez pas au grisbi.

Just in time for the holidays, Criterion has finally decided to enter the hi-def frontier. On December 16, they'll be releasing four films in the Blu-ray format, each containing the wealth of bonus materials consumers have come to expect, all priced to match their DVD counterparts. Among the first wave of releases: Wes Anderson's debut, BOTTLE ROCKET; Wong Kar-wai's icon-making CHUNGKING EXPRESS; THE THIRD MAN; and Nicolas Roeg's David Bowie–headliner, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH ($39.95 each).

For the Obama supporter in your life, why not give them JOHN ADAMS (DVD, $59.99) the acclaimed HBO miniseries about the life of another skilled orator, the second president of the United States, whose character is given great depth by Paul Giamatti. Or, if they voted for John McCain and miss Sarah Palin's creationist ways, confound them with the five films in the PLANET OF THE APES 40TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION (Blu-ray, $139.99) and their unique take on evolution.

Or you could just give them Jenna Jameson in ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (theatrical-cut DVD, $24.96; unrated special-edition DVD, also $24.96; unrated special-edition Blu-ray, $38.96).  

Brett Michel's all-time movie hero is Alan Ladd. Go figure. He can be reached at kbunky1970@yahoo.com.

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