Ushering in the holidays, Criteron's just released Arnaud Desplechin's delightful French-language dysfunctional family drama from last year, A CHRISTMAS TALE ($39.95; $39.95), starring Catherine Deneuve as a matriarch in need of a bone-marrow transplant, along with Wim Wenders's spellbinding WINGS OF DESIRE ($39.95; $39.95), with Bruno Ganz as an unseen angel who can hear the thoughts of all the mortals he encounters, satisfied to wander around — and above — Berlin. And then he falls in love.
Roman Polanski's been, er, getting some press of late, but his beleaguered fans will welcome the hi-def debut of REPULSION ($39.95; 39.95), his equally controversial portrait of psychosis, starring a much younger (circa 1965) Deneuve.
If shocks aren't what your giftees are after — and they don't suffer from short-attention spans — they could do a lot worse than engage in PLAYTIME ($39.98; $39.95), Jacques Tati's ode to confusion in the technological age, a lovingly choreographed comedy starring Tati's bumbling alter-ego, M. Hulot.
Too playful? Perhaps James Ivory's HOWARDS END ($39.95; a DVD edition won't be released until February 23), an incandescent adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel about British class division featuring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, might be more to their taste. A different culture clashes in Mira Nair's MONSOON WEDDING ($39.95; $39.95), a comic melodrama about an arranged Indian marriage that can be just as chaotic as Tati.
Closer to home, there's the grit of early '70s Beantown, as seen in THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (available only on DVD, $29.95), with Robert Mitchum playing Coyle, a gunrunner trying to go straight. Some say this is the best film made in Boston, and we won't argue.
If your recipients prefer heroes to small-time hoods, they'll be over the moon for the astronauts featured in Al Reinert's documentary, FOR ALL MANKIND ($39.98; $29.95), which tells the story of the 24 men who journeyed to the Earth's satellite. You've never seen NASA footage look as stunningly crisp as it does in this Blu-ray release.
So what if they don't like moon rocks? How about exposing them to another kind of rock with David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin's THE ROLLING STONES: GIMME SHELTER ($39.95; $39.95), which details the Stones' disastrous Altamont concert. It's perhaps the greatest rock-and-roll documentary ever produced. They can debate that while watching and rocking out to THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL ($69.98; $79.95), D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus's filmed record of the mother of all rock festivals, captured during the Summer of Love.
If their tastes have more of an Eastern flavor, and they aren't offended by graphic sex, they might enjoy IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES ($39.95; $39.95) or its companion piece, the less explicit ghost story, EMPIRE OF PASSION (DVD only, $29.95). The deceased Japanese master Nagisa Oshima directed both tales of insatiable sexual obsession.
Dawn of the Samurai
Speaking of late Japanese masters, Akira Kurosawa, who would have been 100 in a few months, has been well represented by Criterion this year. Made a decade apart, 1970's DODES'KA-DEN (DVD only, $29.95) and 1980's KAGEMUSHA ($39.98; $39.95) marked the beginning of his foray into color filmmaking. The former is a heartbreaking drama set among the homeless inhabitants of a trash dump outside of Tokyo, while the latter marked Kurosawa's return to the Samurai genre that gained him international attention, and to the theme of illusion versus reality.