Holiday DVD Guide: Give the Gift That's Fun to Borrow

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Winter holidays are all about light. Just ask Rudolf. Or my neighbor with the intrusive LED fetish.  Holiday light is the definitive leitmotif, and it's a good one. Winter holiday traditions tell us "Don't be scared of the dark, little cold one, even if there is no room at the inn and/or you think you don't have enough olive oil for eight days and/or the solstice means daylight is scarce and/or times are impossibly tough and you can't afford the past due electric bill."  Winter holidays promise us that even a glowing nose can lead the way and little gifts remind us more light is on the way.

Close-up of DVD
My favorite forms of light are: campfires; a torch burning the sugar on a crème brûlée; and, the glow of a television or movie casting light flickers over a dark room.  So in the spirit of the light-promising season, my advice to anyone who still needs a few sweet gifts for the darlings in their lives is to wrap up some yulelog embers, or ramekins full of flaming desserts, or one of the many fantastic DVDs on the market.  As the first two are highly flammable and a challenge to wriap, I'm going to give DVD gifts the highest endorsement, and I'm giving them to many lucky ones on my list.
 
In addition to being a snap to wrap (you can even slide them into a paper bag), DVDs are a great gift because entertainment can help you survive the holidays -- either though cold, long evenings, or through the endless expanse of school holidays, or through long visits from family members, or through hung-over good-for-nothing days. Truly, projected light and sound featuring story and music and pure escape is a gift of healing and care.  More importantly, if you select your gift well, your friends will have great DVDs on their shelves that you can borrow some day. Miss Manners suggests waiting until at least January for the borrow-back move, which is ideal, because that's about when you might be ready to see people again. 
Whatever your motives or gift requirements are, here are a few of my tips for affordable entertainment presents culled from the best of 2009:
 
Margaret Cho: Beautiful  Cho's most recent stand-up show has her taking on the whacked world of body image from personal, marketing and political points of view -- with searing wit rolled in foul language and a dollop of righteous passion.  Excellent choice for your bestie or your kick-ass grandmother.  Leave your own copy out for your babysitter to find.
 
Eddie Izzard: Live from Wembley  This routine is rich and full of cultural references, history, and bits of sly language play, so it is watchable many times over.  I'll never look at Medusa's hair again without thinking of Eddie, so I've bought a copy for my hairdresser.  Might couple it with the slightly older, beautiful film Breakfast on Pluto to chunk in some highlighted layers for a more complex gift.
 
Up  If you actually know someone who hasn't seen Up, and you are certain that it's not because he suffers from vertigo, then this might be a lovely treat. Well, also check that he doesn't suffer from illness induced by the sound of Ed Asner's voice.  I had no idea anyone had issues with Mr. Grant, but apparently there are some haters out there for everyone. I've checked out all possible issues and have decided this is the perfect gift for my usually snowed-in aunt and uncle.
 
Breakfast at Tiffany's  The '61 classic's Centennial Collection DVD was released in January of this year. Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Mancini's Moon River.  This art is practically Paxil in disc form.  Your writer friend will love it; you'll love to borrow it back.
 
Vicky Christina Barcelona Wait. On second thought, don't give this to anyone.  But do rent it.  Mostly I just added it to the list so that we could think about Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem for a moment.  Sigh.  Okay, we can move on now.
 
I've Loved You So Long  If you know someone who needs the comfort of a tale of starting over and healing from the past, this might fit the bill. I think it's Kristin Scott Thomas' best performance ever; in French with subtitles.  Wrap with a holiday box of tissues.
 
Slumdog Millionaire  So beautiful, deeply harrowing and ultimately uplifting.  Someone you love wants to own the DVD just to learn the dance at the end.  Wrap it in a gorgeous mustard-colored scarf.
 
Marley & Me Please don't give me this film.  My heart can not handle it. 
 
Doubt  If you have a beloved who likes to analyze films, art and/or human behavior and who burns braincells wondering how actors, writers and directors move viewers from thought and feeling #1 to thought and feeling #2, give Doubt.  Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman are outstanding. Kate Winslet's The Reader is a good runner up for this slot, but though her performance is stellar the film is much less subtle and no comparison to Doubt.
 
Coraline This stop-motion animated tale from Neil Gaiman's novel is infinitely intriguing.  A caution, though--attach a note that warns that if one falls asleep while the DVD plays, the music that repeats while the menu is on can induce a profound mental break.  It's true.  Coraline is worth the risk, though, for funky chicks of all ages.

Tyson  This documentary is a great film for sports fans, but more than that, it's a deep dive into one of the most troubling and vexing superstars of our times.  What gives with Tyson, and with boxing as a sport?  The filmmaker holds out for Mike's humanity, but he lets Mike speak during much of the film, so reactions are complex and varied.  Fascinating.
 
Support the Arts with Charitable Gift Giving
Another gift-giving solution for the entertainment lovers on your list is to make a donation in their names to a charity that supports the arts.  Some great options are:
 
The Brooklyn Young Filmmakers teaches community film-making as empowerment from the basement of a housing project.    
Read about the Reel Girls, Reel Change workshop about telling women's stories on Working Films blog and donate to the organization which supports the nexus of documentaries and activism.
 
Read about the Queer Women of Color Film Festival and give patronage of their cutting edge work in your giftee's name.
 
Give the title of Producer to a loved one who believes in ending the bias against people who are fat by funding Kira Nerusskaya's documentary Fat Girls Float.  (Read more about the cool project on Jezebel.)

Or you can always encourage citizen film-making by giving small digital cameras as gifts, though be aware that your family and friends may post videos of you on their blogs. Caveat emptor, unless you don't mind being on the other end of the upload button. 

So which DVDs from 2009 are you carrying a torch for?  Are there others that should also be highlighted?   I hope you can now finish all of your shopping online, and then spend all of your holiday nights snug and cozy, lit by the warm glow of love, happiness, and a fabulous stack of DVDs.

Deb Rox blogs at Deb on the Rocks. She lives in sunny Florida but has watched enough movies to know that she is supposed to shiver under the covers with warm beverages thoughout December, peering out the window for more snow to fall.  She's been peering for quite some time now.
 

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