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2009 Holiday Buying Guide: DVDs and Blu-Rays

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500 Days of SummerLooking to buy some DVDs or Blu-Rays this holiday season? Do you wrap them up and put them under the Christmas tree, or shove them in a stocking? I like to do both, because the more movies the better! With the holidays just around the corner, now’s the perfect time to start thinking about the DVDs and Blu-Rays that would make the perfect gift. Below are FilmJabber’s recommendations, broken down by genre.

Without further ado, here’s our 2009 Holiday Buying Guide for DVDs and Blu-Rays:

Romantic Comedies

  1. (500) Days of Summer – comes to DVD/Blu-Ray on December 22, 2009
    There is no better romantic comedy this year than (500) Days of Summer. OK, so it’s a relationship comedy, not a romantic comedy per se, but this is one of the most unique, refreshing, feel-good, believable and enjoyable films of 2009. Skip past the fluff and buy this one for your girlfriend or wife. Guys will love it, too. The movie stars Jospeh Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as two young people who meet and carry on a relationship. Unlike most romantic comedies, however, the movie looks at the rise and fall of their relationship, bucking convention at every turn. It’s funny and heartwarming, even if not everything that happens in it is happy.
  2. Away We Go
    Talking about romantic comedies that don’t adhere to standard formulas, Sam Mendes, the director behind such great films as American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, went for a change of pace here and delivered an indie comedy about a married couple (played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) who are simply seeking a better home for their expected baby. They travel from city to city and encounter lots of odd people, leading to the conclusion that all they need is each other. Away We Go leaves a smile on your face and offers plenty of hilarious moments (Maggie Gyllenhaal steals the spotlight at one point as a New Age mother).
  3. The Proposal
    If you must go the more traditional route, there’s The Proposal. This Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds vehicle is about a bitchy boss who, facing deportation, convinces her depressed assistant to marry her so she can stay in the country. The Proposal follows the typical formula where the two leads hate each other, warm to each other and then fight with each other, leading to a romantic chase at the end to get the other back. It’s all very predictable, but there are still enough funny moments to make it worth it.

Action Movies

  1. Star Trek
    One of the biggest movies of the year, this J.J. Abrams film is a fresh reboot of the Star Trek franchise. Even if you aren’t a traditional fan of the movies or show, there’s more than enough here to enjoy, including legitimate special effects (something missing in past movies), mainstream humor and lots of action. The movie is exciting, funny and fast-paced, and is a movie that shouldn’t be left unwrapped come Christmas/Hanukkah.
  2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    The latest Harry Potter movie isn’t really an action movie – in fact, very little action actually occurs in the picture – but I didn’t know where else to put it. It’s funny, but it isn’t really a comedy. It’s serious, but to call it a drama isn’t fair either. And now that it’s rated PG-13 and features all kinds of evil things, it isn’t quite safe to call it a family film. What I can call it is one of the most enjoyable movies of 2009 and one that everyone should own. This is the beginning of the end for the franchise, but director David Yates looks like he’s taking it out in high fashion. The movie is compelling and thoroughly interesting, and well worth repeat viewings.
  3. Taken
    This January darling went on to make over $150 million, despite being a watered down Bourne rip-off. In the film, Liam Neeson plays a father, who is also an ex-covert agent, who learns that his daughter has been kidnapped in Paris. Bad move by the kidnappers. Neeson goes on a rampage to find his daughter and bring her home, leaving piles of dead bodies in his wake. The film is exceedingly simple and straightforward, but incredibly exciting, action-packed and entertaining.
  4. Valkyrie
    Lots of people laughed off this Nazi thriller that stars Tom Cruise as an eye-patched Nazi commander who sets out to assassinate Hitler as a cheesy action film, but in reality, Valkyrie is a surprisingly effective, entertaining and gripping tale based on a true story. If you can get past the menagerie of accents used in the picture (frankly, I’d rather hear Tom Cruise with an American accent than have him attempt a German one), Valkyrie is well worth it.
  5. Fast and Furious
    Any of my readers know that I am not a fan of this lame, cheesy franchise, but the latest Fast and Furious movie (confusingly titled just Fast and Furious), which reunites the original cast (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster), is surprisingly entertaining. There’s more action, more cars and a better screenplay, all of which combine for a good time. It’s not as good as the other movies on this list, but some people prefer the simpler action movies.

For the family

  1. Up
    This is the easiest pick on this list. Easily the best animated film of the year – and also one of the best movies of the year overall – Disney-Pixar’s Up is something both children and adults will enjoy. Whereas the last couple Pixar movies have skewed toward older audiences just a little, Up offers the deep character development that makes movies interesting for adults while presenting the story through a goofy, exciting and funny premise: a house that floats with the help of balloons. The movie is funny, heartwarming and entertaining from beginning to end. This is absolutely one to own.
  2. Bolt
    This animated Disney film came out way back in November 2008, but it should not be overlooked this holiday season as one to own. While not as deep as Up by any stretch of the imagination, Bolt is an entertaining, fast-paced and exciting adventure about a Hollywood dog who thinks he’s a superhero but really isn’t. When he’s separated from his owner, he sets out to reunite with her. Bolt offers some surprisingly good action sequences, and all around is a funny, enjoyable picture.
  3. Marley & Me
    Another December 2008 release, Marley & Me was one of the big hits last Christmas. If you saw it in theaters with the family, this year you can buy it for them on DVD or Blu-Ray. In the movie, Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston star as a married couple who get a dog. The movie chronicles the dog’s life from puppyhood onwards and the impact he has on his family, for better or for worse. The movie is funny, entertaining and surprisingly emotional.
  4. Paul Blart Mall Cop
    Critics hated this movie but audiences loved it, as it earned a surprising $150 million in theaters. Kevin James stars as a fat loser of a security guard who has a crush on one of the women working in his mall, and he must save her when robbers take over. There’s nothing particularly intelligent about the movie, but it’s mildly funny and honestly entertaining throughout. This was one of my guilty pleasures of 2009.
  5. Bedtime Stories
    A December 2008 release, Bedtime Stories stars Adam Sandler as a man who learns that his niece and nephew can bring their imagination to life. Sure, a movie starring Adam Sandler doesn’t sound like a good pick for the family, but the movie, released by Disney, offers a still-funny Sandler but without the PG-13 jokes. Kids will love the stuff that happens and parents will appreciate the sarcasm scattered throughout.

Dramas

  1. Inglourious Basterds – coming to DVD/Blu-Ray on December 15, 2009
    When I first saw Quentin Tarantino’s latest film – about a group of American Jews (led by Brad Pitt) who travel through Europe torturing Nazis during WWII – I was a bit underwhelmed. But within days, I began to realize that Tarantino had done it once again – and now I can’t wait for this picture to come to DVD/Blu-Ray. The film’s dialogue is incredible and the scenes utterly suspenseful, though little action actually occurs. Of course, as with all of Tarantino’s movies, Inglourious Basterds is not for everyone, but it’ll make a worthy addition to someone’s collection.
  2. Gran Torino
    If this is Clint Eastwood’s last movie where he’s in front of the camera, he really goes out in style. Though not action-packed, the drama-comedy has tons of laughs and just as much heart, but still paints Eastwood as a complete badass you wouldn’t want to mess with. This hit film is a must-own.
  3. Slumdog Millionaire
    Heard of it? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The Oscar-winner has been on DVD for quite some while, but when was the last time you saw it? Last December? Slumdog Millionaire is one of those feel-good movies that will fit right into anyone’s movie collection.
  4. Milk
    Speaking of dramas, I actually found Milk more compelling than Slumdog Millionaire. Given that gay marriage continues to be shot down, despite the fact that the American constitution is meant to protect minorities, Milk is just as relevant as ever, and features stunning performances from Sean Penn, James Franco and otherss.

Horror movies

  1. Let the Right One In
    Yes, it’s a foreign film, but it’s a really, really good foreign film. It’s not scary, per se, but the director creates a sense of constant foreboding that never goes away. In the picture, a young boy befriends a girl who has just moved into his apartment complex – however, the girl is actually a vampire. She, thankfully, appreciates the companionship and decides to protect him from bullies and the like. This vampire movie makes Twilight look like nothing.
  2. Drag Me to Hell
    This horror-comedy, directed by Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead trilogy, Spider-Man trilogy), stars Alison Lohman as a bank employee who finds herself cursed by a gypsie woman. She begins to see and hear things, and soon discovers that she’s going to be dragged to Hell in a matter of days by a very unpleasant demon. Not everyone liked this movie, but it’s a blast – just don’t take it too seriously. It’s gross, funny and at times scary, but most importantly it’s a lot fun.
  3. Friday the 13th
    I am not a fan of the Friday the 13th movies. They’ve all been so Goddamned awful. But, the latest film in the franchise, a reboot from the same guy who rebooted The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is actually pretty good. It embraces the cheesiness of the other movies while still delivering an exciting and gory slasher flick full of blood, brains and boobs.

Suspense

  1. Tell No One
    This French film was one of the best movies of 2008. In Tell No One, a husband and wife go to their private lake. The woman, out of sight, screams, and before he can get to her, the husband is knocked unconscious. Several years later, the husband is still haunted by the death of his wife and the fact that he’s accused of killing her. When a new body is discovered nearby, the police begin to investigate him once again – while he begins to suspect that his wife is still alive.
    The elaborate thriller is smart, well-acted and incredibly exciting. Sure, it has subtitles, but you won’t notice after a few minutes as this is one of the most engaging movies you’ll see all year. Absolutely recommended.
  2. State of Play
    This surprisingly excellent political thriller is a remake of a popular BBC mini-series, but State of Play, starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright, Helen Mirren and Rachel McAdams, holds its own. In the movie, a politician’s assistant is murdered and two journalists uncover a massive conspiracy that has deadly ramifications. The movie blends comedy, commentary and suspense incredibly well, and is easily one of the best movies of 2009.
  3. The Shield: The Complete Series
    It’s not a movie, but The Shield is one of the best cop shows ever made – I will definitely be getting this one this Christmas, even if I have to buy it myself. You have to watch the show from beginning to end to get the full experience, but the final season is one of the most elaborate, entertaining and exciting seasons of any television series.
  4. Knowing
    A lot of people made fun of Knowing without ever seeing it, but the movie, from the director of Dark City (one of my favorites), is surprisingly really good. It’s not without its flaws, and Nicolas Cage doesn’t do his finest, but the story is a lot more complicated than what was shown in the trailers.

Comedies

  1. The Hangover
    The surprise hit of the summer made over $250 million despite featuring no major stars. Why? Because it’s pretty damn funny. While I fear the repeat value may be limited (the movie was so entertaining because you didn’t know what would happen next), it’s still a well made comedy that deserves to be in any guy’s DVD collection.
  2. I Love You, Man
    Jason Segal. Paul Rudd. Need I say more? In the ultimate bromance, Rudd stars as an engaged man who realizes he doesn’t have any close guy friends. So, he starts going on “man dates,” but when he meets Segal, things go overboard (i.e. he starts spending so much time with Segal that he forgets to hang with his hot fiancee) . I Love You, Man isn’t nearly as funny as similar comedies from past years, but there are still plenty of laughs to go around.
By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Top 10 Movie Lists

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