The Ultimate 2010 Holiday Movie Buying Guide

The Christmas Hanukkah/holiday shopping season is picking up steam. For those of you who don’t live and breathe movies like I do, I’ve compiled a list of the best movies, DVDs and Blu-Rays that would make perfect gifts for that special someone.

Looking for kid’s movies? Scroll to the bottom of this post for a separate holiday movie buying guide for children’s films.

For people who don’t know they like lesbian comedies… The Kids Are All Right

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a lesbian couple who find their perfect world thrown into disarray when their children’s father/sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) enters the family’s life. The two teenagers appreciate the presence of a male figure, while the women find themselves torn over what role he should play in their lives.

Our take: The Kids Are All Right is a funny, superbly acted movie that hits all the right notes. As good as Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are, it’s Mark Ruffalo who steals the show.

For people who like awesome movies… Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Michael Cera stars as an awkward young man (surprise!) who meets the girl of his dreams. The catch: to win her over, he has to defeat the girl’s seven evil exes, who, like him, have superpowers. From the creators of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

Our take: From the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the movie is spot-on perfect. Having some knowledge of video games and comic books will make the movie all the more fun, but it is a dizzying blend of action, comedy and romance that should not be missed.

For people who like seeing bad men suffer… The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/The Girl Who Played With Fire

Noomi Rapace stars as Lisbeth, the title character in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Physically, sexually and mentally abused by the government since she was a child, she teams with muckraking reporter Mikael to track down a serial killer, and then the men responsible for destroying her life.

Our take: While sure to be released in a trilogy box next year in anticipation of the American remake, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire are must-owns for any fan of crime thrillers. The third movie hits stores in January.

For people who like famous pianists battling aliens… Predators

Adrien Brody (The Pianist)stars in this sequel/reboot of the Predator franchise (sans those pesky “Aliens”) produced by action-director Robert Rodriguez. The movie is a throwback to the original Arnold version, only this time the team of “commandoes” has been plucked from Earth and placed on an alien planet to be eliminated one by one.

Our take: The movie isn’t perfect, but it pays proper homage to the original while introducing some new elements. For action fans, that’s more than sufficient.

For people who like robot porn… Iron Man 2

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has embraced his Iron Man alter-ego, but the technology that’s keeping him alive is also slowly killing him. To make matters worse, his business nemesis (Sam Rockwell) has stolen his technology and hired a revenge-filled psychopath (Mickey Rourke) to turn that technology into an even more advanced weapon.

Our take: Iron Man 2 is a louder, faster version of Iron Man, for better or for worse. It has more action and comedy, but also less character development and more robotic characters than necessary. Still, it’s a fun sequel that deserves a place in the Christmas stocking.

For people who say British people are boring… Sherlock Holmes

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes also stars Robert Downey Jr., who, along with Jude Law (playing Watson), seeks to unlock a mystery that could have huge consequences for London. Released a week after Avatar, the movie’s box office success was understated. A sequel is in the works.

Our take: Fast-tongued and witty through and through, Sherlock Holmes is a fast-paced action-adventure-comedy that updates the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic while not dumbing it down too much for modern audiences.

For people who think foreign movies are better… The Secret in Their Eyes

This Oscar-winning movie is about a court analyst who reflects back on his life, specifically on the unsolved case of a murdered newlywed. At once a drama, romance and thriller, The Secret in Their Eyes is about the man’s dedication to solve the murder and track down the killer, no matter what the cost.

Our take: The movie is a beautiful, mesmerizing film, well deserving of its Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. It’s one of the best movies released in recent memory and well worth owning, as long as you or your gift recipient doesn’t mind subtitles.

For people who like seeing Michael Caine kill people with an axe… Harry Brown

In Harry Brown, Michael Caine plays an aging man who goes on a rampage in his crime-inflicted neighborhood after his old friend is brutally murdered. His form of vigilante justice proves challenging for the police, who question whether he’s capable of such crimes and are also timid about arresting the only person willing to take on the gangs head-on.

Our take: Harry Brown is violent, well-acted and entertaining. It’s not for the faint-of-heart, but it is a slick, entertaining movie.

For people who like seeing people get revenge, even if that person is Mel Gibson… Edge of Darkness

Speaking of revenge films, Edge of Darkness is an action-thriller from director Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, Casino Royale, Green Lantern) that stars Mel Gibson as a Boston detective who goes on a one-man rampage to avenge his daughter’s seemingly accidental murder (spoiler: the murder wasn’t so accidental).

Our take: Regardless of what you think of Mel Gibson, Edge of Darkness is an exciting, intelligent and hugely satisfying thriller. Gibson’s reputation precedes him, but the movie is one of the better flicks of the year.

For people who like Smurfs who kill people… Avatar: Extended Edition

James Cameron apparently made this little, low-budget movie one weekend about a bunch of blue aliens trying to protect their world from some invaders looking to cut down their trees. It made a decent amount of money in theaters, but nothing to rave about.

Our take: For those of you disappointed by the original Avatar Blu-Ray or DVD, which contained the movie and nothing more, the Extended Edition adds considerable length to the already long move – and gives more insight into the creation of the picture.

For people who like unique, funny movies few people have seen… The Fantastic Mr. Fox

An honorable but sneaky fox decides to steal the wrong farmer’s property, setting off a war between humans and animals in this Wes Anderson cult classic. George Clooney and Meryl Streep head an all-star cast in this stop-motion comedy, which is safe enough for children but intended for adults.

Our take: Released last holiday season, The Fantastic Mr. Fox didn’t do a lot in theaters, but what it lacks in box office revenue it makes up in heart. It was one of the funniest, most creative and entertaining movies of 2009. Even better, most people don’t own the film, making it an easy gift choice.

For people who think insanity is relative… Shutter Island

Before Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio starred in another box office hit: the Martin Scorsese thriller Shutter Island. In the movie, two marshals travel to an island-based insane asylum from where a dangerous patient recently escaped. DiCaprio begins to suspect that the asylum staff, led by Sir Ben Kingsley, is hiding something.

Our take: Shutter Island harkens back to Scorsese’s Cape Fear, with dramatic music and strong scenery. The movie divided audiences for a variety of reasons, but it’s a tense, well-written and superbly acted thriller.

For people who like their in-laws… The Crazies

In The Crazies, a small town sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) discovers that his neighbors are starting to go crazy. A pathogen has infected the populace, causing them to turn into psychotic, violent killers. He, along with his wife and a few other stragglers, attempt to escape from the quarantined area.

Our take: A unique twist on zombies, The Crazies sets itself apart by making its “monsters” a little less predictable and more fun to watch. The movie isn’t perfect, but it’s a must-own for any horror fan.

For people who like harmless adventure… Date Night

Steve Carell and Tina Fey star as a bored couple who are mistaken for a couple criminals by some mobsters. Suddenly on the run, they decide their best option is to fight back.

Our take: By no means perfect, Date Night is still mildly funny primarily thanks to the performances by Carell and Fey. For friends who enjoy lighthearted comedies, Date Night would be a better option than some of the edgier films on this list.

For people who want to be superheroes and get the hot girl… Kick-Ass

Speaking of edgy, Kick-Ass is about a teenager who decides he’s going to become a superhero… despite lacking any super powers. He soon becomes the target of a mob boss who has confused him with two other, more skilled “superheroes”, Big Daddy and Hit-Girl.

Our take: Not for Baby Boomers, Kick-Ass is a funny and at times action-packed comedy aimed at young adult audiences. It’s not always consistent, but when it hits its target it does so with guns blazing, highlighted by the star-making performance by Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl.

For people who like to laugh at explosions… The A-Team

The popular television show from yesteryear gets the big screen treatment, with Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel in leading roles. In the movie, the “alpha” team is framed and betrayed by their country and ultimately sent to prison. But they escape to prove their innocence and lots of stuff blows up.

Our take: To some degrees a box office and critical dud, The A-Team is a surprisingly entertaining and absurd action-comedy. As long as you expect some stupidity and over-the-top action, The A-Team delivers on its promise to do just that.

For people who like simple, unoriginal movies… Inception

In this sci-fi action-thriller from Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), Leonardo DiCaprio leads a team of high-tech thieves into the mind of their mark, and then the mind of that mark’s dream version, and the mind of that dream version’s dream version. Or something like that. Yeah.

Our take: One of the most unique movies of the year, if not of the century, Inception is an exciting mindbender that features another great DiCaprio performance, a compelling story and some awesome special effects. The movie is worth owning if only for the zero-gravity fight scene.

For people who liked Mean Girls… Easy A

After a little white lie about losing her virginity gets out, a clean cut high school girl (Emma Stone) sees her life paralleling Hester Prynne’s in “The Scarlet Letter,” which she is currently studying in school – until she decides to use the rumor mill to advance her social and financial standing.

Our take: Stone proves she is the next Lindsey Lohan (and thankfully without the alcohol or drug addiction part) by starring in the wittiest, funniest high school comedy since Mean Girls. It’s also one of the funniest movies of the year.

For people who liked Heat, The Departed and GigliThe Town

Ben Affleck plays a bank robber who falls in love with a woman he and his team recently took hostage. With the FBI hot on his tail, Affleck must balance his dedication to his friends (including hot-headed Jeremy Renner), his newfound relationship and his freedom.

Our take: One of the better movies of 2010, The Town proves Affleck is indeed a talented director (and that Gone Baby Gone wasn’t a fluke) and offers audiences an exciting action-drama on which to feast their eyes. Criticisms that it’s a dumber version of Heat or The Departed are warranted, but The Town is still well worth it.

For the few people who don’t already own these movies… Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back to his parents’ high school days to save his future, then travels to the future to save his past, then travels to the Wild West to save Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Seriously, if you haven’t seen these movies, where have you been?

Our take: If you already own Back to the Future in other formats (except VHS), buying them again in Blu-Ray shouldn’t be a high priority. But this set was highly anticipated by many, meaning it won’t cause any kids to cry when they unwrap this gift.

For people who still aren’t sure what happened at the end of LostLost: The Complete Collection

A plane crashes on a remote tropical island. Several people survive. There’s a monster on the island. There are other people on the island who like to kidnap children and conduct experiments. The island isn’t exactly an island. And that’s just the first season.

Our take: For fans who don’t already own the individual seasons or non-fans looking to get into the show, Lost: The Complete Collection is an easy win. And trust me, the show is worth watching two or three times over, if not more.

Family Movie Buying Guide

For people who still write in diaries… Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Based on the bestselling book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid follows one young boy into middle school, where he quickly discovers that despite his best efforts, he is not one of the cool kids. Befriended by only those potentially dorkier than he is, he documents his school adventures throughout the year.

Our take: Charming and witty, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a surprisingly entertaining movie that will have adults laughing even more than kids, despite PG-rated shenanigans.

For people who think remakes should kick the bucket… The Karate Kid

A young American teenager (Jaden Smith) travels to China with his mother and quickly finds himself on the bad side of a gang of kung fu-trained kids. His apartment building’s handyman (Jackie Chan) reluctantly volunteers to train him so that he can regain his honor and kick some ass.

Our take: Despite treading on hallowed ground, this remake pays homage to the classic original while introducing enough unique elements to allow it to stand on its own. The result is a surprisingly entertaining and heartwarming film suitable for both kids and adults.

For the few people who like Pixar movies… Toy Story 3

Woody, Buzz and the rest of the crew find themselves stranded in a daycare after Andy accidentally gives them away before heading off to college. What at first seems like a Godsend – for the first time in years they have little kids to play with – turns out to be a living heck as the veteran toys maintain dictatorial control over the play area. Can Woody lead his fellow toys to salvation?

Our take: Fifteen years after Pixar produced the original Toy Story, the studio-that-can-do-no-bad gives the franchise’s now grown-up audience a finely crafted and nostalgic send-off of its famed characters. The movie isn’t as good as its predecessors but still hits the emotional strings – and the funny bone – in a way only Pixar can.

For people who think Pixar can shove it… How to Train Your Dragon

In a Viking village where dragons constantly attack and killing dragons is the ultimate sign of manliness, Hiccup, the son of the village’s chief, is an embarrassing failure. But when Hiccup manages to befriend one of the dragons, he discovers that the creatures aren’t as menacing as everyone thinks.

Our take: The best animated film of the year (yes, even better than Toy Story 3), How to Train Your Dragon has all the goods: a great story, funny characters, excellent visual effects and exciting action.

For people who root for the villain… Despicable Me

Gru, the world’s second most notorious villain, has set in motion a plan to prove he is truly evil: he’s going to steal the moon. But before he does so, he must adopt three orphaned girls who can get him inside the home of his arch nemesis. Needless to say, his plan doesn’t go quite as planned.

Our take: The first of two super villain movies of the year, Despicable Me is a wickedly funny, unique and entertaining comedy that has plenty of goofy antics for the kids and clever jokes for parents.

For people who miss real Disney movies… The Princess and the Frog

A musical set in New Orleans, The Princess and the Frog tells the story of Maddy, a poor black girl who aspires to own her own restaurant. When she is turned into a frog by a foreign prince (who also has been turned into a frog), she sets out on a magical adventure to return to her human form and to realize her dreams.

Our take: While not as good as some Disney classics, The Princess and the Frog harkens back to animated films of yesteryear, with inspiring musical numbers and entertaining characters. This is quintessential Disney and well worth owning.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Top 10 Movie Lists