Amazon is having a fabulous sale on Criterion Collection movies. The company sells lovely editions of classics and modern classics. They never have crappy subtitles, for instance. (I will never forgive whoever subtitled Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon. White subtitles on black and white film? It's nigh unreadable at points.) Generally, they're quite expensive ($30-40), so this sell is a real steal. Remember, today is the last day to get Amazon orders by Christmas.
1. Army of Shadows is a 1969 French thriller about the French Resistance. While war movie buffs will enjoy this movie, fans of character-driven works will enjoy it as well. It's less about blowing stuff up and more about the human cost of being a hero.
Pair it with: BIRDSONG by Sebastian Faulks
2. Hunger is the newest movie on this list. It is artist Steve McQueen's depiction of Maze Prison, Belfast in 1981, based partially on the horrifying images he saw in newspapers while growing up. The beginning can be a bit of a slog - it's rough content and the movie does not stop to explain the prisoners' actions or the politics. (Plus, you have to learn to decipher the accents.) You understand on a visceral level, but a little knowledge of Northern Irish-British relations in the eighties will aid understanding of the movie. The standout scene is a 17-minute oner of Bobby Sands talking to a priest. The price of the movie is worth that scene alone. Artists don't often direct movies, but McQueen imbued Hunger with an undeniable visual power. I found the film to be fairly partisan, which might bother some people, although there are gestures to impartiality.
(Warnings: male nudity, authentic depiction of starvation)
Pair it with: THE HUNGER GAMES (and sequels) by Suzanne Collins
Collins's trilogy gets remarkably dark for a set of children's books. That quality helps make it accessible to a wide audience. At the same time, it is a children's book and thus Collins pulls most of her punches. If you're shopping for an older teen or a fellow adult, give them THE HUNGER GAMES (and sequels) for entertainment. Pair it with Hunger to show the true lengths humans will go to to combat an intolerable regime.
3. Let's lighten up this list a little before you start to think I want you to have a downer Christmas. I've given this version of Beauty and the Beast as a gift before; the recipient spent twelve minutes explaining to me how it changed her life. (She was drunk at the time, so take that as you will.) This film is for the romantic in your life. The effects and visuals are experimental and unique enough to keep the film looking artistic instead of dated.
Pair it with: THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS won the Man Booker Prize. You know why? Because Roy has a knack for word play that allows the content of her story to match the from, as well as a talent for disturbing, haunting, and utterly beautiful images. THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS is a narrative fight against the laws that control who you can love, and how much. Knowledge of Indian history (specifically, the history of Kerala) might make the novel more accessible, but I think Roy's talent stands without context.
4. If you have the money, give the Ingmar Bergman - Four Masterworks collection. If not, Wild Strawberries is the one to give. This 1957 film is a fantastical examination of life and death. A lot of young people don't like it, but it's one to grow on. (I'll admit to falling asleep the first time I saw it. It was the middle of the night and I was suffering from jet lag.) It's melancholy, but never bleak. I know I said no obvious films from the collection and it doesn't get much more obvious than Ingmar Bergman, but Wild Strawberries cannot be ignored for such a lovely price.
Pair it with: DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS by Beth Kephart
A meditation on life and death for the younger set, not that adults won't enjoy it. Kephart's mastery of literary technique is a wonderful counterpoint for Bergman's mastery of film. I think I said everything that needed to be said about DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS in my review. What I didn't say is implicitly expressed in the fact I paired it with a Bergman film.
5. Okay, it can get more obvious than Ingmar Bergman. When it comes to Akira Kurosawa it's still fine to be a little obvious. Yojimbo and its sequel Sanjuro are funny, bloody, clever, and set the standards for modern samurai films. Show your loved ones how much fun revolutionary works of art can be.
Pair it with: THE THIEF (and sequels) by Megan Whalen Turner
You want a clever story with a historical setting and equally rewarding sequels? Go no farther than Turner's impeccable and award-winning series about thief Eugenides and his adventures. I'd love to read them for the first time again except for the fact is so rewarding to reread them and see how she constructs the various twists. The first book is aimed at elementary/middle-aged readers, but the series ages as it continues.
6. I finish my list with The Lady Eve, a romantic comedy featuring a variety of cons and a bravura performance from Barbara Stanwyck. (Henry Fonda is pretty good too.) The Lady Eve is everything I want when I see another misogynistic cliche-fest starring Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston or their ilk. All these years later and this movie is still hilarious and sexy. And what more could you want from a romantic comedy?
Pair it with: WHITE CAT by Holly Black
Black's latest novel is also hilarious and sexy by turns. It also contains cons. But it will tear your heart out instead of lifting it up. It's good to have a bit of balance in your life. I've also heard that other people find WHITE CAT less heart-breaking. (I'm Team Lila and Cassel, yo.)
So there's my list. Get shopping, if you haven't already! And be careful. If you're like me you'll buy a $15 Brooks Brothers tie just because it's a $15 Brooks Brothers tie and not because you actually know someone who wears ties.