by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & here are the obvious, prominent choices for DVD gift-giving, and then there are the not-so-obvious selections. And if you're giving someone a movie to be watched and watched again, you don't want to duplicate what everyone else is giving.
Going by category, all of the following DVDs of 2007 are recommended; it's just that the second one in each category is less likely to get re-gifted.
For example, in the Kids and Family category, you could give little Timmy a copy of Ratatouille (with its animated plea for toleration among the gourmets of Paris). But so will all his other aunts and uncles. Consider instead selecting another Pixar creation, the Short Films Collection (1). You know all those great CG cartoons that fronted movies like Monsters Inc. and Toy Story? A dozen of them are collected here: The desk lamps playing with a ball (from 20 years ago!). The old man playing himself in chess, on both sides of the board. The birds on a telephone wire. Even offshoots of Cars and The Incredibles are included.
With Musicals, sure, Hairspray (doo-wop dancers defeat segregationists in a truly feel-good musical) is an outstanding choice, but also consider Once: Depressed Irish guitar-slinger and Czech keyboard player meet cute. The music-making leads to soul-baring, along with episodes you'll remember, like Glen Hansard's anguished street-singing, the canister vacuum cleaner treated like an affectionate little pet, and the loveliness of Guy's final gift to Girl.
Among Comedies, Knocked Up(slacker guy and career woman overcome their own mismatched connections and a lot of frat-brat humor to make some responsible choices) will sell a lot of copies. But there's another unwanted-pregnancy comedy with understated appeal that you should consider: Waitress (2). Keri Russell has a deadbeat husband, a quirky affair with her OB/GYN guy and both Andy Griffith and a couple of her fellow diner waitresses to offer her sage advice, but she takes the risk of making her own decisions at the end of this funny-but-serious, scowling giggle of a comedy.
In Science Fiction, you can buy two-, four- and five-disc versions of Blade Runner. (The full set manages to include five different cuts of the film without making Harrison Ford any less hard-boiled or Rutger Hauer's final speech any clearer.) But don't forget the amazing cinematography of Children of Men, which depicts Clive Owen as a reluctant hero, struggling in a dystopia to preserve life's sacredness. Our future may be full of bleakness, power struggles and anti-immigration fervor, suggests director Alfonso Cuaron, but at least it also offers slender hope.
Among Classic films, you can't go wrong with The Third Man (3) (film noir in post-war Vienna, with Orson Welles's cuckoo-clock speech, Joseph Cotton's journey from innocence to cynicism, and all that crazy zither music). But also consider Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thieves, in which an impoverished father in post-war Italy enlists his little boy in a search for justice. (Yes, October's DVD release is so new that even the title's been pluralized.) Extras include a documentary on Italian neorealism and an interview with Enzo Staiola, who played the little boy.
Finally, if you're buying for a real cinephile, nothing but a pricey Box Set will do. Many will look to the Warner Home Video collection of five films by Stanley Kubrick ($80), and it includes a disc devoted mostly to how the 40-year-old special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey still manage to hold up. But Viva Pedro -- eight films by Pedro Almodovar ($118) -- will delight with its m & eacute;lange of drag queens, women in comas, sexual-identity confusion and slapstick tragedy. Although Almodovar's latest, Volver, is not included, his breakthrough film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (featuring a young Antonio Banderas) is. And that's enough to win over any movie-lover, not just the art house crowd.