2022 Gift Guide: Top 4K & Blu-rays for Movie and TV Fans
Last year was one of transition, where people at home started to get settled into yet another complex stretch of time where it was still advisable to seek out entertainment in the comfort of home. Studios experimented with paired theater and streaming releases of new, substantial films, and for the most part it got the business through 2021, while television-style content mostly maintained the status quo. This year, however, has seen the resurgence of movie theater showings – led by the success of Top Gun: Maverick – as well the souring of the somewhat perfect relationships between streaming services and their audiences and the threat of digitally-purchased content just … disappearing. One wouldn’t call this a turning of the tide for the legacy ways in which we enjoy content, but it has resulted in a reevaluation of the speed in which it’s happening.
In 2022, things have started to normalize, from the genuine success of movies on the big screen again – not just “Good for a pandemic!” – to the release of big new shows on streaming services and the maybe-or-maybe-not nature of them seeing a physical release. Other factors may have infringed on the success of physical media, such as frustration with the increasing prices of goods in general and the reduction of media shelves in big box stores, but the merit of “little shiny discs” and the cases they come in has made a statement over the past year in its continued reliability and desirability. Ben’s Bargains has cobbled together a list of some of the more intriguing and desirable items from among this year’s 4K and Blu-ray media to point
Gifts For Those Who May Have Missed 2022’s Best At Theater
Doubt seemed to follow Top Gun: Maverick (4K Steelbook) for a while, of a caliber that continued to shift the longer it stayed at the box office. Some were unsure of where a sequel could even go, let alone successfully; then, others were unsure whether this now record-breaking box office juggernaut could deliver the same awe-inspiring experience that so many seemed to be having with it. Turns out, Top Gun: Maverick ends up being just about good enough to meet even the loftiest expectations. It delivers credible nostalgia with Cruise and the returning characters, tells a meaningful and timely story about young ace pilots that cleverly mirrors the original film, and wraps it all up in thrilling aviation action sequences and high-stakes, smartly-written drama. Coupled with amazing photography and a killer score, Maverick’s the kind of film that’ll make one want to watch it again immediately after, which makes it a no-brainer gift.
Otherwise, it’s been a tremendous year for truly unique blockbusters that push the envelope on their concepts. In the midst of the Marvel and DC movie attempting multiple universes, Everything Everywhere All At Once (4K) steals their thunder by delivering a Matrix-esque thrill ride of entrancing action, a sense of a humor, and a perfect emotional backbone. Jordan Peele unleashes his most overt horror masterwork with Nope (4K), in which he ties together stunt horses and flying saucers in a meaningful, enormously immersive gallop through terror. Ti West unravels a pair of excellent horror movies with Pearl and X that tie together into a new horror universe with a fascinating lead presence in Mia Goth, while Nicolas Cage brings an entrancing lead presence to his latest film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (4K)by playing … himself, or a spoof of himself. And one can’t get through 2022 movie recommendations without celebrating how Robert Pattinson absolutely rocks as the gritty new Batman.
Gifts For Those Who Like Their Media Pretty Both Inside and Out
Steelbooks were once predominately the domain of retail exclusives, producing high-demand collectible physical copies of everybody’s favorite movies. That’s still the case, but something’s shifted over the past year or so: studios are more onboard with making the premium metal cases widely available, which could be due to any number of factors. Regardless of why, it’s just nice to be able to find these editions without having to scramble to stores or place orders so far out. The folks at Shout Factory and Arrow Video both have had a grasp on this for a bit longer than the mainstream studios, and this year they’ve released some exquisite, coveted new 4K editions that also came with appealing Steelbook variants. Arrow’s True Romance (4K Limited Edition) delivers an impeccable presentation at what seems like the perfect time, and Shout Factory’s treatment of cult horror classic The Fog (4K) scares up a superior presentation with divine illustrated cover art.
That said, some of the other major studios have also jumped on that bandwagon by delivering attractive, fitting re-releases of some of their more popular films and/or those celebrating an anniversary. Notably, the re-releases of all the Indiana Jones films from Paramount operate on a simple premise: include the 4K disc, slap the beautiful poster artwork on the front, and call it a day …. And it works, because you don’t have to buy ‘em all. Paramount also threw together a pair of inexpensive Blu-ray Steelbooks that’ll tickle the fancy of certain fans, putting the “Burn Book” design from Mean Girls onto a new edition and sliding a VHS-themed slipcover over a TV-noise-covered shot of the Black Haired Girl for The Ring’s 20th Anniversary Re-Release. Sony has also hopped on the Steelbook re-release bandwagon with an insanely satisfying design for Starship Troopers in 4K, but they’ve also done this unconventionally by first producing an exclusive for Best Buy with Spider-Man: No Way Home (4K) … and then re-released the same design on an unexclusive, albeit still limited scale.
Gifts For Those Who Need More Spine Numbers In Their Life
Every year, it seems as if The Criterion Collection has hit yet another stage of evolution in terms of the titles they’re able to offer in the landscapes of Blu-rays and 4K discs. While they once produced a widespread selection of mainstream titles for the laserdisc and early DVD eras, their attention seemed to shift away from that spotlight and far more toward classic, foreign, and otherwise more obscure films, resulting in a beautiful catalogue that hinged on the likes of Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Bergman, Fellini, Wong Kar Wai, and such. The pivot wasn’t immediate, but starting in the mid-2010s, Criterion refocused their efforts on bringing more widely recognizable pictures – from 12 Angry Men and Dr. Strangelove to The Breakfast Club and Princess Bride – into their collection with often much-needed audiovisual or supplemental upgrades. Now, Criterion’s in a great spot to release significant movies from across the spectrum of cinematic desires, and they’ve delivered some surprises this year.
Perhaps it’s not a huge surprise given the label’s recent amorous partnership with David Lynch, but Lost Highway (4K) remained one of the director’s elusive films without a fine home-video presentation before Criterion finally answered the call of many a cinephile … and they did so at 4K to boot. While arthouse enjoyers are entranced with that one, fans of old-Hollywood classics will revel in the recent edition of the dark slapstick comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, while those with an eye for classic blaxploitation cinema will relish their new edition of the OG badass Shaft (4K). Devotees of the Brothers Coen finally get a robust presentation of their straight-faced noir thriller Miller’s Crossing, and foreign aficionados will be delighted to have the Japanese ‘90s horror drama Cure at their access. Yet, even though all of those films have been requested for a while, they don’t match the immense surprise of Criterion’s latest 4K announcement: a partnership with Disney and Pixar starting with WALL-E (4K), which’ll make a perfect gift.
Gifts For Those Who Relish Seeing New Details In Old Classics
During the process of DVD transitioning over to Blu-ray, many people wondered whether the audiovisual uptick would be worth it on classic movies or smaller-scale films such as comedies, and whether it’d be worth the cash to buy another presentation. It became clear – no pun intended – that especially with classic black-and-white films and those with age, the increase in resolution and contrast was beyond worth it, especially if the particular film also received a much-needed restoration alongside it. Back 15 years ago, this was a much easier conversation; in 2022, after years of restorations and technique refinements, most films that absolutely needed such improvements have seen them now. When it comes to jumping from Blu-ray to 4K, however, the answer remains the same: those jumps in resolution and improvements in contrast and black levels make yet another shiny disc worth the dollar figure, and thus worth gifting the film lover in your life.
It all boils down to the studios responsible for the classic being represented in 4K, and boy, there are some doozies this year that nobody would ever want to mess up. Oftentimes in the debate for greatest film ever made, Casablanca enjoys a beautiful new 4k presentation this year that shines a light on the one-revered Blu-ray edition from a decade prior. Criterion finally jumped into the 4K ring last year, and they’ve made short order of getting impressive new presentations in the hand of cinephiles, from the ‘50s noir stalwart Double Indemnity to Martin Scorsese’s immersive, hard-hitting Oscar winner Raging Bull. While these were previously released by Criterion but aren’t this time around, a trio of wonderful Stanley Kubrick films came out of Kino Lorber in tremendous 4K presentations this year: Paths of Glory, The Killing, and Killer’s Kiss. And, of course, let’s not overlook yet another technically immaculate presentation of the Godfather Trilogy, though this time it includes the reworked Godfather Coda Edition for the third film.
Gifts For Those Who Have Just Enough Shelf Space
With production channels the way they’ve been over the past year or two, it’s not surprising that there’s a lack of big-investment boxsets to have come out recently. Instead, as with the steelbook presentation, companies are mostly keeping their anniversary and limited editions to a smaller scale … and honestly, with the shift to more minimalistic spaces and conservation of packaging waste and what not, it’s not a bad thing at this point. As mentioned last year, however, it seems as if every time physical media has reached the point where it’s lost the ability to produce another hilariously unnecessary set that’ll grab the masses, they pull out at least a few more.
Perhaps the most obvious and appealing one this year goes back to the Top Gun franchise, in which Paramount has thrown together a lavish 2-movie steelbook boxset for both Tony Scott’s original and the sequel, Maverick. Both cases have coordinating artwork that kinda-sorta reminds one of the metal plating alongside jet bodies, and it comes in a fancy box with a bunch of goodies: dogtags, keyrings, replica photos, decals, and other goodies. Similarly, the Bourne franchise of movies will be seeing its own tactical Bourne: Complete Collection 20th Anniversary 4K gift set, encased in a backpack with BOURNE emblazoned on the front and including a keychain, a compass, even a monocular. And if we’re celebrating Maverick and Bourne, we might as well also celebrate James Bond and Daniel Craig’s final foray as the character with a lovely numbered diecast Aston Martin edition of No Time To Die (and a fancy box and character cards).
On a more practical level, but still impressive as a holiday gift, Sony will also be releasing a 30th Anniversary of Sony Picture Classics 4K limited edition set, which includes an impressive range of indie titles that may or may not have actually received a 4K treatment otherwise. Tons are worth celebrating, but movies like Run Lola Run, City of Lost Children, and Volver should get their respective cult followings very excited.