The holidays are upon us once again, which means that it’s time to stress out about what you’re going to buy everyone on your shopping list. Fortunately, we have plenty of great ideas for the movie buff or TV fanatic in your life with some of our favorite Blu-ray and 4K releases from the past year. Check out our selections below, complete with easy-to-buy links to Amazon.
Succession: The Complete Series
HBO’s “Succession” isn’t just one of the network’s best shows of all time — it’s one of the best television dramas period. Everything about “Succession” is first-rate, from the acting to the writing to the direction to Nicholas Britell’s incredible score and more. They all work in unison to create a very specific tone and mood that courses throughout the show’s wildly entertaining four-season run. With that said, it’s hard to look past the extraordinary performances on display, and though they’re all fantastic in their own right, Sarah Snook’s career-making turn as Siobhan Roy is one for the ages. “Succession” really is that good, which makes the decision to only release this Complete Series set on DVD — and in the most lackluster way possible — all the more upsetting. And yet, for as much as Warner Bros. screwed the pooch on this one, this is still a title that TV fans absolutely need in their collection.
The Mandalorian: The Complete First and Second Seasons
The idea of a live-action “Star Wars” TV show has been brewing since George Lucas was still in charge, but there was no guarantee that “The Mandalorian” would be a success, as many wondered whether the franchise would be able to make the jump to the small screen without sacrificing what audiences love so much about it. However, with longtime fan Jon Favreau and Lucas apprentice Dave Filoni behind the wheel, “The Mandalorian” quickly proved that “Star Wars” could not only exist on the small screen but thrive on it, delivering a series that combines all the best qualities of the franchise while also improving upon it in many ways. Featuring top-notch writing and direction, as well as plenty of fan service that ties into the existing “Star Wars” mythology without being a slave to it, “The Mandalorian” is one of the best things to come out of the property since the original trilogy.
Loki: The Complete First Season
While Marvel fans will no doubt debate about which of the Disney+ MCU shows is their favorite, “Loki” is easily one of the top contenders, as it’s an incredibly entertaining and visually rich vehicle for one of the MCU’s best characters. Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki gets better with each new appearance, and he really gets to spread his wings in this six-episode first season, exploring new sides to the reformed villain that the films simply didn’t have time for. Sophia Di Martino (as Loki variant Sylvie) and Owen Wilson (as TVA agent Mobius) are also excellent in their respective roles and prove welcome additions to the MCU, while the “Quantum Leap”-inspired premise provides an almost limitless supply of storytelling possibilities. Though “Loki” is ultimately just another cog in the Marvel machine, what sets the series apart from other recent MCU projects is that it feels emboldened rather than weighed down by those connections.
WandaVision: The Complete Series
As the first official MCU series out of the gate, “WandaVision” had a lot of pressure on its shoulders, as many fans wondered whether Marvel would be able to translate its big-screen success to the small screen. In hindsight, an experimental show like “WandaVision” probably wasn’t the best choice to launch Marvel’s Phase Four, but the series does such a good job of blending its various genres as a vehicle for exploring Wanda’s mental health that the risk paid off in spades. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are a big part of the show’s success thanks to the richer notes that both actors are given to play compared to their previous MCU appearances, while Kathryn Hahn proves an excellent addition to the larger cinematic universe as the evil witch Agatha Harkness. “WandaVision” is not without its faults, but much like “Loki,” it stands as a shining example of how to tell longform stories within the MCU.
Enter the Dragon
Bruce Lee only starred in five movies before his untimely death, but his influence on the world of cinema and martial arts still lives on today, primarily through this 1973 classic, which not only marks the pinnacle of Lee’s career but remains one of the best martial arts films ever made. “Enter the Dragon” is by no means perfect, but it more than makes up for its shortcomings with some well-crafted fight scenes and captivating visuals, which look better than ever on this new 4K release. The climactic showdown in the mirror room is an all-time great that (much like the movie itself) has been imitated and parodied countless times, while the fight against Han’s henchmen is an excellent showcase of Lee’s abilities. “Enter the Dragon” is pure entertainment from start to finish, perfectly capturing the charisma and confidence that made Lee such an incredible screen presence.
It’s hard to believe that director Dan Trachtenberg only has a few credits to his name because he’s shown with his work both in film (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) and TV (the “Black Mirror” episode “Playtest”) that he’s a talented filmmaker with a real knack for making the most out of very little. That skill comes in handy on his latest movie, “Prey,” a stripped-down and muscular action thriller that ranks among the best films of last year. Although technically a prequel to the “Predator” film series, “Prey” operates largely as a standalone story and succeeds thanks to its unique setting and a perfect balance of character and action. Star Amber Midthunder is excellent as the Ripley-esque protagonist, while the constant stream of Predator-centric carnage will satisfy longtime fans of the franchise. Though “Prey” is perhaps a little too simplistic at times, it’s a lean, mean, back-to-basics action flick that delivers the goods and then some.
The Jackie Chan Collection: Volume 2
The first volume of Shout! Factory’s “Jackie Chan Collection” may be a bit of a hard sell due to the lack of any major films, but Volume Two covers a period in Chan’s Hong Kong film career (1983-1993) when the martial arts star really started to come into his own with movies like “Armour of God,” “Armour of God II,” “Wheels on Meals” (alongside frequent collaborators Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung) and “Crime Story.” Not every title in the collection is a winner (see: “The Protector,” Chan’s second attempt at breaking into the American market), and the inclusion of 1983’s “Winners and Sinners” and 1985’s “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars” is a bit strange considering Chan’s limited appearance in both, but for the most part, this is a really solid collection that showcases how Jackie Chan became the superstar that he is today.
Following the success of his indie debut, “Clerks,” writer/director Kevin Smith was courted by Universal to make his next feature… only for it to bomb spectacularly at the box office. But while “Mallrats” was not a commercial hit when first released, the film eventually found a following on home video and became a cult classic of sorts. Though the movie hasn’t aged particularly well — like most of Smith’s work, it’s very much a product of its time and has some glaring issues — “Mallrats” still manages to entertain thanks to its likable characters and charismatic cast, especially Jason Lee (in his first starring role), who would go on to work with Smith again in even better films like “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma.” Arrow’s new 4K release is a major upgrade on previous editions, featuring a director- and cinematographer-approved 4K restoration of both the theatrical and extended cuts. The two-disc set also contains hours of bonus material, including a filmmaker commentary, a retrospective on making the film and more.
Police Story III: Supercop
Before breaking into the U.S. market with 1995’s “Rumble in the Bronx,” Jackie Chan teamed up with director Stanley Tong to produce this third installment in the popular “Police Story” franchise, which was eventually released in the U.S. under the title “Supercop.” Though there’s nothing particularly special about the story — it’s your typical 1990s action movie about cops taking down drug dealers — Chan and co-star Michelle Yeoh make up for the film’s narrative shortcomings with some wonderful chemistry that takes full advantage of their martial arts and comedy talents. The action sequences are everything that you’d expect from a Jackie Chan project, including a high-octane ending that features some truly jaw-dropping stunt work, but “Police Story III” succeeds largely because of how well Chan and Yeoh work together, which makes it both surprising and a total bummer that they never teamed up again.
Dazed and Confused
Writer/director Richard Linklater has made some great films in his 30-plus-year career, but none are as endlessly rewatchable as the 1993 cult classic “Dazed and Confused,” thanks in large part to its brilliant cast, quotable dialogue and killer soundtrack. It’s the ultimate hangout movie — a love letter to Linklater’s teenage years that nails the high school experience better than perhaps any other film in the decades since. The whole thing feels so effortless and naturalistic, from the script to the performances, that it’s like traveling back in time to your own adolescence, when hanging out with your friends was all that mattered. The new 4K digital restoration from Criterion, which was supervised and approved by Linklater, offers a subtle improvement over the previous Blu-ray release, while the bonus material remains unchanged.
The Hunger Games SteelBook Collection
With the new “Hunger Games” prequel, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” currently in theaters, there’s no better time to revisit the movies that started it all. Though the “Hunger Games” franchise is a bit of a mixed bag, every installment has at least some good elements, with “Catching Fire” standing out as the best of the bunch. While the series suffered from many of the same problems that plagued a lot of YA book-to-screen adaptations released during that time, “Hunger Games” is one of the more successful franchises due to its excellent cast, including Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. This isn’t the first time that all four movies have been released as a collection, but this Walmart-exclusive SteelBook set is pretty nifty, especially for those who haven’t picked up the 4K versions yet.
The Expendables SteelBook Collection
Let’s be honest: The Expendables movies are kind of trash. But for a franchise that celebrates the junk-food cinema of the ‘80s and ‘90s, that’s kind of the point, especially when most of the guys who fronted those films (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris and others) weren’t even very good actors to begin with. Though The Expendables franchise has progressively gotten worse with each new installment — perhaps with the exception of The Expendables 2 — there’s nothing quite like seeing some of the biggest action stars of yesteryear team up on the big screen, which is why this new Walmart-exclusive SteelBook collection is the perfect gift for those guys (and gals) who miss the good old days when muscles, guns and cheesy one-liners were all you needed to take down the bad guys.
Shaw Brothers Clasics: Volumes 1-4
The average person has probably never seen a Shaw Brothers film (at least, not in its entirety), but the Hong-Kong based movie studio that popularized the kung fu genre in the 1960s and 1970s has influenced just about every corner of pop culture in the ensuing decades, so it’s nice to see some of the studio’s lesser-known films get their due with these various collections from Shout! Factory. The four volumes comprise a whopping 46 different films (many of which are debuting for the first time on Blu-ray), spanning three decades and featuring some of the genre’s greatest stars, including Sammo Hung, David Chiang, Pei-Pei Cheng and more. Though these box sets are definitely geared toward the more diehard martial arts cinema fan, they also serve as a nice introductory course/history lesson to the genre as a whole.