*The Celluloid Closet
In clips from 120 films, the image of queers in the cinema unfolds in a timeline beginning with silent film comedies in which a man dancing with another man was considered risqué humor. Proceeding from sissies in the 30s to doomed deviants in the 40s and 50s, up through the iconographic gay imagery of the end of the 20th century, The Celluloid Closet is a well-researched and informative capsule of the portrayal of gays on film, from the subtle to the overt. The unspoken in Spartacus, The Maltese Falcon, and Rebel Without a Cause finally comes out in Making Love, Silkwood, and My Own Private Idaho. The Bay Area is well-represented by modern commentators. Local Susie Bright gives great interview, as do one-time Bay Areans Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Hanks. Armistead Maupin wrote the narration, delivered rather straight by Lily Tomlin. Susan Sarandon describing her role in The Hunger and Tony Curtis on the Hollywood studio machine are highlights. The booklet reprints a letter by Charlton Heston publicly dissing Gore Vidal for questioning Ben-Hur's motivations.
Best in Show
Christopher Guest reassembled most of his ensemble cast of Waiting For Guffman to do for dog shows what the previous film did for small-town theater. His troupe skewers subcultures from the inside by a combination of research, a strong premise, and a loose script. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock are brilliant as the hypercompetitive obsessives traumatizing their Weimaraner. Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara have never been funnier in a film, he as a clueless, tactless announcer at the national show, she as a wife with a history with everyone. The audio commentary by director Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy reveal that informed improvisation unleashes the devils in the details. Refreshingly, the deleted scenes are worth watching.
*The Godfather Collection
This year, give them a gift they can't refuse. From San Francisco's most celebrated filmmaker, this highly-anticipated DVD release actually lived up to expectations, with the first three films on four discs, and another disc of quality extra material. First off, there are 25 additional scenes for the men in your life to memorize, along with a precise timeline as to how they were supposed to fit in. Plus Academy Awards acceptance speeches, a Corleone family tree, great documentaries including Mario Puzo and Coppola on screenwriting, and more. The titles alone on the documentaries last longer than some other DVD "bonus" cuts. Local angles in Part III include Marin resident Don Novello (aka Fr. Guido Sarducci) as Pacino's publicist, and I kid you not, Willie Brown blatantly selling Michael Corleone a judge. (The audio commentary has Coppola noting that his family and Brown are close. Have rings been kissed at Tosca?)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Most of us are familiar with the feature film, and if you know of someone who isn't, that's reason enough to get it for them. But for your die-hard Python fans, the bonus stuff alone is worth it. This is the whole package--The Godfather of comedy DVDs in that a separate disc is needed for the extra material. For commentary, choose either tag-team directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones for reminiscences on the filmmaking process, or "general complaints and back-biting" by John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Eric Idle. A cast guide shows how many roles each player had (Palin tops with 10). Throw in the best animated menus (Gilliam's, of course), which scream "get on with it" if you take too long, a knights-of-the-round-table musical number redone in Lego, tons of "unshot footage," and a follow-the-killer-rabbit feature, and you've got a standard by which cult films can be expanded upon in this new delivery mode called DVD.
A great gift for any movie lover would be the Stanley Kubrick Collection, which contains eight movies including the masterpieces A Clockwork Orange, 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket. But if you were to buy just one of the titles, it should be Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb. Playing the president of the United States, a British officer, and the Nazi advisor Dr. Strangelove, Sellers displays the range of a true comic genius. A bonus documentary reveals that the pilot character played by Slim Pickens was meant for Sellers before he broke his ankle during shooting, and that much of his work was improvised. Other worthwhile bonus material includes individual split- screen interviews by Sellers and George C. Scott , wherein they pretend that they are on the phone so reporters can edit themselves into an interview. Rightly, the Kubrick titles are presented in letterbox only. Dr. Strangelove shows why this is the way to go--Kubrick uses every bit of the widescreen format, as both the war table and the wings of the bomber go edge to edge.
*Margaret Cho - I'm the One That I Want
SHomeslice Margaret Cho chose the Warfield Theater to record her feature-length stand-up movie after selling out shows in New York and across the country. In the tradition of the comedic confession, or "comfessional" perfomance, Margaret details her near-demise after moving to Los Angeles to star in the sit-com "All-American Girl." Through truthful, brutal characterizations of agents, managers, and producers, we see how the Hollywood system nearly killed her in a cultural makeover and weight-loss regimen designed so she could better play herself. Along the way are lesbian whale-watching, self-proclaimed fag-haggism, Tinseltown sluttery, and the familiar territory of Margaret's family. The end result is a tribute to survival, self-expression, and confidence, but you're too busy laughing to see it that way on first viewing. Sixteen year old girls could handle the blue humor, and be inspired by her strength and resilience.