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DVDeals For Christmas 

There's a movie for everyone this gift-giving season

There's a commercial currently playing on TV in which a guy is so excited about all the cool electronic gadgets and gizmos he's bought himself for Christmas that he soon realizes he forgot to buy any gifts for his wife and kids. It's an amusing ad, yet it also demonstrates the extent to which people are getting excited about all the technological advances that, while clearly not essential to our livelihood, certainly make it a lot more fun. This holiday season, you can expect the stockings that are hung with care to be overflowing with CDs, videos, Game Boys, and, for the "all work and no play" types, a Palm Pilot or two.

And then there are the DVDs. With this movie-watching medium exploding like few entertainment consumer products before it, it's guaranteed that Santa Claus and his minions will be hauling thousands of shiny discs all over the country (I asked the Big Red One to bring my daughter the Shrek DVD, but shhh, don't tell her).

With so many titles presently on the market, consumers shouldn't have any problem finding the right flicks for family and friends. But just in case there's any hemming and hawing out there, here are some choice recommendations (all released during the past year) in various price ranges and, just as importantly, different genres.

Movies Only (No Extra Features)

While DVDs are known as much for their bonus features as for their top-notch sound and picture quality, there are admittedly many movie buffs who couldn't care less about audio commentaries, poster galleries or behind-the-scenes shenanigans. For those folks, I suggest the following discs, which contain nothing more than the movie and maybe a trailer or two.

The Age of Innocence (1993) With the release of Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York delayed until next year, fans of the accomplished director can reacquaint themselves with a film that remains one of his best -- and most unorthodox -- outings. A raging bull in a china shop is the image that many people had when they first heard that Scorsese was tackling Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about love and deceit among the gentry of 1870s New York. But Scorsese ended up fashioning a lovely and rich drama that's the cinematic equivalent of a good read: subtle, literate, and full of wondrous sights. And in a way, this love story about a man (Daniel Day-Lewis) enamored with a progressive woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) while courting her naive cousin (Winona Ryder) relies heavily on one of the director's most common themes: that of an individual who's unable to satisfactorily express his innermost longings and desires.

Places In the Heart (1984) Set in Depression-era Texas, writer-director Robert Benton's lovely movie tells the story of a young mother (Sally Field) trying to ward off poverty after the tragic death of her husband; among the few people willing to give her a hand are a blind man (John Malkovich) who becomes her boarder and a field worker (Danny Glover) who's constantly having to deal with the rampant racism of the time and place. Although Benton loosely based this on his own family history, this is more than just a rose-colored romp through nostalgia. Instead, the film is hard-hitting on many fronts (nothing is ever easy for Field's character), and the miraculous ending says more about the power of faith and forgiveness than just about any other picture that comes to mind. Both Field's performance and Benton's screenplay earned well-deserved Oscars.

Extra Features Only (No Movie)

The Matrix Revisited (2001) With practically every DVD-equipped household already possessing a copy of The Matrix (it's one of the all-time top-selling DVDs), and with the first sequel still a couple of summers away, Warner Home Entertainment has decided to temper appetites by releasing a special disc that's full of interesting features: a lengthy look at the making of the first film, behind-the-scenes footage of the sequel, an exploration of the upcoming Matrix animated work, and, most amusingly, a short piece on some of the rabid fans who worship the 1999 original (including a lady who believes the "vibes" emitted from the movie directly resulted in her promotion at work!).

Box Sets

The Dirty Harry Collection (1971-1988) Left-wing critics condemned the character for his fascistic methods, while right-wingers viewed him as being too liberal with the law. With such controversy swirling around him, is it any wonder that Inspector Harry Callahan became the definitive Clint Eastwood character? The original Dirty Harry (1971) remains one of the best cop thrillers of the past three decades, while Magnum Force (1973) and The Enforcer (1976) proved to be above-average sequels. Alas, the series then collided with the 80s, and 1983's Sudden Impact (featuring the classic line, "Go ahead, make my day") and 1988's The Dead Pool largely replaced the urban grittiness with the trendy slickness. Still, this is one heckuva red-meat set, guaranteed to make anyone's Christmas day. The Dirty Harry DVD contains several extras, including a 30th anniversary documentary, Dirty Harry: The Original, and a 1971 behind-the-scenes feature, Dirty Harry's Way; Magnum Force and The Enforcer also include original documentaries. Incidentally, coinciding with the release of this set (but sold separately) is Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows, a 90-minute feature that provides an overview of the professional and personal lives of this laconic, iconic filmmaker.

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