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A World of Cinema

2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Gifts for the cineaste

What do you get a movie buff for Christmas? No more gift books from Blockbuster, that’s for sure.

If they have a smart TV, one that is connected to the internet, get them a subscription to Hulu Plus. Netflix is fine if you want to binge on a lot of TV shows and movies you’ve never heard of (usually with good reason), but Hulu Plus has something Netflix can’t begin to compete with: the entire Criterion collection.

Since the mid-1980s, Criterion has been the benchmark for quality presentation of great world cinema for home viewing. It began with the holdings of Janus Films, the distributor that first brought the work of filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, and many others to America. They quickly gained a reputation as the gold standard for the care they took in acquiring and restoring complete prints of important films both old and new. If it’s on Criterion, it’s worth seeing.

And even if your giftee has shelves filled with every Criterion DVD, they’ll thank you, because Hulu Plus offers the complete Criterion Collection, including many that have not yet been released to DVD or Blu-ray, a staggering 869 titles. For $7.99 a month, it’s an amazing deal. You can view the entire list at

If the cineaste on your list isn’t into streaming and prefers collecting DVDs to scanning cable TV, don’t wrack your brain trying to think of a movie or box set to buy them that they might not already have. Instead, get them a region-free DVD or Blu-ray player.

Movies are region-coded for sale in different parts of the world. North America is region 1, England and Europe region 2, southeast Asia and Hong Kong region 3, etc. (Blu-ray disks are similar but use letters: We’re region A, England region B, etc.) Players are only able to play disks coded to their specific region: If you buy a player in North America, it will be programmed only to accept region 1 disks.

At least that’s the idea. But there are plenty of players able to play disks of any region, and others that can easily be converted to do so.

Why would you want one of these? First of all, because there is an awful lot of stuff that is not available in the North American market. The films of Andy Warhol, long supressed by his estate in the US, are legally available in Italy. The Brave, which Johnny Depp directed and co-stars in with Marlon Brando, is available in England. Germany has David Lynch films on Blu-ray that are only on DVD here. Film, the collaboration between Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett, is available in France. Want to see the original versions of The Killing, The Bridge, Those Who Kill, and all the other “Nordic Noirs” that are being remade for US TV? All available in England.

A lot of films and TV series are available overseas well before they show here. My wife and I spent last weekend watching the fourth series of Downton Abbey on a British DVD; it won’t be on PBS until January. And even if you don’t mind waiting, you can save a lot of money. The complete Sopranos box set is about $130 in the US; the British version is $71 including shipping. Want every episode of Friends? $168 here, $67 from the UK. If you know someone who loves Inspector Poirot, they can buy the so-called “Definitive Collection” in the US for only $50; that’s a lot cheaper than the $120 for the Brit box, but that one really is definitive, with 84 hours of David Suchet exercising his little grey cells compared to 20 in the US box.

I could go on and on but you get the idea: If you collect DVDs, why not open yourself to the best possible selection? And buying from overseas couldn’t be any easier thanks to our friend the internet. If you have an Amazon account, you can use it to shop on, in France, in Germany, and all the others.

How can you buy a region-free player? You won’t find them in stores, at least not advertised as such (more on that in a moment). A simple online search for “region free DVD player” (or Blu-ray player) brings up lots of sellers, along with the ubiquitous Amazon. You can get anything from bare-bones models for under $40 (if you just want an adjunct to your current machine) to top-of-the-line players with every possible feature.

If you don’t have time to shop online, a lot of the cheap players manufactured in Asia are either region-free or can easily be made so. The best way to buy one of these is to go to whatever big-box store you shop at and jot down the make and model numbers of some likely players. Take the info home and look them up at This useful site will tell you if the player is region-free or region-locked, and whether it’s possible to unlock the coding (usually done by entering some code numbers with the remote control). You may even find that the player you or your giftee already own can be hacked.

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