Last-Minute Pop-Culture Gifts

Not done holiday shopping yet? Have a culture-vulture on your list? Poptional Reading to the rescue!

Not done holiday shopping yet? Have a culture-vulture on your list?
Poptional Reading to the rescue! Consider one of these gifts:

The Dark Knight/Wall-E
the dark knight dvd

I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t enjoy at least one of these films — in fact, most people I know love both. It’s not just my (admittedly offbeat) social circle, either: Both films have made it into the year-end best-of lists at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, two sites that aggregate critics’ reviews. Mix that in with all the Oscar buzz flying around, and you’ve got two films that may seem over-hyped, but are actually downright crowd-pleasers that also happen to excel at the craft of filmmaking.

the Earrings of Madame de...
Earrings of Madame De…

Your gift recipient is seriously into film and won’t be impressed with the popcorn flicks produced within the modern studio system. Even a truly jaded cinephile would be impressed with the Criterion Collection‘s comprehensive release of this long-unavailable Max Ophuls classic. It comes with scholarly appreciation of the movie by other film nerds, including There Will Be Blood‘s director Paul Thomas Anderson and film scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar.

The Sopranos: Complete Seasons 1 – 6
the sopranos complete seasons 1-6

This show got big while I was in college, and the poor dorm residents couldn’t afford HBO and textbooks (and sadly, the textbooks won), so if you have me as your Secret Santa (and want to go WAY over the spending limit), I wouldn’t mind a DVD set that includes every episode and then some. The 33 discs come with the usual array of commentaries and interviews, in addition to a round-up of all of the Sopranos parodies done on other shows like SNL and three cds of music from the show’s soundtrack. Plus, the DVD set is way classier than those “Bada-Bing!” Christmas ornaments.

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freaks and geeks: yearbook edition
Freaks and Geeks Yearbook Edition

Judd Apatow is riding a comedy high right now by producing and directing hit films like Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Pineapple Express, but many of his new fans missed out on his brilliant-but-canceled TV show that ran for less than a season in 1999. The show followed groups of social misfits going to high school in the 1980s, and presented their struggles in a way that was both hilarious and almost universally heartbreaking. This DVD set collects all of the episodes — even the ones that didn’t make it on air — and presents them with their original music. See stars like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco, and Linda Cardellini back when they still looked like real teenagers.

a colbert christmas: the greatest gift of all
A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All

The name says it all, right? Between this and the election, comedian/pundit Stephen Colbert has been having one heck of a year. You love watching him needle liberals — why wouldn’t you love watching him dueting with Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Feist, or Elvis Costello? Extra-special DVD bonus feature: yule log!


This posthumous novel by Spanish-language novelist Roberto Bolaño is an ambitious read, in part because the darn book, at 912 pages, weighs in at almost three pounds. (Those without the upper-arm strength to lug it everywhere can purchase a slimmer set that divides the narrative into three easier-to-manage paperbacks.) Of course, for anyone to make it through a novel that long, it has to be brilliant. So brilliant that even the premise of plot would take too long to summarize here. I won’t try, and instead I’ll advise you to just give this to someone and even if they’re too intimidated to crack it open, at least they’ll look smart carrying it around.

33 1/3 pet sounds
33 1/3

Never has a better stocking-stuffer existed for either a book junkie or a music fan. Each of the trim books in the 33 1/3 series muses on a single album, from ABBA Gold to the Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka. Some, like the one for Pet Sounds by Wall Street Journal rock critic Jim Fusilli, are straight-ahead creation-histories. Others, like the one about Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, are far stranger — that one is a fictional account of a 15-year-old boy discovering the album at a California psychiatric facility written by singer/songwriter John Darnielle. Each is a quick read, so it’s an easy gift for friends if you know their favorite albums.

sufjan stevens: songs for christmas
Songs for Christmas: Sufjan Stevens

There’s nothing worse than a schmaltzy, slapped together Christmas album from an artist you know is just trying to cash an easy paycheck. Spice up your holiday playlist with classic and original holiday-related indie rock from multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens. He challenged himself to put out a holiday EP every year for five years, so you know he’s actually into it. Some of the songs, like “Get Behind Me Santa,” should become annual Christmas favorites.

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love train: the sound of philadelphia
Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia

People all over the world — with or without joining hands — all know the songs on this four-cd set. At least they know their vibe: soul classics by artists like the O’Jays, the Delfonics, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett, and Lou Rawls. This is a great set to just throw in the four-cd changer and leave on while you’re having a party — you don’t have to worry, as everyone can find something to groove to.

the soul of rock 'n' roll: roy orbison
The Soul of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Roy Orbison

Speaking of soulful music, if your giftee a fan of the bespectacled Roy Orbison, this anthology reaches back all the way to his days with the Teen Kings. (Did you even know he had a band called the Teen Kings?) You’ll find his hits, like “Only The Lonely” and “Oh, Pretty Woman,” along with — and I’m not even kidding — 105 other tracks. And if your recipient can look at such an extensive collection and still not be satisfied, there was a Traveling Wilburys box set released last year that you can throw in, too.

 Got any other great ideas to add to this list? Write them in the comments box below…


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