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Published: Wednesday, 12/8/2010

Top films and box sets for screens big and small are sure to please

Small ones make great stocking stuffers; bigger sets can be the mind-blowing gift of the season. DVDs were made for the holidays.

Here we offer suggestions for a variety of tastes, ranging from classic fare to right-this-moment releases. In fact, some of these picks have yet to arrive in stores, but they will by Christmas.

The best thing about buying a movie for someone is, obviously, you can then sit down and watch it with them. So consider these gifts you get to share, and enjoy!

Inception (Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout; Warner, $28.98): This dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream thriller from director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) was this year's biggest mind-blower, both visually and with its challenging plotline. But Nolan skillfully leads his sterling cast -- Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard -- through all the complexities; and even if you're not quite sure of what you've seen at the end, you know you've seen something big. Blu-ray suggested to take advantage of the astounding graphics.

The Other Guys (Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence, and some drug material; Sony, $28.96): Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg star as mismatched police detective partners, and the laughs are pretty much nonstop. You figure Ferrell will be funny since he's working with good-luck charm director Andy McKay (Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, Anchorman), but Wahlberg nearly steals the film with his deadpan double takes. Great adult silliness. (In stores Tuesday)

Despicable Me (Rated PG for rude humor and mild action; Universal, $29.98): It's been a great year for animation, and this was one of the peaks, a funny-sweet look at a super-criminal who wants to steal the moon but instead has his heart stolen by some orphans. Steve Carell voices the big baddie, with Jason Segel, Kristin Wiig , Julie Andrews, and Russell Brand all chiming in as well; but the movie really belongs to the little yellow minions who float like bubbles through the film. Buy it for the kids and then enjoy it yourself. (In stores Tuesday)

Salt (Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action; Sony, $28.96): At this point, Angelina Jolie may be America's biggest action star, male or female, and she shows why with this taut spy thriller. When a CIA agent is suspected of being a double agent, she must go on the run to prove herself innocent, but once she starts running the story zigzags all over the place, with the action and guessing coming non-stop. Any action fan should be thrilled to get this. (In stores Dec. 21)

Easy A (Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language, and some drug material; Sony, $28.95): The delightful Emma Stone (Superbad) graduates to a starring role in this uncommonly smart teen movie about a girl who finds herself suddenly popular at school after being falsely branded a slut. Building on the lies, she eventually finds herself trapped. A surprisingly strong supporting cast -- Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow, Thomas Haden Church -- helps, but it's Stone's charm that sells the movie. (In stores Dec. 21)

Glee: Season One Giftset (Not rated; Fox, $59.98): True, this is the age of Glee overkill, but there are hard-core Gleeks out there; and if you know one, this might make their holiday. Understand, there's nothing new here on DVD -- it's the exact same season one set on sale everywhere. The difference is you get a Glee journal as well, with most of the stars' faces on front and back covers (hey, where's Brittany?). If you know a serious fan who doesn't already have the first season, you can't lose.

Avatar: Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition (Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language, and some smoking; Fox, $34.98): There are bunches of extras here, but the main reason to buy this is for the additional 16 minutes of footage. Granted, that brings the run time to a mind-boggling 162 minutes, but Avatar is all about boggling minds anyway and the extra footage -- most of it takes place on earth before liftoff -- actually adds some solid context. Otherwise, this is the same dazzling sensual experience without the 3-D. Hint: Give this to someone in Blu-ray and they immediately have an excuse to buy a Blu-ray player.

Shrek: The Whole Story Boxed Set (All four movies rated PG; Dreamworks, $53.99): Yes, the Shrek franchise did take a dip toward the end, but this box set still contains some of the most popular animated films of the past decade, and a lot of family-friendly laughs. There's also a bonus disc that contains a sing-a-long of Shrek-scrambled holiday songs with Donkey and a Shrek Yule log, which is basically just a picture of a burning log interrupted every once in a while by a Shrek character. No matter what, this set can't miss with the under-10 bunch, and the over-30 bunch likely will be entertained as well.

4 Decades of the Tonight Show (Not rated; Respond2 Entertainment, $119.99): This isn't just a massive retrospective of Johnny Carson at his best, it's also a look back at American pop culture over the many years he ruled late night television. The 15-disc set, which offers shows in their entirety, astounds with the evolution of big names -- a young Woody Allen, Harry Chapin, and the unknown Bette Midler give way to Eddie Murphy, Bill Clinton, and the grand dame Bette Midler. But it also highlights peculiarities of the periods -- remember Judge Wapner? Aunt Blabby? The immortal Loni Anderson? Maybe, maybe not, but they're all here, along with Carson's impeccable timing and amiable honesty behind the desk. There are 56 episodes here, and amazingly, there could be more. Watch any three and you'll see why they just keep making Carson DVD collections: He's worth it.

The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series (Not rated; Shout, $149.99): Johnny Carson was the best real talk show host ever. Larry Sanders was the best not-real talk show host ever. Garry Shandling brought Sanders to life on HBO for six seasons in the '90s, carrying on the groundbreaking work he'd done with It's Garry Shandling's Show on Showtime in the '80s, this time parodying talk shows instead of sitcoms. Shandling plays Sanders, who is shown both in real life and hosting his show, which featured a parade of real-life stars, from Sharon Stone to Roseanne Barr to Tom Petty. Co-produced by the soon to be famous Judd Apatow (The 40-year-old Virgin) and co-starring Rip Torn as his producer and Jeffrey Tambor as his doltish sidekick, Shandling eviscerated Hollywood, the cult of celebrity and, mostly, himself. This 17-disc set also includes outtakes, deleted scenes and one-on-one interviews with assorted regular guests. Absolute genius.



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