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Holiday DVD Shopping Guide

By Noel Murray, Special to The Times

It wasn’t so long ago that young professionals hung art on their walls and laid books on their coffee tables to declare their tastes to all comers. These days, though, the media room has become the epicenter of self-identification, the place where collectors showcase the hallmarks of their good (or not-so-good) taste, their affection for obscure filmmaking or their fondness for the good old-fashioned blockbuster.

So what better time for self-reflection, pop culture style, than the holidays, when the already saturated DVD market becomes deluged with new releases -- reissues, special editions and box sets of movies and TV shows, from the historically important to the wildly offbeat, all priced to move?

In the interests of helping sort through the almost innumerable buying options, what follows is a brief guide, tailored to almost any entertainment personality, of DVDs being released through the end of the year that best express the inner you. The you that’s not like the unthinking hordes. The you that’s into old cartoons, or early 20th century social movements, or subversive holiday movies in which Kris Kringle packs a butcher knife. (This last “you” might want to consider a more relaxed approach to the season -- just a thought.) And if there’s an uncanny match on the list for someone who’s not you, all the better.

Because, really, on the day of reckoning, who wants to come up short on the number of Criterion Collection DVDs in the eyes of the movie gods? (Ed Zurga / AP)

Identifying traits: Guaranteed not to be found wanting in the Criterion Collection department, the cinephile most commonly can be found frequenting art houses and coffee shops, dissecting the narrative subtext of the latest offering from a director you’ve never heard of who hails from a country you didn’t know existed.

Shopping list: Nothing warms a film buff’s heart like the opportunity to rediscover a neglected classic, which is why the must-have item for the hard-core cinéaste this season is the double-disc edition of Charles Burnett’s 1977 debut feature, “Killer of Sheep” (New Yorker/Milestone, $39.95), a seminal independent film that had been previously unavailable on home video because of trouble with music clearances. The set also contains more of Burnett’s slices of working-class African American life, in the form of several early short films and the equally superb (and equally hard to find, until now) 1983 feature “My Brother’s Wedding.”

For those who prefer European cinema revolutions to American ones, Criterion is offering its usual roster of must-own foreign-film sets, including Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 French New Wave classic “Breathless” (Criterion, $39.95), a jarring and romantic meditation on movie stereotypes, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1980 German TV miniseries “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (Criterion, $125.95), which spends more than 15 hours exploring the late ‘20s Weimer Republic and expressing Fassbinder’s belief that people are, fundamentally, just plain awful. ()

Identifying traits: Sees every event movie on opening day -- has been known to wait outside theaters in portable lawn furniture to make the first screening. Owns one of the following objects: a replica light saber, a pair of Vulcan ears or a colorful superhero costume, possibly homemade.

Shopping list: Esoterica is all well and good, but everyone needs the occasional hunk of cheese to go with their fine wine. And sometimes the processed stuff tastes best. Plenty of last summer’s blockbusters are available on DVD this holiday season, including “Pirates of the Caribbean -- At World’s End: Two-Disc Limited Edition” (Disney, $34.99), for those who want to savor Johnny Depp’s last (?) turn in the iconic role of Capt. Jack Sparrow. Also available: “Spider-Man 3" (Sony, $28.97), with three villains lined up to distract Peter Parker from his always turbulent love life; “Transformers” (DreamWorks, $29.99), with giant robots knocking the lug nuts off of other giant robots; and “Live Free or Die Hard” (Fox, $29.99), with Bruce Willis proving that an old guy kicking butt can be a special effect in and of himself. (Stephen Vaughan / Associated Press)

Identifying traits:More cable channels than anyone else on the block; a DVR technologically incapable of holding any more shows; a preternatural ability to remember any change to the prime-time lineup

Shopping list: Full-season sets of popular TV shows are for wimps. Serious fans -- or at least those with a spare $200 or $300 lying around -- are interested only in complete sets of their favorite series: “Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset” (A&E, $144.95); the fast-talking mother-daughter bonding of “Gilmore Girls: The Complete Series” (Warner, $258.82); the wry animated comedy of “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist: The Complete Series” (Paramount, $139.99). The longer the writers’ strike looms, the more people need the reassurance of TV shows that won’t go on indefinite hiatus. (Mark Liddell / The CW)

Identifying traits: Can recite “Casablanca.” Verbatim. Also is quite likely to own at least one copy of virtually every film starring Julia Roberts.

Shopping list: Some couples get turned on by poetic intimations of doom, like those that shoot through Terence Malick’s achingly gorgeous “Days of Heaven” (Criterion, $39.95), a languid drama about a turn-of-the-last-century love triangle. Others like their love to be “like a storybook story,” in which case only the dry comedy and mushy romance of William Goldman and Rob Reiner’s fairy-tale pastiche “The Princess Bride: 20th Anniversary Edition” (MGM, $19.98) will suffice. Wacky high jinks scored by canned laughter? There are the farcical follies of “Love, American Style: Season One, Volume One” (Paramount, $31.99). But any romantic is sure to swoon for the sweetly melancholy Irish rock musical “Once,” which chronicles the love affair between two performers in Dublin (Fox, $29.99). (Clive Coote / Twentieth Century Fox)

Identifying traits: Often found in his native habitat, the wood-paneled den lined with bookshelves, the history buff possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the Civil War, World Wars I and II and professes a fondness for tweed jackets with patches at the elbows.

Shopping list: There’s nothing that amateur and professional historians alike enjoy more than big blocks of research material, and this season brings a plethora of well-packaged, endlessly rewarding, doorstop-heavy box sets. The obvious choice is “The War” (PBS, $129.99), Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s popular PBS docu-series about WWII’s impact at home and abroad. Less obvious but still impressive, “Ford at Fox” (Fox, $299.98) rounds up 24 films by the legendary director John Ford, including such classics as “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Young Mr. Lincoln,” “Drums Along the Mohawk,” “The Iron Horse” and “My Darling Clementine.” Along the same lines, “Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film” (Image, $89.99) continues the essential work of retrieving buried gems of early cinema from film archives around the country; this set focuses on vintage shorts, docs and features that deal with feminism, integration, racism, crime and labor. Or for those who like their history as seen through the eyes of a kid in a dusty hat, there’s “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Volume One & Volume Two” (CBS/Paramount, $129.99 ea.), which features every episode of George Lucas’ groundbreaking early-'90s TV series. The Lucas team used then-fledgling CGI technology to thrust its boy hero into encounters with famous historical figures, from Pancho Villa to Sigmund Freud, presenting solid scholarship with a heaping side of derring-do. Fedora sold separately. (National Archives / PBS)

Identifying traits: A serious devotee of all things hand-drawn and computer-rendered, the animation fanatic cannot have a conversation without mentioning that Brad Bird’s “The Iron Giant” is the most underrated movie in all of filmdom. Has attended multiple showings of “Beowulf” and usually produces the most artful doodles during lengthy staff meetings.

Shopping list: Disney is offering two DVD sets that cover the history of the animation medium from start to finish. “Walt Disney Treasures: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” (Disney, $32.99) collects a long-buried series of silent shorts produced by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks in the late ‘20s, just before Disney’s creation of Mickey Mouse. Meanwhile, “Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume One” (Disney, $29.99) traces the history of computer animation’s leading creative light, assembling 13 of the company’s beloved shorts. “Futurama: Bender’s Big Score” (Fox, $29.99) is the first in a series of made-for-DVD movies reviving “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening’s cult TV series. With simplified character designs and sophisticated sci-fi parody, “Futurama” holds fast to animation’s core values, showing that even at its most basic, the medium is limited only by the imagination. Where but in a cartoon would someone dare a plot like “The Planet Express crew fights to save the world from nudist alien Internet scammers”? (Pixar Animation Studios)

Identifying traits: Prizes irony above all else. Would rather use the holidays as a time to watch a trio of knuckleheads slap one another around on “The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 1: 1934-1936" (Sony, $24.96) than, say, drink eggnog or engage in any other traditional activities.

Shopping list: When it comes to the eccentric, the ethos is definitely the weirder, the better, and it doesn’t get much weirder than the three discs in “The Legends of the Poisonous Seductress Series” (Ryko/Synapse, $24.95 ea.), a collection of late-'60s Japanese films about a skilled swordswoman exacting bloody revenge on her enemies. With the possible exception of “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (Starz/Anchor Bay, $14.98), which casts Santa as an ax-wielding serial killer. On second thought, maybe a little tradition isn’t so bad after all. (American Movie Classics)