- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

Why are you reading this — when you should be out shopping? As long as you’re here, stay a moment to look over our critics’ top 5 entertainment gift suggestions. (Don’t be deterred by the list prices provided in parentheses below. Chances are you can do better online.)

Gary Arnold

• The Astaire-Rogers Collection, Volume 1 ($59.92) — The first DVD set devoted to the greatest dance team in movie history. It’s more potent than many fans expected because it includes four of their best RKO musicals of the 1930s — “Top Hat,” “Follow the Fleet,” “Swing Time” and “Shall We Dance” as well as the serendipitous reunion vehicle at MGM at the end of the 1940s, “The Barkleys of Broadway.”

• The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection ($89.85) — Seven discs with 24 hours of shorts or features from the Lloyd inventory, covering a period from 1916 to 1936 and including such daredevil classics as “Safety Last” and durable charmers including “The Freshman.”

• Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film, 1894-1941 ($99.99) — Another seven-disc whopper. It preserves 155 examples of experimental and abstract filmmaking from the first half-century of the medium. The quality ranges from rudimentary to sublime, but the sense of hands-on experimentation and individuality could prove freshly inspiring to moviegoers dissatisfied with film-industry duplication and predictability.

• Love Me or Leave Me ($19.97) — Starring as a popular singer of the 1920s, Ruth Etting, Doris Day withstood an overpowering performance by James Cagney in this 1955 MGM musical, now available on DVD from Warner Home Video. Try coupling it with “Young at Heart” ($14.98), which teamed Miss Day with the resurgent Frank Sinatra in an exceptionally effective remake of a vintage tear-jerker with John Garfield, “Four Daughters.”

• The Arnold Collection: a hand-picked best-of-2005 sampler, priced from about $17 to $20 each — Campbell Scott’s lovely New Mexico family idyll, “Off the Map”; Danny Boyle’s stirring comic fantasy about childish faith, “Millions”; Oliver Hirschbiegel’s powerful re-enactment of Hitler’s last days, “Downfall”; the New York schoolroom and dance-class documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom”; and the French excursion to penguin mating grounds in Antarctica, “The March of the Penguins.”

Scott Galupo

• Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run: 30th Anniversary 3 Disc Set ($39.98) — To paraphrase the Boss himself, you need to get lost in this flood. A crystalline remastering of Mr. Springsteen’s 1975 breakthrough album is accompanied by a 90-minute documentary — titled, after a “Thunder Road” lyric, “Wings for Wheels” — that chronicles the arduous recording process behind it. Present-day interviews with Mr. Springsteen (seen on solo piano for a look at “Born’s” nuts and bolts), producer Jon Landau and fellow E Streeters offer revealing insights into one of rock’s landmark LPs.

The highlight of this three-disc set, however, is “Hammersmith Odeon, London ‘75,” a full-length concert film that captures Mr. Springsteen and a natty-looking E Street Band at the dawn of their prowess.

• Can You Beat Ken? ($24.99) — That would be erstwhile “Jeopardy!” champ Ken Jennings, at 74 straight wins the TV trivia game show’s longest-running contestant. This board game includes 1,200 questions divvied up among categories that include sports, science, music and history. The first player to rack up $2.6 million — Mr. Jennings’ grand-total earnings — wins. According to CNN, “Ken” developers tested each question on Mr. Jennings himself and tallied his right and wrong answers. See for yourself, closet geniuses, how you stack up.

• Live 8 ($53.98) — For those who watched last summer’s Live 8 concerts on television, here’s your chance to actually see them. This handsome four-disc collection isn’t exhaustive — thank heaven for that — but it is a more-than-sufficient compendium of highlights. See Sting perform Police songs again and the Kaiser Chiefs bring the house down in Philly, and catch the long-awaited Pink Floyd reunion. Paul McCartney kicks off and ends the proceedings; a fourth disc serves up a grab bag of extras, including interviews with and rehearsal footage of Floyd.

• Office Space: Special Edition With Flair ($19.98) — All right, slacker. Where’s that TPS report we’ve been waiting for? Say again? You’re watching “Office Space” — again? Good choice. This reissue of the hilarious 1999 corporate satire includes deleted scenes, plus a retrospective with director Mike Judge.

• Billy Joel, My Lives ($59.98) — If it seems as if Long Island’s most famous piano man has fallen off the face of the earth, that’s because he hasn’t released a pop album since 1993. Mr. Joel said the September 11 attacks put him in an even worse creative funk. Maybe his marriage to 24-year-old Katie Lee will spice things up. Meantime, there’s this career-spanning boxed set, which houses four CDs and one DVD of demos, outtakes and live material. “I’ve done pretty well for Columbia Records,” Mr. Joel told Entertainment Weekly in the understatement of the holiday season.

Christian Toto

• IPod ($300) — The folks at Apple may have started a tiny TV revolution by creating a newer, smaller IPod with a robust 2.5-inch screen perfect for watching downloaded video. I haven’t watched so much as a minute of video yet. I’m still working on putting my record collection into this slick, ultraportable doohickey that’s lighter than its predecessors.

• House of Flying Daggers ($19.94) — This one comes with a caveat: Watch it on the biggest TV screen you can find. The film’s gorgeous cinematography deserves no less.

• Billy Idol’s Devil’s Playground ($18.98) — One of the year’s cheekiest surprises. The now 50-year-old punk poser unleashes an album that makes us feel as if it’s 1990 all over again. Sturdy rockers such as “World Comin’ Down” and “Romeo’s Waiting” can stand proudly next to any of that decade’s Idol hits.

• Madagascar ($29.95) — A few grouchy critics lumped this animated feature in with such slack fare as “Robots” and “Shark Tale.” Don’t make the same mistake. Children will roar over the slapstick, and their parents will relish the spot-on voices supplied by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock and a surprisingly funny David Schwimmer.

• Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated — The Naughty Early Years, Set Two (1972-1974) ($49.95) — The bawdy Brit’s bits aren’t nearly as saucy as they seemed at the time, but there’s no discounting Mr. Hill’s comic range. Don’t be surprised if his songs stick in your head. The set features 10 episodes of his Thames TV show, with some scenes never before seen stateside. The show’s second DVD set finds Mr. Hill and company hitting their stride and slapping poor Jackie Wright on his noggin to grand comic effect.

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