Oy, it’s been a year. We’re beleaguered. Beaten up. Depressed by the economy, distressed by political dithering, swirled by tornadoes, slammed by hurricanes, shaken by earthquakes. Things must have been better, once — when we were blithely pre-supercommittee, pre-Sandusky, pre-Occupied. Right now we’re on our way to a blue Christmas even Elvis wouldn’t want to sing about.
But there’s unsurpassing joy in giving — and this year, more than ever, the best thing to give is joy itself. Where better to find it than in music, art, books and movies that transport us to sublime heights the real world can’t?We asked our critics for suggestions of bonbons from the worlds of pop culture and art, and they responded with gift ideas guaranteed to provide a flush of sensory pleasure, a glow of humanistic compassion — heck, maybe just an honest laugh.
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For pure cinematic pleasure, there’s nothing like a good food movie. And there have been so many through the years, from “My Dinner With Andre” to “Babette’s Feast” to “Chocolat.” But Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s 1996 comedy, about immigrant brothers trying to make it big in 1950s New Jersey, reaches the sublime.
Tucci and a pre-“Monk” Tony Shalhoub play the siblings, whose rivalry crescendos just as a dazzling Italian feast hits the table. Their silent reconciliation the next day is a masterpiece of physical acting at its most balletic. Eat first — or better yet, watch it curled up with a bowl of your favorite pasta.
What’s nearly as sensuous a pleasure as food in the movies? The Riviera, of course! Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 caper classic, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, shimmers and glides like the silk of her gowns, and the swank locales of the Cote d’Azur where they scheme and seduce provide a sunny vicarious getaway. Treat your giftee to Paramount’s restored Special Collector’s Edition DVD for spruced-up image and sound. Champagne.
Barry Levinson’s documentary about the all-volunteer Baltimore Colts marching band won’t just please the athletically minded. It will bring a smile (and maybe one or two well-earned tears) to the face of anyone with a beating heart. Levinson revisits Baltimore’s searing loss of its football team in 1984, then chronicles the band’s perseverance, wherein the musicians stayed together, played for their neighbors and finally had a pivotal role in bringing the Ravens — and professional football — back to Charm City.
If you happen to be in Baltimore on Dec. 9, you can catch “The Band That Wouldn’t Die” at Johns Hopkins at a 7 p.m. screening sponsored by the Maryland Film Festival (the better to see the Christmas lights in nearby Hampden). The film is also available on Vol. 1 of ESPN Films’ “30 for 30” DVD series, which makes a nifty boxed set for the sports fan on your list.
Aleksandr Sokurov’s deliriously imaginative 2002 film consists of one uninterrupted 96-minute shot that travels through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, where a series of fictional characters move through the immense collection in a mind-bending mix of history and real time. This unprecedented experiment in camerawork and narrative takes on the contours of a dream as the film’s protagonist encounters sundry historical figures against a dazzling backdrop of artistic masterpieces. A bracing, bravura escape from seasonal bah humbugs or humdrum daily life.