Netflix v. Cinema

It is mere days away from DIFF 2017. I’m finalizing the little details of films and guests, completing various excel sheets and google docs (it is amazing how a film festival may have functioned before google docs), and trying to figure out my two-week wardrobe (packing for Dallas in spring is one of the greatest challenges of travel I believe).

The experience of showing a film in a theater with an audience has been on my mind. I’m looking forward to being with a community of film lovers and meeting filmmakers and artists; being in a room with people who are ready to discover something new or different, to experience an escape, to share a moment of fear, excitement or thrill.

That’s why this IndieWire editorial by Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas co-founder and CEO Tim League refuting Netflix CEO Reed Hasting’s recent remarks about cinema hit home for me this week. I’m posting Tim League’s full editorial below.

It’s a great reminder about why you go to the movie theater, why you see a film at a festival and why the cinema is an experience that my colleagues and I work so hard to create for both the audience and the filmmaker. Netflix is an impressive side of the film industry, but as League says, it is not cinema.

Tim League Refutes Netflix’s Reed Hastings On Movie Theater Innovation

The founder of the Alamo Drafthouse has some issues with Netflix’s Hastings saying that the movie business hasn’t innovated in the last 30 years.

Netflix. It seems like every other interview I give asks me about the “threat” of Netflix. I’ll be blunt. Netflix doesn’t concern me, and I think it is obvious after last week that the cinema industry is of no concern to Netflix either.

We are in very different businesses.

Let me define those businesses.

Netflix is in the business of growing a global customer base by being the best value proposition subscription content platform.

And they are doing a great job. Their portal is stable, intuitive, cheap and delivers plenty of great, new content every month. They also provide a fantastic financial opportunity for both emerging and veteran storytellers. I stand in awe of the audience they have built and the wealth they have amassed in such a short time.

But here’s my business: Cinema. Cinemas are in the business of offering an incredible, immersive experience that you simply cannot duplicate at home. Our job is to put on a show and provide a great value proposition for getting out of the house, turning off your phone and enjoying great stories in the best possible environment. At our best, cinemas should also be local community centers with a real, tangible relationship to their surrounding neighborhood.

Last week, Reed Hastings once again dumped on my industry. He summarized the innovation of cinema in the past 30 years by saying, “Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it.” While our industry has not shown the vision and truly game-changing innovation of Netflix, Hastings’ antagonistic approach to cinema inadvertently exposes an underlying disrespect to the creators and auteurs that drive this entire machine.

Our best and most talented, passionate filmmakers vehemently do not want their films to be viewed first and foremost on a phone, on the train to work, while checking email, while chopping vegetables for the evening meal, on mute with subtitles while rocking a baby to sleep, or while dozing off before bed. The reality is, most Netflix content is being “consumed” in a less-than-ideal environment.

Great filmmakers create content to share their fully realized creations in a cinema with full, rich sound; bright, crisp picture and a respectful audience whose full attention is on the screen. And because of that, when courting filmmakers young and old to create content for their platform, I wish Netflix would consider the relationship with cinemas built by Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and Epix.

They all believe in cinemas as meaningful partners. They also respect those filmmakers who want meaningful theatrical engagements for their films. They believe in the promotional partnership that successful theatrical engagements can give to word of mouth, awards consideration, brand loyalty and ultimately maximized financial returns.

Amazon, for example, will be at CinemaCon next week building and strengthening their relationship with cinemas instead of tearing it down the week before.

I got into this business because I love movies. I hold the cinematic experience to be sacred, wonderful and these days even therapeutic.  I love the shared communal experience and the charged conversations I have after watching a movie in a cinema. I want to forge relationships with companies who truly love movies, too.

I do not believe that cinemas are owed or grandfathered into an exclusive window before movies are offered ostensibly for free on platforms such as Netflix. I contend that cinemas have earned, and must continue to earn, an exclusive window by providing the experience that directors desire as well as providing a significant financial benefit to producers and financiers.

To close, I’ll offer my flippant counter, as I was asked specifically to respond to Hastings’ remarks of last week. Until a meaningful relationship is forged with cinemas, Netflix is not making “movies.” They are instead funding exclusive-access commodities that help grow their subscriber base.

In “Lost in America,” Albert Brooks told his wife, after she lost their entire savings at the roulette wheel in Vegas, that she no longer had the right to use the term nest egg.

“Do me a favor,” he said. “Don’t use the word ‘nest egg’. You may not use that word. It’s off limits to you! Only those in this house who understand nest egg may use it! And don’t use any part of it, either. Don’t use ‘nest.’ Don’t use ‘egg.’ You’re out in the forest you can point, ‘The bird lives in a round stick.’ And you have ‘things’ over easy with toast!”

I, for one, would welcome the dialogue to forge a meaningful partnership for theatrical exhibition and promotion of select Netflix productions, but until we have that, I consider the term “movie” to be their “nest egg.”

But even as I pen this probably unjustifiably snarky retort, I will acknowledge some underlying truth to Reed Hastings’ words. We do, as an industry, need to invest in innovation. Cinema’s primary threat today is not Netflix; it is ourselves. We must continue to maintain high exhibition standards, invest in new sound and picture technology, improve the digital experience for our guests, develop innovative ways to delight our guests and ensure that we live up to our one job – make going to the cinema an amazing experience.

If we do that, we should be able to look back on another thirty years of limited innovation to our core product and say, “Job well done, we didn’t screw up what has always been and remains great about the cinema: the show itself.”

What do you think of his comments? Let me know in the comments!

Oscar predictions, 2017

Hello! As you may have noticed, this blog is in a bit of a transition. This spring has been an exciting one. Between a new client and a few personal huddles, life has been a little chaotic and it has kept me away from writing as much as I would like. In an attempt not to burn out on this project, I’m moving to one post a week (Tuesdays), plus the usual every-other-week Sunday. Thanks for sticking with me through this.

 

Awards weekend is this weekend and Los Angeles is abuzz with parties and street-closure traffic (aka avoid Hollywood at all costs). Since I’ve been in screening mode for a couple of clients, I haven’t seen all the award contenders. This is normal and I may or may not get to them over the summer. I still have a few predictions though.

Some will not be surprising if you’ve been reading this blog the last few months, others though are based on the industry-inside thoughts. Most years I am frustrated by the Oscars. Remember, it is big business and often you can see right through the politics and money of ad campaigns to the winners. Then there are those films or performances you think are deserving of the honors, which makes a win money well-spent. Hopefully we’ll see a few surprises and members who are in touch with today’s culture (no guarantee though).

Below are a few of my thoughts and predictions on the Oscars. You can find the full list of nominees here.

Best Picture
My vote: Moonlight
What will probably win: La La Land
Hollywood loves honoring itself. La La Land is also the escapism story that Hollywood always promotes. So don’t be surprised if La La Land wins. Moonlight will win if enough of the new Academy voters (who were added in an attempt for diversity and cultural relevancy after last year’s #OscarsSoWhite) really do make a difference and/or if Hollywood decides to make a statement to the current political climate. I also think Moonlight is a better film. So you know, there’s that.

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Moonlight (2016)

Best Director
My vote: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Who will win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Both men came from a festival upbringing. If you’ve made three films about white dudes playing jazz, of course you’re going to get better at directing them. I think Jenkins made the more interesting film this year and it would be wonderful to see him win. Lonergan is also in the mix though.

Actor, Leading Role
Who will win: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Most industry press talk about how this is up between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. The only film I’ve seen in this category is La La Land. I’m going with Denzel, because I think the Academy will think this is a safe choice.

Actress, Leading Role
Who will win: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Lionsgate and Stone’s publicity team have been working this for months. She’s the front-runner. If there’s an upset here, that would be fun.

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La La Land (2016)

Actor, Supporting
My vote/Who will win: Mahershala Ali  (Moonlight)
Again, I haven’t seen all the films in this category, but his performance was amazing. And he’s picking up many of the awards that lead to the big night. Another front-runner.

Actress, Supporting
Who will win: Viola Davis (Fences)
Another category where I haven’t seen all the films, but Davis seems to have the publicity train in her favor. Spencer has previously won, but could do a repeat. Williams is competition too.

Best Animated Feature
Who will win: Zootopia
Going with a blockbuster for this pick. Have you seen the DMV scene?

Best Documentary Feature
My vote/who will win: OJ: Made in America
Still my favorite doc of last year, but if you haven’t seen I Am Not Your Negro yet, get thee to a theater!

Best Cinematography
My vote: Bradford Young (Arrival)
Who will win: Linus Sandgren (La La Land)

Best Editing
Who will win: Tom Cross (La La Land)
This is how the Titantic-like sweep happens, but I’d love for an upset in one or two of these categories.

There are many more categories of course (original/adapted screenplay, score, makeup, costume!), but these are my highlights. If you’re interested in reading more predictions, both Indiewire and the Hollywood Reporter have their own lists to help with your party ballot.

What are your picks for the Oscars this year? Will you be throwing an Oscar party? I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

Movie & Menu: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

While today is all about your bestie, tomorrow you’ll have trouble avoiding all the pink and red hearts.

I’m not anti-Valentine’s Day. I’m actually a hopeless romantic, but I think love is complicated. It’s full of messy emotions and memories. It makes you the best person and sometimes the worst person.

There are dozens of amazing romantic movies. I think, by far, one of the greatest is Casablanca (which I’ve written about before). When considering what romance film to write about this week, I was drawn to one I frequently revisit: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I first saw this movie while in college. I remember being blown away by the opening scenes – it is bold and unique. I remember being immediately curious about how the rest of the story would reveal itself. Many viewings later – knowing how it unfolds – I’m still memorized by it. There are many quotable lines from the film. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet shine as Joel and Clementine. Eternal Sunshine is the work of two brilliant people (director Michele Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman) coming together to make something purely magical. This kind of film is rare and something to cherish.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

It is a story of intimacy and love entangled in our memories. Love so powerful that choosing to erase someone and escape the pain of being without them is a better option. That choice creates a peculiar void and deep down something seems off. This film beautifully shows how love is messy and not perfect. How our heart beats faster with each memory of a shared intimate moment. Many romance films show moments of passion and heartbreak, but Eternal Sunshine goes deeper than that. It encourages us to share all of our messy feelings with the person we love: the fear, the sadness, the frustration, the anger, the joy and the laughter. And, in one of my favorite exchanges in the film, reminding us to enjoy it.

I recommend getting some Asian take-out and settling in for the night. Whether or not you’re with the one you love, enjoy those precious memories of romance.

What are some of your favorite romance movies? What scenes from Eternal Sunshine stick with you the most? Would you erase someone from you mind if you could?

Watch Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
on Netflix, Amazon or iTunes

Movies & Menu: Moulin Rouge! (2001)

2016 has been a mixed bag. The highs were very high (Getting married! Seeing Radiohead from the front row!) and the lows have been..pretty low (health issues, job issues, the election blues…). There have been more of them than I’d like to think about.

I watched Moulin Rouge! recently and I think it’s a great film to end this year on. The characters share the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s also a lovely way to honor one of the (too many) artists we lost this year, David Bowie.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Moulin Rouge! is a story of truth, beauty, freedom and love. In the late 1800s, a poor poet (Ewan McGregor) moves to bohemian Paris and falls in love with a courtesan (Nicole Kidman). They must hide their love from a jealous duke, who funds their new play at the infamous Moulin Rouge night club.

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Moulin Rouge! (2001) presented by 20th Century Fox

I saw this film the first time when it was originally released. Similar to experiencing Luhrmann’s previous film Romeo + Juliet, I watched in awe as this creative, sensory feast unveiled before me. My heart jumped in delight with the very first frame: a conductor on-screen setting the mood and opening curtains for the studio logo. Until seeing R+J and Moulin Rouge!, I had never seen a film cut so quickly (I wasn’t as well versed in action films or Michael Bay at the time). The crosscutting as the Moulin Rouge club is first introduced and, later, the “El Tango de Roxanne” scenes are particular highlights and favorites. I remember a wave of excitement each time a new pop song weaved into a scene. Many viewings later and I still singing along loudly to this film (and know most of it by heart from my endless days of listening to the soundtrack). If you’ve had a rollercoast of a year like me, then I would recommend coming back to Moulin Rouge!, singing along and let the feelings flow. (If you live in Seattle, then you should hang out with the good folks at SIFF and do it up right on New Years Eve!)

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Moulin Rouge! (2001) from 20th Century Fox

While watching this dazzling musical, I suggest making yourself a stiff and spectacular Sazerac. The Sazerac is a well-known drink in New Orleans (and you can read more about the history on the Esquire link below). Absinthe is the fun addition to this cocktail and it, of course, makes an appearance in Moulin Rougeas the poet and his bohemian friends celebrate with the green fairy.

What do you remember feeling when you first saw a Baz Luhrmann film? What’s your favorite scene in Moulin Rouge!?

Cheers to a new year!
2017, I’m ready for you.

Sazerac
Recipe from Esquire

Ingredients

1 Sugar Cube
2 1/2 oz. (GOOD) rye whisky
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angostura Bitters
absinthe
lemon peel
old-fashioned glass

  1. In an Old-Fashioned glass (not a mixing glass; it’s part of the ritual), muddle a sugar cube with a few drops of water.
  2. Add several small ice cubes and the rye whiskey, the Peychaud’s bitters, and the Angostura bitters.
  3. Stir well and strain into a second, chilled, Old-Fashioned glass in which you have rolled around a few drops of absinthe until its inside is thoroughly coated, pouring off the excess.
  4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
Moulin Rouge! on iTunes, Amazon, add to Netflix queue.
– Or support your local video store!

Merry Christmas!

One of the movies I loved watching as a kid, teenager (and, cough, as a young adult when I came home from college) was our home-VHS-recording of A Muppet Family Christmas (1987). Have you seen it? It’s the best.

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I loved the Muppets growing up (still do) and this brought ALL of them together for one program – characters from Sesame Street, The Muppet ShowFraggle Rock and Muppet Babies! It’s a holiday miracle!

I’m posted the opening clip from this childhood holiday favorite below. You can search (and not too hard I might add) for the full version of this TV movie if you haven’t seen it. Hopefully one day it will be released online for purchase (so I can support the art and entertainment I love). Until then…

I hope you have a wonderful holiday!
(And mind the icy patch!)

Film Festival Highlights: Sundance 2017

December means the end of a festival season. While films are being pushed by studios and distributors for the awards season, a new crop of films are announced for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. As films are bought (or not) they will be rolled out over the course of the new year and festival circuit.

December is also a time of anticipation as Sundance spends the first two weeks announcing their lineup. As a curator, it’s exciting to see what projects you’ve heard about or tracked over the past few months (and sometimes years) will have their premieres in Park City. The 2017 festival seems to have many great films in store for us.

Sundance has announced most of their titles and you can dig into the full lineup through their press releases: the competition films, New Frontier, Premieres/Midnight/Family and Shorts. These are a few of the new competition titles I’m excited to see:

US Narrative Feature Competition

  • Crown Heights / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ruskin) — When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to proving Colin’s innocence. Adapted from This American Life, this is the incredible true story of their harrowing quest for justice. Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom.
    Quick thoughts: Always down for a film adaptation from TAL.
  • The Hero / U.S.A. (Director: Brett Haley, Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Marc Basch) — Lee, a former Western film icon, is living a comfortable existence lending his golden voice to advertisements and smoking weed. After receiving a lifetime achievement award and unexpected news, Lee reexamines his past, while a chance meeting with a sardonic comic has him looking to the future. Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross
    Quick thoughts: Haley’s last film, I’ll See You In My Dreams, also premiered at Sundance and was the opening night film at DIFF. Any film that can pair Sam Elliott and Nick Offerman is on my list.
  • The Yellow Birds / U.S.A. (Director: Alexandre Moors, Screenwriters: David Lowery, R.F.I. Porto) — Two young men enlist in the army and are deployed to fight in the Iraq War. After an unthinkable tragedy, the returning soldier struggles to balance his promise of silence with the truth and a mourning mother’s search for peace. Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, Jennifer Aniston.
    Quick thoughts: David Lowery is multi-talented and an old filmmaking friend. Always interested to see his work.

US Documentary Feature Competition

  • Casting JonBenet / U.S.A., Australia (Director: Kitty Green) — The unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains the world’s most sensational child murder case. Over 15 months, responses, reflections and performances were elicited from the Ramsey’s Colorado hometown community, creating a bold work of art from the collective memories and mythologies the crime inspired.
    Quick thoughts: Green’s previous work includes an amazing short film called The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul. I heard about this doc when I programmed that short a few years ago and have been looking forward to it ever since hearing the premise.

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    Casting JonBenét (2017)
  • City of Ghosts / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Heineman) — With unprecedented access, this documentary follows the extraordinary journey of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”—a group of anonymous citizen journalists who banded together after their homeland was overtaken by ISIS—as they risk their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today.
    Quick thoughts: Been a fan of Heineman’s work for several years, having programmed his previous two docs. If you haven’t seen Cartel Land yet, then add it to your queue to watch ASAP.
  • Dina / U.S.A. (Directors: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini) — An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story.
    Quick thoughts: I saw this as part of my consulting work for Sundance. It’s a beautiful story of intimacy and love. Put it on your must-see list.

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    Dina (2017)
  • The Force / U.S.A. (Director: Pete Nicks) — This cinema verité look at the long-troubled Oakland Police Department goes deep inside their struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson and an explosive scandal.
    Quick thoughts: Topical film from the director of another great doc, The Waiting Room.
  • Unrest / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Brea) — When Harvard PhD student Jennifer Brea is struck down at 28 by a fever that leaves her bedridden, doctors tell her it’s “all in her head.” Determined to live, she sets out on a virtual journey to document her story—and four other families’ stories—fighting a disease medicine forgot.
    Quick thoughts: I’ve been tracking this film for a few months. Having dealt with odd health issues myself, I’m sure this film will hit home with me.

World Documentary Feature Competition

  • Motherland / U.S.A., Philippines (Director: Ramona Diaz) — The planet’s busiest maternity hospital is located in one of its poorest and most populous countries: the Philippines. There, poor women face devastating consequences as their country struggles with reproductive health policy and the politics of conservative Catholic ideologies.
    Quick thoughts: Docs about women and healthcare – I’m all about it.
  • Tokyo Idols / United Kingdom, Canada (Director: Kyoko Miyake) — This exploration of Japan’s fascination with girl bands and their music follows an aspiring pop singer and her fans, delving into the cultural obsession with young female sexuality and the growing disconnect between men and women in hypermodern societies.
    Quick thoughts: Another film topic I’m always interested in: exploring the issue of female sexuality.

NEXT Competition

  • A Ghost Story / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — This is the story of a ghost and the house he haunts. Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo, Rob Zabrecky, Liz Franke.
    Quick thoughts: Lowery and company snuck in the production of a strange little film back in Texas (amongst finishing and a publicity tour for Pete’s Dragon)Very excited for this team to be back in Park City with a new film.

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    A Ghost Story (2017)
  • Person to Person / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Dustin Guy Defa) — A record collector hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager bears witness to her best friend’s new relationship and a rookie reporter, alongside her demanding supervisor, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner. Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Philip Baker Hall, Bene Coopersmith, George Sample III.
    Quick thoughts: Dustin Guy Defa has been on the circuit with short films for a while. Excited to see his second feature-length film.

 

What are some of the Sundance films you’re excited about? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Gift Guide for the Movie Lover

Earlier this week I shared some of my favorite gift ideas for the foodie in your life. Today, I’m back with ideas for your favorite movie lover.

For this particular list, I’ve included a few “experience” gifts. I think those are often the most fun to give to someone because it creates memories and stories to share later. Here’s a few ideas to help you find the perfect gift:

A membership or gift certificate to a local arthouse cinema. You may have heard a particular theater name dropped by your movie fan before, but in case you need a little help finding that arthouse theater check out the lists here or here. This is a great stocking stuffer!

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Castro Theatre, San Francisco

A next level gift to effect is buying a pass to a film festival they’ve always wanted to attend (or the flight that will help them get there). Sundance may be too hard to organize this late in the year (typically finding a place in Park City is difficult by mid-December), but there are several great regional festivals in the spring, summer or fall that are options too. Granted this particular gift may include a discussion before you buy a flight or pass for someone, but I promise this get-a-way trip will be an experience they won’t soon forget!

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SIFF Cinema Uptown, Seattle

A membership to a local film society. There’s not a full organized list online, so your best bet is to google the person’s city plus “film society” or “film festival”. That should help you find the non-profit in that area that has a mission to promote film and art. (If you need help finding a good one, email me.) This is a gift that’s both fun and feel-good. Many of these non-profit orgs do specials around the holidays for just such gifts!

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The Graduate (1967)

Blu-rays are always an option, but the trick is picking the right film. It’s all a matter of knowing taste, both yours a gift giver and theirs as a gift receiver. I think you can never go wrong with gifting a few classics like Casablanca,  Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate, or the James Bond collection.

An alternative to the blu-ray: a gift card for streaming service through iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, HBOGo, SundanceNow (for the doc fans) or TCM/Criterion’s FilmStruck. Films are increasingly moving to these online services, so while it’s not the most fun gift to open it’s the reality of how most people are watching their movies.

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Napoleon Dynamite poster, Etsy

Film art and posters! The options here are endless. You could go with something classic like Sunset Boulevard or The Apartment. Or try something a little different, like a minimalist original design. Mondo is one of the more famous stores for this, but you can also find an assortment on Etsy: Ghostbusters, Funny FaceHarry Potter, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Napoleon Dynamite. Or even a “badly drawn” portrait of Orson Welles for that Citizen Kane fan!

Apple TV. We received this as a gift last year and it has been used far more than our blu-ray player ever since. The Amazon Fire is a decent alternative (though we rarely use the one I received for work). For someone that streams movies through Amazon over iTunes, it may be the one to get.

What have been your favorite movie gifts of the past?  What are you getting your movie lover this year? (Don’t worry, I won’t tell them!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Good luck with your holiday shopping!