It's a great feeling to watch people open the gifts you bought them. It's an even greater feeling to buy something cool and just keep it for yourself. Here are some of the season's best gifts in the four essential food-for-your-head groups: DVDs, video games, CDs, and books. Imagine the happiness they'll bring when somebody — maybe even you — unwraps them.
Alien Anthology(Twentieth Century Fox)
Six discs with all four Alien movies, plus a bunch of other cool stuff? Yes, please! The films get soggy after the first two genre-defining classics. But this massive Blu-ray set puts them in perspective with two discs of extras, including art galleries, screenplay drafts, and tons of behind-the-scenes footage. The HD transfers shed new light on all the dark, spooky corners.
Toy Story 3: Blu-ray Combo Pack(Walt Disney)
One of the year's best movies comes to your home just in time for the holidays in a four-disc (two Blu-rays, DVD, and digital copy) set. Of course the movie looks terrific in HD, but the extras — including the Day and Night short and an interactive game — are equally awesome. Better still, we can now watch the movie and bawl our eyes out without everyone staring.
The Hangover: Extreme Edition(Warner)
One of the decade's funniest movies gets super-sized, complete with both the unrated and theatrical versions. There's also commentary by the movie's stars and director, songs, a gag reel, an interactive tour of Vegas landmarks, and seven-plus minutes of Ken Jeong unchained. Plus, remember all those great photos from the end credits? There's a lot more of them now.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Complete Season Two(Lucasfilm/Warner)
The Cartoon Network hit got deeper and darker during its second season, pulling together storylines that lead up to the climactic purge that shook a galaxy far, far away. The three discs here (way more awesome in Blu-ray) gather all 22 episodes, as well as an extensive Jedi Temple Archives database of geeky stuff for fanboys. Best of all, Boba Fett returns!
DJ Hero 2(Activision)
The sequel to last year's game-changer (Guitars? They're so 2008) beefs up with a brand-new set list featuring tracks by Lady Gaga and Kanye West. There's also freestyle play, where you can spin, scratch, sample, and wikki-wikki-wikki all you want. Cooler still: Multiplayer mode lets you team up with another turntablist and singer for a real block party.
EA Sports MMA(EA Sports)
This bare-knuckle brawler for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 lets you play as famous fighters, but we prefer creating our own kick-ass dude and taking him through the ranks. You'll be mashing a lot of buttons if you want to execute the perfect winning move, but there are very few things in life as satisfying as hearing your opponent break after you land the perfect combo.
Fallout: New Vegas(Bethesda Softworks)
Fallout 3 was one of 2008's best. This sequel (for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) brings the action to Las Vegas — a perfect setting for the post-apocalyptic wastelands you'll be trudging through. Not much has changed with the story or gameplay; there's just more of it. This is role-playing at its most addictive. Sorta like Vegas, but without the all-you-can-eat buffets.
Rock Band 3(Harmonix/MTV)
Is this the best music game ever? It sure seems like it. Long after rhythm games lost their foothold, Rock Band strikes back with a terrific outing (for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the Wii) that features bigger drums, more vocals, and — drum roll, please — keyboards! All of which make the Cure, Devo, and Tears for Fears songs more awesome. Whip this, Guitar Hero.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II(LucasArts)
The follow-up to one of the best Star Wars video games continues the saga of Darth Vader's apprentice Starkiller. And like its predecessor, this game (for pretty much every system) puts much focus on storytelling. There aren't as many revelatory moments here, but Star Wars fans will love the narrative. Game fans will love the fluid play. Both will love the dual lightsaber battles.
The Essential Dixie Chicks(Open Wide/Columbia/Legacy)
Yes, they can get a bit hokey. And yes, they milked that controversy a little too much. And yes, we totally love them. This two-disc set collects 30 songs from the Chicks' four albums, and almost all of them tell stories about what it's like to live in the 2000s — as women, mothers, and artists. Their best songs were hits, but there are many buried gems in these wide open spaces.
Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Volume 9 — The Witmark Demos(Columbia/Legacy)
This fascinating two-disc document compiles four dozen never-released songs Dylan recorded in 1962 and 1964. It's just the singer with guitar, harmonica, and piano playing early versions of classics like "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Masters of War," and "Mr. Tambourine Man." There are plenty of songs you never heard before too, most of them political. Duh.Paul McCartney & Wings:
Band on the Run(MPL/Concord)
McCartney's best album, from 1973, gets the deluxe treatment here — three discs (two CDs, one DVD) loaded with his strongest post-Beatles material. The second CD includes different versions of songs from the first disc. The real gold is on the DVD, which includes old music videos and a look at the album-cover shoot with badass actors James Coburn and Christopher Lee.
Weezer: Pinkerton — Deluxe Edition(DGC/UMe)
You can thank Weezer's second album, from 1996, for kick-starting every single emo songwriter you've had to endure over the past decade. It's still a great record, amped up with B-sides, live cuts, and acoustic songs on this two-disc reissue. There's some bloat here, but the original album's 10 songs remain a core inspiration for anxious, zit-speckled kids across the nation.
Apple Records Box Set(Apple/EMI)
The Beatles released more than just their own records on their record label, as this 15-disc box reveals. They also got behind albums by fledgling singer-songwriter James Taylor, protégés Badfinger, and awesome-haired collaborator Billy Preston. All are from the late '60s and early '70s, and some are better than others — which explains why Apple didn't last long.
Mountains Come Out of the Sky: The Illustrated History of Prog Rock(Backbeat)
We love to make fun of prog-rock, for obvious reasons. But we also love staring at prog-rock album covers. Like, for hours. This book is loaded with pictures of guys with long, girly hair and rows and rows of decked-out synthesizers. It's also filled with lots of big colorful dragons and far-out galaxies that would look totally cool on the side of your van.
The Looney Tunes Treasury (Running Press)
This massive volume is like an interactive museum dedicated to the cartoon legends. All of them are here: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam. Treasury contains more than 200 artifacts, including original artwork and sketches. It's also stuffed with collector's items, like scripts, comic book covers, and a Tasmanian Devil mask. That's not all, folks.
A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett (Da Capo)
Barrett was Pink Floyd's original singer, a drug-popping space cadet who sang about cats, gnomes, and other things that were a million miles away from the dark side of the moon. He became a famous drug casualty, too whacked out to perform. Rob Chapman tells his tragic story with help from friends and the singer's work. And you thought The Wall was messed up.