Netflix and Spotify gift cards are the way forward this Christmas

Vouchers are not the most imaginative presents but you can be certain they will be used

Gillian Anderson stars in the fourth season of Netflix original The Crown as Margaret Thatcher.

Gillian Anderson stars in the fourth season of Netflix original The Crown as Margaret Thatcher.

 

Ho, ho, ho! The time has come to face up to certain unhappy realities about the decline of physical media. Over the last few years, the average punter has moved ever further away from things you can put on shelves.

You better check that your uncle actually owns a DVD player before buying him the excellent collection – all 10 series in a huge faux cigar box – of vintage cop show Columbo. Your niece, after opening the double-pack of Frozen and Frozen II, may reasonably wonder what to do with these odd silver disks. After all, she almost certainly watched Trolls World Tour, the first big theatrical release to go straight to stream during Covid, via an online rental service.

Vouchers are not the most imaginative of presents but you can, at least, be reasonably certain they will be used. It hardly needs to be said that Netflix is the daddy here. Gift cards for the service are easily available online and in actual shops. Suitably charged up, your family can look forward to incoming Netflix originals such as season four of The Crown – with Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher – and David Fincher’s Oscar-hungry Mank, focusing on the creation of Citizen Kane. A subscription to Disney+, the House of Mouse’s home on the small screen, will open up the only opportunity to see Pixar’s much-anticipated Soul this Christmas.

Fans of older films may, if they are feeling imaginative, include a list of suggested classics along with a gift card for Google Play. Available from Tesco and Game Stop, the vouchers allow access to one of the best rental libraries on the web. If you can’t find them on Christmas broadcast telly (and these days, you might not) All About Eve, The Searchers, Sunset Boulevard, The Philadelphia Story and To Catch a Thief are all there for a reasonable €3.99 or so. Once rented, the film can be watched on smart TVs via YouTube.

The Mubi streaming service was a success story of lockdown. Mounted in a beautifully designed interface for smart TV and PlayStation, the system offers an ever-changing selection of 30 curated films (plus a permanent library on the browser version): classics, oddball art films, new releases from the festival circuit. Gift subscriptions are available from mubi.com.

Should your pal still be wedded to the DVD then there was a wealth of strong new releases this year. Every home should have a copy of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. The contemporary classic is the first film in a language other than English to win the best picture Oscar and the first movie in 65 years to win that award and the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Everyone with a beating heart will enjoy Armando Iannucci’s take on The Personal History of David Copperfield. Pulling in vast audiences before lockdown, Leigh Whannell’s thrilling The Invisible Man, graced by another stonking performance from Elisabeth Moss, showed that the best horror adaptations need not cost an arm and a leg. The excellent, extra-packed DVD of Paul Duane’s Best Before Death, a hugely original documentary on Bill Drummond, offers a top-flight Irish option.

What about music?

This was the year in which, with her gorgeous dreamy Folklore, Taylor Swift won over even hard-line resisters, Fiona Apple scored ecstatic reviews for Fetch the Bolt Cutters and Bob Dylan charmed ageing fans and open-eared newcomers with Rough and Rowdy Ways. Once again, the voucher option is there. Gift cards for Spotify or Apple Music, the two giants of music streaming, will save friends and family dough on services to which they are surely already subscribed.

The vintage, large-scale music reissue is, however, one area that still offers serious options for physical gifts. There were treasures in all genres this year. No fan of Richard and Linda Thompson, aristocrats of English folk rock, will want to be without the lavishly presented eight-CD set Hard Luck Stories 1972-1982. Warner Records reissue of Prince’s Sign o’ the Times sets new standards for comprehensiveness: eight CDs or 13 vinyl LPs, including outtakes, alternative versions and live recordings, in a truly beautiful package (but beware, the tip-top set costs about €230). The five-disc reissue of New Order’s 1983 album Power, Corruption and Lies could hardly be more delicious to the eye. What else would one expect from veteran designer Peter Saville? All these seem, however, like mere trifles when set beside Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, the 24-CD (yes, you read that right) retrospective for The Divine Comedy, the pride of Fermanagh.

Going back further, Joni Mitchell enthusiasts – something we all should be – will be delighted to get hold of the long-anticipated Archives Volume 1: the Early Years, 1963-1967. Again, coming in at five CDs, it is a pricy option, but the six hours of previously unreleased home, live, and radio recordings are part of music history. If that’s a bit too sedate then lunge towards the four-CD 50th celebratory edition of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Not that the neighbours will thank you for it.

Writer and actor Mark O’Halloran’s go-to Christmas gift is Fawlty Towers.
Writer and actor Mark O’Halloran’s go-to Christmas gift is Fawlty Towers.

Mark O’Halloran’s thoughts

A proud native of Ennis, polymath Mark O’Halloran is known for writing and starring in Lenny Abrahamson’s seminal Adam & Paul. He has barely rested since. Paddy Breathnach’s Viva, for which he wrote the screenplay, was on the 10-title longlist for the best foreign film Oscar in 2016. His script for Rialto recently helped that film to acclaim at the Venice film festival.

“I would always get Fawlty Towers for somebody if I was buying them a DVD,” he says. “It is just absolutely perfect. It is perfect writing. It is cringey. It has this character that you feel for and have some sympathy for.” Mark puts in a good word for the home team by recommending a box of Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne’s brilliant British drama The Virtues. “I think it’s an amazing piece of work,” he says. Mark stars opposite Stephen Graham and Niamh Algar in that Channel 4 show. He is also another supporter of the cult streaming service Mubi. “I got it during lockdown because I thought I should watch some more world cinema. It’s a great resource,” he says. “At the same time I got into Real Housewives. So that was a contrast. Ha, ha!”

Rialto is currently available to stream.