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Calendar's picks for your pickiest

Cover Story: A Gift Guide

December 16, 2004|Robert Hilburn; Kenneth Turan; Carina Chocano; Kevin Thomas; Christopher Hawthorne; Dan Neil; Christopher Knight; Booth Moore; Lewis Segal; Don Shirley; Don Heckman; Mark Swed; Paul Brownfield; Robert Lloyd; Susan King

Even with round-the-clock online shopping, it's getting down to the wire -- the final 180 shopping hours before Christmas. Surely there are names yet to be checked off your gift list. That father-in-law who has everything. The persnickety older sister. The college pal who dresses like a GQ model.

We're here to help. Weekend asked Calendar's writers and critics to assemble a selective list of gifts that should please film buffs, rock fans, TV addicts and the artistically inclined.

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Robert Hilburn

Pop music critic

Bright Eyes gift set

Conor Oberst, the guiding force behind this rock band from Omaha, Neb., may just be the best young songwriter in America, and he delivers his most compelling work yet in "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," an acoustic album due in January from Saddle Creek Records. In the CD, Oberst reminds you of the best of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Prine and Jackson Browne as he writes about youthful discovery -- touching on personal relationships, self-identity and even the war in Iraq. The single available now, "Lua," is a stark, poignant story about how what seems reasonable in a relationship (and life) in the evening can look insane by morning. I can't imagine anyone who hears it not counting the days until the full album arrives. My suggestion: Buy the single for the pop lover on your list, with a gift certificate for the full-length album.

Bright Eyes' "Lua" single, $4, and a $15 gift certificate for the "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" album at the record retailer of your choice.

'Chronicles Volume One'

For anyone who found Dylan's '60s novel "Tarantula" impenetrable, sitting down with another book by the greatest songwriter of the modern pop era might not sound like the best idea. But "Chronicles" proves to be a wonder: a series of reflections and outbursts that are beautifully crafted and consistently illuminating. He talks about the heady early days when he was so excited about making music that he didn't want to go to sleep at night, and then about the low spots decades later when he felt he was just riding on his reputation. He doesn't tell his story in conventional, chronological fashion, but Dylan has never been conventional. Volume Two, please.

Bob Dylan's "Chronicles Volume One," $24 at most bookstores.

Nirvana box set

Kurt Cobain's brilliance as a songwriter was that he could turn youthful insecurity and defiance into graceful and affecting art. As a result, Nirvana ranks among the greatest rock bands ever -- a group that was approaching a Beatles-like devotion among its hard-core followers when Cobain committed suicide in 1994. "With the Lights Out," a warm, revealing box set, uses three CDs and one DVD to chronicle Cobain's musical growth. Some of the music is frightfully raw, some disarmingly tender. Among the video footage: the first time Nirvana played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" live.

"With the Lights Out," $59.98, available at all music retailers.

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Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Krzysztof Kieslowski films

Perceptive, empathetic, enigmatic, Poland's Krzysztof Kieslowski was perhaps the greatest filmmaker of our time, someone who saw as deeply into the human condition as any director ever did. His untimely death at age 54 robbed us of the films he might have made, but now, for the first time, his earliest theatrical features are available on DVD and VHS.

Although Kieslowski is best known for his incomparable "Decalogue," a series of 10 one-hour films dealing with the Ten Commandments, he made five features before that. Four of them -- "The Scar" (1976), "Camera Buff" (1979), "No End" (1985) and "Blind Chance" (1987) -- are being brought out by Kino. Also available: 90-minute versions of two "Decalogue" segments.

Krzysztof Kieslowski on DVD and VHS, $29.95 each. Kino on Video. (800) 562-3330 or www.kino.com.

McFarland & Co. books

McFarland & Co. is more than a publisher, it is a way of life. Situated well off the beaten path in Jefferson, N.C., McFarland specializes in book-length studies on a mind-boggling array of subjects, things you wouldn't think anyone cared enough to write a book about. While "Reading Early Hammett," an examination of the stories before "The Maltese Falcon," fits in as traditional scholarship, where do you place "British Car Advertising of the 1960s"? Or "Yuengling: A History of America's Oldest Brewery"? The publisher's film titles are especially strong. "The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickland and the MGM Publicity Machine" looks at press relations in Hollywood's golden age, while "Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Dames" profiles independent actresses whose characters wouldn't be pushed around.

McFarland & Co. Inc., Publishers. (800) 253-2187 or www.mcfarlandpub.com.

Silent films

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