The Can't-Miss List

No time to think: Get this season's fail-safe gifts.

The Biggest Little Remote-Controlled Car.

Want to buy a Mini Cooper but hate that long waiting list to get one? Scale down your ambitions—say, to about 4.5 millimeters—and buy Nikko's iRacer infrared-directed Mini Cooper ($29.99 at Toys R Us), the world's teensiest remote-controlled mass production toy car. Warning: These have been selling even faster than they race, so call ahead to find a store that still has one. And settle for another model if you must.

The Little Black Dress

You'd think something as classic as the LBD, something every saleswoman assured me every woman needs at least one more of, would be so straightforward there would be, essentially, one style available, like the original Ford motorcar. You'd be wrong: As I kept looking, LBDs morphed before my eyes into ever-more-expensive, ever-nicer varieties. How can women stand it? Ralph Lauren alone offered at least three tempting alternatives: the Jackson Hole, the Metropolitan, and the Thoroughbred, each $139, marked down to $70. And yet Lance Karesh's LBD ($218) was funkier, and Misook's LBD ($278) was cooler looking, a stretchy knit you can crumple with impunity. Helmut Lang's ($800, marked down to $469) looked like something you'd wear to appear on Sprockets, Mike Myers' imaginary German avant-garde TV show; Laundry by Shelli Segal's triangle-hemmed LBD ($195) had the loveliest piano-shawl fringed bottom. Charles Chang-Lima's LBD was the prettiest, flutteriest LBD I ever saw (at Nordstrom)—and at $630, it had better be. If I'd had the courage to buy Amazon stock a year ago at $4, Charles Chang-Lima is the LBD I would've bought.

The Karaoke Kid

There are more audiophonically exquisite devices than the Singing Starz Video Karaoke Machine (list price $79.99 at Southcenter KB Toys), but the whole point is, your child (say, ages 6 to 46) wants to be a rock star on MTV. This gizmo lets you control the volume, tempo, echo effect, and, most important, the built-in camera, so she or he can watch the resulting video ad infinitum.

The Big Fat Novel

Jonathan Franzen? Please, he's more over than Oprah. And let's just let Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones rest in peace. The hippest doorstop novel you can give this year is Ian McEwan's Atonement (Doubleday, $26). It's a duplicitously old-fashioned big book from a guy long noted for macabre yet sort of cold-and-narrow masterpieces like Enduring Love (which lit folks think should've won the all-important Booker Prize instead of the lesser Amsterdam—and they think both should've lost to Atonement). Atonement takes McEwan deep into Austen/Woolf country, and it takes you from the old English country-house scene of the 1930s to the scarier-than- Private Ryan war zone of Dunkirk to 1999, when the cataclysmic consequences of one day in 1935 become clear at last. It's also got a top-secret surprise at the end.

The Big Mass-Market DVD

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Platinum Series Extended Edition Collector's Gift Set, $79.92 list, less online): If you bought the original DVD, which is the same movie that screened in theaters, you are an idiot. This version includes a half-hour of the movie theatergoers never saw. As a gift, this one probably beats the regular Platinum Series DVD, because it's got the making-of documentary National Geographic Beyond the Movie and two bookends in the shape of the Argonaths, those giant stone figures holding their palms up.

The Big VHS Video

Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy (Widescreen Edition, $39.98 list, available for less): The only scary part is, the trilogy that made Michael J. Fox immortal is infuriatingly not for sale until mid-December, so there is some danger that it won't arrive in time for Christmas. So maybe you should get the 10-episode Band of Brothers or the remarkably sexy unrated version of Y Tu Mam᠔ambi鮼/I> (And Your Mother Too) instead.

The Best Movie Ever Made in the Best Edition Ever Made at the Best Price Ever Offered

After understandably gouging consumers last year on its eye-poppingly wonderful DVD Citizen Kane (Special Edition), Warner Home Video dropped the price this year to $26.99 (available for less). Everyone must have it, not only to see the film clearly, but to get the brilliant Roger Ebert commentary you used to have to sign up for his Floating Film Festival cruise to hear, and to see the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane (which was nominated for the Oscar and would've won if the chronically, comically incompetent documentary category was not incurably addicted to Holocaust dramas and the drama of its own micropolitics).

The Best TV Comedy That Nobody But Your Gift Recipient Will Receive

Sure, everybody's buying Friends—but the newest one you can buy in the United States is the second season. To be truly cool, go to and buy all eight of the completed seasons! If the site says the DVD is available within 24 hours, that means you can get it to Seattle within three days by choosing Priority Express delivery, so one Friends season will cost you, with quickie shipping, $125.23. You'll need to also buy a PAL player to play them on. But think how prestigious you'll be!

The Striped Scarf

Warning: Youth fashion is a wilderness wherein the clueless are devoured by wolves. So don't even try to make complicated guesses about what young people would like—just buy them striped scarves. How far wrong can you go? For Abercrombie zombies, try the 40 percent wool/30 percent nylon/30 percent acrylic scarf ($29.50). Or Urban Outfitters' acrylic striped scarf ($14). Or the Gap's scarves in three stripe widths: Mini-Stripe, midsized Winter Stripe (Rainbow is my fave, but who cares what I think?), and Mega-Stripe (all $34).

The Plane! The Plane!

The thing to stress to the recipient of the Air Hogs Radio-Controlled Intruder ($69.99 at FAO Schwarz), equipped with an onboard computer, is that its top speed is (at scale) 400 miles an hour. The scale is 1:24, so it's not actually going 400 miles an hour, but a kid can dream.

The Interactive Game

There can be only one present this year, if your beloved is an over-18 Playstation fan and you want to stay healthy: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City ($49.99). To play it is to check your conscience at the door, step into the circa-1986 world of Miami Vice, and walk in the cool shoes of a hood- lum voiced by Ray Liotta. Can you make a porno fortune while driving at breakneck speed, leading cops on a merry chase down sleazy alleys, and murdering as many people as you can? I thought you could! A word to Church Lady types who cluck at such entertainment: Listen, we can watch Schwarzenegger movies without converting to mass murder or Republicanism—why do you think we can't handle interactive games without turning into Goodfellas?

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