As the year draws to a close, we here at High-Def Digest are busy baking fruitcakes, mixing up nog, crashing holiday parties, and of course, fighting tooth and nail over the year's best releases. Today, Ken Brown steps up to the plate with his picks for the best Blu-ray titles of 2008.
Ho, ho, ho, dear readers! The holiday season is in full swing as savvy gift-givers rush from store to store, nabbing the perfect gifts for their loved ones, and nestling wrapped packages beneath a sparkling tree. However, with so many Blu-ray releases lining retail shelves, which ones are worth your hard earned, tightly budgeted cash? Which titles made the biggest impact over the course of this eventful year? What discs should you be excited to give your friends and family members on Christmas morning? Maybe we can help!
Without further ado, here are the High-Def Digest picks for the Best Blu-ray releases of 2008...
BAND OF BROTHERS
World War II has been mined by filmmakers ad nauseum, but talented individuals like those responsible for 'Band of Brothers' still manage to make the subject as stirring and inspiring as ever. Taking a cue from 'Saving Private Ryan,' the ten-part HBO miniseries focuses on everyday men sacrificing their lives to accomplish something extraordinary. This high-quality BD release is even better, offering a top notch transfer (marred only by slight DNR), booming audio, and an endless parade of standard and exclusive features. It should adorn everyone's collection.
Unless you've experienced the haunting visuals and unsettling music of 'Baraka,' this release probably isn't on your radar. Simply put, this documentary classic doesn't feature a single line of narration, but instead relies on astounding imagery to make piercing observations about the human condition. Boasting a gorgeous remastered presentation and atmospheric audio, this is exactly the kind of disc people should be tossing in their Blu-ray players to showcase the wonders of high definition. Do yourself the favor of discovering this beautifully unique film.
THE DARK KNIGHT
The most hype, the most buzz, the most anticipation, and the highest selling Blu-ray release of all time just so happens to surround one of the most unexpectedly complex and involving films of the year: 'The Dark Knight.' Christopher Nolan's return to the Batman franchise earns a striking video transfer, a pounding audio mix, solid extras, and some intriguing BD exclusives (including the option to generate your own content and commentaries). If you don't already have 'The Dark Knight' sitting on your shelf, you can bet someone who loves you is working to remedy the situation.
THE GODFATHER COLLECTION
Is anyone actually surprised to see 'The Godfather Collection' grace this list? The combination of three beloved films (two of which are classics in every sense of the word), three meticulous frame-by-frame remasterings, and three unbelievable audio/video upgrades, make this title a must-have release for any filmfan with a Blu-ray player. As if that weren't enough, Paramount has also included a wealth of supplemental material that covers the entire breadth of Francis Ford Coppola's mafia epic. Considering its low pricepoint and astronomical value, this one is a no-brainer.
Who would've thought a relatively unknown armored superhero would crush the box office competition to become one of the most successful comicbook adaptations of all time? 'Iron Man' turned out to be a blast, hurling wit, style, and pulse-pounding action into the same volatile pot. The studio made sure to impress when the film arrived on Blu-ray as well. A reference-quality transfer, a powerful audio track, and a slew of special features help Shellhead's Blu-ray bow edge past 'The Dark Knight's debut to become the best comicbook-adaptation release of the year.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
There's only room for one Tim Burton Blu-ray release in this list (Sweeney has been relegated to the "Best of the Rest" list below) and the honor goes to his 'Nightmare Before Christmas.' Not only is the film itself a timeless holiday classic, its Blu-ray release looks fantastic and puts previous DVD releases to shame. It even includes a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround track just to drive the point home. Add to that a healthy collection of supplemental content (culled from the standard and Collector's Edition DVDs) and you have one of the best animated releases of the year.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
It might be easy to neglect the year's earliest releases, but I'd be foolish to overlook this startlingly unpredictable crime thriller from the Coen Brothers. While it divided audiences and left quite a few completely out in the cold, its characters, plot development, and structure were a breath of fresh air for many cinefiles. Its Blu-ray release was an even bigger surprise. Reference level audio and video helped it overcome an underwhelming supplemental package and emerge as one of the earliest must-have discs of 2008. Thankfully, it's never too late to discover this one.
THE SAND PEBBLES
Emerging as the year's dark horse Blu-ray release, Steve McQueen's 'The Sand Pebbles' was lost in the shuffle when it was released alongside a juggernaut named 'Patton' and other well-known catalogue war classics. However, the film's modern tone and performances, along with the disc's dramatically faithful video transfer, masterful DTS HD Master Audio remix, and involving special features, allowed this release to establish itself as the best of the bunch. Ignore the cover art, resist any hesitation, and immerse yourself in this one before you forget about it again.
Disney has always held their timeless masterpieces in high regard and that pride extends to their first traditionally-animated catalogue release, 'Sleeping Beauty.' Not only did the studio deliver a reference quality video transfer and DTS HD 7.1 lossless audio, but the BD producers took full advantage of everything the format has to offer with countless extras and notable exclusive features. More importantly, Disney successfully married one of their oldest, most beloved classics to cutting edge, home video technology to produce a disc other studios should be jealous of.
You have to hand it to the folks at Pixar. Year after year, they tackle tough challenges, push boundaries, and make us reconsider what children's animation can accomplish. As if it weren't difficult enough to take a cooking rat and craft his tale into one of the best movies of 2007, Pixar gives us 'Wall•E' and shows that a throwback to silent-era filmmaking can result in one of the best movies of 2008. The Blu-ray edition is even better, delivering 5-star reference-level video and audio quality, and bonus features all around. This is easily 2008's best BD release.