The Most Impressive Titles of 2008

Posted Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 12:00 PM PST by

Ken Brown wraps up his year end review by handing out awards for the most impressive Blu-ray releases, category by category...

Whether you were burned by HD DVD's overnight disappearance or excited by the end of the so-called format war, you have to admit 2008 has been a great year for high-def enthusiasts of all stripes! Yes, a respectable format bit the dust and yes, many consumers were initially left out in the cold, but the declaration of a definitive winner paved the way for hundreds of new titles, dozens of innovations and creative exclusives, and a much-needed price drop for both releases and hardware. So as you begin plotting your post-Christmas purchases and giftcard cash-ins, you may be wondering... what titles are worth my hard-earned cash?

We already honored the Top Ten releases of the year, but we thought it would be fun to dig in and look at which titles sported the best video, audio, supplements, and more. So read on as we present The Most Impressive Titles of 2008...



In an extremely tight race with some serious contenders, 'The Incredible Hulk' squeezed past every other new release with a gorgeous, jaw-dropping transfer. While its CG-laden visuals aren't quite as stirring as 'No Country For Old Men's gritty and realistic cinematography, Ed Norton and company stormed past the competition with a perfect, reference quality transfer.

Runner Up: No Country for Old Men
Honorable Mention: Doomsday, Enchanted, Eastern Promises, The Fall, I Am Legend, Iron Man, The Orphanage, Rambo, Saawariya, Speed Racer, Sunshine, There Will Be Blood, Transformers, Tropic Thunder, and Wanted

BEST TRANSFER -- RECENT RELEASE (Three years or older)

Arguably the finest transfer of the year, 'I, Robot' looks absolutely fantastic in high definition. Vibrant colors, a crystal clear image, and razor sharp detailing made this March release an early 2008 juggernaut that other more criticially-acclaimed titles simply couldn't dethrone. Sure, the movie itself isn't for everyone, but a flawless picture goes a long way.

Runner Up: The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Honorable Mention: The 6th Day, Hulk, Kill Bill 1 & 2, Man on Fire, The Mummy Returns, Ocean's Eleven, The Proposition, The Rookie, and U-571

BEST TRANSFER -- CATALOG TITLE (Ten years or older)

You may not think a black and white classic from the '40s could outclass impressive releases like 'The Sand Pebbles,' 'Dr. No,' and 'Baraka,' but you'd be dead wrong. 'Casablanca's Blu-ray debut boasted a stunning transfer that looks as if it were minted yesterday. Detail is revealing, contrast is spot on, and the print appears to be in immaculate shape. Simply beautiful.

Runner Up: The Sand Pebbles
Honorable Mention: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Baraka, Batman: The Movie, Bonnie & Clyde, Bottle Rocket, Casino, Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Gattaca, Live and Let Die, The Lost Boys, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Thing


In another close contest, 'Kung Fu Panda' managed to steal top honors from some very deserving competition. Its bristling fur, lush primaries, inviting contrast, and faultless blacks look exceptional, and never exhibit a hint of artifacting, noise, or banding (an animated transfer's primary pitfall). Granted, category leaders like 'Wall•E' come really close, but it's Po that takes the prize.

Runner Up: Wall•E
Honorable Mention: Bee Movie, Bender's Game, Beowulf, Freedom, Horton Hears a Who, Ice Age, Madagascar, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Persepolis, Shrek the Third, The Simpsons Movie, Sleeping Beauty, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars


In what boils down to at least a ten-way toss-up, 'Wanted' emerges unscathed with a precise, powerful, and inarguably perfect DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that hits hard and never lets up. Its booming LFE support, tenacious rear speaker involvement, and effortless soundfield will yank you in and never let go. In a word, its outstanding.

Runner Up: Transformers
Honorable Mention: 30 Days of Night, The Bank Job, Cloverfield, The Dark Knight, I Am Legend, The Incredible Hulk, I Robot, Iron Man, Kill Bill 1 & 2, Kung Fu Panda, The Orphanage, Rambo, Redbelt, The Ultimate Matrix Collection, and Wall•E

BEST CATALOG AUDIO (Ten years or older)

Using newly-discovered 35mm 3-track recordings, Disney gave one of their most beloved classics a thrilling overhaul. Not only did the studio remix and reinvigorate 'Sleeping Beauty's audio, they did it with style. Better still, the resulting 24-bit DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 monster mix doesn't sound like an unnatural, over-processed gimmick. Bravo Disney, bravo.

Runner Up: Baraka
Honorable Mention: Casino, Crimson Tide, Dark City, For Your Eyes Only, Hidalgo, The Hunt for Red October, Independence Day, JFK, LA Confidential, Men in Black, Nixon, The Rock, Run Lola Run, The Sand Pebbles, and Twister


'Kung Fu Panda's video transfer may have stood a hair higher, but when you factor in 'WallE's almost equally impressive transfer with its astounding audio, extensive supplemental package, and exclusive features, the little robot that could nudges his way to becoming this year's animated winner. Heartwarming, gorgeous, resonant, and intriguing, it's a true, must-have disc.

Runner Up: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Honorable Mention: Bee Movie, Beowulf, Freedom Box Set, Horton Hears a Who, Justice League: The New Frontier, Kung Fu Panda, Persepolis, Shrek the Third, Sleeping Beauty, and Tinker Bell


I simply cannnot recommend 'Baraka' enough. Its haunting visuals will stick with you for a long time to come, its chilling soundtrack enhances and inhabits its breathtaking imagery, and its technical presentation is worth legitimate praise. Ironically, many will overlook this title in the holiday hustle and bustle. Stop putting it off and check out this classic documentary today.

Runner Up: When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions
More Digital Drivel: The BBC Natural History Collection, Ganges, Helvetica, Shine a Light, Standard Operating Procedure, and Step Into Liquid


Celine Dion may be devolving into a bizarre parody of herself, but there's no denying the fact that the Blu-ray edition of 'A New Day' is an exceptional release. A show-stopping video transfer, a reference quality audio package (with excellent TrueHD 5.1 and PCM 2.0 tracks), and nearly four hours of documentaries make this one the best of the best. If you're a fan, you can't go wrong.

Runner Up: The Police: Certifiable
Honorable Mention: Hannah Montanna & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds, Justin Timberlake: Live at Madison Square Garden, Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Concert, and Within Temptation: Black Symphony


I went back and forth between 'Band of Brothers' and 'Lost: The Complete Fourth Season' for a long time, but eventually decided to give my favorite cryptic survivors the edge. Rebounding from a season-hemming writer's strike, boldly changing the rules of their own game, delivering top notch video and audio, and giving me countless supplements to dig through? 'Lost' it is.

Runner Up: Band of Brothers
Honorable Mention: Damages: The Complete First Season, Firefly, Heroes: Season One, Mad Men: Season One, Pushing Daisies: The Complete First Season, Supernatural: The Complete Third Season, and Weeds: Season Three,


If you ever decide to drop enough cash to nab the 'Planet of the Apes: 40-Year Evolution Collection,' you won't be disappointed. Every glossy page of its 200-page hardcover insert, every nook of the study box, and every corner of this unexpectedly attractive box set screams "I'm worth every penny." I just wish I had the shelf space to display this one properly.

Runner Up: The Godfather Collection
Honorable Mention: Band of Brothers, Casablanca: Ultimate Collector's Edition, I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector's Edition, The Omen Collection,The Ultimate Matrix Collection, and Wanted: Deluxe Collector's Set


In case you haven't noticed, my adoration of 'The Sand Pebbles,' a catalog film I discovered for the first time when I reviewed it this year, hasn't waned. The film itself is surprisingly relevant and engaging, its faithful 1080p catalog transfer is second only to 'Casablanca,' its audio is refreshingly good, and its supplemental package is vast. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.

Runner Up: The Proposition
Honorable Mention: Baraka, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Eastern Promises, The Life Before Her Eyes, Michael Clayton, The Orphanage, Persepolis, Redbelt, Serenity, Sunshine, and The Visitor


If you haven't dug through 'Sleeping Beauty's supplemental package, you're really missing out. You'll find a Cine-Explore Picture-in-Picture track, an audio commentary, a 45-minute documentary, interactive CG tours, a series of featurettes, deleted scenes, a short film, galleries, storyboards, a trivia track, interactive games, and BD-Live functionality. Whew.

Runner Up: Casablanca
Honorable Mention: The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Godfather Collection, Mad Men: Season One, The Omen, Patton, Planet of the Apes, The Sand Pebbles, The Ultimate Matrix Collection, and Wall•E


HBO went all out with the Blu-ray edition of 'Band of Brothers.' Each episode features an Interactive Field Guide (with accessible bios, videos, factoids, and maps), Picture-in-Picture video commentary from actual Easy Company veterans, and other exclusive goodies that enhance the already impressive standard supplemental package. It'll keep you hooked for days.

Runner Up: Sleeping Beauty
Honorable Mention: Heroes: Season One, The Kingdom, The Omen, Planet of the Apes: 40 Year Evolution Collection, Serenity, Transformers, The Ultimate Matrix Collection, Wall•E, Wanted, and Young Frankenstein


You have to hand it to Disney - the studio knows what Blu-ray fans want, understands what the format is capable of, and continually delivers discs that look great, sound wonderful, and are packed to the brim with special features and exclusives. Even mishaps like 'Gangs of New York' can't take away from a slew of high-quality releases including 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' 'Enchanted,' 'Kill Bill,' 'Lost,' 'No Country for Old Men,' 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' 'Sleeping Beauty,' 'WallE,' and more. There was some really stiff competition this year, but no studio made more strides toward greatness than Disney. Kudos.

Runner Up: Universal
Honorable Mention: Paramount and Sony


And those, my friends, are our picks for the best of the best this year. Have a great holiday season and spend those gift cards wisely!

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Tags: 2008 Year In Review, Kenneth Brown (all tags)