Drew Taylor picks up where he left off last summer, to give us the latest and greatest list of HDD favorites!
by Drew Taylor
It was in August that I compiled my list of the Best Blu-rays of the Year, thus far. Now I'm back, with a few more months under our belt and a whole lot of fantastic high definition releases. Now, without further ado, another list of some of the year's best Blu-ray releases. These are the ones that deserve some recognition!
1.) 'The Wizard of Oz' (Warner Bros.)
Warner Bros. released a whole slew of high definition editions of their vaulted classics this year, most notably an admirable 'Gone with the Wind' and 'North by Northwest.' But it was their re-mastered edition of 'Wizard of Oz' timed to this fantasy classic's 70th Anniversary that really blew my mind. Not only did the film look and sound absolutely stunning, but it also contained enough special features to make even the wickedest witch gush enthusiastically (handfuls of documentaries, deleted scenes, archival materials, as well as retrospective pieces). Seeing this presentation of 'Wizard of Oz' is probably the closest any of us will have to the experience of viewing it when it was in the theaters, and after what felt like a dozen or so releases on DVD, this seems to be the definitive edition of this timeless film. The only annoying thing about this release was the way it came out, with an unnecessarily deluxe box set and varying editions at mass merchants. How about the next time you put out one of your heavy hitters, we skip all that needlessly wasteful packaging and just put it out in a classy edition everyone can afford? Still, you'd need to have lost your heart, brain, and courage not to go pick this one up immediately.
2.) Cult Movies on Blu-ray (Various)
While DVD seems to be petering out when it comes to releasing catalogue titles on home video (leaving the void to be filled by weirdo made-to-order services like Warner Archive and Amazon's Disc on Demand), Blu-ray is pressing ahead, giving us high definition versions of movies that barely made their way to DVD in the first place. Not only did the new format give us serviceable upgrades for older movies as varied and bizarre as Sam Raimi's 'Army of Darkness' and 'The Quick and the Dead;' Jim Henson's 'Labyrinth;' Fred Dekker's 'Monster Squad' and 'Night of the Creeps;' and John Landis' 'An American Werewolf in London,' but it also presented us with deluxe editions of more recent cult classics, like Jody Hill's 'Observe and Report;' Sam Raimi's 'Drag Me to Hell;' Michael Dougherty's direct-to-video 'Trick R Treat;' and Karyn Kusama's 'Jennifer's Body' or, as I like to call it, 'J-Bod.' I'm not saying these movies are for everyone, because, clearly, they aren't, but what's so nice is that we can now watch these esoteric films on the best possible format. Even more so than DVD, Blu-ray seems to be the real film lover's format, and these titles do much in the way to support that.
3.) 'Inglourious Basterds' (Universal)
Quentin Tarantino's World War II masterpiece, which might be the versatile director's greatest work as of yet, crash-landed on Blu-ray just before the year's end in an edition every bit worthy of the film. A flawless audio and video presentation highlights the delicate work that went into this rompin'-stompin' tale of Jewish soldiers seeking revenge behind enemy lines (led by a scenery chewing Brad Pitt). Augmented by a nice array of special features (including a great conversation between Tarantino, Pitt, and critic Elvis Mitchell), and you've got a must-own for any discerning film lover.
Disney and Pixar team up and make beautiful movies together. They also make absolutely fabulous Blu-rays. The direct digital-to-digital transfers mean the images are peerless (ditto the audio), and the special features are second to none. Marvel on the 'Up' disc as the creative team ventures to the same perilous mountains depicted in the film. On the 'Monsters, Inc.' disc, the special features are largely a retread of the DVD edition, except for the new retrospective roundtable discussion, which features disarmingly honest talk about how the 9/11 terrorist attacks impacted the film's production and release. Also, you get to see the 'Monsters, Inc.' ride at the Japanese Disney Park, which made me want to book my flight immediately.
5.) 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (Disney)
As impressive as all the glittery computer-generated fare from Disney and Pixar can be, when Disney decided to release Walt's very first animated feature on high definition, the immortal fairy tale 'Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs,' they really did a great job with it. Not only was the transfer an absolute stunner, even if you chose to watch it with the silly "borders" (since it was a 1.33:1 film), but the amount of supplemental materials was just as staggering. Sometimes it's easier to "appreciate" these landmark films than to enjoy them, but 'Snow White' is every bit the emotional sucker-punch that it was when it was first released, and with the bevy of extra features giving you added context, it's an even more powerful experience.
These films are two new classics of Italian cinema. Paolo Sorrentino's 'Il Divo' is a hyper-stylish political film, a kind of evil 'West Wing,' about the corrupt Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti (played by Toni Servillo). While you won't always understand what's going on in the politics, it's such a strong character piece that you really won't care. 'Gomorrah,' by Matteo Garrone, demystifies the cinema gangster by showcasing the down-and-dirty lives of the lower level mafia guys (the guy that does the payroll, kids infatuated with 'Scarface' etc.) By splintering the story into five mini-arcs, Garrone does more to break apart the dangerous allure of big screen bad guys. Both films are devastating, powerful, invigorating tales made all the more dynamic by their flawless high definition presentations and a stolen truck's worth of extra features.
7.) 'Fight Club' (Fox)
Simple rule to follow: if David Fincher is going to put out one of his movies on Blu-ray, it's going to end up being one of the best discs of the year. Having already given us the high watermark-setting discs for 'Zodiac' and 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' this year, he finishes strong with his ten-year-old rumination on modern masculinity, male powerlessness, underground boxing, homosexual love, and the simple joys of bringing structured society to its knees through explosives and the power of corrosive thinking. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great (every thrown punch sounds like it originated from where the cat was just sitting), with all the special features from the deluxe DVD, plus a few brand new additions, including a hilarious look behind the scenes when Fincher and co-stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton were awarded at a ridiculous Spike TV Awards ceremony. Now if only Criterion would surprise us by bringing out 'The Game' in 2010! Just imagine!
8.) 'Star Trek' (Paramount)
Boldly go. JJ Abrams' zeitgeist-capturing 'Star Trek' reboot absolutely sparkles on Blu-ray. The brightly optimistic future (indicated by all those lens flares) looks flawless in high definition, and the perfectly calibrated not-too-many, not-too-few special features illuminates the process without ever demystifying the film and its inherent magic. In terms of a 'new movie on Blu-ray' package, it doesn't get much better than this.
9.) 'Boogie Nights' (Warner Bros.)
Paul Thomas Anderson's signifier of future genius, a whirligig epic set in the San Fernando Valley porn scene in the 1970's, comes to Blu-ray in a blistering package that surpasses any previous home video version. (The extras, sadly, remain the same.) Sometimes historical detail and period costumes overwhelm the narrative, but not in the case of 'Boogie Nights,' which remains a profoundly human story. Still, it's kind of hard not to stare dumbfounded at how good this this film looks. Why Warner Brothers debuted such a stellar disc as a Best Buy exclusive is beyond baffling.
10.) 'Lost: Complete Fifth Season' Ridiculous Dharma Initiative Packaging Edition (Disney)
Because no other TV-show-on-Blu-ray was presented with the balls-out go-for-broke-ness that Disney gave the difficult penultimate season of their wondrous, time-bending sci-fi series 'Lost.' The largely 1970's-set season (don't ask) was reproduced with a package that included an oversized box and floppy discs. Oh, and the discs themselves? Well, the series has never looked or sounded better. When Disney broadcast the series in HD on ABC, the resolution was only 720p, so here, for the first time, is 'Lost's' fifth season in honest-to-god HD. Rounded out by a great collection of supplemental material and this is the ideal package for any 'Lost' die hard.