2010 Recap - The Year in Blu-ray
Contributing Writer, Blu-ray
Ten Reasons to Get Excited about Blu-ray and DVD
Year’s end means one thing when it comes to movie-review sites: Best-Of lists. This is sort of a Best-Of list; a more appropriate title would be A Somewhat Obvious List of the Ten Releases Mitchell Was Glad He Spent Money on in 2010. They’re not the ten best titles released over the course of the year (which is why Winter’s Bone is conspicuously absent), but in terms of justifying the return you get, they rank at the top. [To purchase any of these releases from Amazon just click the title.]
This was arguably the Blu-ray release of the year. The second biggest franchise in Fox’s history was given a loving treatment here, incorporating all of the material from the Quadrilogy DVD set and adding a sizeable slate of new materials. The studio also finally let us see the uncut version of Wreckage and Ruin, the documentary chronicling the hellish production of Alien³, which alone is almost worth the asking price. The only thing missing is an apology from Joss Whedon for his Alien Resurrection script, but you can’t have everything. [Read Mitchell's Blu-ray Review, Read Sara's Theatrical Review of "Alien - 25th Anniversary Cut"]
Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition
In my mind the best war movie ever made, Apocalypse Now finally hit Blu-ray, and this time around Francis Ford Coppola and his team gave the world what it wanted: a package including the excellent documentary Hearts of Darkness (itself in high-def), which had been left off the misleadingly named Complete Dossier DVD release. Both cuts of the movie are included here, along with all of the excellent supplements from the Complete Dossier and some new (and equally excellent) material. Unless you want to pick nits and bemoan the lack of a copy of Eleanor Coppola’s Notes (worth the read if you can find it), this is the final word on Coppola’s masterpiece. [Read Mitchell's Blu-ray Review of "Apocalypse Now - Two Disc Special Edition"]
Community: The Complete First Season
I’m going to screw up another primarily Blu-ray list by inserting this title. Sue me. Only two current television series get my undivided attention on a weekly basis, and of those two I watch one a couple more times as soon as it hits the On Demand listings. “Community” has been on the air for roughly sixteen months now, and I’ve seen every episode a good four or five times. I love this show and I won’t rest until everyone else loves it as much as I do. By the fifth episode of the first season I was beginning to think it was something special; by the end of the season I knew it was far more than that. If you’ve never seen the show (and the ratings seem to indicate a lot of people haven’t; knowing what they’re watching instead makes me want to weep), go to Hulu or wherever and sample a couple episodes. “Contemporary American Poultry,” a brilliant riff on mob movies, and “Modern Warfare,” the show’s classic paintball episode, are good places to start. This is American television’s answer to “Spaced,” and I say that as someone who thinks “Spaced” is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The fact that this is also the best sitcom-on-DVD release since that one only sweetens the deal.
(NOTE: If you’re bothered by the inclusion of a DVD release on an otherwise all Blu-ray list, feel free to substitute Inception, Toy Story 3 or The Hurt Locker, although you should already own all three.)
I wavered between including this movie or The Bridge of the River Kwai, but finally went with this one. They’re both afforded terrific presentations, but Doctor Zhivago is hard to beat for sheer beautiful spectacle: the train chugging across snow-covered Russian landscapes, the “frozen palace” sequence, screen-filling shots of Julie Christie’s face. This is arguably the point at which David Lean starting losing his hold on the human side of storytelling and became more of a technician who painted beautiful but empty pictures (just look at Ryan’s Daughter), but it’s hard to complain when they’re this beautiful.
For my money, Band of Brothers is the greatest dramatic depiction of war in the history of dramatic depictions of war. That being the case, this follow-up faced unjustly high expectations. For my money, it met them. Rather than simply transporting Band of Brothers to a different theater of combat, The Pacific is its own creature, telling its story in a slightly different way but employing the same attention to detail and stellar craftsmanship. Like it (and I think this is what really counts), the miniseries proves to be both a harrowing depiction of war and a worthy tribute to a bunch of guys who selflessly put their lives on hold to save the world. The presentation is outstanding, the quality of picture and sound rivaling that of most big-screen blockbusters. [Read Roy Earle's DVD Review]
Paths of Glory
Criterion does Kubrick and I almost have a heart attack. As I never get tired of mentioning, Kubrick is my favorite filmmaker. I think the way I see the world is much the same way he saw it, and the way he saw it was given a perfect showcase in Paths of Glory (which I’d rank just behind Apocalypse Now), the most devastatingly trenchant examination of the madness and stupidity of war ever committed to film. The movie was also the first example of full-bore Kubrick technical mastery, with camerawork that still astounds me. Most pre-‘70s war movies haven’t aged well, but this one is better than ever. [Read Mitchell's Blu-ray Review]
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
You remember how Fight Club didn’t really register with most people during its theatrical run but then became a major part of the cultural landscape a few years later? I’ll gladly admit to being wrong if it doesn’t happen, but I expect Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will have similar fate. I read the first installment in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels and came away unimpressed, but Edgar Wright’s movie starts great and gets better as it goes along. I understand why it didn’t meet expectations during its theatrical run. It looks like a “geek” movie and it’s not going to do much for a passive viewer. Wright destroys the language of modern comic-book movies and rebuilds it, using his paint-box of moviemaking tools to fashion something wholly original. It’s incredibly funny, too, and brimming with quotable dialogue, including the funniest joke about gelato you’ll ever hear. [Read Sara's Theatrical Review]
I’d been waiting for this one since the day I first bought a Blu-ray player (meaning I waited nearly four years). Yeah, what you get here is pretty much a port of New Line’s 2000 DVD, but that was a heck of a DVD (in terms of both bonus material and A/V presentation), so why carp? The movie has lost not one iota of its effectiveness over the past fifteen years, still just as disturbing as it was when it was first released. (Were it made today, the two surprises in the third act would hit the ‘net long before the cameras stopped rolling). I can’t think of another movie that has created such an air of oppressive moral decay; David Fincher (rebounding nicely from the above-mentioned debacle) and his collaborators blend visuals (presented here in a sterling transfer) and sounds (this disc’s audio is indescribably good) into a beautifully ugly sensory experience, perfectly realizing Andrew Kevin Walker’s superb script.
Seven Samurai isn’t my favorite movie, but it could very well be the most complete movie I’ve ever seen. Everything you could possibly hope to find in any ten given movies--low humor, drama, tragedy, action, character studies, social commentary--is all contained within Kurosawa’s masterpiece. It turns on a dime, moving between moods so quickly and smoothly it’s astonishing. It’s also one of the few three-hour movies that seem only half that length. The folks at Criterion took their time with this one but you can’t complain as they got it exactly right (and anything less than exactly right would have been unacceptable). [Read Sara's Blu-ray Review]
The Thin Red Line
The first Terrence Malick movie I saw was Badlands, which didn’t exactly do much for me. I saw this movie (which I’d rank just behind Paths of Glory) a short time later and have been a fan of the pokey filmmaker ever since. This is one of those movies I should find a mess of pretentious twaddle but don’t, and it’s likely that in the hands of any other filmmaker it would have been exactly that. But Malick’s rewrite of the James Jones novel somehow manages to take its juxtaposition of scenes of combat with seemingly incongruous shots of wildlife and make a moving statement on how war affects nature in much the same way it does the individual. (That’s a bad way of putting it, but it works in the movie.) It’s a stunningly beautiful movie, and Criterion’s transfer is perfect. [Read Mitchell's Blu-ray Review]
So there you go. Ten discs I’m glad to own and you might want to consider picking up. Come back this time next year, when Fox’s biggest franchise will likely top the list, and such titles as (hint, hint) Lawrence of Arabia, The Abyss, Strange Days, Jaws, Citizen Kane, the first season of “Game of Thrones” and the Indy flicks will hopefully make appearances.