This Thanksgiving and Christmas, stock up on some amazing Blu-ray titles in various genres that were released throughout the year.
Did the people at Marvel at least offer The Avengers to Joe Johnston? I should hope so, as Johnston made the best, most fun, most entertaining entry yet in the comics giantís recent spate of big-screen adventures. And considering he had one of the most potentially problematic characters to work with (itís a period piece, the second word in the characterís name, etc.), what he and his collaborators accomplished becomes even more impressive. Itís like Johnstonís work on The Rocketeer, October Sky, and Jurassic Park III all rolled into one, only better.
Yeah, itís animated, but so what? Itís still a killer action flick. Iíve heard The Incredibles called everything from a deconstruction of the superhero genre to a love letter to the philosophy of Ayn Rand. I donít care about any of that. I just know that this is a dazzling piece of work, with knockout setpiece after knockout setpiece. If this is any indication what director Brad Bird has done with the fourth Mission: Impossible flick, weíre all in for a treat.
I saw Alien Resurrection and wondered what the big deal about Jean-Pierre Jeunet was. I saw Amťlie a few years later and understood. An irresistible combination of sweet, smart, funny, and bawdy, at first glance the movie appears so light and fluffy it threatens to either float away or evaporate before your eyes, but its brain and its heart work in roughly equal measure. Itís also unbelievably gorgeous (especially on this new Blu-ray); Jeunetís mastery of visuals--especially his use of color--makes this one a joy to just watch.
Dazed and Confused (Criterion)
I get this movie. I was six years old during the period the movie is set, and some of the things the characters experience over the course of the storyís fifteen or sixteen hours are foreign to me, but I still get it. That shot of Jason London looking off into the distance while Rory Cochrane makes cracks about getting as much action as he could? Man, do I ever get that. And even if you donít take to it the way I have, itís still funny and wise enough to be an immensely entertaining trip back in time.
The Social Network
The best movie of 2010 (at least for me), the first great Blu-ray release of 2011, and further proof David Fincher could make even My Dinner with Andre a visual marvel. Wisely ignoring the absolutely terrible Ben Mezrich book on which itís ostensibly based (Mezrich works in a genre of his own making: speculative non-fiction), Aaron Sorkinís Oscar-winning screenplay doesnít claim to be true, instead using a fictionalized account of the creation of Facebook to comment on relationships--both business and personal--in our time. The more I think about, the better it gets.
Sony did a smashing job with this one, pulling together a wide selection of terrific extras and giving the movie itself a nice digital polish. Seen through the eyes of an (to put it mildly) unreliable narrator, Paul Schrader and Martin Scorseseís hellish take on the urban jungle of the post-ĎNam era remains a searing experience. In an age where the word ďclassicĒ is close to losing all meaning, thereís no doubt that this is a seminal piece of American moviemaking.
The guy who directed both the best Mission: Impossible movie and the best Star Trek movie is making an homage to old-school Spielberg? Count me in. This is my favorite movie of the year so far, a fun, nostalgic, impeccably crafted throwback to the sort of flick I used to devour when I was growing up (and still do on the rare occasion someone manages to get it right). The Blu-ray is a knockout, with a flawless transfer, even better audio (I know thatís impossible, but give it a listen and see if you donít agree), and a great selection of extras (including an exhaustive breakdown of what could very well be cinemaís most spectacular train derailment).
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
A.I. isnít a successful movie, but that doesnít make it any less fascinating. Abandoned by Kubrick (depending on whom you choose to believe, he either realized he couldnít pull off a fairy tale or didnít like the idea of not being able to do 200 takes with a CG character) and picked up by Spielberg, the end result is an uneasy mix of their wildly different sensibilities. But thereís something about it, something that wonít let me look away. And itís visually stunning (the Blu-rayís terrific), particularly the elements left over from the time Kubrick spent on it. It also features the coolest teddy bear in history, and it may be your only chance to see Spielberg subvert his own obsession with celestial bodies.
WAR and WESTERNS:
Wolfgang Petersenís classic has lost none of its power over the past three decades, remaining one of cinemaís most effective anti-war statements (possibly second only to Paths of Glory in that regard). Itís also a terrific action movie, expertly depicting the sickening, contradictory mix of thrill and tension that comes with combat. If youíre anything like me, you eagerly awaited this movieís high-def debut, salivating at the prospect of hearing the meticulous sound design in a lossless format. It was worth the wait.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Itís based on a pseudonymous novel by a notorious segregationist who would later try to pass himself off as a Native American. The directorial reins were taken over by the movieís star after the original director wasted precious hours looking for a beer can to use a prop. Thatís the stuff that always gets mentioned. What doesnít get mentioned enough is the fact that this is a terrific movie. Not only does this Blu-ray give the movie a sweet technical presentation, it also beefs up the extras. This oneís not for eating or looking through; itís for being enjoyed.
Criterion does Kubrick--do you really need to know anything else? If you do, know that the presentation borders on the spectacular, the movie is one of its genreís highpoints, and as a bonus you get a high-def version of Killerís Kiss, Kubrickís third feature. You canít beat that.
I pity people who refuse to see this movie because itís ďold.Ē Everyone talks about how innovative and important Citizen Kane is, but that probably doesnít mean much to the average viewer. What the people who refuse to see it need to know is just how much fun this movie is. Welles and his collaborators (Iíd argue Gregg Toland deserves as much credit as Welles) look to be having one heck of a good time telling this story. How they managed to find time to do so while simultaneously destroying and rebuilding cinema is a mystery. And all of those people who think high-def doesnít do anything for older movies--how wrong they are. Warnerís work here will make your jaw drop.
Mimic: The Directorís Cut
It just wouldnít be a party without someone getting screwed over by the Weinsteins, and in this case it was Guillermo del Toro. Following the success of Cronos, del Toro came to America, signed on for his first studio gig, then watched his vision diluted and poisoned by the forces of mediocrity and stupidity (after which he returned home and made The Devilís Backbone, which just goes to show that things have a way of working out). This Blu-ray release afforded the filmmaker an opportunity to retool the movie a bit, although itís still not exactly the movie he set out to make. That being said, itís still a very creepy, very stylish flick, and the flashes of untainted del Toro are often brilliant.
Let Me In
Matt Reevesís adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvistís novel/remake of Let the Right One In went largely unnoticed, which is a real shame. This is a well crafted, stylish, beautifully acted movie, worthwhile in its own right and a perfect knife to the eye of the current spate of anemic vampire flicks. If youíre sick of sparkly vampires and the slack-jawed girls who love them, this movie is just the alternative youíve been looking for.
High and Low
Kurosawa appropriated the basic plot of a by-the-numbers Ed McBain/Evan Hunter novel and used it as a means by which to explore the class struggle in postwar Japan. The results arenít classic Kurosawa, but we all know that doesnít mean much, as the movie is still a stirring, exciting, meticulously crafted piece of work. The excellent extras fall in line with what youíd expect from Criterion release of one of the masterís films, as does the presentation.
I first encountered this movie when I was a teenager. The local PBS station was running it one Saturday afternoon, and I stumbled across it with absolutely no previous knowledge of its content or reputation. You can only imagine how freaked out I was by the ending. But even if you know whatís coming, thereís enormous pleasure to be had in watching Henri-Georges Clouzot assemble all of the pieces and put them into play. Why anyone ever thought this one needed to be remade (much less by the director of Christmas Vacation) is beyond me. The presentation is up to Criterionís typically exacting standards.
My absolute favorite Disney feature, this despite it traumatizing me at the tender age of five (or somewhere thereabouts). Beautiful in every way possible, and guaranteed to put you through the emotional wringer. Disneyís restoration is so spectacular no one will blame you for thinking the movie was released last year.
Pee-weeís Big Adventure
Tim Burtonís first feature film, and still his best. There, I said it. This movie is stupid, goofy, and goofily stupid. Itís also funny as heck. Large Marge, the way Pee-wee convinces Dottie heís really in Texas, Pee-weeís response to being told Francis is having his bath, James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild...the list goes on an on. I was happy as a little girl when this movie was announced for Blu-ray, and was happy as two little girls when I finally got my hands on it.
Community: The Complete Second Season
Duh. The best American comedy currently being broadcast, and maybe even the best American comedy ever; this show is concentrated awesome. Seeing the numbers this series pulls down each week makes me want to weep. I donít want it to get canned, but I also think people would genuinely enjoy it if theyíd give it a chance. Those involved kill themselves on a weekly basis in order to make it the show it is, and their efforts pay off. And while I still wish Sony would go the high-def route with these sets, they have my thanks for going all-out in terms of extras, which alone are worth the asking price.
Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season
The best American drama currently being broadcast (and I say that as someone who worships Game of Thrones). As I mentioned in my review, I came to this show late, but it didnít take much for me to be both hooked and impressed. Sony does go the high-def route with this one, and the results are a wow, with each episode looking and sounding like a short feature.
The Superman Motion Picture Anthology: 1978-2006
As Iíve said before, Iíll fight anyone who says anything negative about Richard Donnerís Superman. I still think itís the single most entertaining comic book movie ever made (The Dark Knight is a better movie, but itís not exactly fun). Superman III is a head-scratching disaster; really, what were they thinking? Quest for Peace is a bust, but at least itís better than Superman II, which I loved as a kid but have since come to realize is a complete betrayal of the character. The scene where Clark goes back to the diner and gets revenge? Thatís not the sort of thing he does. Bryan Singerís Superman Returns is too solemn and high-minded, taking the parallels between Superman and Jesus too seriously; it also has its head so far up the Donner flickís posterior that it forgets to forge its own path. So if thatís one out of five, why did I absolutely have to have this box? Well, Warner put them all together (and that includes two versions each of the first and second movies), threw in enough extras to choke Comet the Super-Horse (including an old George Reeves flick, several of the classic Fleischer cartoons, and the excised Krypton footage from Returns), and set the price at an attractive amount. Itís both affordable and definitive, so how could I pass it up?
Star Wars: The Complete Saga
I exhausted myself making the case for this release in my review, so let me just say this: Iím glad it was released, and Iím glad I bought it.