Top 20 DVDs of 2005
-- posted on January 23, 2006
1. Lost: The Complete First Season
Exploding on the television scene with one of the most intense opening sequences of any pilot episode, Lost almost immediately became a phenomenon, that rare breed of show that not only brings in the monster ratings but also achieves a level of cult popularity with its fans. The tale of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 is a gripping one, creating a diverse group of compelling characters working together in common pursuit, all the while developing a layered mythology to this strange island on which they have crash landed. With a unique flashback style of character development, Lost's first season weaves the events from the passengers' pasts with what is happening in the present to craft thematic episodes that stand strong on their own in addition to helping build the overall story arc. By the 4th episode, you'll be completely hooked, and by season's end, you'll be tearing out your hair wanting more. Thankfully, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has given this breakout hit a DVD release worthy of its popularity. With audio commentaries, deleted scenes, audition sessions, hours of behind-the-scenes footage, and the beautiful "Art of Matthew Fox" feature, "Lost - The Complete First Season" is an example of what every modern television release should be, and it is without question one of the top DVDs of the year.
2. King Kong (1933): 2-Disc Special Edition
Given that King Kong is inarguably one of the most beloved film classics of all-time, DVD enthusiasts have been clamoring for a digital release worthy of this massive movie monster. And it seems that the final product was well worth the wait. Warner Bros. releases the 1933 juggernaut in a variety of different packages (2-discer, 2-discer mega-set with retro-goodies, and as part of a primate-centric triple feature), but the meat of the matter remains the same: The movie looks and sounds great, the "standard" extra features are as fascinating as they are plentiful, and there are a few fantastic little surprises to be found. Some might wonder why there wasn't a souped-up audio track or even MORE in the supplemental section, but why gripe? Movie freaks the world over can now add the finest monster movie ever made to their libraries, and they can do so in style.
3. The Incredibles
If the Pixar crew told me they needed to borrow my wife for a while, as long as they promised to give me a new film to watch, I think I'd be OK with the deal. And that's despite the wary eye I cast toward Cars, the first Pixar film that hasn't immediately grabbed by imagination. With the incredible family at the core of The Incredibles, the creative geniuses behind the movie showed just how to tell a story about costume adventurers, while maintaining a real person inside the suit. Once translated to a plastic platter, the creative geniuses showed just how to produce an outstandingly beautiful transfer and sound design, while adding in a wealth of bonus material, including the entertaining and unexpected "Vowelette" featurette on Violette's voice, Sarah Vowell. Disney may have pioneered the genre, but its Pixar that's crafting a new generation's dreams (along with a large chunk of the older generations'.)
4. Frank Miller's Sin City: Recut, Extended, Unrated
Visually perfect and highly enjoyable, Frank Miller's Sin City is even better on DVD the second time around. This 2-disc set includes the theatrical cut, an option to view each "comic" on its own, plus the complete trade paperback of "The Hard Goodbye"...so in more ways than one, it's the total package for comic book fans. Director Robert Rodriguez also reveals many of his technical tricks of the trade, but not enough to spoil all the magic. If that weren't enough, you'll also learn how to make a batch of Sin City breakfast tacos...if you're still hungry after the movie, that is.
5. Ran: Criterion Collection
It's a miracle that a film like Ran (1985) should even exist, let alone be one of the best of its decade. Director Akira Kurosawa finally completed the project after surviving years of planning, a string of poorly-received films, the death of his wife, financial trouble and many other setbacks. Yet Ran is still regarded as one of Kurosawa's finest efforts---taking nothing away from later projects like Dreams (1990), of course---for its amazing scope, incredible production and breathtaking use of color. Criterion's double-disc package is another minor miracle, easily trumping earlier releases by Fox Lorber and Wellspring. With an absolutely stunning transfer and a host of bonus features, Ran is an invaluable release that shouldn't be missed.
6. The Fly: Special Edition
David Cronenberg's masterful allegory on love in the time of AIDS has long been disrespected by the digital format. Fans of the film previously had to suffer through a barebones flip disc presentation that saw it purposefully joined by its less than stellar sequel. Thankfully, 20th Century Fox has given The Fly the deluxe special edition treatment it so richly deserves. Along with a cutting commentary by director Cronenberg, there are nearly three hours of documentaries that cover all aspects of this production - from early rejected plotlines and F/X ideas to a horrible hackneyed "butterfly boy" alternate ending that was better left on the cutting room floor. Add in the gorgeous transfer and near-definitive 5.1 DTS soundtrack and you've got a perfect package for a certified classic.
7. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
The No. 1 money-maker of 2005 isn't the best movie of the year. But Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith makes for an excellent two-DVD set. Besides completing that annoying gap between your Trilogy set and Episodes I and II DVDs, this was the best of the three prequel movies. Darker, exciting, and visually enticing, Episode III filled in the blanks, following the Jedi Anakin Skywalker's transformation into the evil Darth Vader, finishing (or beginning) what was started in 1977. This was the last piece in a treasured science fiction saga, and it was done in a way most of us could enjoy, with beautiful, other-worldly settings, great characters, and a ton of action. A bonus DVD alone pays for the set, with nearly six hours of documentaries, deleted scenes, game demos, photos, and a commentary. Tops is the fascinating, full-length Within a Minute documentary, which approaches the entire making of this movie by breaking down one short scene. Episode III is a great movie, fun-filled and easily digested, and the DVD quality and amount of extras make it an easy must-have. The saga is complete. Now how long before it's all in one set?
8. The Wizard of Oz: Collector's Edition
You don't get much more "classic" than The Wizard of Oz, and Warner Bros. Home Video presents the beloved movie in a 3-disc set that will thrill even the most ardent Oz-o-philes. From the film's vibrant digital facelift and all-new 5.1 audio mix to the featurettes, documentaries, and random treats littered across all three platters, this release is truly something special. Baum enthusiasts and armchair film historians will devour the previously-unavailable silent versions of "Oz," while those who simply want to get lost in the 1939 mega-classic will find hours of material to keep their heels a'clickin'. One of 2005's very finest DVD releases, The Wizard of Oz: Collector's Edition is proof positive that there really is no place like home ... especially if you own a DVD player and a half-decent television!
In the pantheon of Unjustly-Cancelled TV Series Made Into Feature Films, you have your original Star Trek, of course, and there's also the wonderfully stupid Naked Gun series, but there's never been anything in the "modern age" to compare with the underground sensation that is Serenity. Regardless of whether or not you're a fan of the Firefly series that spawned Serenity, there's little denying that the very fact the movie got made ... is kind of astonishing. So hats off to Joss Whedon and his space-cruising crew, and also to the fine folks at Universal, the ones who took a shot on Fox's leftovers and helped to deliver one of 2005's most entertaining movies. The freakishly fun flick comes home in fine DVD form, with a stellar A/V presentation and just enough extra goodies to keep the Browncoats beaming. And since this is a Universal property we're talking about, I'm not being (entirely) sarcastic when I say ... bring on the double-dip!
10. Raging Bull: Special Edition
Having long languished on a pitiable, bare-bones disc, Martin Scorsese's full-blooded 1980 drama Raging Bull finally received the deluxe, two-disc treatment from MGM this year. Raging Bull is a film of rare and exquisite power, a true masterpiece. Scorsese would not make another film this brilliant until 1990's Goodfellas, a bold statement with which, it seems, most critics would agree: both films were voted in some circles as the best works of their respective decades. No fewer than three commentary tracks appear on this edition, including an appearance by the Bull himself, Jake LaMotta. Extensive featurettes on the second disc break down the film's classic fight sequences and walk viewers through the grueling process that star Robert DeNiro underwent for his eventual Oscar-winning role. If you have not yet experienced Raging Bull, MGM's superb special edition is a great place to start.
11. Seinfeld Seasons 4, 5 & 6
After seeing the first three seasons of Seinfeld, viewers might have been excused for thinking that this great comedy series was as good as it gets... but it kept getting better. Seasons 4, 5, and 6 keep on pushing forward, never letting the show rest on its (already impressive) laurels. With the characters of Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer drawn into ever-more-cleverly written plots, and with each half-hour show packing in more original ideas and great dialogue than half a season of most other comedies, Seinfeld shines even more brightly in these three seasons. To top it all off, Seinfeld is incredibly re-watchable: not only has it aged perfectly well, but it gets funnier with every viewing. Oh, and the sets have great transfers and loads of special features, too. What's not to like?
12. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Criterion Collection
It's probably best to admit this up front: Wes Anderson's films can be considered something of an acquired taste. Not everyone digs on Anderson's deadpan fairy tales that view reality through crack'd mirrors; his critics often level charges of infatuation with minutiae, which, when considering The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, is a fair accusation. Anderson fills his frame to overflowing, packing in as much detail as possible; at times, he functions less as a director and more as a visual novelist. Fitting then, that this two-disc set, his third for the Criterion Collection, is just as stuffed with supplemental material â€“ from a low-key commentary track with Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach to an intern's account of life on set in Italy, this is one stellar DVD package. Add to the considerable bonus features crisp picture and robust sound and you've got yourself a voyage worth taking again and again.
It's not often that double dips are worth the money but in the case of William Wyler's seminal 1959 classic, Ben-Hur, Warner Brothers made sure they gave this one the treatment it really deserved. The new and improved transfer and loads of supplements made this one a feast for the eyes and the mind, while the inclusion of the original silent version of the film assured that classic film buffs would be snatching this one up pronto.
14. Deadwood: The Complete First Season
It's vulgar, it's profane, it's ruthless. It's also dramatic, filled with dynamic characters, and presents an amazing depiction of America's most famous mining town. In HBO's Emmy Award-winning series Deadwood, the last great gold rush is taking place in the lawless Black Hills of South Dakota. Miners, hookers, businessmen and thieves combine for days filled with deceit and murder. Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock are here, but they may be among the least interesting players in this town. Calculating (and foul-mouthed) saloon owner Al Swearengen and reluctant lawman Seth Bullock are captivating, a fresh villain-hero pair, complicated and flawed. They're just two intriguing characters writer/creator David Milch moves through an amazing and authentic-feeling 1870s mining town, where fortune and death can be found in equal measure. This six-DVD set features all 12 episodes of the first season with excellent audio and video, and four commentary tracks. A set of four featurettes is headlined by a half-hour look at the history of Deadwood, and how it relates to the series. A high-quality program, this isn't a set just for "western" fans. Deadwood is an easy buy for every fan of a great character drama. And that includes you cocksuckers, hoople heads and dirt-worshiping heathens.
15. Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition
The saying "There's nowhere to go but up," certainly applied to the Batman film franchise, which suffered tremendously at the hands of Joel Schumacher and his toy-company masters. But to see the way Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight, Christian Bale, turned the character around was nothing short of brilliant, as they stripped away the more cartoonish elements and created a hero adults could once again embrace. The 2-disc special edition did right by the film, delivering the sound and image in optimal quality, with a slate of extras that took the audience behind the scenes of virtually every aspect of the production, utilizing a unique "comic book" menu design. Throw in the 72-page booklet of inspirational source material, and you've got an all-access pass to the Batcave worth coveting.
16. Devil's Rejects: Unrated
The unrated two disc special edition release of Rob Zombie's second directorial feature set the bar pretty high for genre releases this year. Taking bits and pieces of influential horror and exploitation films of the seventies and working them into an interesting and disturbing extension of the events that took place in House Of 1,000 Corpses, Zombie was able to craft a devilishly enjoyable and truly twisted piece of cinema that Lion's Gate really rolled out the red carpet for on DVD. Excellent audio and video quality and more extras than you can shake a severed finger at make this release one of the best of 2005.
17. Cannibal Holocaust
One of the most notorious films in the history of Italian horror gets one of the best DVD treatments of 2005. A gratuitous, gross out Goona Goona classic, Cannibal Holocaust is more than just animal atrocities and jaundiced jungle jive. It is also a searing indictment of investigative journalism, a blackly comic criticism of a media that would trade tabloid tastelessness for truth, and the direct inspiration for The Blair With Project. The two disc set from Grindhouse Releasing offers an amazing making-of, a stellar set of interviews and a commentary filled with insights and controversy (director Ruggerio Deodato loves the film, while actor Robert Kerman loathes it). The film's disturbing imagery is definitely shocking, but there is much more to this title than random splatter. Its treatment on the digital domain bears this out.
18. The Man Who Fell To Earth: Criterion Collection
Capitalizing on the true human space oddity that was early 70s David Bowie, director Nicholas Roeg created a quizzical, complex science fiction fantasy that had very little to do with interplanetary travails and everything to do with alienation and loneliness. Suffering from the sudden Star Wars-ization of the genre, the movie never got its true due. Now, Criterion's first class treatment of The Man Who Fell to Earth emphasizes what a remarkably subtle and sentient film it really is. Drawing on a previous laserdisc release, we get definitive commentary from Roeg, Bowie and co-star Buck Henry, as well as engaging recent interviews with actors Candy Clark and Rip Torn. They all shed necessary light on a film that is purposefully oblique and problematically poetic - a true out of this world experience.
19. The Wire: The Complete Second Season
HBO is putting out some of the best shows on television today. One of their shows that hasn't been getting as much press as The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, but is just as good if not better, is The Wire. Taking the police procedural to the next level, this show uses the whole season to follow one case from beginning to end. This year the detective's case is perplexing; a cargo container is discovered with 13 dead Russian women and no clues to why they were killed or how they got in the container. Unlike last season, McNulty and his men don't know who they are looking for, or what crimes they'll uncover. There are a lot of surprises and twists which makes the show both memorable and engrossing. Boasting tight, intelligent scripts, top notch acting, and wonderful characterization The Wire is a show that shouldn't be missed.
20. The Twilight Zone: Seasons 1-5 (The Definitive Edition)
If only all classic television was given the same loving care accorded to The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling's superlative 1959-64 anthology series. Razor-sharp remastering light years ahead of old TV prints, most episodes are supplemented with one or more of the following: isolated scores (by Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and others); archival audio interviews with cast and crew members; radio drama adaptations; and newly-recorded audio commentaries. These sets also include scads of goofy and enlightening extras, from Serling's painfully self-effacing college lectures about the show, to promos for other CBS shows, to Serling's gag appearances on The Jack Benny Show and Tell It to Groucho - there are even downloadable Twilight Zone comic books! Though it took Image three times to get it right, these "Definitive" editions certainly appear to be just that. Comment >>