Combustible Celluloid

2009: The Year's Best DVDs

Slipping a Disc

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Believe it or not, there were still some classics appearing for the first time on DVD in 2009, even though Blu-Ray continues to loom ever larger. Also, movies continue to be re-mastered and re-released on new DVDs, making up for the early flaws of the technology. Unfortunately, 3D hasn't quite been mastered in the home format just yet, but that's undoubtedly coming. The following is my list of the ten best DVDs of the year, plus 15 more runners-up for a total of 25. And most of them make great gifts too! Happy Holidays!

1. The Samuel Fuller Collection (Sony Pictures Classics)
Sony follows up their great Budd Boetticher box set with this tribute to Samuel Fuller. The set is of course limited to films that Fuller made at Columbia, and it contains only two films he actually directed, but they're both masterworks: The Crimson Kimono and Underworld U.S.A. Additionally it contains four other films written or co-written by Fuller, and two of those (Shockproof and Scandal Sheet) are very much worth seeing. The various bonuses and interviews make it the DVD of the year.

2. Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 1 (Sony Pictures Classics)
Another great box set from Sony, this one unleashes some long-awaited noir classics like Murder by Contract and Don Siegel's The Lineup, as well as a remaster of Fritz Lang's The Big Heat. Once again, it has lots of great extras and commentary tracks (don't miss the one shared by Eddie Muller and James Ellroy).

3. The Exterminating Angel (Criterion Collection)
Luis Bunuel's brilliantly twisted tale of a dinner party gone wrong can be interpreted many different ways, and all of them are valid. Criterion finally delivered a beautiful transfer of one of my favorite movies, long unavailable in this country. Criterion released Bunuel's mini-masterpiece Simon of the Desert simultaneously.

4. The Films of Michael Powell (Sony Pictures Classics)
Here's yet another Sony box set in the top five, as well as the first U.S. DVD release of a long-unavailable classic. Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death is a brilliantly subversive wartime romance with a black-and-white view of heaven and a full-color view of life on earth. Sony's transfer was superb, surpassing even the British DVD that I already owned. Even more surprising was the equally gorgeous transfer of Powell's final film, Age of Consent, which is not as minor as it seems; it has a wonderful, warm, sensual tone that was new to Powell's work.

5. Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Edition (Disney)
Disney led the way this year with a terrific idea to push Blu-Ray, releasing movies in three-disc sets, containing DVDs, digital copies and Blu-Rays. Regardless, this new transfer of Pinocchio is truly dazzling, and I was reminded once again just how dark and subversive that early Disney could be.

6. The Exiles (Milestone)
Made in 1961, but restored and released in 2008, this independent film is truly a landmark, not only for its unique depiction of American Indians, but also for its emotionally resonant storytelling. Milestone's 2009 DVD is even better, with a whole plethora of extras.

7. The General (Blu-Ray) (Kino)
To be honest, I have not procured a new Blu-Ray player yet, but I have this disc from Kino waiting to be the inaugural selection when I do. Buster Keaton's The General is one of my favorite movies, and if the quality is at least as good as Kino's 2008 DVD edition, then it definitely deserves a place on this list.

8. True Blood: The Complete First Season (HBO)
This compulsively watchable vampire romance was the one television discovery I allowed myself in 2009, and it quickly devoured 13 gleeful hours of my time that should have been reserved for movies.

9. My Name Is Bruce (Image Entertainment)
Most critics didn't appreciate this hilarious, post-modern comedy horror film directed by Bruce Campbell and starring Bruce Campbell as Bruce Campbell. The DVD keeps going in this vein with a funny commentary track, making-of featurettes and other stuff.

10. Miss Mend (Flicker Alley)
This 4-1/2 hour silent adventure, made in Russia in 1926, was waiting for me during a lag in awards season, and it was a welcome and refreshing break. Flicker Alley has done a remarkable job restoring this lost entertainment, but even better is Robert Israel's awesome score, which fills out the entire running time.


Adventureland (Miramax)

Bolt (Disney)

Death in the Garden (Microcinema)

Drag Me to Hell (Universal)

Inglourious Basterds (Universal)

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Criterion)

The Lady with the Dog (Facets)

Man Hunt (Fox)

The Midnight Meat Train (Lionsgate)

Murnau (Kino)

North by Northwest (Warner Home Video)

Repulsion (Criterion)

Shirin (BFI, Region 2)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney)

Up (Disney)

A Dozen DVDs of the Decade:

  1. The Val Lewton Horror Collection
  2. Mario Bava Box Set Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
  3. Alien Quadrilogy
  4. Late Ozu
  5. The Decalogue
  6. The Films of Budd Boetticher
  7. The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection
  8. Carl Dreyer: My Metier
  9. Dawn of the Dead
  10. Satantango
  11. The General
  12. Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition

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