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2010: The Year's Best DVDs and Blu-Rays

Slipping a Disc

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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So this is the first full year I upgraded to Blu-Ray, and I had twelve months of enjoying that new format in all its glories. I especially love the term "uncompressed monaural soundtrack" and also the grainy, non-video look of older movies, as if I were watching an actual film print projected right on my TV screen. Of course, new movies are more crystal clear than you could even imagine; I was once a skeptic and now I'm a convert. Fortunately, regular DVDs did not stop this year, and there were some extraordinary titles available exclusively in the old format as well. The following is my list of the ten best releases of the year, in both formats, plus a handful of runners-up. Please also consider this my gift guide for those hard-to-buy-for movie buffs.

1.

Red Cliff: Original International Version (Magnolia/Magnet) [Blu-Ray]
In December of 2009, Magnolia unwisely released a butchered 148-minute version of John Woo's masterful epic to U.S. theaters, while the complete Chinese version actually ran 288 minutes. American audiences quickly realized they'd been swindled and stayed away from the edited version in droves. On the other hand, the uncut version deserves comparison to Seven Samurai and Lawrence of Arabia, but now it will go down in history with other butchered epics like Once Upon a Time in America.

2.

Chaplin at Keystone (Flicker Alley) [DVD]
This amazing set is as historically important as it is entertaining, a collection of Chaplin's entire first year of filmmaking, 1914. In addition to lots of laughs, we see the origin and evolution of the Tramp character, Chaplin's directorial debut, and even some impressive teamwork with some of his early colleagues.

3.

Make Way for Tomorrow (Criterion Collection) [DVD]
Made the same year as McCarey's hit screwball comedy The Awful Truth, this one is more of a companion piece to Tokyo Story, a poetic meditation on old age and family. It's heartbreaking, but far lovelier and more compulsively viewable than it may sound.

4.

Crumb (Criterion Collection) [Blu-Ray]
The greatest documentary of all time, directed by Terry Zwigoff, is back on Blu-Ray and looking amazing, with a slew of great new extras.

5.

Close-Up (Criterion Collection) [Blu-Ray]
This Iranian film by Abbas Kiarostami is a landmark in cinema history, a mesmerizing meta-movie that combines fiction and non-fiction with the power of movies. With a major Criterion release, it may finally find the wider audience it deserves.

6.

The Complete Metropolis (Kino) [Blu-Ray]
I was never much of a fan of Fritz Lang's most atypical, and most purely spectacular film until I saw this freshly restored version, based on materials newly discovered in Argentina; it's the discovery of the decade.

7.

Vengeance Trilogy (Palisades Tartan) [Blu-Ray]
Park Chan-wook's trilogy isn't connected by story or characters, but rather by themes. Action fans have embraced these three films, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance, far more quickly than critics, but perhaps this spectacular Blu-Ray collection, the sum of its parts, will advance to classic status.

8.

Bigger Than Life (Criterion Collection) [Blu-Ray]
This Nicholas Ray widescreen classic gets points for having been so long unavailable, and now released in an impossibly gorgeous picture and sound. It's arguably Ray's most haunting work in a career that features many such moments.

9.

Fantomas (Kino) [DVD]
Louis Feuillade's earliest crime serial -- this one running about 5-1/2 hours -- has been available for years in Europe, but made its most welcome U.S. DVD debut in 2010. It's about 97 years old now, and still offers a generous share of thrills and chills.

10.

Fantasia (4-Disc Edition) (Disney) [Blu-Ray]
Walt Disney's greatest folly, and his most gloriously insane work of hubris, makes its Blu-Ray debut alongside its 1999 sequel -- each film with its own Blu-Ray and DVD -- plus the terrific 2003 short cartoon Destino.


RUNNERS UP:


Alien Anthology (Fox)

Battleship Potemkin (Kino)

Beauty and the Beast (Disney)

The Book of Eli (Warner Home Video)

Breathless (Criterion Collection)

Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II (Sony)

The Evil Dead (Anchor Bay)

The Exorcist (Warner Home Video)

Fallen Angels (Kino)

I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (Oscilloscope)

Lost Keaton (Kino)

Louie Bluie (Criterion Collection)

The Night of the Hunter (Criterion Collection)

Splice (Warner Home Video)

Stagecoach (Criterion Collection)

Steamboat Bill Jr. (Kino)

The Twilight Zone: Season One (Image)

Videodrome (Criterion Collection)

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