The below Blu-ray and DVD picks include this site’s top home video recommendations for 2012. Select the release month on the list below to see what's coming soon or has already been released this year. By clicking the link and placing an order/preorder through Amazon.com, your purchase helps support Deep Focus Review. To see a full directory of upcoming titles, check out the Calendar.
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4th - Brazil (1985, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
At long last, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, my personal favorite film, arrives on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. Newly remastered in HD with an audio/visual presentation approved by the director himself, the film’s dystopian world of dreams and reality folding over on one another is stunningly realized with Gilliam’s incredible visual audacity and imagination. The film’s tumultuous release is a testament to Gilliam’s artistic convictions, and the film itself is an anti-establishment love letter, funny, escapist, dreamlike, and haunting all at once. It is a modern-day Citizen Kane story. Criterion’s new 2-Disc Blu-ray replaces their previous 3-Disc DVD package, which remains an idyll Criterion boxed set and a lovely display piece. All of the DVD features carry over, including Gilliam’s 142-minute director’s cut, the studio’s silly 94-minute “Love Conquers All” version, a doc called The Battle of “Brazil” detailing the troublesome distribution, making-of features, interviews, and essays. In honor of this occasion, I’ll be re-editing my original entry in The Definitives on Brazil, as well as exploring Gilliam’s similarly-themed next film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, in Re(focused)views.
4th - Catch Me if You Can (2002, Blu-ray)
Steven Spielberg directs a dream cast featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen, and Jennifer Garner in Catch Me if You Can, a film that—much like Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin—pronounces its greatness in the slick animated title sequence and only gets better from there. Available on Blu-ray for the first time, audiences should jump at the chance to revisit this title. DiCaprio plays real life con man Frank Abagnale Jr., a confused teen who begins his career as a fraud by posing as the class substitute teacher, and then amid check forging scams moves on to impersonating airline pilots, doctors, and lawyers. Throughout these crimes, Frank draws attention from an FBI agent (Hanks), and a years-long cat-and-mouse chase ensues with very Spielbergian father-son dramatic turns. It’s a pleasant and affecting picture, and this Blu-ray is loaded with several making-of featurettes and photo galleries to sweeten the deal.
4th - The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Christopher Nolan’s end to his Dark Knight Trilogy marks the most intellectually involved, epic-scaled, ambitious piece of superhero filmmaking to yet emerge from the genre. The Dark Knight Rises adopts grandly symbolic methods of storytelling to involve the audience in stakes established in Batman Begins, carried through The Dark Knight, and brought to a deeply satisfying close here. The picture’s philosophical motivations may have distanced some Bat-fans, but viewing the trilogy as a whole, every aspect is rendered daring and calculated. Consider the audacity and social commentary fuelling Bane and his attack on apathy, or the notion of “ending” the Batman legacy in a way that resists any desire for a follow-up (except perhaps a Robin/new Batman film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt). These are brave choices in what is certainly one of 2012’s best films. On DVD and Blu-ray just in time for holiday shopping, the release contains about 20 making-of featurettes about how they conceived and assembled this end to Nolan’s unrivalled superhero saga.
4th - Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 2 (Blu-ray)
After disc audio errors fouled up Season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray (CBS later corrected the issue with replacement discs), let’s hope they have their ducks in a row for Season 2. The first season (after the replacement discs eventually arrived in the mail) looked and sounded incredible, like a whole new show, and so expectations are high for the second season. There’s much to look forward to over the 22 remastered episodes: Arriving for the first time on the series are The Borg, Professor Moriarty, the disagreeable Dr. Pulaski, and Riker’s beard, which is a character in and of itself. Moreover, there’s an extended cut of “The Measure of a Man”, the episode where Data’s humanity or lack thereof is put on trial. Additionally, you get original TV promos for each episode (which is a great way to showcase how well these seasons have been remastered), a gag reel, deleted scenes, and about a dozen or more featurettes, production diaries, and documentary contributions. This is a must-buy for Star Trek fans, and Season 3 can’t come soon enough.
11th - Dick Tracy (1990, Blu-ray)
CA comic book adaptation made long before the summer box-office’s superhero insurgence, Dick Tracy is a remarkable, highly stylized comic strip come to life. Disney/Buena Vista’s Blu-ray release will hopefully create renewed appreciation for the film, which features eye-popping production design and a clear vision presented by director and star Warren Beatty. Part detective story, part Prohibition-era gangster yarn, part comic book fun, it’s an extremely underrated picture that will probably make its way into Re(focused)views sometime in 2013. Beatty stars as Dick Tracy who, donning his signature yellow trenchcoat and fedora, seeks to take down Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice and his crew of freak-faced mobsters, all warped in some fantastic way by clever makeup designs (for example, John Forsythe’s Flattop has an actual flat top to his head). Also starring are Madonna, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, and Paul Sorvino. If you haven’t seen this film for a while, it’s time you revisited it and rediscovered how creative and unique it proves to be.
11th - Following (1999, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
Available just a few days after Christopher Nolan’s most recent film is his very first, the barely-feature-length Following. The Criterion Collection picked up distribution rights as part of their deal with IFC, meaning videophiles will finally have a respectable edition of Nolan’s debut. The story tails a novice writer looking to pen his first book, so he follows strangers on London streets for inspiration only to have one of his potential subjects lead him on a criminal trajectory. Shot on a low budget with a 16mm black-and-white camera, Nolan’s approach is intimate and probes a mindbending series of events, as this would become a characteristic of his subsequent work from Memento to Inception. Criterion’s director-approved edition features newly remastered audio and video, commentary and an interview with Nolan, a chronological version of the film, Nolan’s three-minute short Doodlebug from 1997, and an essay by film critic Scott Foundas.
11th - Ted (2012, Blu-ray)
Mainstream comedies are typically a garbage heap where movies cease to be funny after the initial, shock-value-infused viewing. Case in point: The Hangover. Seth MacFarlane’s Ted doesn’t redefine pi or anything so substantial, but it’s a comedy that will no doubt be funny every time you see it. Pairing usual hardcase Mark Wahlberg opposite a foul-mouthed, MacFarlane-voiced teddy bear is hilarious in concept alone. But then MacFarlane also brings his brand of sometimes witty, sometimes random, always ‘80s pop-culture infused style and makes something that made me laugh from beginning to end, and made me want to watch it again. In an obligatory “unrated version”, the Blu-ray/DVD Combo features a making-of featurette; commentary with MacFarlane, co-writer Alex Sulkin, and Wahlberg; something called “Teddy Bear Scuffle”; and a gag reel.
21st - Killer Joe (2012, Blu-ray)
Director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) teamed with playwright Tracy Letts (Bug) once more on Killer Joe, a “southern-fried noir” in which a trailer parked son/father (Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church) hire a local cop who moonlights as a killer-for-hire (Matthew McConaughey) to kill their mother/ex-wife. For extreme violence and a morbid scene involving a chicken drumstick, the MPAA slapped Friedkin’s film with an NC-17. As a result, few got to see McConaughey’s best performance in his year of good performances (see Bernie or Magic Mike); so hopefully the film makes an impression on video. This is an “Unrated Director’s Cut”—a strange notion considering Friedkin’s refusal to cut certain scenes resulted in the rating. Nevertheless, there’s a smidge more footage here, along with a featurette called Southern Fried Hospitality, a Q&A and Intro from SXSW, and Friedkin commentary. A surprisingly funny, very involving murder story, this is one of 2012’s very best films.
21st - Premium Rush (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Chances are you missed one of the most exciting, most adrenaline-pumping, most underseen action movies of summer 2012. Premium Rush stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Looper) as a no-brakes New York City bike courier who’s given an envelope to deliver, except a corrupt cop (Michael Shannon, also in the above-mentioned Bug) needs what’s inside. Breakneck pursuits on city streets and down alleyways, daredevil stunts, and impossibly fast-moving chase sequences make you wonder how they ever filmed this in New York, while the sharp plotting, intense performances, and bravado directing by David Koepp (Secret Window) immerse us even further. This disc is somewhat limited by way of features (there are Meet the Cast and Behind the Wheels featurettes only), but this release is all about discovering something you missed and shouldn’t have.
31st - Looper (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
A thoughtful, complex, intelligent, and emotionally involving science-fiction film, Rian Johnson’s time travel actioner Looper is almost certainly my favorite film of 2012. His intricate future worlds have so many fascinating details and layers, while his narrative shifts play with the audience’s expectations and take us in directions we aren’t expecting: First we empathize with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s mob assassin who's trying to save his own skin, then we root for Bruce Willis’ older version of the same character who’s just trying to preserve his happy relationship, and finally we meet Emily Blunt’s farmhouse single mother and her not-significant son. On this release are 22 deleted scenes, a 3-part feature on the score, a Science of Time Travel featurette, and a short film Evil Demon Golf Ball From Hell. An answer to paradoxes present in the likes of The Terminator or Source Code, it’s a twisting, tightly-plotted, and harrowing film that brings its audience to a pitch-perfect conclusion, and therein ranks among the best pieces of science-fiction ever put to film.
6th - Arthur Christmas (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
While every other movie has a 3-4 month turnaround from theater to video, holiday films always take a full year, if only to exploit consumers’ desire to watch Christmas fare around the holidays. (Who wants to watch A Christmas Story in the summer?) And so, it’s taken almost a full 12 months for last year’s blithe animated holiday film Arthur Christmas to arrive, and now it can become a yearly staple in your household. Involving a family line of Santas, the story is about a new high-tech Santa’s plan to deliver toys, and the traditionalist young son’s refusal to allow one child to be forgotten come Christmas morning. Filled with witty British humor and accessible jokes for kids, it’s great fun and should look wonderful on Blu-ray. Special features include a handful of featurettes and an Elf Recruitment video.
6th - Brave (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Disney-Pixar’s Brave was deceptively straightforward storytelling, using the customary Disney model where a young princess in need of a husband rebels against tradition to become her own woman. But Pixar’s touch suggests a princess can be a warrior too, and she doesn’t necessarily need a prince to define her. That strong feminine message and the story’s main relationship between the princess and the stern queen mother are what make this something beyond a standard Disney fairy tale. Aside from some iffy comic relief (the witch and her bird), the exciting and magic-filled film is a delight, and of course it looks gorgeous too. The film will be available in both 5- and 3-disc combo packs. Among the features are the theatrical short La Luna, the new short The Legend of Mor’du, several character construction featurettes, a look at the film’s “Dirty Hairy People” (the Scots), a blooper reel, and director commentary.
6th - Rashomon (1950, The Criterion Collection)
The film that brought Japanese master Akira Kurosawa and his star Toshiro Mifune international renown, Rashomon considers the nature of perspective and truth, and the subjectivity of justice. Telling the same event from four different points of view, the tale details four interpretations of a rape and murder, and how they differ is both amusing and horrifying. Much copied but never matched, Kurosawa’s film is a strikingly made, incomparable masterpiece. The Criterion Collection’s revamped edition boasts a newly restored transfer along with all the features from Criterion’s previous DVD edition. Among the highlights are commentary by Japanese film historian Donald Richie, the 68-minute doc A Testimony as an Image, several video interviews, and a booklet with essays, and the source material that inspired the film. Also, you can expect Rashomon to appear in The Definitives sometime before the end of 2012.
6th - Sunset Blvd (1950, Blu-ray)
Billy Wilder’s immortal Hollywood satire Sunset Blvd finally arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Paramount Home Video who, if you’ve been reading industry news as of late, just licensed hundreds of titles over to Warner Bros. for release. This means the long delayed catalog titles (Wilder’s A Foreign Affair, Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, and DePalma’s Snake Eyes top my wishlist) at Paramount should finally start hitting stores next year. But back to this release! Wilder’s darkly comic, ahead-of-its-time, noir-infused yarn follows William Holden’s screenwriter as he shacks up with a sugar-mama, Gloria Swanson’s washed-up silent film star who’s lost her mind. Paramount’s disc features well over two hours of additional material, including more than a dozen featurettes, cast and crew bios, a rare deleted scene, commentary by On Sunset Blvd: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder author Ed Sikov, and much more.
6th - They Live (1988, Blu-ray)
John Carpenter’s They Live feels like the child resulting from a deranged orgy between an episode of The Twilight Zone, a corny 1980s actioner, and thoughtful Atomic era sci-fi. Along with the inclusion of muscle-bound ham Roddy Pipper as the homeless hero “named” Nada, the film borders on pure camp but validates itself as something more through a clever class commentary. Carpenter’s low-budget production features Piper and badass Keith David (The Thing) discovering an alien race has overtaken the upper class, and with it all segments of government and pop-culture. From the indie distributors Shout Factory comes this impressive limited edition Blu-ray featuring commentary by Carpenter and Piper, an interview with the director, a cast reunion video, archival making-of videos, TV spots, never-before-seen footage from the commercials created for the film, and more. For those of us die-hard fans of Carpenter’s cult-classic, this is a dream release.
13th - Lawrence of Arabia (1962, 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)
My wife and I caught the recent theatrical re-release of Lawrence of Arabia in theaters, and we were blown away by the quality of the 4K digitally restored image, and once again entranced by the majesty of David Lean’s epic-to-end-all-epics—a film profound not only for its scale, but for the depth and mystery of its eponymous character. Clocking in at 227-minutes for this director's cut (including the overture, intermission, entr'acte, and exit music), Lean’s film has not one dull moment, and what’s more resists traditional Hollywood conventions for epic storytelling. In the end, the hero does not succeed, nor do we fully understand him, which is why we keep returning to this miracle picture. In celebrating the film’s 50th Anniversary, this limited edition boxed set contain a plethora of bonus material, some exclusive to the 4-disc boxed set (the film will also be available in a 2-disc version). Along with the usual assortments of archival footage and newsreels, several rare interviews, and an extra disc with Maurice Jarre’s iconic soundtrack, this set includes an 88-page coffee table book on the film’s production and legacy. Also look for Lawrence of Arabia in The Definitives in the first half of November.
20th - Heaven's Gate (1980, The Criterion Collection)
A film whose overblown budget was reviewed more than its contents upon its initial release, Michael Cimino’s Heaven's Gate was a panned and controversial revisionist Western, but it’s also an important epic that needs to be rediscovered. Following his breakthrough with The Deer Hunter, Cimino was given free reign over his next project, a story of Kris Kristofferson’s weathered U.S. marshal uncovering a government-backed land conspiracy in Wyoming. Famously over-budget, the film flopped due to bad press and went disregarded for years. But whenever there’s a film like this, who better than Criterion to remind cinephiles that such a forgotten masterpiece exists? Christopher Walken and Isabelle Huppert also star in this grand, unconventional tale presented in a director-approved transfer of Cimino’s full director’s cut. Interviews, promotional materials, an essay by critic Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, and a video about The Johnson County War (the real-life events inspiring the film) adorn this impressive release from Criterion.
27th - Lawless (2012, Blu-ray/DVD)
Not quite in the spare and relentless style director John Hillcoat employed for his first two films, The Proposition and The Road, this adaptation of author Matt Bondurant’s book The Wettest County in the World features an accessible presentation for commercial audiences. As such, it focused on action and familiar character arcs more than any potential commentary about the history and hypocrisy of Prohibition, specifically in Franklin County, VA. Rather than the portrait of American crime and entrepreneurial drive it could have been, Lawless resolves to be a family melodrama on par with last summer’s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries. At any rate, the entire case (including Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, and Gary Oldman) give strong performances, and those interested in the period shouldn’t pass up this capably made actioner. This release features deleted scenes, a couple docs on the true story behind the film, and commentary with Hillcoat and Bondurant.
27th - Paranorman (2012, Blu-ray/DVD)
Out of the two macabre stop-motion animated films released this year, ParaNorman beats out Tim Burton’s retread Frankenweenie by far. It’s also the best animated film of 2012. Period. Injected with a unique visual style, fun characters with relatable motivations, and a plot that tests the emotional maturity of its audience, it’s a film more apparently fitting for adults than children. Horror movie fanatics will love its indirect genre references, and children with a dark streak will love the humor and child-safe monster antics. The story, written by Chris Butler and directed by Butler and Sam Fell, follows the young outcast Norman who can see ghosts, but his sixth sense has made him the only person capable of confronting his small town’s curse. This Blu-ray/DVD combo contains a behind-the-scenes doc, seven character featurettes, commentary, and a few other hidden secrets.
2nd - Cinderella (1950, Diamond Edition Blu-ray/DVD)
The House of Mouse’s classic story of magic, royalty in love, and a wicked stepmother, Cinderella finally arrives on Blu-ray in another of Disney’s “Diamond Edition” combo packs. Although some say this 1950 animated picture was rotoscoped, animators used live model Helene Stanley to inspire the titular character, just as they did for Sleeping Beauty almost ten years later. However it was made, the result is an enchanting fairy tale and a must-buy for Disney aficionados. This set includes the Tangled Ever After animated short, an alternate opening sequence, and several featurettes: The Magic of the Glass Slipper: A Cinderella Story, Behind The Magic: A New Disney Princess Fantasyland, The Real Fairy Godmother, and Diane Disney Miller Cinderella Film Intro.
2nd - Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection
From the 1930s through 1950s, Universal Studios was known for its monster movies, just as Warner Bros. was known for gangster pictures and musicals. Their initial run of archetypal monster titles instilled a lasting iconography in the genre evident in pop-culture and horror films to this day. Universal is finally bringing their cadre of ghastly creatures to Blu-ray with their Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection, a set including Dracula (1931, also Spanish version) Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), Phantom of the Opera (1943), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Each title comes with audio commentary, theatrical trailers, production photos, and at least one behind-the-scenes featurette. The set also includes a 48-page book featuring behind-the-scenes photographs, original posters, and vintage correspondences.
9th - Dial M for Murder (1954, Blu-ray)
Although not an essential Hitchcock masterpiece, Dial M for Murder is a claustrophobic thriller starring the director’s archetypal blonde damsel, the gorgeous Grace Kelly. Ray Milland plays her husband, a tennis pro who wants her dead when he discovers she’s having an affair. He hires a loutish crook (Anthony Dawson) to perform the murder, however the murder plot doesn’t go quite as planned. Does it ever? Originally shot to implement early 3D technology of the red/blue lens variety, Warner Bros. has meticulously restored the film. Presenting this Hitchcock gem in a new high-def transfer using a 4K scan of the original negative, the disc also features a 3D version of the film, for those interested. Also on the disc are the featurettes Hitchcock and Dial M and 3D: A Brief History, as well as the theatrical trailer.
9th - E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982, Blu-ray)
Steven Spielberg’s body of archetypal classics has had a good year on Blu-ray. First Jaws, then the Indiana Jones films, and now E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, one of the all-time great feel-good movies of the 1980s. His classic received the George Lucas treatment a few years back in 2002 when the filmmaker added deleted scenes back into the film, incorporated CGI to finish an incomplete sequence, and, much to the annoyance of fans, digitally changed the FBI agents’ shotguns to walkie-talkies. Spielberg has since acknowledged his error and announced he will never again tamper with his older films in such a way. As such, Universal is putting out this first-time-on-Blu-ray edition of Spielberg’s family classic in its original, unaltered cut. The release contains the visual log The E.T. Journals, deleted scenes from the 2002 version, production/marketing materials, and a whopping ten featurettes.
16th - Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
If there’s one film this year that left me brimming with joy, it’s Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, a tender and hilarious foray for two young outcasts in the 1960s. Anderson’s cast includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, and also Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the two main players. With Anderson’s signature quirk and visual symmetry, he tells a story about two decidedly asymmetrical characters whose romance channels our own experiences with your love. The DVD/Blu-ray Combo is, unfortunately, not from The Criterion Collection, who has released each of Anderson’s films save for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Keep your fingers crossed that these two stragglers will get the Criterion treatment some time in the future. At any rate, the features include a behind-the-scenes doc, a guided tour of the New England locations in the film, and a set tour hosted by Bill Murray. More discs should offer Bill Murray-hosted supplements.
25th - Strangers on a Train (1951, Blu-ray)
Another Hitchcock film with a tennis player… Strangers on a Train stars Farley Granger as a tennis pro and Robert Walker as a bored misanthrope. When they meet by chance on a train, their casual discussion of personal troubles inevitably leads to Walker proposing that each man murders the person the other wants gone. Granger considers the murder swap idea a joke, but Walker wasn’t joking. What proceeds is one of Hitchcock’s most fascinating studies of the homicidal mind, with Walker playing a wildly fun maniac. Among Hitchcock's best films, Warner Bros. is presenting Strangers on a Train for the first time on Blu-ray with both the U.S. and the extended European versions, and with plenty of bonus material, including several behind-the-scenes featurettes: A Hitchcock Classic, The Victim's P.O.V., An Appreciation by M. Night Shyamalan, The Hitchcocks on Hitch, and Alfred Hitchcock's Historical Meeting.
23rd - Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Poorly advertised and underseen, this year’s summer sleeper Seeking a Friend for the End of the World did not advance to a sleeper hit like, say, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. With a cumbersome title and offbeat subject matter, Lorene Scafaria's apocalyptic romantic comedy may have been impossible to market during the summer blockbuster season, but it represents a truly original entry into the genre. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play two strangers who meet and form a friendship in the Earth’s last days, as an unstoppable 70-mile-wide asteroid hurtles toward the planet. It’s a hilarious, heartbreaking film that will hopefully find its audience on video. This edition features outtakes, a behind-the-scenes doc, interviews with the cast, and commentary with Scafaria, her mother, and costar Patton Oswalt.
30th - Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Blu-ray Boxed Set)
Delayed from last month’s release date of September 25 due to technical imperfections in the transfers, color timing, and issues with the credits, Universal’s massive Hitchcock boxed set is now due for October 30th. Here’s what I wrote about it last month: Whether or not I decide to drop $220 on Universal Studios’ impressive Blu-ray limited edition set, Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, depends largely on the reviews. This enormous 15-film boxed set houses a 50-page book with storyboards, costume sketches, and rare photographs. The set contains two titles now available on Blu-ray (North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960)), but the other 13 titles make their Blu-ray debut here: Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972), and Family Plot (1976). And if the transfers on the other 13 titles are as good as the ones on those 2 currently available, we’re in for a treat. Here’s hoping Universal spent the necessary time and money on restoring these suspense classics.
30th - Rosemary's Baby (1968, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
One of the great horror masterpieces, Rosemary’s Baby is arguably Roman Polanski’s best film—a paranoia-fuelled, wryly comic, suspenseful domestic chiller with an ending that will leave you trembling no matter how many times you see it. The fear shown in Mia Farrow’s eyes in that final scene is enough to stop a person’s heart. In this dream-come-true release from Criterion, fans get the film for the first time on Blu-ray in an all-new high-definition digital restoration approved by the director himself. The disc also contains interviews with Polanski, Farrow, and producer Robert Evans; Komeda, Komeda, a feature-length documentary on the life composer Krzysztof Komeda; a vintage radio interview with novelist Ira Levin; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Ed Park. Arriving just in time for Halloween, this is one of the year’s must-own releases. Now, Criterion, how about refurbishing Polanski’s underrated shocker The Tenant?
4th - Umberto D. (1952, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
Much like his renowned Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica’s heartrending Umberto D. begins as a complex neorealist study of postwar Italy’s sociopolitical economic conditions, but by the end gives way to a beautifully realized humanist tale about a man and his dog. Actor Carlo Battisti and his terrier named Flike meander in a jobless Rome and scrape by with no one but each other to rely on. It’s touching, achingly powerful, and among the most life-affirming pictures ever made. Now The Criterion Collection has upgraded their previous DVD with a new HD transfer for Blu-ray. The disc contains the hour-long doc That’s Life: Vittorio De Sica (2001) made for Italian television, an interview with actress Maria Pia Casilio, and a booklet with an essay by critic Stuart Klawans.
18th - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Seeing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, another film about geriatrics, was one of the most enthusiastic moviegoing experiences I’ve had all year. My wife and I were the youngest people in the audience at the prescreening, the majority of the seats filled with upper-middle-class retirees who got a hoot out of the adventures of this all-star cast of Brits in India. We did too. Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, and Dev Patel headline Shakespeare in Love director John Madden’s delightful surprise hit, which did particularly well at the Indian box-office. This release contains several featurettes: Behind the Story: Lights, Colors, and Smiles; Casting Legends; Welcome to the "Real" Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Trekking to India: "Life is Never the Same"; Tuk Tuk Travels.
18th - Children of Paradise (1946, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
Often cited as ‘the greatest film ever made’, Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise, a sprawling 3-hour epic of Poetic Realism, at the very least contends with Renoir’s The Rules of the Game for the title of best French film ever made. Following a cross-section of nineteenth century Parisian actors, criminals, and moneyed folk, the film, made during the German Occupation, contains no end of impressive staging, melodrama, and political parallels—it’s a true wonder. Meticulously restored by Pathé in 2011 and having just concluded a worldwide tour, the film shines on this edition, which betters Criterion’s earlier release with a shockingly improved new transfer and some new extras. All of the previous DVD edition extras carry over as well. Terry Gilliam (Brazil) provides an introduction; film scholars Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron provide commentary; there's the 1967 documentary The Birth of Children of Paradise; and a booklet with an essay and an interview. Also, look for an entry on Children of Paradise in The Definitives come late September.
18th - The Adventures of Indiana Jones (Blu-ray)
Finally arriving on Blu-ray are the first three Indiana Jones adventures (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was already available on Blu) in a new boxed set from Paramount. This five-disc set includes all four films and another disc loaded with extras. The list of features contains almost everything on the previous DVD releases, with a few newly produced features exclusive to this set. With about 20 featurettes in all, this is a massive must-buy collection for the adventure enthusiast. For Raiders of the Lost Ark, the studio undertook an exhaustive new transfer from the original negative, scanned it in 4K, and perfected it frame-by-frame—it’s the crowning jewel of this set in more ways than one. Although, disappointingly, this extensive restoration was not done with Temple of Doom or The Last Crusade, the standard HD upgrade should look gorgeous anyway. Moreover, devoted fans can catch the newly revamped Raiders at select AMC theaters the week of September 7-13, with a special all-day, four-film event on the 15th! Count me in!
18th - Les visiteurs du soir (1942, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
French master Marcel Carné made Les visiteurs du soir just a couple years before Children of Paradise, working with the same screenwriter, poet and author Jacques Prévert, and much of his same crew of artisan set designers and costume makers. Because Nazi censors kept a close eye on any film that sought to represent contemporary French ideals or depict the Occupation in a bad light, this costume epic reaches for the past, but undoubtedly has modern parallels intrinsically understood by French moviegoers. Here Alain Cuny and the beautiful Arletty (also in Children of Paradise) star as minstrels who in secret work for the devil to spread despair; nevertheless, love softens even their hearts in true romantic form. Criterion’s disc contains the making-of documentary L'aventure des visiteurs du soir, a trailer, and a booklet with an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson.
25th - Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Blu-ray Boxed Set)
Whether or not I decide to drop $220 on Universal Studios’ impressive Blu-ray limited edition set, Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, depends largely on the reviews. This enormous 15-film boxed set houses a 50-page book with storyboards, costume sketches, and rare photographs. The set contains two titles now available on Blu-ray (North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960)), but the other 13 titles make their Blu-ray debut here: Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972), and Family Plot (1976). And if the transfers on the other 13 titles are as good as the ones on those 2 currently available, we’re in for a treat. Here’s hoping Universal spent the necessary time and money on restoring these suspense classics.
25th - The Avengers (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
This year’s biggest blockbuster was also the most wowing spectacle to hit theaters since Avatar. Granted, The Avengers didn’t have the dramatic merits or social commentary of The Dark Knight Rises, but damn, what a fun ride. Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) battle Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his band of alien invaders in this giant-sized epic that’s pure summer entertainment. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is top-of-the-line, containing a massive set of extras. Here are some highlights: a Marvel One Shot short film Item 47; Alternate opening called "Maria Hill Interrogation"; extended/deleted scenes; gag reel; and several making-of featurettes. Expect this to be one of the year’s top sellers.
25th - The Game (1997, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection’s long-awaited release of David Fincher’s black gem The Game finally arrives this September with director-approved video and audio transfers. Somewhat forgotten and certainly underappreciated since its release in 1997, the thriller stars Michael Douglas as a rich and lonely businessman whose staid life is interrupted when his wildcard brother (Sean Penn) gives him a birthday gift that’s supposed to make his life “fun”. Subsequently harassed, hunted, and double-crossed in a series of escalating pranks and chases, the character’s life is turned upside-down, leading to an unforgettable conclusion. The disc features an exhaustive list of contributors to the audio commentary, an hour-long behind-the-scenes footage assembly, an alternate ending (!), and an essay by film critic David Sterritt. This is a must-buy for any fan of Se7en, Fight Club, or any other of Fincher’s dark works.
7th - Johnny Guitar (1954)
Like a Douglas Sirk melodrama dropped into a Western setting, Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar splashes with color and emotion in this wildly vivacious and underseen gem from the 1950s. Featuring Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, Sterling Hayden, and the late Ernest Borgnine, this Western drama pops and spills over with political commentary and sexual innuendo. Although overlooked by Americans upon its initial release, the film earned the attention of French New Wave critics and filmmakers, and in the subsequent years has become a rediscovered classic stateside. Part retaliation against McCarthy-era fanaticism, part precursor to a sexual revolution, this operatic, hugely entertaining piece of cinema is a must-see for fans of either the Western or melodrama. Olive Films’ DVD and Blu-ray releases are bare-bones, offering only a 3-minute introduction by Martin Scorsese; but this is the film’s first time on either format. Rediscover one of the best films from the director of Bigger Than Life, In a Lonely Place, and Rebel Without a Cause, also the site’s top-recommended disc for August.
14th - Jaws (1975)
Jaws is a piece of film history—one I’ve watched countless times, and it just keeps getting better. Steven Spielberg’s first blockbuster invented the summer blockbuster season and created a countless number of iconographic film tropes: John Williams’ classic two-note theme, the highly quotable dialogue, sequence after memorable shark sequence, the incredible performances, and the always-interpretable storyline. This month, Jaws will appear in The Definitives, but before that pick up this meticulously restored Anniversary Blu-ray. The set features a new feature-length doc called The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws, two behind-the-scenes featurettes (The Restoration and From the Set), archival features (storyboards, production photos, and marketing materials, as well as a special segment on the Jaws phenomenon), deleted scenes, outtakes, and a trailer. Part of Universal Studios 100th Anniversary celebration, this is a long-overdue disc that any highbrow or lowbrow viewer will enjoy.
14th - The Royal Tenenbaums (The Criterion Collection, Blu-ray)
As always, there’s a segment of the audience now that just doesn’t “get” Wes Anderson’s newest film, Moonrise Kingdom. And likewise, it’s incredible to me that in some circles Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums is not seen as a masterpiece of emotion and humor, but rather just a quirky comedy. In his portrait of a dysfunctional family of geniuses, Anderson digs until he reaches a wellspring of surprisingly profound revelations about family and intellect. Featuring Gene Hackman (in his last great performance), Angelica Huston, Luke and Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Danny Glover, this is one of Anderson’s very best. The Criterion Collection’s original DVD finally receives a Blu-ray upgrade this month, and all the two-disc DVD features carry over. The extensive extras include interviews with the cast, outtakes, an episode of The Peter Bradley Show, a James Hamilton scrapbook, Eric Anderson artwork, and an essay by critic Kent Jones.
18th - The Hunger Games (2012)
Although I gave The Hunger Games a favorable review for the total power of the narrative, the Suzanne Collins reader in me felt disappointed by a rushed third act and annoying Shaky-cam cinematography. So it’s good news that the film’s director, Gary Ross, has been replaced for the sequel, Catching Fire. Nevertheless, along with the superb casting, enough elements were well-executed enough to deserve a recommendation, even if it was somewhat curbed with disappointment. Released, strangely, on a Saturday, the film arrives on Blu-ray and DVD to crowds of excited fans, who helped earn the film beaucoup bucks at the box-office last March. The disc includes an extensive eight-part making-of doc, two behind-the-scenes featurettes (Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games Phenomenon, Controlling the Games), the full Panem propaganda video, and a marketing archive.
3rd - God Bless America (2012)
Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr play social assassins in writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s pitch black comedy God Bless America—assassins not in the Larry David sense, mind you, where David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm version of himself calls people out on his own set of intricate social rules. They are social assassins in the sense that they carry firearms and shoot people who they feel deserve it. When one of those groups included people who say “literally” as a figurative point of emphasis, the film instantly won me over. They also target people who love American Idol-esque shows, religious fanatics, and people who are just plain rude. A morbid, bloody, and cathartic film, this limited release indie title should have a long life on home video as audiences slowly discover it. Put it at the top of your Netflix rental queue and prepare for something different. (Order God Bless America on DVD from Amazon.com)
17th - Down by Law (1986, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
Robby Müller’s sharp black-and-white photography should look wonderful in The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray upgrade of director Jim Jarmusch’s 1986 beatnik odyssey Down By Law. Set against a drab Louisiana backdrop, the film follows three strangers as they’re thrown together in a concrete-and-iron prison for their assorted misdeeds and then make plans to escape. Down on their luck all, Tom Waits’ unemployed disc jockey, John Lurie’s petty pimp, and Roberto Benigni’s Italian tourist form an odd kinship in this downtrodden black comedy. The release contains all the same features from Criterion’s previous DVD except for the HD upgrade. If you haven’t seen this and you’re at all a fan of anyone involved, it’s a must-buy arthouse release. And since Barnes & Noble’s semi-annual Criterion sale is this month, it’s the perfect time to check this title off your wishlist.
17th - Singin' in the Rain (1952, 60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)
For the 60th anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain, probably the best musical ever made, Warner Bros. has pulled out all the stops. In addition to a limited theatrical re-release, Warner bows this impressive Blu-ray package, including a 48 page hard cover production book with never-before-seen memos and photos. This edition even features an umbrella replica, like the one carried by Gene Kelly in the film, and a poster reproduction. In all, there are four hours of bonus content here, including new and archival interviews, commentaries, and behind-the-scene documentaries. Kelly was never better than in this Hollywood satire (appropriately released in 1952 just before the crash of the Hollywood Golden Age), an iconic musical and film of pure delight, wonderful songs, and gorgeous Technicolor. (Order Singin in the Rain 60th Anniversary on a disc-only version from Amazon.com)
24th - Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 1 (Blu-ray)
Trekkies, Trekkers, and even unlabeled fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation have been waiting for this release for years. Long in talks and development, Paramount has painstakingly restored the first season of TNG with improved CGI effects and a wowingly crisp HD presentation for Blu-ray. Easily my all time favorite show next to Batman: The Animated Series, TNG’s remastered seasons couldn’t come out soon enough (there’s already talk of Season 2 hitting shelves before the year’s end). Loaded with new features and such, the main reason to pick up this set is to rediscover the Star Trek franchise’s best show with new details and new ornamentation but the same great stories. Picard, Data, a beardless Riker—you can’t go wrong. Although an expensive choice for Deep Focus Review’s “Disc of the Month”, those who can appreciate how much this release improves upon the original DVD package will be in heaven.
31st - Total Recall (1990, Blu-ray)
Get your ass to Mars! Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release of Total Recall from several years back was actually one of my first purchases on the format, and what a disappointment it was. With any luck, this new edition from the studio will be as mind-bending as the silly sub-title suggests. Paul Verhoeven’s crazily violent science-fictioner was based on Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, although only in the vaguest, conceptual way. It’s a twisting and actionized tale of secret identities, Martian conspiracies, and macho gunfights, and it’s made with amazing practical makeup effects (courtesy of Rob Bottin) and some incredible FX work. It’s also arguably the best thing Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever done. This edition, boasting an all-new director-approved HD transfer from the original film negative, should look much improved and hopefully help sell some more tickets to the promising-looking remake staring Colin Farrell hitting theaters on August 3.
5th - The Color of Money (1986, 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)
A late sequel to 1961’s poolhall classic The Hustler, which helped solidify Paul Newman as a screen icon, 1986’s The Color of Money finds Newman's pool shark Fast Eddie Felson hungry to make it big once again. He teams with a talented and cocky apprentice, Vince (Tom Cruise), and teaches him how to work a room and earn a buck. Meanwhile, Vince’s scheming girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) wonders why they need Felson at all. Throughout this rich character study written by Richard Price, director Martin Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus incorporate bravado camera movements into now-iconic scenes—such as Cruise dancing to “Werewolves of London” as he clears a pool table. Newman is wonderful, earning an overdue Oscar for Best Actor. This 25th Anniversary Edition marks the film’s debut on Blu-ray, but lacks the usual bells and whistles.
12th - The Gold Rush (1925/1942, The Criterion Collection)
Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush solidified his Little Tramp as a cultural icon and further cemented several key sequences in our cinematic awareness. Consider how well we know Chaplin's dinner roll dance, or when he eats a meal of boiled shoes, or when his partner’s desperate hunger transforms him into a chicken. Along with his romantic interest Georgia Gale, Chaplin ventures into the Klondike to prospect for gold and instead finds hardship and love. This essential release from The Criterion Collection features both the original 1925 silent version and Chaplin’s preferred 1942 version (complete with new music and narration). Criterion’s disc is loaded with extras, including the short documentary Chaplin Today: “The Gold Rush” (2002), three featurettes (Presenting “The Gold Rush, A Time of Innovation: Visual Effects in “The Gold Rush”, and Music by Charles Chaplin), four trailers, new commentary, James Agee’s 1942 review, and an essay by critic Luc Sante. (Order The Gold Rush on DVD from Amazon.com)
12th - Harold and Maude (1971, The Criterion Collection)
There are those who swear by Hal Ashby’s offbeat romance Harold and Maude, but for whatever reason the film never stuck with me. Following the unlikely romance of Harold (Bud Court), a confused young man who vies for attention by creating fake suicide scenes, and Maude, an elderly oddball, the film has an odd sense of humor courtesy of Colin Higgins’ script. But given my adoration of Ashby’s Being There, perhaps this cult classic deserves an open-minded second chance on my part. Criterion’s delayed disc was supposed to hit shelves in April of this year, but didn’t. The disc contains commentary by Hal Ashby biographer Nick Dawson and producer Charles B. Mulvehill, an interview with songwriter Cat Stevens, and a booklet with several essays and archival articles about the film and its talent. (Order Harold and Maude on DVD from Amazon.com)
12th - Shallow Grave (1994, The Criterion Collection)
Before making Trainspotting, director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge released the Hitchcockian thriller Shallow Grave. Though not as popular in the states as it was in the UK, the film’s darkly comic, murderous plot gives Boyle a chance to play with unique camera angles and grim atmosphere, thumping music, and his signature brand of energy and humor. Watching this film, it’s anyone’s guess why it wasn’t the project that made Ewan McGregor and Boyle stars. It’s hugely entertaining. The tale follows three roommates (Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, and McGregor) who take on a boarder, and when he leaves a suitcase of cash after his unexpected death, the trio’s relationship declines into some incredible lows when they jealously determine what to do with the money. Criterion’s disc features a new interview with the cast, the documentary Digging Your Own Grave and a making-of video diary both by Kevin Macdonald, trailers, commentaries, and an essay by critic Philip Kemp. For fans interested in Boyle’s pre-Oscar career or Hitchcockian suspense, this is a must-buy. (Order Shallow Grave on DVD from Amazon.com)
12th - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Last year’s blockbuster sequel to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, A Game of Shadows proved a more compelling movie, if only because Jarred Harris’ Moritary was a better and more memorable villain. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s wonderful chemistry is joined by Noomi Rapace’s gypsy sidekick, but the sequel, like its predecessor, proved instantly forgettable if fondly remembered. Perfect for mind-numbed home viewing, the film should make a great Blu-ray. The disc is loaded with seven behind-the-scenes featurettes (Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Perfect Chemistry, Holmes Without Borders, Moriarty's Master Plan Unleashed, Holmesavision on Steroids, Sherlock Holmes: Under the Gypsy Spell, Meet Mycroft Holmes, and Guy Ritchie's Well-Oiled Machine).
26th - The Artist (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Last year’s best film and winner of 6 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor), The Artist is pure cinematic love committed to film. French director Michel Hazanavicius reteams with Jean Dujardin, the cheeky leading man from Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 films Cairo, Nest of Spies and Lost in Rio, who stars as silent film star George Valentin as he goes from riches to rags, like any number of silent actors. Shot in black-and-white and almost completely without dialogue, the film will put a smile on your face that won't soon fade during or after this amazing, joyous ode to the motion pictures of yesteryear. Originally slated for April but delayed after the Oscar wins, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s release features a blooper reel, Q&A with the cast, and six making-of featurettes (The Artist: The Making of an American Romance, Hollywood as a Character: The Locations of The Artist, The Costumes, The Cinematography, The Production Design, and The Composer). (Order The Artist on DVD from Amazon.com)
26th - The Samurai Trilogy (The Criterion Collection)
Hiroshi Inagaki adapted the Japanese legend of Musashi Miyamoto in his sweeping Samurai Trilogy, featuring the incomparable Toshiro Mifune as the eponymous samurai. An epic based on the life of the seventeenth-century artist-warrior, the tale follows a young upstart as he eventually becomes a wise samurai. In Musashi Miyamoto (1954), Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955), and Duel at Ganryu Island (1956), we see an exciting and melodramatic story wonderfully told, earning its status as “Japan’s Gone with the Wind”. Criterion’s revamp of their earlier release features all-new HD transfers, new subtitle translations, interviews with translator and historian William Scott Wilson about the real-life Musashi Miyamoto, and essays by film historian Stephen Prince and Wilson. (Order The Samurai Trilogy on DVD from Amazon.com)
26th - The 39 Steps (The Criterion Collection)
Wrong men. MacGuffins. Meet-cutes. One of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest, The 39 Steps contains a number of storytelling tropes for Hitchcock’s oft-visited spy movies. Here, Robert Donat plays Richard Hannay, who is wrongfully pegged as a killer and, in a genius meet-cute, chased across the Scottish moors handcuffed to Madeline Carroll’s Pamela. The film serves as the birthplace for later Hitchcock thrillers like Saboteur and North by Northwest, and has no limit of romance and suspense. Criterion finally revisits one of their earliest releases in this new edition, which features plenty of supplements: a British documentary Hitchcock: The Early Years (2000); archival interviews, footage, and radio programs; a visual essay by Hitchcock scholar Leonard Leff; audio excerpts from François Truffaut’s 1962 interviews with Hitchcock; original production design drawings; and an essay by film critic David Cairns. (Order The 39 Steps on DVD from Amazon.com)
26th - 21 Jump Street (2012, Blu-ray)
Making a quick turnaround from theatrical release to home video in just under three months, 21 Jump Street may be this year’s funniest mainstream comedy. It proved Channing Tatum is capable of more than just monotone dialogue delivery and flaccid Nicholas Sparks romances; he was actually very funny. Being alongside Jonah Hill, in his temporary thin phase, didn’t hurt either. This comedic reboot of the late ‘80s/early ’90 cop show went for pure laughs, leaving the action on the wayside (save for a hilarious shootout in the finale). The DVD and Blu-ray releases should be fun, with four featurettes (Back to School, Brothers in Arms, Johnny Depp On Set, and Peter Pan on The Freeway), twenty (!) deleted scenes, The Rob Riggle Show feature, and the obligatory gag reel. (Order 21 Jump Street on DVD from Amazon.com)
1st - Haywire (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
As I write this, Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire is the year’s best action movie. MMA fighter Gina Carano stars as Mallory Kane, a Jason Borne-esque black ops agent framed by her employer. She tries to figure out why, and in the process Soderbergh delivers brutally real hand-to-hand combat, exciting chase sequences, and solid performances from the impressive supporting cast (Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas). Shot with the director’s clever eye and assembled in his customary deconstructed format, the film proves that Soderbergh brings class to any genre in which he works. The supplements on Lionsgate's Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo pack are modest. Two behind-the-scenes featurettes (Carano's Transition from MMA to Film and A Look at the Men of Haywire). (Order Haywire on DVD from Amazon.com)
1st - eXistenZ (1999, Blu-ray)
Miramax’s genre offshoot Dimension Films has never treated its releases with much respect, save for the Scream movies, Sin City, and a few others. But since Miramax’s video rights have been purchased, their titles are slowly arriving on Blu-ray in respectable editions. Last year’s Mimic and Trainspotting boasted worthy transfers, while this year gave us The English Patient. And now, one of David Cronenberg’s most underrated gems, eXistenZ (1999), arrives on Blu, but packaged along with two lowbrow titles (B. Monkey and Malevolent) on one disc. For those unfamiliar, eXistenZ represents a more sophisticated, less commercial version of The Matrix, and was actually released within a few weeks of that film. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law as a videogame designer and her bodyguard on the run from purists who believe they represent the pollution of the mind. This twisting, slimy, clever little film is one of Cronenberg’s most purely entertaining, and it derives clear influence from author Philip K. Dick in its questioning of reality. Hopefully the Blu-ray upgrades the current DVD transfer, but its packaging with two other films doesn’t bode well.
8th - La haine (1995, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
French director Mathieu Kassovitz debuted his visceral film La haine in 1995, and his work hasn’t been so emotionally or politically charged since. Featuring incredible performances from Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui, and a tour de force from Vincent Cassel, Kassovitz’s film looks at a group of social misfits on the margins of Paris’ downtrodden banlieue to make a bold commentary of the country’s social climate. The Criterion Collection’s DVD debuted a few years back, but now they’ve upgraded their release with a new Blu-ray transfer. All of the old bonus materials are intact, including an introduction by Jodie Foster, a documentary on the film’s influence, deleted and extended scenes, behind-the-scenes materials, a 2006 appreciation by filmmaker Costa-Gavras, and more.
15th - Being John Malkovich (1999, The Criterion Collection)
Malkovich, Malkovich? Malkovich! In 1999, director Spike Jonze introduced the world to the little known writer Charlie Kaufman, and our expectations of cinema haven’t been the same since. Being John Malkovich is a modern masterpiece and, along with the second masterful Jonze-Kaufman collaboration on Adaptation, it represents a totally distinctive style of surrealist, comedic filmmaking. Cerebral, absurd, paranoid, and incomparably unique, the film’s brilliance is only offset by its idiosyncrasies. The Criterion Collection debuts their new release of the film this month, and it looks like a doozey with supplements galore: Commentary by Jonze and Michel Gondry, a behind-the-scenes documentary, two “films within the film”, the documentary An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Puppeteering, a booklet featuring an extended interview with Jonze, and plenty more. Perhaps the best feature of all: the new HD transfer that’s bound to improve on the previous DVD’s grainy presentation. Who could ask for more? Criterion’s stellar release is May’s “Disc of the Month”. (Order Being John Malkovich on DVD from Amazon.com)
15th - Chronicle (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Surprised. That’s how I felt after Chronicle, a movie that shouldn’t have worked but did. These elements that have been explored elsewhere to their full extent, but here, with first-timer Josh Trank’s interesting direction and writer Max Landis’ clever script, this “found footage” superhero movie made the most of its rundown clichés. Case in point: This is the first time I’ve ever wanted to watch a “found footage” movie twice, if only because the ending brings about a satisfying conclusion. With strong characters and simple, effective visuals, the movie manages to be more than what you’re expecting. The "Extended Director's Cut" Blu-ray/DVD combo features a deleted scene, trailer, camera tests, and more.
15th - The Grey (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
One of 2012’s best films so far, The Grey is an absolutely unflinching, merciless experience. Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) directs Liam Neeson in a survivalist tale about airplane crash survivors in Alaska running from a pack of bloodthirsty wolves. Combating the elements, each other, and the ruthless killing machines watching their every move, the survivors develop their own pack mentality, with Neeson presenting a dynamic Alpha Male. Neeson’s performance has unexpected gravitas and three-dimensionality, making this more than just a Man vs. Nature film. By the end, you’ll understand why this deserves to be compared more to The Road than The Edge. Universal's Blu-ray/DVD combo features deleted scenes and commentary with Carnahan and his editors, while the HD transfer of Carnahan’s gorgeous on-location photography is its own bonus.
15th - White Squall (1996, Blu-ray)
When people think of Ridley Scott, they more think of his epic works like Blade Runner and Gladiator than his humanist dramas like White Squall. Released in 1996, the film’s previous DVD from Hollywood Pictures featured a few supplements and a non-anamorphic transfer. The new Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment may not have the top-notch HD transfer the film’s fans were hoping for (the $9.99 price tag suggests the transfer’s quality), but at least the presentation will be anamorphic. For those unfamiliar, the story follows the brigantine Albatross, a sailing school for boy headed by a strict Skipper, played by Jeff Bridges. Featuring early appearances by a number of young actors (Ryan Phillippe, Scott Wolf, Jeremy Sisto, Ethan Embry, and Balthazar Getty), this deeply affecting story is both a coming-of-age tale and a true story of a rare sea phenomenon.
22nd - The Secret World of Arrietty (2012, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Based on Mary Norton’s children’s book The Borrowers, Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty tells a gentle and endearing story about a group of one-inch little people living under the floorboards, borrowing items to survive. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi helms a script co-written by legendary Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro) and delivers a mostly hand-drawn piece of animation that’s just beautiful. More than the colorful animation, however, is Ghibli’s treatment of characters and story, and how they transform animation into something of great substance. Disney’s Blu-ray/DVD combo features a storyboard version of the film, a Japanese soundtrack, original Japanese advertisements, and more.
29th - Summer Interlude (1951, The Criterion Collection)
Before he became internationally renowned with The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman made a trio of films about the summer. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) is arguably the best, being a lighter romantic comedy of sorts, while Summer Interlude (1951) and Summer with Monika (1953) are also important works in Bergman’s early career. The former features Maj-Britt Nilsson as a dancer whose disastrous affair with a young student fills her with memories and regrets. A film that shows Berman exploring many of the themes that would fill his best works, Summer Interlude belongs in any Bergman fan’s collection. And since Bergman aficionados no doubt already have The Criterion Collection’s considerable inventory of the director’s films on DVD and Blu-ray, this comes as a welcome, if modestly supplemented release. (Order Summer Interlude on DVD from Amazon.com)
29th - Summer with Monika (1953, The Criterion Collection)
Criterion may not have loaded Summer Interlude with features, but they’ve decked out their release of Summer with Monika—the first Bergman film ever seen by his longtime devotee Woody Allen—with a healthy serving of bonuses. Somewhat scandalous in the U.S. where it was exploited as merely a work of eroticism, Criterion offers the film in its original, uncut version that wasn’t manipulated by stateside distributors. The story follows Harriet Andersson and Lars Ekborg, a young couple who escape for a summer tryst, only to be struck by the harsh reality of the world when they return home. This disc contains an introduction by Berman, a new interview with Andersson by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie, a half-hour documentary on the film, new interviews, archival interviews, and a booklet featuring essays and reviews. (Order Summer with Monika on DVD from Amazon.com)
3rd - Chinatown (1974, Blu-ray )
Roman Polanski’s 1974 landmark Chinatown pays homage to the heyday of film noir stories but imbues a gristly sense of 1970s Hollywood into the proceedings, exploring violence and morbid sexuality within the genre’s borders. Jack Nicholson’s investigator Jake Gittes became the Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe of a new generation and has since earned his place amid the greatest of all film private eyes. Paramount, slow in releasing their catalog titles in HD, finally gets this classic on Blu-ray in an impressive package. The set includes commentary with David Fincher and writer Robert Towne, a three-part Water and Power documentary, a video appreciation (featuring Steven Soderbergh, James Newton Howard, Kimberly Peirce, and Roger Deakins), three behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a trailer. Now Paramount needs only to release Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant.
3rd - War Horse (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Steven Spielberg’s War Horse proceeds in full embrace of a classical style of filmmaking, the stuff of John Ford and William Wyler. It’s a minor masterpiece in stylistic adoption and implementation by a master filmmaker in full control of his technical and sentimental faculties. I challenge you to watch and not cry or not find yourself in awe of any number of visually blustering moments. Disney’s loaded four-disc release contains a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo and a healthy serving of supplements. There’s an hour-long making-of doc A Filmmaking Journey, as well as six behind-the-scenes featurettes (War Horse: The Journey Home, War Horse: The Look, Through the Producer's Lens, Editing and Scoring, An Extra's Point of View, and The Sounds of War Horse).
10th - Into the Abyss (2011)
It’s a crime that neither of Werner Herzog’s two documentaries (including Cave of Forgotten Deams) from 2011 were nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscar ceremony. Nevertheless, Into the Abyss arrives on home video this month, offering those who missed it during the limited theatrical run to be assaulted by Herzog’s surprising rumination on life and death. Centered on 28-year-old death row inmate Michael Perry, who was scheduled to die within a week of appearing in Herzog’s film, the doc features interviews with Perry’s family and victims’ family, ultimately resolving on an anti-death penalty message. Of course, it’s much more than that, as Herzog peels away layers of human emotion that may make you think twice about your views on the subject, no matter which side they fall on. (Order Into the Abyss on DVD from Amazon.com)
17th - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
The unexpected international blockbuster of last year’s overcrowded holiday season, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol proved a number of things: 1) Tom Cruise has still got it after all these years, 2) director Brad Bird is just as wowing in live-action as he was with animation, 3) when a franchise reaches its fourth entry, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going downhill with another tired, familiar sequel. Cruise and Bird managed to drop our collective jaws with a number of fantastic action sequences and some clever spy gadgetry in this latest Mission: Impossible film. Here’s hoping the team joins forces for another one. Paramount’s three-disc combo pack contains a whopping fourteen featurettes, trailers, and an alternate opening with commentary by Bird. It’s also April’s “Disc of the Month”.
17th - Shame (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Steve McQueen’s Shame went virtually unseen by the general public last year, although it was hailed as one of the year’s best, particularly for Michael Fassbender’s uncompromising performance as a man suffering from sexual addiction. That this film was completely overlooked at the Oscars is still frustrating; of course, the NC-17 rating no doubt played a role in that. But something tells me time will help this film earn its much-deserved veneration. Fox’s Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack will finally make Shame accessible to a wider audience, even if it is on home video. The release contains four featurettes (Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen, The Story of Shame, and A Shared Vision), a theatrical trailer, and an extended interview with Fassbender about his character.
6th - To Catch a Thief (1955, Blu-ray)
Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in the Riviera. Alfred Hitchcock directs. Do you need to know more? To Catch a Thief supplies its audience with attractive stars garbed in Edith Head’s costumes in an attractive locale—a pure Hollywood escape filled with thrills and romance. It’s one of Hitchcock’s lightest films, but also one of his most effortlessly entertaining. Paramount, in one of their rare catalog Blu-rays, pulls out all the stops for this classic, although a number of supplements carry over from previous DVD releases. On the disc is commentary by Hitchcock historian Drew Casper, publicity materials, as well as several featurettes (A Night with the Hitchcocks, Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America, The Making of To Catch A Thief, Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch A Thief: An Appreciation, Edith Head: The Paramount Years).
13th - The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
More than any other film arriving on Blu-ray in March, I’m most excited to revisit The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg’s thrilling animated film based on Hergé’s beloved adventure stories. Conceived with visual atmosphere, textures, and yet a cartoonish look, the film’s animation was second in 2011 only to Rango. For those who might be hesitant, know that Spielberg’s own Indiana Jones films borrow heavily from Hergé, a factoid that’s evident in every frame of this twisting, awe-inspiring ride in which the limits of possibility are extended by animation. The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack includes 11 featurettes (Toasting Tintin: Part 1, The Journey of Tintin, The World of Tintin, The Who's Who of Tintin, Tintin: Conceptual Design, Tintin: In the Volume, Snowy: From Beginning to End, Animating Tintin, Tintin: The Score, Collecting Tintin, and Toasting Tintin: Part 2). Expect nothing short of a gorgeous-looking film on a gorgeous-looking disc.
13th - The Last Temptation of Christ (1988, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, from the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, features scandalous subject matter (for the religiously devoted audience, anyway) and a number of incredible performances (by Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, and David Bowie among others). The Criterion Collection’s DVD release of the film from several years ago reminded us why this is one of Scorsese’s most risqué projects. Now that Criterion has remastered their disc in Blu-ray—just in time for Easter, no less—fans can experience this underseen and underrated film in HD glory. The disc includes the same materials from the previous DVD, including commentary by Scorsese, Dafoe, and Paul Schrader and Jay Cocks; rare production stills and footage; an interview with composer Peter Gabriel; and an essay by film critic David Ehrenstein.
20th - Carnage (2011)
It’s a small crime that more people didn’t see Carnage, which featured four of 2011’s best performances courtesy of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz. That none of these actors were nominated for an Oscar is shameful. Roman Polanski once again proves that he’s at his best in a close quarters scenario, using his limited space to boil tensions until they spill over. But instead of using his usual setting for one of his wonderful paranoid thrillers, he uses it to surprising comic effect, adapting Yasmina Reza’s play about two sets of parents who meet to discuss a schoolyard brawl between their sons. The video release features three bonus supplements: Actors’ Notes, An Evening with John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz, and On the Red Carpet. (Order Carnage on DVD from Amazon.com)
20th - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Though it was perhaps not the best strategy on Sony’s part to release The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo around Christmas—which was particularly busy last year for moviegoers—the film earned a profit nonetheless, and so the studio has all but confirmed that the two sequels will inevitably follow. High sales of this DVD/Blu-ray release should only solidify the matter. It was a far superior adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels, as director David Fincher, stars Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, and the screenplay by Steve Zaillian converge for an effective-if-unsettling tone, whereas the Swedish versions seemed uneven by comparison. Fincher always takes special care with his home video releases, ensuring a top-notch transfer and a boatload of supplements for the consumer. Commentary by Fincher is joined by over four hours of making-of and documentary material.
20th - The Muppets (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Four different versions of The Muppets will arrive in stories on March 20, with various combinations of DVD and Blu-ray, some with or without a digital copy and/or soundtrack. I’m recommending the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, as it seems to have everything one needs. Even if you didn’t instantly love this movie as I did, the supplements should be a laugh. There’s The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History—We Think); audio commentary with Jason Segel, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller; 8 deleted scenes; 3 featurettes (Scratching the Surface: A Hasty Examination of the Making of Disney's The Muppets, Explaining Evil: The Full Tex Richman Song and A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read Through); and the spoof trailers for the film.
27th - A Dangerous Method (2011)
David Cronenberg’s underseen A Dangerous Method was a fascinating film, one that rapt me in characters and ideas, and roused my intellectual processes more than any other film in 2011. Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen star as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud respectively, characters whose personal and professional associations are tested with the arrival of a disturbed, yet uncannily intelligent patient, played (fantastically) by Keira Knightley. Here’s hoping the right people—those looking for cerebral stimulation—find this film on video. Sony’s disc contains a modest trio of features: commentary with David Cronenberg, The Making of A Dangerous Method featurette, and AFI's Harold Lloyd Master Seminar with David Cronenberg. (Order A Dangerous Method on DVD from Amazon.com)
27th - David Lean Directs Noël Coward (The Criterion Collection Boxed Set)
For years, The Criterion Collection has been toiling away on a boxed set of David Lean films. Before he made epics like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, Lean made intimate dramas and pointedly (non-Hollywood) British stories. In “David Lean Directs Noël Coward”, Criterion assembles four films in which Lean helms one of writer Noël Coward’s stories. These include the wartime drama In Which We Serve (1942), the working-class tale This Happy Breed (1944), the comedy Blithe Spirit (1945) with Rex Harrison, and one of Lean’s absolute masterpieces, the romance Brief Encounter (1945). The latter film was previously released by Criterion, but it’s been refurbished here. Along with the films, Criterion includes an abundance of supplements: interviews with Noël Coward scholar Barry Day on all of the films; an interview with Lean’s collaborator Ronald Neame; a television documentary on Lean’s career; new essays; and much more. Anglophiles, devotees to British cinema, and Lean’s enthusiasts couldn’t be treated with a better collection of films in one package. It’s March’s “Disc of the Month”. (Order David Lean Directs Noel Coward on DVD from Amazon.com)
27th - A Night to Remember (1958, The Criterion Collection)
With James Cameron’s Titanic hitting theaters in 3-D this April, Criterion took the opportune time to remind cineaste’s why British director Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember is a superior film on the sinking of that massive ship in 1912. Told with a poignancy and decided lack of overwrought melodrama that fuels Cameron’s film, Baker’s film is a remarkable adaptation of Walter Lord’s novel on the subject. Criterion had previously released this title on DVD, but they’ve improved the transfer and expanded the features here: a sixty-minute making-of documentary from 1993; an interview with Titanic survivor Eva Hart; En natt att minnas (1962), a half-hour Swedish documentary featuring interviews with Titanic survivors; Iceberg That Sank the “Titanic” (2006), a sixty-minute BBC documentary; essays and more. (Order A Night to Remember (Criterion Collection) on DVD from Amazon.com)
7th - Lady and the Tramp (1955, Blu-ray/DVD Diamond Edition)
Disney’s growing library of remastered classics on Blu-ray is part marketing strategy, part necessity for collectors. Of course, Disney is notorious for placing titles “in the vault” to create demand; after a few years, they re-release the title again and everyone buys the new edition, because it has nifty new bonus features and a crisp new transfer. At least in the case of their Blu-ray remastering in HD, you can be sure that their latest release, their first widescreen film Lady and the Tramp, will look better than it’s probably ever looked. This new “Diamond Edition” comes with a ridiculous amount of games and features, the most notable of which are never-before-seen deleted scenes and a never-before-heard song.
7th - Take Shelter (2011)
Take Shelter was oh-so close to making my Top 10 Films of 2011 list. It’s such a subtle piece of social commentary, which is then, of course, wonderfully exploded by Michael Shannon’s intense performance. (It's a crime that he wasn't nominated for an Oscar.) Writer-director Jeff Nichols taps into America’s growing hysteria in these hard economic and political times and exploits that in a superb drama. Shannon stars as a devoted husband and father who believes his upsetting apocalyptic dreams could be a warning of things to come. Is he crazy, or is there some truth to his fanatical ideas? Nichols’ pitch-perfect ending recalls the one from Inception with its certainty-yet-ambiguity. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release this disc with commentary by Nichols and Shannon, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and deleted scenes. Chances are you missed this one in theaters; see that you don’t miss its video release. (Order Take Shelter on DVD from Amazon.com)
14th - Three Outlaw Samurai (1964, The Criterion Collection)
A staple of Japan’s chambara or swordplay genre, Three Outlaw Samurai is a fast-paced samurai film and the first ever directorial effort from Hideo Gosha, who also made Sword of the Beast. The story originally began on Japanese television, but Gosha helmed this feature-length prequel into a classic that immediately surpassed its source. The story follows an experienced ronin (Tetsuro Tamba) as he begrudgingly teams with two samurai (Isamu Nagato and Mikijiro Hira) on a deadly kidnapping rescue mission. The Criterion Collection’s release offers only a few features, including a trailer and an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri, but samurai action junkies will want to pick this one up regardless (Order Three Outlaw Samurai on DVD from Amazon.com)
21st - Anatomy of a Murder (1959, The Criterion Collection)
Hollywood maverick Otto Preminger’s boundary-pushing courtroom drama is among the best of the genre, second only to 12 Angry Men. James Stewart plays a small-town lawyer roped into defending a young army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) who has allegedly murdered the man who raped his wife. George C. Scott, Lee Remick, and Joseph N. Welch also star. With a title sequence and iconic poster designed by Saul Bass and music by Duke Ellington, this influential film raised eyebrows over its open and provocative use of the word “panties” and other sexually suggestive material for the 1950s. Criterion’s disc features interviews with Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch; archival newsreel footage, photographs, and news articles; a look at Bass and Preminger’s relationship; and much, much more. For any fan of courtroom drama, classic cinema, Jimmy Stewart, or just fine filmmaking, this is a must-buy. (Order Anatomy of a Murder on DVD from Amazon.com)
21st - Unforgiven (1992, 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Book)
The first time I saw Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, I was blown away. After years of savoring the beloved Man with No Name films, Eastwood’s touching and hard-edged revisionist Western showed grit beyond his typical forays into the genre, yet an emotional depth that makes it necessary to revisit. Moreover, it was the first film in his directorial career that showed vast artistic promise, only to be followed by several titles also representative of a master filmmaker. Along with Gene Hackman (in an Oscar-winning supporting role), Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris, Eastwood tells a tale of a former gunslinger who returns to his vicious ways to collect a bounty. This 20th Anniversary Blu-ray Book Edition is a repackaging of Warner’s previous Unforgiven Blu-ray, along with all the resident features. But if you don’t own the Blu-ray already, this anniversary is as good a time as any to pick it up.
21st - World on a Wire (1973, The Criterion Collection)
In World on a Wire, insanely prolific German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder explores a Philip K. Dick-esque science-fiction tale about a reluctant engineer who discovers a massive corporate conspiracy, and does so with the visual style and emotional detachment of Stanley Kubrick. This recent rediscovery originally aired on German television and Criterion presents the full three-and-a-half-hour piece in a much-anticipated release. The set includes a fifty-minute documentary about the making of the film by Juliane Lorenz, a restored transfer approved by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, an essay by film critic Ed Halter, and promotional material for the 2010 theatrical re-release. (Order World on a Wire on DVD from Amazon.com)
28th - Hugo (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Quite unexpectedly, Martin Scorsese's Hugo went from being an early-year head-scratcher in terms of marketing and turned out to be into one of the most beloved films of 2011. Certainly worthy of its many Oscar nominations, the film transports us into a whimsical adventure and a telling ode to the power of cinema. It's still baffling to me how a film that seems so un-Scorsese-like could become one of his most personal films, but then that's what makes Scorsese such an enduring presence in modern film: He keeps reinventing himself. The Blu-ray should look fantastic, as Scorsese spared no effort to bring a big-budget gloss to the production, implementing a wide range of CGI and costume effects that are polished beyond anything else in Scorsese's body of work. On the disc are five featurettes, including Shoot the Moon: The Making of Hugo, The Cinemagician, Georges Méliès, The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo, Big Effects, Small Scale, and Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime.
28th - Vanya on 42nd Street (1994, The Criterion Collection)
Stage director André Gregory launched a series of no-frills performances of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in the early 1990s in a rinky-dink Manhattan theater, and for his last directorial effort, French master Louis Malle was there to film it. This is Vanya on 42nd Street, an experiment in “pure theater” that compares in style and tone to Malle’s My Dinner with Andre. Malle captures the incredible cast (Lynn Cohen, George Gaynes, Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, and Brooke Smith) in this adaptation by playwright/screenwriter David Mamet. Criterion, whose Malle catalog is extensive, offers a disc with a transfer approved by cinematographer Declan Quinn, a new documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew, and a booklet with essays by critics Steven Vineberg and Amy Taubin. (Order Vanya on 42nd Street on DVD from Amazon.com)
3rd - Contagion (2011, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Beyond being one of Steven Soderbergh’s best films in years, Contagion also reunites three stars (Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law) from The Talented Mr. Ripley, which, as stated above, will be featured this month in The Definitives. Coincidence? Yes! Soderbergh’s ensemble in this sweeping, Traffic-like depiction of how a worst-case-scenario virus works also features Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and Jennifer Ehle. Though it may not make my Top 10 Films of 2011, it’ll come damn close. Regardless if it makes the list or not, this was unquestionably one of my favorite releases of the year—something I wanted to watch again as soon as it was over, and a prime example of how elegant commercial filmmaking can be. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack offers three featurettes: Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World, False Comfort Zone: The Reality of Contagion, and The Contagion Detectives. The latter two are exclusive to the Blu-ray release.
3rd - Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011, Blu-ray)
Troy Nixey’s fabulously creepy directing debut Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was underseen, although we were lucky to have seen it at all, based on the rocky production history. Guillermo del Toro produced and co-wrote this unsettling remake of the 1973 television movie, imbuing it with an effective combination of both unseen scares and scary monsters. Youngster Bailee Madison out-acts co-stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce as a child who meets whispering, conniving creatures in her father’s new home, a haunted house with a sordid history. (Is there any other kind?) Given Nixey’s use of blackness and shadows, the film will be best appreciated on Blu-ray, which contains three making-of featurettes: The Story, Blackwood's Mansion, and The Creatures. (Order Don't Be Afraid of the Dark on DVD from Amazon.com)
17th - Traffic (2011, The Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
Paired along with Contagion due earlier in the month, a double-feature with Soderberg’s Traffic sounds like a perfect night of home viewing. The Criterion Collection has completed a much-needed Blu-ray upgrade of Soderbergh’s landmark film from 2000, which details the ins-and-outs of America’s drug problem with an impressive ensemble. An Oscar-winner for best director, best screenplay, best editing, and best supporting actor for Benicio del Toro, it’s easy to overlook how great a film Soderbergh has made here. Though Traffic has already been released on Blu-ray by Universal Studios, this must-buy edition contains an exhaustive set of features: All the supplements from Criterion’s previous 2-disc DVD carry over, including a director-approved transfer, 25 deleted scenes with commentary, an editing demonstration, multiple film commentaries, and an essay by film critic Manohla Dargis.
24th - Godzilla (1954, The Criterion Collection )
In this must-own release for any monster movie fanatic, Criterion offers both Japan’s 1954 release Gojira and the 1956 American cut Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Aside from laughs to be had from the American dubbing, the original Japanese version suggests a potent postwar assessment of their national angst over being bombed in WWII, and the subsequent nuclear tests that took place over the Pacific. In addition to monster-sized destruction, there’s actually some genuine emotion to be felt here. Criterion’s impressive disc features several interviews with the film’s actors, special effects artists, and composer; an essay by J. Hoberman; and, most interestingly, The Unluckiest Dragon, "an illustrated audio essay featuring historian Greg Pflugfelder describing the tragic fate of the fishing vessel Daigo Fukuryu Maru, a real-life event that inspired Godzilla." (Order Godzilla on DVD from Amazon.com)
31st - Adaptation. (2002, Blu-ray)
This barebones Blu-ray upgrade of Spike Jonze’s Adaptation is necessary for anyone familiar with the lousy transfer on the DVD edition. Here, Jonze reteams with his Being John Malkovich writer Charlie Kaufman for a genius tale of how Kaufman was hired to adapt Susan Orlean’s plotless book The Orchid Thief, but then didn’t. Instead, Kaufman’s screenplay becomes about the process of adaptation itself, swirling into a clever give-the-audience-what-it-wants finale, only to twist into something more cynical and creative than the viewer could imagine. It’s a film about how screenplay conventions dull not only the writer, but the expectations of the audience. Of course, Kaufman challenges the audience with every turn. Moreover, Nicolas Cage gives an incredibly nuanced, Oscar-nominated dual performance as both Charlie and Donald Kaufman, the former a thin veil for Kaufman himself, the latter a construct of everything wrong with Hollywood writers.
31st - Cold Mountain (2003, Blu-ray)
Since Lionsgate Home Entertainment purchased the Miramax library for home video distribution, a wealth of catalog titles are slowly trickling in on Blu-ray, including two essential titles from the late writer-director Anthony Minghella that will make their Blu-ray debut. The more underrated of the two is Cold Mountain, a Civil War epic that earned several Oscar nominations and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Renée Zellweger. This gorgeous, sweeping Civil War-set romance follows a woman (Nicole Kidman) who must make it on her own while her solder husband (Jude Law) braves wartime terrain to return home. The supporting cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, and Ray Winstone. Features from the previous DVD edition carry over, including deleted scenes, a making-of documentary, and audio commentary with Minghella and his editor Walter Murch.
31st - Drive (2011)
One of 2011’s best and most stylish films, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive combines his brooding style with the characteristics of a 1980s noir, complete with a Tangerine Dream-esque score and pink titles. Ryan Gosling is so damn cool as an L.A. stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway wheelman; his subtle performance crackles with intensity when he’s revealed to be something more dangerous than the controlled “quiet type” he appears to be. Carey Mulligan plays Gosling’s sweethearted neighbor whose crooked ex-con husband (Oscar Isaac) puts Gosling’s driver in with the wrong crooks. But it’s Albert Brooks that deserves any Oscar consideration here; he’s brilliant in his small villain role, putting his charm to good use as an intimidating-but-likable gangster. Exciting car chases, slow-burning suspense, and great performances all around—you can’t go wrong here. The disc contains five featurettes: I Drive, Under The Hood, Driver and Irene, Cut To The Chase, and Drive Without A Driver: Interview With Nicolas Winding Refn. (Order Drive on DVD from Amazon.com)
31st - The English Patient (1996, Blu-ray)
Along with the aforementioned Cold Mountain, Lionsgate will debut several Oscar winners on Blu-ray in January. Other notable titles include Frida, The Piano, and Shakespeare in Love. But none is more romantic or more celebrated than Anthony Minghella’s masterpiece The English Patient, a film that remains overlooked and undervalued for the popularity it inspired upon its release (including some lampooning on Seinfeld). Minghella’s beautiful, sophisticated treatment of Michael Ondaatje’s winding novel returns Hollywood romances to the epic heights established by David Lean—the film’s desert scenes evoke Lawrence of Arabia and its romantic affair channels Doctor Zhivago. The story follows the affair between a Hungarian Count (Ralph Fiennes) and a British mapmaker (Kristin Scott Thomas), cleverly using flashbacks seen from the peak of WWII when Fiennes’ torched character is cared for by a melancholy nurse (Juliette Binoche). Minghella folds the narrative’s varying periods together into a magnificent piece of storytelling that may not be linear, but uses its nonlinear structure to tell a more powerful tale. As January’s “Disc of the Month”, this Blu-ray features all of the considerable supplements on the previous DVD edition, but an HD transfer to showcase Minghella’s stunning, unforgettable film, which was also entered into The Definitives in 2009 (read the article HERE).