Every year, we here at Short Ends and Leader get into an argument over the way in which we “determine” this category. While many stand around and scream about the titles we don’t include (insert name of famous film - say Citizen Kane - released on Blu-ray with a bountiful selection of added content) while staring, stunned, at what we chose to champion. The debate always comes down to something akin to commerciality vs….well, weird. It seems like everything we love about the format gets shuttered aside when the major studios decide to unleash their big cinematic guns. Instead of digging beneath the surface and seeing what lies below, we are supposed to kowtow to the companies that control the format and give them even more publicity.
Well, that’s never been the case and won’t be this year. As a matter of fact, aside from a Manufactured on Demand offering from one of the major multinational, the rest of 2011’s list comes from fringe distributors. It’s not like we go out of our way to cheer for the underdog, but when the choices are the latest mediocre movie from the supposed hit factory of Hollywood, or some long lost entry from a true cinematic auteur, we’ll take the newly discovered treasure any day. Again, many of the entries here are older titles brought up to date thanks to the digital medium. Only a couple come from the last few years. What this indicates is that our list for the Best DVDs of 2011 is all about artistic archeology. We’ve dug through the drek and discovered a collection of gems that any film fan would be foolish not to own. So keep your Collector’s Edition of The Lion King. We’ll stick with these:
God bless Alex Cox. Few filmmakers follow their own peculiar muse, no matter how much grief or career complaints they seem to get. Long wanting to be his own boss, so to speak, to answer to no one except his own imagination. Infinitesimal financing or not, this is one writer/director dining on his own unique perspective, plating up servings for those strong enough to tackle his tastes. Such is the case with this snarky, satisfying riff on his first mainstream hit. Changing the gender and the main motivation are the least of this creative copy joys. Watching Cox work is magic enough.
Here is Bon Scott: shirtless, tight jeaned, arms festooned with what looks like a longshoreman’s version of prison and/or biker tattoos, and a mop of hair hiding his often sheepish, mischievous grin. The minute he walks on the small French stage for the opening number, “Live Wire”, he literally commands it. Guitarist Angus Young, decked out in his customary school boy’s uniform, can duck walk from one side of the venue to the other, his face an O-mouthed expression of power chord chaos and yet he can’t pull the Let There Be Rock spotlight away from Scott. The result is rock concert bliss.
At nearly three hours in length, 3 Idiots is the most epic coming of age college hijinx comedy ever. It’s also the most heartwarming, endearing, and insightful. Taking down the draconian philosophy surrounding higher education in India (everything centers on class placement, competition, and oppressive cutthroat tactics), director Rajkumar Hirani mixes melodrama with message to deliver a delightful dismissal of such practices. Sprawled over 14 years and filled with all manner of cinematic styles - farce, musical, serious dramatics, meta commentary - it goes from confusing to classic so gracefully that you feel foolish for not recognizing the reversal when it happens.
If you think that Spike Milligan’s take on war will resemble that classic scene from The Meaning of Life (an elaborate birthday celebration in the trenches) or the entire fourth series of Blackadder, you’d be wrong. Instead, just like its title, this farce is a sly, subversive experience. It sneaks up on you like a well played prank, avoiding the pratfalls and pantomime we’ve come to expect from such a comedy subgenre. While Milligan plays fast and loose with the facts of his actual service, it’s indebted in an approach that argues for the pointless inhumanity, and droll English cheek, of those who sacrificed so much for so many.
It’s hard to say if Larry “Wild Man” Fischer deserves better. Like other surrealist acts before and since - The Shaggs, Daniel Johnston - he’s not really what one would call a ‘traditional’ musician. Those who’ve heard him have never forgotten the experience. Derailroaded does a brilliant job of arguing for who he is, giving various voices a chance to establish the benchmark that the music may not. Similarly, since most of Fischer’s dealings have involved a close personal as well as professional relationship, the insights into his mixed up mindset are equally exposed.