The Best DVDs of 2010

[5 January 2011]

By PopMatters Staff


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Mystery Team

Director: Dan Eckman
Cast: Donald Glover, DC Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, Aubrey Plaza, Matt Walsh, Bobby Moynihan

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Mystery Team
Lionsgate

In sketch group Derrick Comedy’s first feature film, three guys (DC Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, and Donald Glover of NBC’s Community) started an Encyclopedia Brown-style detective agency as children, and now they’re teenagers and still at it. Same dorky haircuts and clothes, same nonsense kid mysteries. A girl retains them to find her parents’ murderer: naturally they accept, and hi-jinx ensue. Scored by Glover, and featuring supporting actors like Bobby Moynihan, Aubrey Plaza, Ellie Kemper, Kevin Brown, John Lutz, and Matt Walsh, the movie is knock-you-over, line-after-line hilarious, but at its core it is a coming-of-age story with real heart. The DVD includes an extra 94 minutes of laughs on an audio commentary, a deleted scenes montage that reads like a gag reel and a few other bonuses. This is the kind of movie you buy and show over and over for every new friend that walks in the door. Jenn Misko

 


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Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare

(  PBS)

34

Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare
PBS

It is the sort of show that is often lazily characterized as ‘defying description’. Like most works that ‘defy description’, Acting Shakespeare in fact inspires a slew of descriptions: what it defies is a reductive definition. This is ‘An Evening with Ian McKellen’; it is one actor’s autobiography; it is a brief history of Shakespeare’s working life, and a longer history of the life of his work; it is a greatest hits set of Shakespearean speeches; and it is as fine a lesson in acting as is available for home viewing. We are so accustomed to home viewing now involving the sight CGI spectacles seen on high definition televisions the size of small cinema screens, their soundtracks exploding around us at volumes Ozzy Osbourne would think excessive, that to put on a DVD and watch a major league movie star stand alone, in an unremarkable blue-grey shirt and greyish slacks, on an all but bare stage, is, at first, peculiar and jarring. It takes only minutes, though, to become captivated by this singular figure. McKellen accepts the true challenge of Shakespearean acting: to perform the roles as Burbage would have performed them in their first runs, without special effects or scenery, with only the audience and the ‘wooden O’. In so doing, he extends to us the true challenge of appreciating Shakespeare: not to sit as passive spectators, but to work our imaginations around the words we hear, to participate in the performances we are experiencing, and so become a true audience. Scott Jordan Harris

 


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The Red Riding Trilogy (Blu-ray)

Director: Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker
Cast: Mark Addy, Sean Bean, Jim Carter, Warren Clarke, Paddy Considine, Shaun Dooley, Gerard Kearns, Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall

33

The Red Riding Trilogy (Blu-ray)
IFC Films

The three made for British TV films that make up The Red Riding TrilogyIn the Year of Our Lord 1974, In the Year of Our Lord 1980, and In the Year of Our Lord 1983—argue for their place as true awe-inspiring works of revisionist genius. Certainly, we have seen the set-up before—sleepy little burg, outrageous horror along the fringes, the tenuous links to people of importance and legitimate authority, the able antihero (or in this case, antiheroes) struggling to come up with clues, connections, and conclusions. It’s the typical police procedural path. But like the brilliant Robbie Coltrane vehicle Cracker from the ‘90s, the three different directors in charge of realizing these stories reset the bar so high that it’s impossible to imagine anyone reaching its ridiculously satisfying heights. Bill Gibron

 


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Up in the Air

Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride

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Up in the Air
Paramount

Up in the Air captures the zeitgeist of the American crash years. As cutthroat capitalism discards people and destroys communities, every human relationship is fraught with uncertainty. George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a “termination agent”—a hired gun who fires employees of downsizing companies. Bingham is a corporate gypsy, flying from town to town, day after day. He’s a man without roots; a bare apartment is his home. With no family and few friends, he embraces a philosophy of no attachments, not realizing that his loneliness is a byproduct of his vocation. When Bingham finally risks a personal relationship, he becomes vulnerable, just like the people he fires on a daily basis. In the film’s final indelible image, Bingham is dwarfed by an enormous airport flight board. It’s a devastating cinematic moment: Bingham is everyman, his life overwhelmed by economic forces beyond his control. An unforgettable film. John Grassi

 


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Tokyo Story

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruka Sugimura, So Yamamura, Kuniko Mikaye

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Tokyo Story
BFI [UK]

Ozu is a master of the Japanese domestic environment. His direction is unshowy yet highly distinctive; he favours static shots which encourage focus on the actors and low-angle compositions, with the camera almost seated amongst his characters as an observing equal. He cultivates an atmosphere of polite intimacy and minimal drama in which he seeks and succeeds in drawing-out basic human truths. His is not the cinema of spectacle but of subtlety. Tokyo Story is resonant, insightful and superbly performed and directed. It is a justly recognised classic. The DVD edition comes with Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941), a rarely seen early Ozu feature, which in many ways can be seen as a precursor to the superior Tokyo Story, thus making it an interesting comparison piece. Unlike the fairly mint main feature, it has suffered the ravages of time—particularly with regards the quality of its sound—but is otherwise a welcome addition. It concerns a family that, at the start of the picture, come together for a family portrait in celebration of the matriarch’s 61st birthday.  Emma Simmonds

 

30 - 26


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Dexter: The Fourth Season

(Showtime)

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Dexter: The Fourth Season
Showtime/Paramount

Dexter as a series has continued to mature and the writing has continued to be strong. Even more importantly, it seems that our relationship to Dexter has continued to change. Consider how much we depended on Dexter for the primary narrative in season one, his voice explicating, justifying and giving meaning to every event and person. This seductive narrative style has continued and we mainly continue to experience Dexter’s world with Dexter’s guidance. Dexter: The Fourth Season has upped the ante for its audience, utterly transforming the main characters’ world while maintaining the basic moral tensions that make it work as both a drama and a meditative reflection on the nature of violence and evil. By the last episode, it’s our own dark passengers that are called to account. W. Scott Poole

 


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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick

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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Universal

This movie is the voice of a generation. It’s a little light on substance and heavy on style, but I’ve never seen this kind of style done so well. Layering a video-game mentality onto reality, Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), was the perfect director to adapt Bryan Lee O’Malley’s spectacular graphic novels, his reference-heavy aesthetic complimenting the story of apathetic, shiftless young people who are stuck coasting along and trying to figure out how to relate to others; they’re jaded and cynical but maintain a sense of humor about everything, and are heavily, heavily inflected by pop culture, especially (vintage) video games and bands and movies. The film’s cut fast and smart with a soundtrack handled by Beck and Anamanaguchi, and the DVD is completely loaded with engaging special features. As some girl near me said when walking out of the theater, “yay, do it again!” Jenn Misko

 


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I’m Still Here

Director: Casey Affleck
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix

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I’m Still Here
Magnolia Home Entertainment

Although it saw a limited theatrical release in 2010, I’m Still Here, an “is it or isn’t it?” mockumentary chronicling Joaquin Phoenix’s step away from the spotlight and downward spiral, is a film best seen on DVD. Despite Phoenix and Affleck’s public acknowledgment that the actor was pulling an Andy Kaufman and that I’m Still Here was his own contrived, 90-minute trip into Tony Clifton territory, there are points throughout the film where it’s hard not to wonder whether there is some truth in the tirades and meltdowns issued forth by the twice-snubbed Oscar nominee. Phoenix, with his unkempt beard and unsightly paunch, showcases method acting at its finest, putting up a front that was widely speculated at before the film’s creators confirmed the charade two years later. The lengthy commentaries and deleted scenes among the disc’s extras add to the value of seeing the mockumentary on DVD. However, the biggest bonus of all is being able to rewind and close up on the horrified look on P. Diddy’s face when he listens to Phoenix’s demo tapes displaying his original hip-hop stylings. Lana Cooper

 


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The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon

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The Fantastic Mr. Fox
20th Century Fox

Though Fantastic Mr. Fox is the only Wes Anderson film not to be released by the good people at the Criterion Collection, this is certainly no slight against the film’s quality. The succinct 2009 stop-motion animated picture is a delightful, insightful picture in the same quirky spirit as Mr. Anderson’s past work. The all-star voice cast delivers the goods in part because of a unique recording method engineered by Anderson and depicted in one of the disc’s glut of special features. Instead of following the usual method of recording each actor separately, Anderson put the actors together in a real life farmland. Seeing George Clooney and Bill Murray act out the “You cussing with me?” scene live is worth the purchase by itself. Fantastic Mr. Fox is the ideal for the relatively new Blu-ray medium, delivering stunning visuals, a great story, and answers to every technical question surrounding the distinctive production. Here’s hoping 2011 has more of its fantastic kind. Ben Travers

 


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The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Director: Kim Ji-woon
Cast: Song Kang-ho,  Lee Byung-hun , Jung Woo-sung, Yoon Je-moon , Ryoo Seung-soo , Song Yeong-chang

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The Good, The Bad, The Weird
IFC Films

The Good, The Bad, The Weird tells the story a demented outlaw, a sharp shooting bounty hunter, and a mascara wearing hitman, who are all after the same mysterious treasure map in 1930s Manchuria. Throw in Chinese gangsters, junkyard gangs, and the Japanese government, and you have the bastard child of Sergio Leone and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Directed by Kim Ji-woon (A Bittersweet Life), and featuring three of Korea’s biggest stars (Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, and Jung Woo-sung), this is a perfect combination of frantic action, explosive violence, and grim spaghetti western aesthetics. While not as packed with bonus features as the Region 2 release (which features multiple versions of the film, as well as commentary tracks), the Blu-ray presentation showcases Oh Seung-chul’s cinematography, as he captures the sweeping, desolate beauty of the settings, and the frenzied, high-energy battle scenes. Brent McKnight

 

25 - 21


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Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season

(AMC)

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Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season
Sony Pictures

On its surface, Breaking Bad is about Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston in an Emmy-winning role), an over-qualified high school chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife and a son with cerebral palsy, who has recently begun cooking high-grade meth with a former student after finding out that he has terminal lung cancer. He does this in order to provide for his family (whom he keeps the meth-cooking secret from) after he dies. Yet the show is about so much more. It asks questions such as, When does a person cross the line from being bad from good? What distinguishes someone from being truly bad and just desperate? Does death absolve us of our wrongdoings? What would you do for your family? It also dives deep into the meth trade, which has largely remained off TV due to its unseemly devastation across “flyover” country. In short, Breaking Bad isn’t light-hearted fun-time material, which is why all the premium channels (HBO, Showtime) turned it down. The show ended up at AMC, where it landed in the lineup behind Mad Men. In short order, Breaking Bad not only surpassed Mad Men in quality and storytelling; it is, without question, the best show on television. Andrew Winistorfer

 


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Best Worst Movie

Director: Michael Stephenson
Cast: George Hardy, Michael Stephenson, Darren Ewing,  Jason Steadman, Jason Wright, Claudio Fragasso

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Best Worst Movie
New Video Group

Unless you already know Troll 2 essentially by heart, there’s really no excuse for watching Best Worst Movie on its own. The film’s entire purpose is to re-examine Troll 2, a singularly bad (and strange) movie, and to trace its impact on a cult fanbase and on the cast and crew who worked on it. Directed by Troll 2‘s now-grown child actor Michael Stephenson, Best Worst Movie works as a hilarious “what went wrong?” post-mortem and a poignant “where are they now?” examination of what happened to these people afterwards. Not surprisingly, almost none of them went on to successful acting careers. Also not surprisingly, Italian director Claudio Fragasso slunk back to Italy after Troll 2, never to direct an American film again. Both films were released on dvd (not to mention a two-disc Blu-Ray for Troll 2) in late 2010, and doing a double feature of both films is by far the best way to watch Best Worst Movie. Chris Conaton

 


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The Red Shoes

Director: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Robert Helpmann, Léonide Massine, Albert Basserman, Ludmilla Tchérina

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The Red Shoes
Criterion

The sublime, sensational carnival of The Red Shoes represents the pinnacle of Technicolor achievement and remains, after an astonishing 62 years, one of the most visually rich films to ever grace the screen. It bangs its drum proudly for the tremendous importance of art, going so far as to present it as a matter of life and death. Like the ballet within the film, with which it shares numerous other parallels, The Red Shoes is a triumph of collaboration between artists at the height of their powers. The film’s visionaries, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (known together as The Archers) were masters of subverting the staid view of both the British as a people, and Britain’s filmic output. The dynamic duo’s films are unmistakably idiosyncratic; combining irreverent wit, exceptional visuals and extraordinary passion. To them the British are honourable, amusing, determined, cheeky; tea drinkers and beer swillers; heroes, rakes, lovers and artists. Despite its madly heightened unreality, The Red Shoes is utterly believable, intoxicating and impossible to resist; seducing you with its outrageous beauty, vibrancy and sackfuls of charm. This beguiling fantasy is one of the greats of British, nay world cinema. An inspiration to filmmakers and audiences alike, the restoration and Criterion’s superb packaging have reinvigorated this fine, fine film for a new generation. Magnificent. Emma Simmonds

 


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Avatar: Extended Edition (Blu-ray)

Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, Sigourney Weaver

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Avatar: Extended Edition (Blu-ray)
20th Century Fox

At this point, the cynical response would be “cash grab” and this after a billion dollar take plus at the box office. We live in such jaded times, so the belief that James Cameron had anything significant to add to his already overheated ecological fantasy parable was cast in dollar sign doubt. But there is more to the Extended Edition of Avatar beyond the proposed Na’vi ‘sex’ scene. For the first time, we understand why Jake Sully takes his dead brother’s place, the view of Earth as an overcrowded layer of Hell given the entire ‘escape’ to Pandora that much more resonance. Even better, the increased disc space allows for Cameron and his technical wizards to explain away many of the movies most magical secrets. Argue over its simplistic sci-fi message and lack of true allegorical gravitas, but when post-modern cinematic game changers are outlined, this almost wholly CG creation will stand high above them all, no matter the amount of money it made/makes. Bill Gibron

 


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Inception

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page

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Inception
Warner Brothers

Honestly, Inception could have been released as a bare-bones DVD and would still have made this list on the mere principle that each viewing of the film allows for at least one or two new clues to emerge, and sometimes one or two new whole theories. The special features that exist do enrich the viewing experience, yes, but nothing included on the disc could beat the film itself, a powerful masterwork that only gets richer with each passing viewing, and only gets more fascinating with each subsequent thought. To have it preserved on DVD and Blu-Ray for all time, though, insures that Christopher Nolan’s thematically rich epic will never be “a half-remembered dream… possessed of some radical notions”, but something much, much more than that. Kevin Brettauer

 

20 - 16


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Farscape: The Complete Series

(Sci-Fi Channel)

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Farscape: The Complete Series
A&E Home Video

In the late ‘90s, the sci-fi genre mostly lived in syndication or pay channels like Showtime. There were some impressive shows, but they mostly stuck to the ‘Star Trek model’ that personified the decade. Even the Sci-Fi Channel was small potatoes and aired mostly old material to minimal audiences. In search of an original series to expand their presence, the network found a partner in Brian Henson of the Jim Henson Company, who aimed to enter the television market to showcase their Creature Shop. Along with Rockne O’Bannon (SeaQuest DSV, Alien Nation), they talked to Fox about a project, but the two sides never reached the same page to move forward. Produced in Australia for the Nine Network and airing on Sci-Fi in the US, Farscape premiered in March 1999 and showcased remarkable make-up, prosthetics and puppetry to support a grand story. Creator O’Bannon had earned acclaim for his past works, but those projects didn’t match this series’ gargantuan scope. Airing for four seasons and concluding with a mini-series, it remains one of the most unique shows to ever hit the airwaves. Dan Heaton

 


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The Alien Anthology (Blu-ray)

Director: Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Tom Skerrit, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif

19

The Alien Anthology (Blu-ray)
20th Century Fox

The first film remains a masterpiece of ‘old dark house’ revisionism (along with containing one of cinema’s greatest monsters). The follow-up redefined the idea of a solid squeal, introducing imaginative action and adventure into the mix. Unfortunately, whatever vision David Fincher could bring to the series was thwarted by a nervous studio. All that remains of his proposed plan for the franchise is a scrappy work print, readily available here. And, perhaps, the less said about Resurrection the better. Still, for all their grandiose geek glory, many have felt the Alien films underserved by the digital medium—until now. Frankly, this collection is so overwrought with bonus bells and whistles that keeping track of them is as complicated as it is rewarding. Together with the films themselves, they illustrate a powerful concept that was, in the end, undermined by backstage bickering and financial fisticuffs. Bill Gibron

 


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Antichrist: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

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Antichrist: Criterion Collection
Criterion

Absolutely stunning in its visual flourishes, horrifying in its aggressive violence, and knowing in its psycho-sexual philosophical bent, Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist is simply astonishing. It’s a structured walk through one woman’s terrifying mental breakdown, a deconstructed cry for relief and understanding. So obsessed with birth and biology that the symbols practically stand up and shout their intent, this is New Age therapeutics as Grand Guignol geek show. To put it mildly, Von Trier is not your typical anything. Over a career that has seen him embrace the strictures of the no-frills Dogme ‘95, dabble in TV terror, and defy convention with musicals and haughty historical period pieces, he has avoided easy description as his films have lacked commercial consideration. With Antichrist, he offers another work of unqualified brilliance… and impudence. Some have even dubbed it the most misogynistic movie ever created. Actually, it will probably stand as the filmmaker’s masterpiece. Bill Gibron

 


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Days of Heaven: Criterion Collection

Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz, Robert J. Wilke

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Days of Heaven: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

Terrence Malick writes in the hallucinatory language of sight and sound. Like the Buddhist parable his films point to an ultimate reality that is beyond what is simply on the screen. Like Gang Starr, his characters must live in relationship to nature, however alienated that relationship may be. Days of Heaven was the film that made Malick. It was an ambitious follow-up to an already ambitious film, Badlands, and the story behind its making is a true-grit summation of American independent filmmaking. Unfortunately, the video versions available up until now have never done justice to the film’s visuals, even the original Criterion Collection version. It’s taken Blu-Ray to be able to finally see what Malick had intended the film to be as he sat in the darkened cutting room, dreaming. George Russell

 


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Mad Men: Season 3

(AMC)

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Mad Men: Season 3
Lionsgate

Mad Men probably won’t change television, but it’s hard not to wish it would. Matthew Weiner’s sly love letter to the early ‘60s is simply unlike anything else on TV in this era of rapid-fire edits and unreal “reality”. Thankfully, buoyed by amazing performances from Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks and January Jones, Mad Men continues to dazzle in its third season. Though some missteps mar an otherwise ingeniously-devised structure—the John Deere scene is, in a word, preposterous—the good stuff far outweighs the bad. Working relationships become knottier, lies become more complicated, and illicit entanglements still scintillate even as they grow ever-more disappointing. Stuart Henderson

 

15 - 11


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Luther

(BBC America)

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Luther
BBC Warners

The BBC’s Luther is the kind of crime show that comes along every once in a while and immediately surprises with its intelligence and sophistication. It’s a layered and excellently plotted six episodes that leave the viewer alternately shocked and troubled, yet satisfied. The strength of the series lies in its ability to create and maintain suspense even when the identity of the killer is apparent early on. There is a sense of unpredictability to the show and its lead that sets it apart right away. In only six episodes it quickly establishes Luther as compelling and original, making Luther that rare series that manages to skillfully bring together story, character, and tension. J.M. Suarez

 


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The T.A.M.I. Show: Collector’s Edition

Director: Steve Binder
Cast: The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, James Brown and The Flames, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye

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The T.A.M.I. Show: Collector’s Edition
Shout! Factory

It’s hard to write about The T.A.M.I. Show and not lapse into overenthusiastic, Kandy-Kolored-era Tom Wolfe gibberish. A concert shot in California in 1964, it evokes an American pop culture utopia, a musical mélange of teen-attractive genres from Motown (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes), soul (James Brown and the Flames), surf rock (Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys), British rock (Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Rolling Stones, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas), teen anthems (Lesley Gore), and garage rock (the Barbarians). The racially integrated acts are united by boundless energy, overenthusiastic talent, a wicked back-beat, and the overly polished performance style one gets from an entertainment industry predicated on social Darwinism. The tumult of the ‘60s has been documented to death. Knowing what was and would go on outside the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium doors, however, only heightens the sense of a plastic paradise lost, of a perfectly optimistic union of commerce and art driven by the wide-eyed potential of youth. Michael Buening

 


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The African Queen (Blu-ray)

Director: John Huston
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Morley

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The African Queen (Blu-ray)
Paramount

Sometimes, it is worth it. The wait, that horrible expanse of passing time that seems to purposefully thwart your best intentions, often ends up delivering nothing but disappointment, or worse, the prospect of what could have been vs. the undeniable junk you wind up with in the end. But in this case, the inexplicable lack of reasonable excuse, the seeming decades of rumor and regret, the notion that somewhere, in a studio substrata somewhere, a bean counter and a preservationist were battling for future release supremacy, has truly made it all the more worthwhile. After persistent hints at a possible remaster and release, The African Queen is finally available in a pristine new DVD and Blu-ray release and, as suggested, the end result more than makes up for the years of delay. Bill Gibron

 


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Black Narcissus: Criterion Collection

Director: Michael Powel and Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Jean Simmons, Sabu, Flora Robson, Esmond Knight

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Black Narcissus: The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

Described by Martin Scorsese as, “a cross between Disney and a horror film”, the curious, tempestuous and affecting Black Narcissus is one of cinema’s greatest deceptions. Near fantastical, it is a fine example of the medium’s ability to conjure foreign lands on studio soil, to fabricate exotic locations; mountain ranges with the flick of a brush, tropical downpours with the spurt of a hose. Although set in the Himalayas, astonishingly it was filmed almost entirely at Pinewood Studios, England, with only one day of exterior shots, captured at the sub-tropical gardens in Horsham, West Sussex. Its awesome facade marks it out as a marvel of filmic ingenuity, and great British craft(iness). In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s admirable output, it sits chronologically between A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes, and thus forms part of a magnificent, aesthetically adventurous, Technicolor trio; beacons of British cinema at its very finest Emma Simmonds

 


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A Prophet

Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Reda Kateb,  Hichem Yacoubi,  Jean-Philippe Ricci, Gilles Cohen, Antoine Basler

11

A Prophet
Sony Pictures Classics

When 19-year-old Malik (Tahar Rahim) finds himself doing hard time in a French prison, he keeps to himself, trying to fly below the radar of the more veteran convicts. However, the leader of the gang of Corsican who runs the yard takes an interest in the young Arab, taking him under his wing. It turns out Malik has a natural aptitude for organized crime, and because he belongs to no specific world (he is Arab, but not Muslim; he works for the Corsicans, but is not one of them), he is able to float from group to group, navigating the treacherous waters of prison politics. By turns bleak and optimistic, A Prophet follows Malik’s meteoric rise from peon to boss in a manner similar to, and equally as powerful as, Goodfellas and Scarface, using crime and the quest for power as an allegory for daily life. Brent McKnight

 

10 - 6


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The Elia Kazan Collection

Director: Elia Kazan, John Ford, Kent Jones, Martin Scorsese
Cast: Dorothy McGuire, Marlon Brando, Jean Peters, Stathis Giallelis, Frank Wolff

10

The Elia Kazan Collection
20th Century Fox

Elia Kazan did more than make a series of American classics. His films provided some of the basic vocabulary of American drama. A new boxed set of 15 of his films, selected by Martin Scorsese, is in every way an essential collection for anyone who seeks to understand 20th century American cinema. Kazan became known, of course, as “the actor’s director” both because of his endlessly inventive direction of his players and his eagerness to introduce to the world new talent. Indeed, this boxed set puts this aspect of the director’s character on full display, including the films that gave James Dean, Marlon Brando, Lee Remick, Jack Palance and Andy Griffith their first roles. W. Scott Poole

 


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The White Ribbon

Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Tukur

9

The White Ribbon
Sony Pictures Classics

The White Ribbon is a provocative, haunting, challenging film, bursting with ideas and inferences and buoyed hugely by flawless pacing and terrific naturalistic performances. Director Michael Haneke’s unique gift as a filmmaker has never been more apparent. With an opening confession, ripe with intrigue and apology, our storyteller establishes himself immediately as an unreliable narrator, and comments on the ultimately questionable nature of subjective recounting; especially the fallacious notion that one might recall long-passed events and achieve anything resembling the truth. He also simultaneously and ambitiously posits The White Ribbon as an explanation (albeit with the aforementioned caveat) for events that were soon to follow; with allusion to the then imminent outbreak of World War I and, in its portrayal of disturbed children with dangerous potential, it anticipates World War II. Yet the events themselves are entirely fictional. Emma Simmonds

 


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The Complete Lost (Blu-ray)

(ABC)

8

The Complete Lost (Blu-ray)
ABC Studios

Sometimes, a title is all you need. Within said moniker, everything and anything is possible. Coming up with the perfect label is never easy, but when you do, it does almost all of your narrative heavy lifting. You can even throw logical and esoteric wrenches into the mix, and as long as your tag takes care of the counterbalance, you’re home free. Such is the case with Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof, and J.J. Abrams’ absolutely brilliant Lost. Not only did said brand indicate the basic premise of his complex castaway drama but it suggested the level of depth viewers could expect in the sometimes arcane path toward enlightenment. It’s a feeling carried over to the recently released multi-disc Blu-ray package of the complete six seasons. Within its world of known conspiracies and series secrets are a wealth of hidden extras that make the return trip through Series One through Six a breathtaking reexamination of the entire Lost legacy. In fact, it’s safe to say that this seminal TV show was always more interested in the journey than the eventual answers found along the way Bill Gibron

 


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Night of the Hunter: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Charles Laughton
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Sally Jane Bruce, Billy Chapin

7

Night of the Hunter: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion

“It’s a hard world for little things”, Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) famously comments in Charles Laughton’s taut masterpiece of fear and suspense. For years, it seemed like The Night of the Hunter, showcasing Robert Mitchum at his most terrifying as the murderously insane Harry Powell, would be one of those “little things” ignored by the prestigious Criterion Collection, but in 2010 they finally reached out their “strong tree” to Laughton’s “bird”. The result is a film as captivating as ever that has never looked or sounded as good as it does now. If The Night of the Hunter isn’t deserving of the Criterion treatment, than simply put, no film is, and Criterion shouldn’t exist. Luckily, Night finally had its day, and Criterion deserves praise for that. Kevin Brettauer

 


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Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 (Blu-ray)

Director: Ben Sharpsteen, Bill Roberts, Don Hahn, Eric Goldberg, Ford Beebe, Francis Glebas, Gastan Brizzi, Hamilton Luske
Cast: James Levine, Steve Martin, Leopold Stokowski, Ralph Grierson, Kathleen Battle

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Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 (Blu-ray)
Walt Disney Home Video

Maybe it’s just a matter of time. Perhaps decades have to go by and new audiences found before something like Fantasia 2000 can live up to its parent’s preeminent status. It took Walt Disney himself a while before he saw Fantasia fully embraced, and even then, the love was tenuous at best. While we can forgive the whole “Sunflower” debacle (the new Blu-ray does a good job of hiding her lack of inclusion) and the initial high brow approach, we can’t argue with the power and panache of the overall vision. Walt may have hoped that his newest idea would remove animation from the “kiddie” conceit once and for all. Instead, Fantasia remains a beloved if still baffling entry in Disney’s creative canon. Fantasia 2000, on the other hand, just can’t compare. Bill Gibron

 

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Yojimbo & Sanjuro

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yoko Tsukasa

5

Yojimbo & Sanjuro
Criterion

Perhaps no other director can claim to have created a body of work as influential as Akira Kurosawa. In fact, wide swaths of popular culture feel like footnotes on the work of the Japanese auteur. Films as diverse as Bonnie and Clyde, Star Wars, Unforgiven, Scarface and Kill Bill are more or less unimaginable without Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress and, newly released in a gorgeous Blu-Ray transfer, Yojimbo and its companion piece Sanjuro. Criterion has taught us to expect from them the cleanest and most faithful digital transfers possible and these Blu-ray versions of the classic films in no way disappoint. The images are clean and crisp and the sound remastered and renecoded as Dolby 3.0. You won’t hear a single hiss or hum out of this film nearly half a century old. Small leaves blowing on the ground are visible even in some of the more darkly lit scenes. The transfer itself is a work of art. Also, as is to be expected from a Criterion release, there is a wealth of extras here. The commentary by Stephen Prince, the author of the excellent The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa and numerous other works of film criticism, freshens the film after repeated viewings with his vast knowledge of world cinema. Prince never plays the pedagogue and brings fanboy sensibility to his commentary track that makes his discussion of Kurosawa’s techniques and influences hugely satisfying. W. Scott Poole

 


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The Bridge on the River Kwai (Blu-ray)

Director: David Lean
Cast: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, James Donald

4

The Bridge on the River Kwai (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures

It’s more than just big ideas on a broad campus. While the label implies such a grandiose scale, issues of scope are not the sole reason for the tag. Movies are considered “epics” when the initiatives inherent in their design are as vast and varied as the motion picture landscape that play out upon. These films are not just bursting with wide-open vistas and the various multicultural elements intrinsic to them. No, the devil and dimension is in the details, in the smaller moments that modify and magnify the expansive setpieces on display. A perfect example of this often foolproof formula is David Lean’s brilliant The Bridge on the River Kwai. Taking a fictionalized approach to the POW experience in World War II, this amazing motion picture not only addresses a major military search and destroy mission, but its deals with the smaller human issues of duty, honor, and what it takes to be a man. Bill Gibron

 


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Life

(  BBC)

3

Life
BBC

Life, a titanic effort by the BBC’s much-respected Natural History Unit (producers of an amazing catalogue spanning over 50 years including the recent Planet Earth), began in 2006 and eventually roamed all seven continents—plus a couple of oceans—and conducted more than 150 shoots over a period of three years. With a very healthy budget, filmmakers were allowed to experiment and try out new techniques: miniaturized high-definition cameras that burrowed into the ground to find mudskipper egg chambers and followed the scuttling ants on a jungle floor, to gratuitous high-speed photography that capture, with every loving nuance, the intricate movements of nature’s swifter creatures like absolutely stunning wild animal takedowns or even something as prosaic as a catch of surf glinting as the speckled waves fall in the gleams of a dwindling sunset. Wow. Broken up into ten episodes, Life follows very rough, broad arcs, documenting families of life from the humblest insect to oceanic leviathans. Each “story” follows a specific organism in their everyday travails. If one wishes to be dismissive, it can be described as “food, sex, and death”. It is not inaccurate, but it is thoroughly dishonest. No words can describe life—least of all these, which in itself is its own dishonesty—and an attempt to explain it will fall short. This is a film that one experiences for all its majesty. Aaron Wee


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The Complete Metropolis (Blu-ray)

Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel,

2

The Complete Metropolis (Blu-ray)
Kino International

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is one of those films which everyone knows about and many have seen, but until recently it was available only in a severely shortened version which, to be charitable, didn’t entirely make sense. Then in 2008 a negative was discovered in a museum in Argentina which included about 25 minutes of footage not seen since the film’s 1927 premiere in Berlin. The “complete Metropolis” restores this footage and adds intertitles to cover areas when the film was missing or too damaged to be used, clarifying relationships among the principal characters, restoring several subplots and generally making it clear that this film was not a science fiction curiosity but a masterpiece of philosophical filmmaking. The film’s appearance has also been restored digitally, creating the closest experience possible to that of viewing Lang’s original cut. Sarah Boslaugh

 


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America Lost and Found: The BBS Story - Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Bob Rafelson, Dennis Hopper, Henry Jaglom, Jack Nicholson, Peter Bogdanovich
Cast: Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Jeff Bridges, Cybil Shepherd

1

America Lost and Found: The BBS Story - Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion

They were more than just the Monkees, and the talented trio of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner were out to prove just that. So they formed BBS Productions, tapped into the clamoring counterculture zeitgeist around them, and found like-minded moviemakers (Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Peter Bogdonavich) to share in their vision. The resulting films would jumpstart the all important post-modern movement, inspiring a legion of young guns to forget standard academics and head directly to film school. Encapsulating both the best of (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, The Last Picture Show) and the endearingly obscure (A Safe Place, Head, Drive, He Said) from the ‘studio’, this collection recalls a time when cinema took chances, when the revolution was not only televised, but plastered across cinemas from one end of America to the other. While mostly forgotten by today’s finicky film fans, this glorious box set achievement from Criterion will remind everyone that, all Pre-Fab Four facets aside, there was no more important players than Rafelson, Schneider, and Blauner. Bill Gibron

 

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/135373-the-best-dvds-of-2010/