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Short Ends and Leader's 10 Best DVDs of 2010

The Clash's Joe Strummer in Straight to Hell Returns.

Instead of going for the outright and the obvious, the PopMatters film blog picks 10 terrific DVDs that are far from easy. Why? Because easy is just that... and these choices are far from the norm. Watch for our site-wide best DVD feature when we return to full publication next week.

This could have been SO easy. In the last 12 months alone, Disney released gorgeous Blu-ray transfers of certified classics like Fantasia and the landmark Beauty and the Beast. We got the Complete Lost box set (also in high definition), the Vengeance Trilogy, the Alien Anthology, and anniversary editions of Rocky Horror and Back to the Future. Criterion keeps chucking out of the classics, from Night of the Hunter and Mystery Train to an unbelievable collection covering the rise of independent film in Hollywood circa the '60s (America: Lost and Found). So we could have quickly browsed through our bulging home video collection, culled the name dropped mainstream hits from the handful of decent digital packages in 2010 and called it quits. We'd be kicking back, having a brew, and waiting for the wares of 2011 to underwhelm us.

Instead, Short Ends and Leader made a conscience decision to avoid the truly commercial and recognizable. Who wants to read a list made up of names every other website is championing. Sure, when push comes to punishment, we admit our fondness for the new three disc Avatar: Extended Edition release or the stunning high def Seven Samurai from Criterion. Obvious selections make for obvious lists, and no need to read further. Simply Google the billions of film-based websites and the same old suggestions will clog up your aesthetic. Hopefully, with this compilation of 10 terrific DVDs (and Blu-rays), you will find something unusual or unheralded, a title to tempt your already overflowing media shelves. There will be a couple that raise an eyebrow or two (we are indeed suckers for the occasional standard), but for the most part, it's another look beyond the basic.

Why? Because easy is not fun. Easy is not enlightening. Easy is just that - easy...and our choices for 2010's Best DVDs are anything but, beginning with:

#10: Freaknik: The Musical (dir. Chris Prynoski & Jacob Escobedo)
Rap impresario T-Pain wanted to celebrate the late, great Atlanta Spring Break "block party", so he decided to craft a cartoon musical about the infamous gathering, collecting a who's who of hip-hop talent to support his cause. The result is a rollicking exploration of urban black culture circa 2010 and an incendiary indictment of the powerful poseurs (the African American elite, here labeled "The Boule") who wish to control the conversation. While it degenerates into a "bros and hos" ideal toward the end, Pain and his pals end up with a winning, booty-shaking social commentary.

 

#9: Tetro - Blu-ray (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Apparently, the rumors of the death of Francis Ford Coppola's artistic relevance are horrifically premature. In a mixture of brooding black and white and Golden Age Hollywood color, the auteur unearths a universal story of family and found connections. At its core, it's a mystery, the question of title character's trek to Argentina and the explanation for his exile sitting at the center of the narrative. But it is also a novel-like journey of emotional discovery, a chance for a young man who believed in his older brother to excise the demons of abandonment.

 

#8: The Living Wake (dir. Sol Tryon)
If there is a fine line between quirky and irritating, this film finds it and then crosses it several dozen times during its nutty 90-minute run. As a surreal starring vehicle for Funny or Die fixture Mike O'Connell, this bizarro black comedy has eccentricity to spare. Focusing on the clueless, delusional lead and his universe of equally offbeat associates, we are prepared for something very unusual. Instead, we are ramrodded into a realm so freaking unreal that we often wonder if we're watching a broadcast from another dimension. Luckily, it's a wildly entertaining and easily enjoyable transmission.

 

#7: The Human Centipede - Blu-ray (dir. Tom Six)
It really should be an opera (thanks again, Lance G.). It does cater to a considerably questionable niche, one with the creative constitution to tolerate its twisted, uncompromising brutality. But it’s not just some pseudo-snuff film gussied up with gallons of grue or smut disguised as some insight into the haunted human psyche. While definitely not for everyone, it is also an arresting and imminently watchable work of jaundiced genius. It takes a certain crackpot mentality to come up with an idea as unhinged as this and to offer it in such a concise, clinic manner speaks volumes.

 

#6: Pretty Maids All in a Row (dir. Roger Vadim)
Talk about a delicious bit of backwards glancing. All director failings aside, this movie is a fairly accurate depiction of what progressives thought the younger generation was into 40 years ago. The fashions are fantastic (including star Rock Hudson's shaggy, shape-shifting hairdo), the high school curriculum viewed as part sit-in, part free thinking happening. Room 222's Walt Whitman High wishes it was as liberal as Oceanfront, the faculty apparently working out all their own personal issues within the naughty bits of the student 'body'. If films were graded on a scale of assumed lunacy, this one would be certifiable.

 

#5: Maniac - Blu-ray (dir. William Lustig)
Three decades later, it’s still pretty powerful stuff. Sure, the levels of gore which outraged a 1980’s critical community pale in comparison to the latest examples of arterial spray, but there is something about William Lustig’s legendary slasher exploitation that reminds us of horror’s second Golden era. Sure, some call it a low rent slice and dice and others dismiss it as a sick pseudo snuff film, but the truth is far more complicated. As an artistic statement by everyone involved, this “misogynistic mess” is indeed disturbing. It's also a minor masterpiece.

 

#4: Look Around You: Season 1 (dir. Tim Kirkby)
From the burnt orange and avocado green stink of the ‘70s coursing from every element to the gloriously canned early electronic Casio companion music, this bonkers British series is amazing. For some reason, the UK can manage this sort of thing and make it look almost effortless. Even the moments of ‘purposeful’ comedy - usually revolving around some cockeyed experiment - come across as expertly staged and fully realized. For some, it will all seem like crazed transmissions from the Planet Nutjob. For others born of certain PBS mindset, it will be all too familiar…and funny.

 

#3: Brewster McCloud (dir. Robert Altman)
Robert Altman's infamous fable has languished in OOP limbo for so long that few believed it would ever see the light of a legitimate DVD release. Luckily, Warner Brothers Archive Collection unearthed this lost gem, allowing fans to finally experience the director's post-MASH creative chutzpah. Only a filmmaker as fierce as Altman would follow-up an anti-war epiphany with a weird forced myth about a boy who yearns to fly...while living in the Houston Astrodome...and taking advice from his sexy fairy Godmother. Clearly dancing to its own oddball beat, it's a brilliant bumble, a chance to watch a true genius almost-fail fabulously.

 

#2: Se7en - Blu-ray (dir. David Fincher)
Sure, it's a solid mainstream pick, the serial killer film that redefined the genre and David Fincher's career arc. But it's still a fabulous effort, a dark and disturbing look at how crime can occasionally pay, depending on how far the criminal will go to make his or her point. In this case, John Doe has a bone to pick with society, and he's willing to strip the meat clean to get down to the meaningful marrow. Luckily, he's up against cops who care too much/couldn't care less, allowing his blood-soaked spree to become part of human (and cinematic) legend.

 

#1: TIE - Searchers 2.0 / Straight to Hell Returns (dir. Alex Cox)
After Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, Alex Cox was poised to be one of the knighted "NBTs" (Next Big Things) in Hollywood. Then he made Straight to Hell and Walker and pissed all that professional promise right out the window. Now, nearly three decades later, we have a chance to celebrate this amazing filmmaker, including a opportunity to give his misunderstood punk rock spaghetti western crime spree homage a second look - and the view is fascinating. From the creative casting (the Pogues as coffee-addicted banditos???) to free-for-all feel, this new version of Hell is a revelation. Equally divulging is Cox's 2007 micro-budget comedy concerning the tainted Tinseltown scene. Together, this releases redefine the director's import as part of the '80s auteur movement, as well as illustrate how brainless his banishment really was.


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