The Best DVDs of 2011

With the continuing rise of Blu-ray, this year sees a lot of repeat entries. Just because they're here again, however, doesn't mean they're any less special.

DVD: Insidious (Blu-ray)

Film: Insidious

Director: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Andrew Astor, Leigh Whannell


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Display Width: 200Insidious (Blu-ray)
Film District

James Wan’s Insidious delivers scares a plenty, but what’s remarkable about this film is its rich sonic texture -- the eerie creak of a rocking horse in an empty room; the unnerving pop of a flash bulb during a séance; the metronomic tick of a grandfather clock (“the pulse of the film,” Wan says). Insidious is a tightly controlled masterpiece as Wan slowly turns the screw, building an atmosphere of almost unbearable dread. When the unseen eventually are seen, the film takes us into another realm, a surreal phantasmagoria of horror. John Grassi

DVD: Nurse Jackie: Season Two

TV Show: Nurse Jackie

Director: Paul Feig; Alan Taylor; Adam Bernstein

Cast: Edie Falco, Paul Schulze, Dominic Fumusa, Peter Facinelli, Merritt Wever, Eve Best

Release Date: 2011-02-22


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List number: 39

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Nurse Jackie: Season Two

The second season of Nurse Jackie opens with an idyllic image: Queens, New York resident Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) enjoying a day at the beach with her husband and two young daughters. The sun shines, the water sparkles, and Dionne Warwick’s squeaky-clean "I Say a Little Prayer" fills the air. This glossy snapshot of fulfilled womanhood and family bliss reveals Jackie for what she is: a loving spouse, a devoted mother, and a dedicated nurse at a Manhattan hospital. It also hides Jackie’s gritty interior and the other things she is: manipulator, liar, thief, drug addict, and unfaithful wife. This complexity, and Falco’s brilliant performance, create a fascinating, multi-layered character who is simultaneously unsavory and sympathetic. The second season of Nurse Jackie is even more gripping than the first, as Jackie’s layers are slowly peeled away and her past and present sins shadow her. Each episode is charged with tension and leads to a cliffhanger that causes a craving for the next installment. Although Jackie describes herself as “no prize”, this series certainly is. Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

DVD: Bridget Jones's Diary [Blu-ray]

Director: Sharon Maguire

Cast: Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones

Release date: 2011-07-19

Distributor: Lionsgate


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List number: 38

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Bridget Jones's Diary [Blu-ray]

To be or not to be... single. That seems to have been the question that entered the mind of single women the world over during the late '90s, a time when an entire subculture seems to have been created by two landmark pieces of popular culture: Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’s Diary. That the two arrived at around the same time is one of those fascinating coincidences that make us wonder if all along society was leading towards similar conclusions. Or was it all just a happy accident? Bridget Jones’s Diary not only embodies everything that made this wave of “girl power” so inspiring, it also serves as a fascinating time capsule that now, in a newly released Blu-ray version, should invite women to dream big and take control of their sexuality all over again. The beauty of the film isn’t in its destination, however, but rather in Bridget’s muddled journey in which we see her -- in the best Madonna fashion -- constantly reinventing herself and going from friend to confidante, to sensational TV reporter, to crappy karaoke singer, to loving, affectionate daughter and then ultimately a better version of herself, despite the film’s seeming need to try to restrict and steer her path towards standard societal choices. Jose Solís Mayén

DVD: The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965

Director: Murray Lerner

Release date: 2011-07-12

Distributor: Columbia


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The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965

In the interview with filmmaker Murray Lerner included as an extra on the DVD release Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965, the director mentions the importance of juxtaposition and montage to his aesthetic -- how two images edited together can individuate a third idea or concept that carries a unique, discrete charge all its own. This is exemplified with particular force in the film’s opening. Though the film proper moves chronologically from 1963 to 1965, it begins with a brief clip of ’65 Dylan, singing “All I Really Want to Do”. Dylan looks sharp, shrewd, slightly amused, and a little high. Mid-song, the film cuts abruptly to 1963, and the effect is jarring. How did this skinny, skittish Midwestern hick, flat-pickin’ in a pavilion, become the knowing, self-assured rock star we just saw? And in two years? That 1965/1963 cut signifies perfectly the sense of shock and/or awe that must have been felt at the Newport Folk Festival. Nowadays it may be hard to understand what was so exciting and mystifying and maddening about “Bobby Dylan” back then, but that cut says it all, and is just as important as the images it sutures. Guy Crucianelli

DVD: Pina

Film: Pina

Director: Wim Wenders

Cast: Pina Bausch, Regina Advento, Malou Airaudo, Ruth Amarante


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Artificial Eye

Intimacy, energy, passion and tension all feature prominently in the work of Pina Bausch. At one point a dancer’s head is caught by her partner literally centimetres from a concrete floor. She drops towards the ground in what seems like an uncontrolled plummet only to be saved by her partner’s hands without flinching. Dance theatre is a dangerous business, at times.

Bausch, who died in 2009, is remembered by members of her company Tanztheater Wuppertal in this portrait of her work by Wim Wenders. Its focus is the work, not the woman that Bausch was, or ‘Pina’ as she is lovingly named by her ‘family’ of dancers. In his director’s interview, Wenders acknowledges that she did not want to be interviewed before her death and that she was never looking to explain or justify her work. She desired for it to stand on its own without supplementary explanation. It’s sufficient that her company account for her influence in their own affectionate and respectful terms. Gabrielle Malcolm

DVD: Entourage The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-ray)

TV Show: Entourage

Director: Various

Cast: Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven


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List number: 35

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Entourage The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-ray)

HBO's Entourage has always been a show that reveled in a brand of Los Angeles-specific decadence, a California Casual fantasia of exotic cars, hilltop mansions, comely women, and an omnipresent sunlit sky as protective umbrella. Despite its stream of wicked repartee and unpleasant tantrums, one imagines that the program makes L.A. perversely appealing to those who've never lived there, or even visited, much as Bret Easton Ellis' horrific 1985 novel Less Than Zero served as a magnet for sheltered Generation Xers of that era, myself included. Entourage is a rude, scabrous, but presumably honest dissection of the manners and mores of the Dream Factory, a comic nightmare of Sammy Glick infecting all those around him. Ominously, Doug Ellin insists that the movie biz he depicts is a toned-down simulacrum of the real deal. It's been remarked that Hollywood is merely high school with money, and Entourage cheerfully rubs our faces in this notion. Chow down, Entourage fans, 'cause after Season 8, school's out. Terrence Butcher

DVD: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (Blu-ray)

Film: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Director: Rodman Flender

Cast: Conan O'Brien, Andy Richter, Stephen Colbert


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Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Although there are similarities to other tour docs, such as Jason Priestley’s Barenaked in America or Emmett Malloy’s The White Stripes: Under the Great White Northern Lights, director Rodman Flender (a seasoned television director whose recent credits include Ugly Betty and 10 Things I Hate About You) provides much more than a backstage pass. At times interactive while at others purely observational, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a remarkably candid, complex and personal portrait of O’Brien that transcends the late night host’s television persona. Luke Taylor

DVD: The Great White Silence

Director: Herbert Ponting

Studio: BFI

Cast: Captain Robert Scott, Simon Fisher Turner

UK Release date: 2011-06-20


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The Great White Silence

Released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the pioneering Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, The Great White Silence, consisting of footage filmed by Herbert Ponting (a cinematographer who joined the party for the majority of the fateful trip), is an extraordinary film, and one that’ll have film buffs, archivists and historians salivating. Charming, fascinating and ultimately heart-breaking, The Great White Silence is very highly recommended indeed, and once again represents the important role the BFI takes in ensuring British cinematic treasures are preserved and enhanced for future generations to enjoy. Extras are plentiful, and include a detailed booklet with plenty of information about the film’s restoration, the composer Turner, and members of the expedition. There are also period newsreels, a modern audio recording made in Captain Scott’s genuine cabin, and the original cinema release version of Ponting’s film. Adrian Warren

DVD: The Adventures of Tintin: Season One

Cast: Colin O'Meara, David Fox, Wayne Robson, Susan Roman (English language version)

Director: Stephan Bernasconi

Production Companies: Ellipse (France), Nelvana (Canada)

Network: USA - HBO, UK - Channel 4, Canada - Family

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Release date: 2011-11-22


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The Adventures of Tintin: Season One
Shout! Factory

The ‘Curious Fox’, Georges Remi, was born in 1907 in Brussels. His career as a writer and cartoonist covered the most turbulent and violent years of the 20th century. He maintained an outlook towards his work that was always thorough and well-researched. He survived accusations of Nazi collaboration after the Second World War to achieve international renown through his creations: Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and Thompson & Thomson. Remi gave himself the pen-name Hergé, based on the reversal of his initials ‘R.G.’ This title and his nickname of the ‘Curious Fox’ when he was a boy scout help us to relate the origins of his hero, Tintin the Boy Reporter, to his own life. He was proud of the resourcefulness developed when a scout, and admired the research skills and mobility of the investigative journalist. From this he created a body of work that has an attraction like no other. His use of ligne clair: a precise and fluid style of draughtsmanship, marks out the Adventures of Tintin as an interesting combination of the most pure and simple of cartoon worlds but with the most meticulous accuracy. Gabrielle Malcolm

DVD: Breakfast at Tiffanys 50th Anniversary Collection Blu-ray

Film: Breakfast at Tiffanys

Director: Blake Edwards

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam


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Breakfast at Tiffanys 50th Anniversary Collection: Blu-ray

Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly but it was the waifish Audrey Hepburn who ended up getting the role and creating one of the most iconic movie characters ever. This new HD edition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s justifies whoever made that casting decision. Audrey sparkles in this pristine transfer that also highlights the rich colors of New York City, George Peppard’s eyes and the bright Givenchy outfits worn by the heroine. Previous home media incarnations had been lacking in bonus features and supplements, this version more than makes up for that, with countless mini documentaries about the fashion, the music and the lovely Audrey. Despite the film’s obsession with beauty and glamour, the disc also contains a short featurette addressing the film’s racist stereotypes. You don’t see such stylish social conscience every day! Jose Solís Mayén

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