Please donate to help save PopMatters. We are moving to WordPress in January out of necessity and need your help.

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2012

From classics to contemporary television, the typical titles and the surprising outsider choices, the year in home video was just as divisive, and delightful, as the rest of our meaningful media.

32 - 25

DVD: A Streetcar Named Desire (Blu-ray)

Film: A Streetcar Named Desire

Director: Elia Kazan

Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden


Display as: List

List number: 32

Display Width: 200A Streetcar Named Desire
Warner Bros

Blu-rays may be the saving grace of black-and-white movies. I’ll admit I have a hard time getting through the pre-color phase of cinema. Many movies of the era just look so damn flat. Not anymore. Elia Kazan’s undisputed classic adaptation of Tennessee William’s legendary play is given new life by the vivid medium. There has to be 100 different shades between the black and white spectrum, and each one pops more than past restorations for VHS or DVD. Add in the three extra minutes of never-before-seen footage—footage banned by the Legion of Decency censors before the film’s release—and the Blu-ray edition of A Streetcar Named Desire becomes the best and only edition any fan should own. Ben Travers

DVD: Lonesome

Film: Lonesome

Director: Paul Fejös

Cast: Barbara Kent, Glenn Tyron


Display as: List

List number: 31

Display Width: 200

The Criterion Collection

The term "lost classic" gets thrown around a fair amount today, but director Paul Fejös' rarely-seen1928 film Lonesome, an audacious and visually spectacular urban love story from dawn of the talkie era, comes as close to the real deal as you're likely to find these days. Rarely seen over the last eight decades except by academics and festival audiences, Lonesome has finally been released by the Criterion Collection in a lavish two-disc set, the first time it has ever been available on any home media format, thanks in no small part to painstaking restoration efforts by the George Eastman House.

In many ways Lonesome can be seen as a mainstream Hollywood version of the so-called "city symphony" movies like Walter Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera. There were a number of filmmakers in the '20s who realized that recent innovations in motion picture technology and techniques made it a medium uniquely suited to capturing the thrumming, kinetic feeling of life of the modern city, and Fejös' Lonesome features every one of the imaginative techniques used in those widely-hailed films. Pat Kewley

DVD: Heaven’s Gate (Blu-ray)

Film: Heaven’s Gate

Director: Michael Cimino

Studio: United Artists

Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Sam Waterston, Brad Dourif, Isabelle Huppert, Joseph Cotton, Jeff Bridges


Display as: List

List number: 30

Display Width: 200

Heaven's Gate
The Criterion Collection

Talk about chutzpah! What does it say about the premier preservationists over at the Criterion Collection that they decided to champion what many consider to be one of the biggest bombs of the post-modern auteur era? Even worse, this notorious film brought down an entire studio on its way to destroying the career of its wunderkind director, Oscar winner Michael Cimino. Argue over the exclusion of the more than mandatory Final Cut documentary, and what you have here is a perplexing, if near perfect, document of this doomed vanity project. Cimino's confused narrative and equally obtrusive naturalism is still in place, enhanced by the gorgeous new transfer, and one has to admire the audacity on display. Few people would take a minor moment in history -- the cattle ranchers vs. farmers spat known as the Johnson County War -- and try to turn it into an epic journey of the neophyte American soul. Cimino did, and perhaps that's why Criterion came calling. Bill Gibron

DVD: They Live (Collector's Edition) (Blu-ray)

Film: They Live

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David


Display as: List

List number: 29

Display Width: 200

They Live (Blu-ray)
Shout! Factory

They Live was a postmodern pastiche of old-school science fiction that, for a variety of reasons, was too ahead of its time to be properly appreciated. Actually, that's not quite accurate. It was too of its time, in 1988, and it’s even more of its time, in 2012, and it will not reach its expiration date in 2022, or 3022, if They are still amongst us—or vice versa.

They Live is actually very similar, in many regards, to John Carpenter’s other misunderstood and inadequately touted masterpiece, The Thing. The Thing, released in 1982, did not fare as well as it could—and should—have and like They Live, it endures as a cult classic. Where The Thing offered an indelible examination of paranoia it was also an eerily prescient, if quite direct and unintentional commentary on the AIDS crisis. They Live was an explicit condemnation of the Reagan years, and the fact that its release virtually coincided with the country’s decision to effectively give him four more years, with George Bush as the delivery device for an extended "morning in America", suggests some reasons it did not fully connect. Sean Murphy

Battle Royale: The Complete Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: Battle Royale

Film: Battle Royale II: Requiem

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Cast: Beat Takeshi, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda


Display as: List

List number: 28

Display Width: 200

Battle Royale: The Complete Collection (Blu-ray)
Anchor Bay

Battle Royal, Kinji Fukasaku’s cult classic, has been floating around in various forms since its initial release in 2000. I’ve personally watched it on grainy VHS and region free DVD, at late night screenings, and once even projected on the massive concrete wall of an abandoned warehouse near an airport. Finally, the controversial film is getting a proper US release on DVD and Blu-ray with Battle Royale: The Complete Collection. And the package is well worth the wait.

Battle Royale, itself an updated Lord of the Flies (also owing a huge credit to Running Man), is savage, sharp, satirical, and brutally funny. As a way to control rampant underage crime, a class of out of control ninth graders is drugged, rigged with explosive collars that can be remotely detonated at any time, and released into an abandoned island wilderness. Last teen standing wins; winner takes all. Much like Top Gun, there are no points for second place.

Fukasaku’s film captures the desperation of the unwilling participants. Some are wracked with fear, guilt, and panic, while others take to the situation with shocking ease, adopting the horrifying necessity of murdering their classmates in order to live another day. Darwin’s edict of survival of the fittest played out in a teenage microcosm, Battle Royale is a bleak commentary on humanity and society, full of blood, the violence and splatter that Japanese cinema does so well, and biting gallows humor. The film garnered worldwide acclaim, including a multitude of Japanese academy award nominations but, hot on the heels of Columbine, never secured a US release. Brent McKnight

And Everything Is Going Fine (Blu-ray)

Film: And Everything Is Going Fine

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Spalding Gray


Display as: List

List number: 27

Display Width: 200

And Everything Is Going Fine (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

Although he tragically committed suicide nine years ago, writer, actor & monologist Spalding Gray left behind a substantial record of his life and work, including hours upon hours of film and video of the autobiographical monologues that made him famous. Longtime supporter Steven Soderbergh (who turned one of Gray's one-man shows into the film Gray's Anatomy in 1996) combed through two decades of this footage as well as interviews, home movies, and other ephemera, to compile And Everything Is Going Fine, a life- and career-spanning documentary about this master storyteller, as told in his own words. Eschewing additional interviews or narration, Gray's voice is the only one we hear in the film, and Soderbergh's deft editing makes it feel almost like the film itself is a new monologue by Gray, somehow delivered posthumously (which would have been fitting, for a man as obsessed with death as Spalding Gray was). Like Gray's best work, it's touching, funny, revealing, and melancholy -- a moving tribute to a unique personality and a great artist. Pat Kewley

DVD: Apartment 143

Film: Apartment 143

Director: Carles Torrens

Cast: Kai Lennox, Gia Mantegna, Michael O'Keefe, Rick Gonzalez, Fiona Glascott, Francesc Garrido


Display as: List

List number: 26

Display Width: 200

Apartment 143

This low-budget thriller updates Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill Housewith bone-chilling urgency. Paranormal investigators move into a haunted apartment where a widower’s family is tormented by a vengeful spirit. As the team sets up their motion detectors and night-vision cameras, they witness a family being torn apart. A teenage daughter rages against her father while her innocent brother gets caught in the crossfire. At the heart of this darkness is the spectral presence of their dead mother. As the investigators slowly unravel this mystery, director Carles Torrens turns the screw with masterful dramatic progression, continually raising the stakes all the way to the film’s shocking end. John Grassi

DVD: We Need to Talk About Kevin (Blu-ray)

Film: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell


Display as: List

List number: 25

Display Width: 200

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Blu-ray)
Oscilloscope Laboratories
Sure, every mother worries that their child will grow up confused and maladjusted. They fear that life will take the tender and naive and make them strident and hard. Few, however, imagine their offspring as the spawn of the Devil himself, or even worse, inherently and irretrievably evil, and yet that's exactly where Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) finds herself at the beginning of the eclectic pseudo-horror film We Need to Talk About Kevin. The boy in question is her sadistic son, an adolescent whose just committed an appalling act of public violence. As she tries to figure out just where she went wrong, Eva comes to a startling conclusion - perhaps, she wasn't a bad parent. Perhaps, Kevin was meant to be a killer all along.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is, perhaps, the most obvious anti-child rant ever realized by a mostly mainstream motion picture. While the symbolism employed by director Lynne Ramsay is a tad too obvious (does everything have to be blood red???) and the storyline a bit too scattered in structure, the overall result is devastating in its declaration. This is a story where the evil is obvious. It's right there in front of us, smack dab in the middle of every scene. Unlike the typical psycho set-up, where Mommy and Daddy drive Junior to insane acts, Kevin makes it clear that Eva has given birth to the ultimate bad seed. Bill Gibron

Prev Page
Next Page

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





© 1999-2020 PopMatters Media, Inc. All rights reserved. PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.

Collapse Expand Features

Collapse Expand Reviews

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.