Off the Radar – The Top 30 DVDs of 2008

Director: Simon Wincer
Film: Dark Forces
Subtitle: Harlequin
Studio: Greater Union Organisation
Cast: Robert Powell, David Hemmings, Carmen Duncan, Broderick Crawford, Gus Mercurio
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1980
Distributor: Synapse Films
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/d/darkforces.jpg

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List number: 30

Dark Forces

Synapse Films

Originally released under the far more appropriate title Harlequin, this 1980 effort is one incredibly baroque film. It plays like the byproduct of some paranormal prank on the standard ’70s political thriller while clearly tracing its roots back to one of the era’s major supernatural statements: The Omen. In fact, one could argue that this movie twists the aforementioned movie’s narrative to show a rather benevolent otherworldly being trying to change the course of a corrupt and quite evil governmental authority. It’s the anti-Antichrist, so to speak. Staying reverent to the classic Commedia dell’arte character, even though many won’t recognize it at first, director Simon Wincer creates an original, and sadly uncelebrated, gem. Bill Gibron

Dark Forces

Director: Sharp-Ford
DVD: The Cinematic Titanic Collection
Studio: Cinematic Titanic
Cast: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, J. Elvis Weinstein
Website: http://cinematictitanic.com/wpmu/
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: Cinematic Titanic
US Release Date: 2008-10-21
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/c/cinematictitanic20081.jpg

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List number: 29

The Cinematic Titanic Collection

Cinematic Titanic

Over the last few years, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy have been holding down the MST3K fort by creating audio only commentaries for their Rifftrax project. Now, series originator Joe Hodgson has collected the rest of the cast (Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein) to create a whole new in theater satire. Each of the five self-distributed “episodes” created in 2008 reminds you of why, some 20 years after these Midwestern comedians first decided to dump on bad movies, the formula is as funny as ever. There’s nary a bad installment in the bunch. Bill Gibron

The Cinematic Titanic Collection

Director: Various
DVD: The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 2, 3 & 4 (1937- 45)
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard
Website: http://www.threestooges.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: Sony Pictures
US Release Date: 2008
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/s/stooges2-4.jpg

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List number: 28

The Three Stooges Collection Vol. 2 – 4 (1937-45)

Sony/Columbia Pictures

Fulfilling the wishes of longtime fans, Columbia has finally wised up, dropped the three short per package DVD format, and delivered The Three Stooges in a logistically sound chronological breakdown. Covering 1937 to 1945, the multitude mini-masterworks presented all contain the classic line-up that most devotees prefer: mean leader Moe, absent-minded minion Larry, and unbelievably brilliant bundle of butter, Curly. There is no Shemp, no Joe Besser, and definitely no Curly Joe DeRita to muck things up. While there is nothing wrong with any of these later stage substitutes, nothing beats the magic of the original Stooges. Looking over the titles offered, there is not a bad apple in the bunch. Bill Gibron

The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 2, 3 & 4 (1937- 45)

Display Artist: Milčo Mančevski
Director: Mil
Director: #269;o Man
Director: #269;evski
Film: Before the Rain
Cast: Grégoire Colin, Phyllida Law, Peter Needham, Rade Serbedzija, Joe Gould
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1994
Distributor: Criterion Collection
US Release Date: 1995-02-24
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/b/beforetherain.jpg

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List number: 27

Before the Rain: Criterion Collection

Criterion Collection

Before the Criterion release of this, I never had a chance to see this criminally underappreciated 1994 Milcho Manchevski achievement. This was the first film to ever be made in the recently independent Republic of Macedonia, and it’s a hell of a start. Although the bonus features are admirable, the widespread availability of this film is of utmost importance — exposing a world of Balkan conflict and the struggle to love and fight within it. Applying greatly to today’s struggles across the sea, this a film that should be watched by anyone that thinks every soul lost in wartime is just another number. John Bohannon

Before the Rain

Director: Trey Parker
DVD: South Park: Imaginationland
Director website: http://www.southparkstudios.com/
Studio: Comedy Central
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Website: http://www.southparkstudios.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: Paramount Home Video
US Release Date: 2008-03-11
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/s/southparkimaginationland.jpg

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List number: 26

South Park: The Imaginationland Trilogy

Comedy Central/Paramount

For anyone who wonders why, after 12 seasons, South Park remains the best animated show on television, something like Imaginationland is all the proof any defender requires. Drop dead brilliant from beginning to end, and successfully applying the patented production approach of meshing the retarded with the regal, this hour long expanded episode stands as a shining moment for all involved. Parker and Stone have been flawless before, bringing their strangled, surreal sensibility to their big screen First Amendment romp Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. But nothing can prepare you for the epic scope and sense of fun found here. Digging through a list of fictional characters that everyone recognizes (Raggedy Ann, Mickey Mouse) is one thing. To include religious icons and social symbols pushes everything one step closer to a full fledged masterpiece. Bill Gibron

South Park: Imaginationland

Director: Wes Anderson
Film: Bottle Rocket
Studio: Criterion
Cast: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Bottle-Rocket-Collection-Owen-Wilson/dp/B001EOQCIK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1229577542&sr=1-1
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_twg7Jj_mqQ
First date: 1996
Length: 91
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/bottlerocket.jpg

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List number: 25

Bottle Rocket: Criterion Collection

Criterion Collection

With each successive film, Wes Anderson’s characters and situations have become more and more insane. Bottle Rocket, the best of all his memorable filmography of quirk, balances the madness with down-to-earth indie sensibility and the result is a wholly original, very odd film that still feels like it could happen. In addition to being Anderson’s much deserved coming out party, Bottle Rocket also introduced the world to the talent of the Wilson brothers, most notably Owen who nails Dignam. His is the trickiest role of grounding pure quirk, and is a microcosm for all of this classic film. Aaron Marsh

Bottle Rocket

Director: William Worthington
Film: The Dragon Painter
Studio: Haworth Pictues
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1919
Distributor: Milestone
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/d/dragonpainter.jpg

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List number: 24

The Dragon Painter

Milestone Films

Shot in the glory of a turn of the century Yosemite National Park and featuring a humanized, non-stereotypical portrayal of Asians, The Dragon Painter is a stunning visual and emotional achievement. A mere fragment of the justifiably legendary work done by Sessue Hayakawa during the early part of the past decade (he was one of the first Japanese performers to control his image and his output in Hollywood), this concise deconstruction of muse and the many ways it can be crushed/cured stands as something rare indeed. Beyond its humanistic approach and use of location, aside from the subtler acting and sporadic special effects, this is one of the most tender, telling depictions of affection ever captured onscreen. Bill Gibron

The Dragon Painter

Director: Joss Whedon
DVD: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Director website: http://whedonesque.com/
Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion, Simon Helberg
Website: http://www.drhorrible.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: Amazon.com
US Release Date: 2008-12-19
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/d/drhorriblesingalong.jpg

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List number: 23

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Amazon.com

Due to Firefly‘s untimely, unfair cancellation, we’ve been deprived of Joss Whedon’s genius for quite a while. Enter the perfect stopgap between the previously mentioned series and his new project Dollhouse: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Neil Patrick Harris is a singing, dancing supervillian who’s in love, Nathan Fillion is the “hero” who’s a total jerk. With charming performances all around (how could you go wrong with those two?), cutesy genre mash ups and music that is actually great, Dr. Horrible is the perfect small dose of Whedon wit to keep hope alive. Aaron Marsh

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Display Artist: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
Director: David Bruckner
Director: Dan Bush
Director: Jacob Gentry
Film: The Signal
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Justin Welborn, Anessa Ramsey, A.J. Bowen, Scott Poythress, Sahr Ngaujah
Website: http://www.signalmovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V07L159gvBEMRU
First date: 2007
Distributor: Magnolia
US Release Date: 2008-02-22 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/signal-poster.jpg

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List number: 22

The Signal

Magnolia Films

Stephen King got a lot of best seller mileage out of the idea. M. Night Shyamalan crapped all over the concept with his horrendous Happening. But one of the best looks at society gone psychotic and then deadly was this delightful independent fright flick from filmmakers David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry. Each director took a particular segment of the storyline (an unknown epidemic causes people to become senseless killers) and turned it into their own unique vision of man’s inhumanity to man. The results argue for an intriguing narrative design taken to epic proportions by people who genuinely understand the genre. Bill Gibron

The Signal

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Film: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Subtitle: Three-Disc Unrated Collector’s Edition
Studio: Universal
Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Paul Rudd
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Forgetting-Marshall-Three-Disc-Unrated-Collectors/dp/B001CCIRLO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1223396109&sr=1-1
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2008
Length: 118
Distributor: Universal
US Release Date: 2008-04-18 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/f/forgettingsarahmarshall-dvd.jpg

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List number: 21

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Universal

Forgetting Sarah Marshall may not have been a box office blockbuster, but its DVD incarnation could help cement its status as the definitive “break-up from a guy’s point of view comedy” that could still be cute and fluffy enough to qualify as a chick flick. Produced by Judd “Superbad” Apatow, it features the usual crass comedy with a touch of sweetness. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, writer/star Jason Segel portrays a television score composer whose career is in a tailspin. His personal life soon follows suit when his long-time girlfriend, television star Sarah Marshall (Kristin Bell), dumps him for a sleazy, yet likeable British rock star (the hilarious Russell Brand). The three-disc collector’s edition features the film’s theatrical release as well as a longer, unrated version. Additionally, there are nearly two hours worth of bonus features, including cast commentary, a gag real, and a closer look at the film’s show-stealing subplot, the vampire puppet rock opera, A Taste for Love. Lana Cooper

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

20 -11

DVD: The Draughtsman’s Contract
Director: Peter Greenaway
Film: The Draughtsman’s Contract
Cast: Anthony Higgins, Janet Suzman, Anne-Louise Lambert, Hugh Fraser
Website: http://www.petergreenaway.info/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1982
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
US DVD Release Date: 2008-02-12
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/d/draughtmanscontract.jpg

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List number: 20

The Draughtsman’s Contract

Zeitgeist Films

To call Peter Greenaway “the thinking man’s filmmaker” is like referring to David Lynch as “a little weird”. This British maverick who makes movies like architects create buildings, is a trained painter, and he tackles each piece of celluloid like a limitless and infinite canvas. Any one scene can contain hidden meanings, intricate riddles, blatant misrepresentation, and layer upon layer of aesthetic grace. Such is the case with this remarkable first film centering on a Restoration artist, a daunting commission, and the possibility of his being a patsy to murder. Like Blow-up mixed with Botticelli, it’s a 17th Century murder mystery where the clues are buried in passive pencil sketches. It’s also a telling tour de force. Bill Gibron

The Draughtsman’s Contract

DVD: Forbidden Zone
Director: Richard Elfman
Film: Forbidden Zone
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Company
Cast: Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell, Gisele Lindley, Jan Stuart Schwartz, Marie-Pascale Elfman, Virginia Rose
Website: http://www.forbiddenzonethemovie.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1980
Distributor: Legend Films
US DVD Release Date: 2008-07-29
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/f/forbiddenzonecolor.jpg

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List number: 19

Forbidden Zone: In Color

Legend Films

Originally released in black and white, Mystic Nights of the Oingo Boingo member Richard Elfman (Danny’s brother) hoped to capture the spirit of his band’s unusual live show with this surreal fantasy film. The one thing he couldn’t achieve was color — until now. Thanks to a painstaking technological tweak by Legend Films, Elfman’s original vision for this nutty trip into racial slurs, sexual innuendos, Kipper Kid craziness, and outmoded musical styles becomes the motion picture equivalent of a rainbow acid trip. While slightly dated and occasionally dopey, this is avant-garde outsider cinema at its head scratching best. Bill Gibron

Forbidden Zone

Director: Edgar Wright
DVD: Spaced: The Complete Series
Studio: BBC
Cast: Jessica Hynes, Simon Pegg, Julia Deakin, Nick Frost, Mark Heap
Website: http://www.spaced-out.org.uk/
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: Warner Home Video
US Release Date: 2008-07-22
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/s/spaced.jpg

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List number: 18

Spaced: The Complete Series

BBC/Warners

With Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, British badboys Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (along with fellow partner in pandemonium, Nick Frost) have taken the spoof to a whole new, incredibly satiric level. While some would like to think their genius arrived, fully formed, with those two films, the guys actually gained most of their farcical footing taking on the standard UK TV jive. Along with writing help from co-star Jessica Hynes, this slacker romance has remained one of the highlights of their pre-superstardom. Droll, unassuming, and very, very funny, this is the reason England regularly trounces America in the broadcast humor department. Bill GibronSpaced: The Complete Series

DVD: American Drug War: The Last White Hope
Director: Kevin Booth
Film: American Drug War: The Last White Hope
Studio: Sacred Cow
Cast: Tommy Chong, Freeway Ricky Ross, Sheriff Joe Arapio, Ron Paul, Mike Ruppert
Website: http://americandrugwar.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
Distributor: Sacred Cow Productions
US DVD Release Date: 2008-04-08
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/a/americandrugwar.jpg

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List number: 17

The American Drug War: The Last White Hope

Sacred Cow

Few DVDs speak truth to power with such compelling evidence and with such an unassuming angle. Kevin Booth investigates drugs in America after several legal and illegal drug-related tragedies negatively impact his life. In doing so he brings together a plethora of evidence that illustrates just how entangled in treacherous, ironic lies the U.S. government is from the Iran Contra Scandal to the arrest of Tommy Chong, from crack infiltration of Los Angeles to the anti-drug propaganda produced by big tobacco and alcohol companies, from Tulia, Texas to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. One of the few drug documentaries to overtly explore racism, American Drug War covers a head-spinning amount of information and leaves the viewer to draw her own conclusions. Sarah Hentges

American Drug War: The Last White Hope

DVD: I’m Not There
Director: Todd Haynes
Film: I’m Not There
Studio: Weinstein Company
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood
Website: http://www.ioncinema.com/movie.php?id=2334
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/40/4740/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2007
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/im-not-there-poster.jpg

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List number: 16

I’m Not There: 2-Disc Special Edition

The Weinstein Company

Todd Haynes has balls. He took on the most difficult of subjects (the life and shapeshifting times of songwriter extraordinaire Bob Dylan) and found a way to be both factual and fanciful. Reimagining the artistic chameleon as one of six distinct personas, and hiring an equal number of actors to play them, Haynes helped put into perspective an important, influential artist whose vocation seemed stuck in a constant state of flux. Now, thanks to DVD, everything confusing is clear as crystal. On a commentary track that should be mandatory listening for any would-be bonus feature participant, the director goes into excruciating detail, explaining almost every facet of his fascinating film. Bill Gibron

I’m Not There

Director: Jim Brown
DVD: Pete Seeger: The Power of Song
Director website: http://www.jimbrownfilms.com/
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Cast: Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen
Website: http://www.jimbrownfilms.com/seeger.html
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
US Release Date: 2008-08-05
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/p/peteseegerdvd.jpg

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List number: 15

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

The Weinstein Company

In a category that is growing in greatness exponentially, the stunning documentary Pete Seeger: The Power of Song superbly immortalizes an already living legend. For many decades removed from the fascinating folk movement of the ‘50s and early ‘60s, this activist artist is perhaps a Dylan-descended footnote, a name they recognize but fail to fully understand the import of. But thanks to director Jim Brown, Seeger is allowed his proper place in history. One cannot walk away from this spellbinding narrative and not feel both proud to live in a country that offers such talents and freedoms and sad for the government policies and blinkered politicians who twisted those tenets into something sordid and evil. Bill Gibron

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

DVD: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (3 Disc Special Edition)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Film: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (3 Disc Special Edition)
Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Seth MacFarlane, John Hurt
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2008
Distributor: Universal
US DVD Release Date: 2008-11-11
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/hellboyii-3-disc.jpg

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List number: 14

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Universal

Sometimes, the most outrageous vision is the most personal. As part of the amazing three disc DVD presentation we hear director Guillermo Del Toro, in his own self-deprecating way, explain how the larger than life flights of fancy peppered throughout the underappreciated Summer blockbuster represents an literal illustration of his own fertile imagination. It’s everything he wanted the original film to be and much, much more. Purposefully plotting out certain scenes to thematically represent his view of mankind and its uneasy coexistence with forces outside of reality, Del Toro delivers the kind of wide-eyed entertainment that will only grow in approval in the coming years. Bill Gibron

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (3 Disc Special Edition)

DVD: The Wire: The Complete Fifth Season
TV Show: The Wire
Network: HBO
Cast: Dominic West, Clark Johnson, Tom McCarthy, Aidan Gillen, Andre Royo
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Wire-Complete-Fifth-Season/dp/B00123BY6S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1216665084&sr=1-1
Website: http://www.hbo.com/thewire
MPAA rating: N/A
Length: 630
Distributor: HBO Home Video
US Release Date: 2008-08-12
UK Release Date: Available as import
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/t/the_wire_the_complete_fifth_season.jpg

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List number: 13

The Wire: The Complete Series

HBO Home Video

The Wire is a narratively complex oasis in a sea of television that begins and ends week to week. Not even content to weave its massive webs of drug-fueled deception per season, it continues its story through all five seasons. For a cop show to use that large canvas today is kind of a miracle. The multifaceted tale of decay stretched across this expanse of storytelling is no less deserving of notice. The Wire is just another reason why HBO simply isn’t even television anymore, but takes the medium to a whole new level. Aaron Marsh

The Wire: The Complete Fifth Season

DVD: Persepolis
Display Artist: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Director: Vincent Paronnaud
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Film: Persepolis
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Simon Abkarian, François Jerosme
Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/classics/persepolis/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/30/4130/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2007
Distributor: Sony
US DVD Release Date: 2008-06-24
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/events_art/p/persepolis-poster.jpg

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List number: 12

Persepolis

Sony Classics

Based upon the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, an award-winning film about a girl’s coming of age and her life before, during and after Islamic revolution in Iran. On DVD, this animated film brings home not only an entertaining, original story but also an important one: for its compelling history, its strong female protagonist, and the art of the film as a whole. The blue, black, and white of the DVD cover capture the tone of the film as well as its crisp visuals. The stark animation buffers the realities of war that Marjane and her family experience and the bitter tone reminds us of the ways in which lives — in this case the life of a young girl with big hopes and dreams — can be dramatically altered by war. Sarah Hentges

Persepolis

DVD: The Last Emperor
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Film: The Last Emperor
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Cast: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, Ruocheng Ying, Victor Wong
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2009
Distributor: Criterion Collection
US DVD Release Date: 2008-02-26
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/l/lastemperor.jpg

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List number: 11

The Last Emperor: Criterion Collection

Criterion Collection

One of the most extravagant cinematic experiences in history is now presented in the most extravagant of forms. The Criterion Collection has released the definitive four-disc edition of Bernardo Betrolucci’s masterpiece, The Last Emperor, which contains both the Theatrical Version and the extended Television Version (in its proper 2:1 format — no the sides aren’t cut off). Also included are two full discs of special features, including a fantastic BBC Documentary that follows Betrolucci during the making of, as well as audio commentary by Betrolucci, producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Mark Peploe, and composer-actor Ryuichi Sakamoto. Emperor Pu Yi has never looked so good. John Bohannon

The Last Emperor

10 -1

DVD: Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead
Director: Lloyd Kaufman
Film: Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead
Studio: Troma Entertainment
Cast: Jason Yachanin, Kate Graham, Allyson Sereboff, Robin Watkins, Lloyd Kaufman, Ron Jeremy
Website: http://www.poultrygeistmovie.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2006
Distributor: Troma Entertainment
US DVD Release Date: 2008-10-28
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/p/poultrygeistdvd.jpg

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List number: 10

Poutrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead

Troma Entertainment

If Poultrygeist is a certified ‘Tromasterpiece’ — and it most certainly is — then the stunning three disc DVD treatment of the title is its Hearts of Darkness. Like that memorable documentary of Frances Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, there is an accompanying Making-of featurette entitled Poultry in Motion: Truth Is Stranger Than Chicken. In it, we witness nearly 90 minutes of infighting, exasperation, and the well-plucked perfection that comes from such a meeting of fertile, often unhinged minds. All the problems Kaufman and crew face on the film, from reluctant DP divadom to abject naked actress angst, are captured. As with other Troma projects, the onset mayhem sometimes threatens to undermine the entire enterprise. Here, it makes the good great, and the special something spectacular. Bill Gibron

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead

Director: Ken Russell
DVD: Ken Russell at the BBC
Director website: http://www.iainfisher.com/russell.html
Studio: BBC
Cast: Oliver Reed, David Collings, Christopher Gable, Don Black, Kirsty Wark
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: Warner Brothers
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/k/kenrusselldvd.jpg

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List number: 9

Ken Russell at the BBC

BBC

Before he became the “bad boy” of British cinema, middle aged maverick Russell was making amazing musical biographies for UK television. This masterful boxset contains six of his best: Elgar, The Debussy Film, Always on Sunday, Isadora Duncan: The Biggest Dancer in the World, Dante’s Inferno, and Summer of Song. Sadly, his slam on Richard Strauss, The Dance of the Seven Veils, was pulled at the last minute. Still, with famous faces like Oliver Reed and Vivian Pickles along for the ride, this collection is a revelation, and a testament to one of the most criminally underrated directors of all time. Bill GibronKen Russell at the BBC

DVD: Iron Man
Director: Jon Favreau
Film: Iron Man
Subtitle: Two-Disc Special Collector’s Edition
Studio: Paramount
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Man-Two-Disc-Special-Collectors/dp/B00005JPS8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1222870318&sr=1-2
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2008
Length: 125
Distributor: Paramount
US DVD Release Date: 2008-09-30
UK DVD Release Date: 2008-10-27
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/ironman-dvdcover.jpg

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List number: 8

Iron Man: 2-Disc Special Edition

Paramount

Just as impressive in resolution on DVD as it was in theatres, Iron Man manages to be vivid, colorful, and highly realistic while still staying true to the spirit of the long-running Marvel comic title. A natural fit for the complex title character, Robert Downey Jr. brings both depth and snark to Tony Stark, the multibillionaire playboy/inventor behind the Iron Man mask. The two-disc special edition DVD boasts an enormous wealth of bonus features (clocking in at around 300 minutes). Behind-the-scenes footage and screen tests offer a comprehensive look at the production and the painstaking detail used to create Iron Man‘s special effects and elaborate suits of armor. The off-screen camaraderie between Downey, director Jon Favreau, and the rest of the cast make these extensive documentaries more fun to watch than your average set of bonus features. Lana Cooper

Iron Man

DVD: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Director: Tim Burton
Film: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Jamie Campbell Bowen, Jayne Wisener
Website: http://www.sweeneytoddmovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/dreamworks/sweeneytodd/
First date: 2007
Distributor: Dreamworks
US DVD Release Date: 2008-04-01
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/sweeney-todd-poster.jpg

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List number: 7

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Paramount/Dreamworks

What was it about Sweeney Todd that first grabbed my attention? The fabulous acting? The revelation that Johnny Depp can actually, you know, sing? Stephen Sondheim’s masterful — as always — soundtrack, that complement of black humor and macabre? No, it was the colors — bleak, joyless, grey on grey, hints of light blue, splashes of deep, violent red — that exude, more than any character or accent, that damp, dreary 19th century London atmosphere (and the “vermin of the world [that] inhabit it”). Whether it’s the crown jewel of Burton’s career, or just an impeccable return to form, the film remains a stunningly rendered achievement, in theaters or on disc. Zach Schonfeld

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

DVD: Brand Upon the Brain!
Director: Guy Maddin
Film: Brand Upon the Brain!
Subtitle: Criterion Collection
Studio: The Film Company
Cast: Erik Steffen Maahs, Gretchen Krich, Sullivan Brown, Clayton Corzatte
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Brand-Upon-Brain-Criterion-Collection/dp/B0019X4008/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1223477652&sr=1-1
Website: http://www.branduponthebrain.com
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2006
Length: 99
Distributor: Criterion Collection
US DVD Release Date: 2008-08-12
UK DVD Release Date: Available as import
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/branduponthebrain-dvd.jpg

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List number: 6

Brand Upon the Brain!: Criterion Collection

Criterion Collection

Criterion has been criticized in the past for ignoring certain genres and films over their years of distribution, but Brand Upon the Brain! is evidence that they are a commodity in the film world — not only releasing important films in cinematic history, but also those with artistic integrity and cult status. Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin created this near comic book science-fiction world… in silence… let alone in 2006. Originally set to be strictly theatrical, this complete disregard for current cinematic form is homage to the days of primitive, gritty filmmaking where hard labored technique was championed. John Bohannon

Brand Upon the Brain!

Director: Various
DVD: The Sopranos: The Complete Series
Studio: HBO
Cast: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Lorraine Bracco
Website: http://www.hbo.com/sopranos/
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: HBO Home Video
US Release Date: 2008-11-11
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/s/sopranoscomplete.jpg

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List number: 5

The Sopranos: The Complete Series

HBO Home Video

At this point, you’ll find little resistance in citing The Sopranos as the best drama television has yet produced. The stunning plunge into both Tony Soprano’s psyche and his world continued to wow right up until the finale which had people either declaring it a masterpiece or crying foul at the lack of closure. Chase’s remarkable material was filled out by many great actors, but none did as good a job as Gandolfini and Falco, both of whom will go down as all time greats right alongside the show. This series set should be an offer no one can refuse. Aaron Marsh

The Sopranos: The Complete Series

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
DVD: The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration Giftset
Director website: http://www.zoetrope.com/
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/g/godfatherrestoration.jpg

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List number: 4

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration

Paramount

While few can argue over the place these films hold in motion picture history (well, the third one not so much), most have agreed on one thing, The Godfather trilogy has been underserved by the digital format. Even when Paramount went back to the vault and “remastered” the original prints for a supposedly definitive DVD, purists were not impressed. One in particular, a certain film legend named Francis Coppola, decided it was time to remedy the situation once and for all. Painstakingly restruck for high-definition, these new versions of the Oscar winners (and also ran) have never looked better — NEVER. Aside from the dramatic power they pack, these ’70s classics reveal a striking amount of visual artistry, something lost in previous pressings. Bill Gibron

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration Giftset

DVD: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Film: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom
Cast: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto P. Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti, Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Helene Surgere, Sonia Saviange
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1975
Distributor: Criteron
US DVD Release Date: 2008-08-26
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/salo.jpg

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List number: 3

Salo: Or the 120 Days of Sodom – Criterion Collection

Criterion Collection

Whether you’ve heard myth, been disgusted, intrigued, upset, or mystified by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film, its incredibly important for it to still be in print. Originally released to overbearing controversy, Pasolini had warned the public that, “artists must create, critics defend, and democratic people support… works so extreme that they become unacceptable even to the broadest minds of the new State”. Some people call works of pure conventional disregard ineffectual, but Pasolini not only challenged the boundaries of filmmaking, but challenged the world we live in both on detached political levels, as well as intimate sexual levels. John BohannonSalo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Director: David Lynch
DVD: David Lynch Lime Green Set
Director website: http://www.davidlynch.com
Studio: Absurda
Cast: Jack Nance, Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Isabella Rosalinni, Kyle McLaughlin
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: Absurda
US Release Date: 2008-11-25
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/d/davidlynchlimegreen.jpg

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David Lynch Lime Green Set

Absurda

He’s a madman and a genius, someone who in this day and age of commercial bankability and narrative simplicity still believes in artistic expression and rationale defying dream logic. But the big surprise here — a collection of previously available films and outside efforts — is the scope of Lynch’s vision. This is a man who can mock The Wizard of Oz (Wild at Heart) while uncovering the seediness in a quite little town (Blue Velvet). Featuring such fine efforts as Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and the previously unreleased Industrial Symphony No. 1, this is a must for any movie lover. And if the titles don’t tempt you, the hour-plus “mystery disc” should do the job. Bill Gibron

David Lynch Lime Green Set

DVD: Wall-E
Director: Andrew Stanton
Film: Wall-E
Studio: Pixar
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, MacIn Talk, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Wall-E-Two-Disc-BD-Live-Blu-ray/dp/B001EOQWF8
Website: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/wall-e/
MPAA rating: G
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5e16U8UsT4I
First date: 2008
Length: 98
Distributor: Walt Disney Home Videos
US DVD Release Date: 2008-11-18
UK DVD Release Date: 2008-11-24
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/wall-e-cover1.jpg

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List number: 1

WALL-E: 3 Disc Special Edition

Disney/Pixar

WALL-E is open to so many divergent interpretations — ecological allegory, slam against consumerism, sci-fi love story, cutesy family comedy — that you’d think Pixar purposefully stacked the imagination deck. But to hear director Andrew Stanton tell it (as part of the commentary track on the amazing three-disc special DVD edition), all he really wanted to do was tell a good story. Sure, the Buy and Large conglomerate angle seemed like a specific attack on Wal-Mart. Yes, there are nods to 2001 and other famed future shock parables. True, the company best known for creating classics like Ratatouille, Toy Story, and Finding Nemo was worried that the darkness of the first act wouldn’t match the retro robot antics toward the end. But if all Stanton wanted to do was forward a ripping yarn, he managed to do just that. In a year filled with fascinating tall tales, WALL-E stood well above many. Bill Gibron

Wall-E

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