Off the Radar - The Top 30 DVDs of 2008

Oddly enough, while the major studios continue scratching their heads over how to sell yet another new format (Blu-ray) to disinterested consumers, several outside distributors made sure that this would be a digital year to remember.

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: MPAA rating: N/A First date: 1982 Distributor: Zeitgeist Films US DVD Release Date: 2008-02-12 Image:

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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: MPAA rating: N/A First date: 1980 Distributor: Legend Films US DVD Release Date: 2008-07-29 Image:

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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: MPAA rating: N/A Distributor: Warner Home Video US Release Date: 2008-07-22 Image:

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List number: 18

Spaced: The Complete Series


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: MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2007 Distributor: Sacred Cow Productions US DVD Release Date: 2008-04-08 Image:

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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: MPAA rating: R Trailer: First date: 2007 Image:

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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: Studio: The Weinstein Company Cast: Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen Website: MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2007 Distributor: The Weinstein Company US Release Date: 2008-08-05 Image:

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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:

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List number: 14

Hellboy II: The Golden Army


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: Website: MPAA rating: N/A Length: 630 Distributor: HBO Home Video US Release Date: 2008-08-12 UK Release Date: Available as import Image:

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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: MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: First date: 2007 Distributor: Sony US DVD Release Date: 2008-06-24 Image:

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List number: 12


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


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:

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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

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