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Digital Dynamite: The 30 Best DVDs of 2007

It was the year of the behemoth box set, the multi-disc triumph that tried to give long suffering fans everything their demanding little digital hearts ever desired. Here are PopMatters' 30 picks for the best DVDs of the year.

It was the year of the behemoth box set, the multi-disc triumph that tried to give long suffering fans everything their demanding little digital hearts ever desired. It was also the year of the Holy Grail, titles seemingly lost in the ephemera suddenly springing from the studio system overflowing, each release overflowing with goodies. There were individual masterworks and under-performing popcorn larks, grave indie dramas and some splatterific horror. In fact, when spied through the review mirror of personal perspective, 2007 was a pretty great year for DVD. Sure, the ongoing clamor over which high definition standard is better still gobbles up too many gigabites, and in a realm where value for your dollar is everything, studios are still delivering full frame, bare bones titles. But as the next format attempts to forge the future, the original silver disc devil is kicking up some controversy.

For those coming to this list hoping to find a breakdown of HD and Blu-ray releases -- turn back now. PopMatters has yet to take a stand on the new fangled medium, and said titles were not taken into consideration as part of the 12-month round-up. Similarly, TV is included here, since many of the best collections to come out this year revolved around famous shows and complete season retrospectives. There are a few anomalies along the way, movies and product you might not consider the best that digital has to offer. But sometimes, in the grand scheme of gradation, aesthetic value can easily trump bells and whistles. So if a disc arrives with very little added content, you can rest assured it probably contains a pretty monumental movie.

It's also important to remember that consensus is a far from perfect science. One man's Get Smart Complete Series Set is another's WWE fight series. So when the PopMatters staff creates a rundown like this, the choices are always up for discussion, but not dismissal. After all, we don't stand over your shoulder and tell you what to watch, do we? We're not there at the brick and mortar mandating where you dollars go. Sure, we hope that our smart writing and media knowledge lend some credence to our selections, but sometimes, whim can factor in more favorably than wisdom. Still, for all the kvetching and infighting, arguments and agreement, the 30 titles presented do offer up some sound digital delights. They definitely deserve to be considered the top DVDs of 2007.

Display Artist: Matt Maiellaro, Dave Willis Director: Matt Maiellaro Director: Dave Willis Film: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters Studio: First Look Pictures Cast: Dana Synder, Carey Means, Dave Willis, Matt Maiellaro Website: http://www.adultswim.com/shows/athf/movie/index.html MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/44/4744/video.php First date: 2007 US Release Date: 2007-04-13 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/a/aqua-teen-force-poster.jpg

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List number: 30

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Film Movie for Theaters for DVD

Turner Home Entertainment

Who says they don’t make good dada anymore? This big screen version of the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim anomaly offers three amiable (if slightly psychotic) fast food products -- a shallow shake, some science-minded fries, and a babyish blob of mystery meat -- taking on unhinged elements from around the universe. Part origins exploration, part satiric stream of incontinence, it may not make a lick of sense. But when you’re laughing this hard, does logic really matter? Even better, the DVD version (complete with a whole other version of the movie) reimagines the medium in a way that both embraces and mocks the special feature heavy format. It stands as a symbol of the film, and the series in general. Bill Gibron

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Director: Mario Bava DVD: The Mario Bava Collection Volumes 1 & 2 Studio: Starz Studio: Anchor Bay Cast: Barbara Steele, John Saxon, Letícia Román, Daniela Giordano, Brett Halsey MPAA rating: N/A Distributor: Starz/Anchor Bay US Release Date: 2007-10-23 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/mario-bava.jpg

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List number: 29

The Mario Bava Collection Volumes 1 & 2

Anchor Bay

He began his career as a cinematographer, following his father into the bubbling Italian film business. By 1960, he was so well regarded that he was given a shot at making his own movies. In just over two decades (he died in 1980), he made dozens of genre benchmarks, dark Gothic horror romps known for their bodice ripping and blood bathing. Now, thanks to Anchor Bay, 13 of the director's most demented visions are given the box set treatment. Including at least one odd entry -- the comic Western Roy Colt and Winchester Jack -- and several solid entries, this is the perfect starting point for anyone interested in seeing where true Italian horror began. Bill Gibron

The Mario Bava Collection Volumes 1 & 2

Director: Lau Kar-Leung Film: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin Studio: Shaw Brothers Studios Cast: Gordon Liu, , Lo Lieh MPAA rating: N/A First date: 1978 Distributor: The Weinstein Company US Release Date: 1979-06-01 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/3/36th_chamber_of_shaolin1.jpg

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List number: 28

The 36 Chamber of Shaolin

The Weinstein Company

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin represents a directorial tour de force for Chia-Liang Liu. It’s a sumptuous film to look at, a movie that takes its varying fight facets very seriously. Perhaps the pinnacle of everything the Shaw Brothers was striving for in their kung fu epics, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin remains, even by modern standards, a solid masterwork. While the story may be familiar to any fan of the genre -- pacifist student seeks out the help of the Shaolin, those monk masters of the martial arts, to teach him to fight to defend his family’s honor and his village -- the approach is breathtaking in its depth and scope. Bill Gibron

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Director: Tex Avery DVD: Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection Studio: Warner Brothers MPAA rating: N/A Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/tex-averys-droopy.jpg

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List number: 27

Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection

Warner Brothers

Finally! Every other half-baked animated creature seems to be getting a major DVD release these days, and yet Tex Avery’s dour hound dog always gets left behind. It’s hard to describe what makes Droopy so incredible -- his hurdy gurdy nerdy voice, the intensely violent physical comedy that forms his humor, or the hyper-stylized way Avery and his crew realized his pen and ink personality. Whatever the reasons, this two-disc set -- offering 24 theatrical shorts and a bevy of added content -- promises to make fans of the zany animator and his prized pooch happy indeed. Now, if they could only find a way to bring the complete Screwy Squirrel to the digital medium. Bill Gibron

Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection

Director: Byron Haskin Film: Robinson Crusoe on Mars Subtitle: Criterion Collection Studio: Schenck-Zebel Cast: Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, and Adam West MPAA rating: Unrated First date: 1964 Distributor: Criterion Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/rcrusoemars.jpg

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List number: 26

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

The Criterion Collection

For many, it's merely a minor classic, a borderline schlock space opera made in an era when optimism supplanted realism as a means of conquering the cosmos. That a company like Criterion, known for championing the works of such filmmaking giants as Renoir, Truffaut, and Godard, would take on a title like this was unthinkable. But proving that there is more to preservation than merely dressing up the classics, the noted company created a wonderful DVD package, Most important is a full length commentary where differences between director Byron Haskin and screenwriter Ib Melchoir get a insightful airing. It all elevates the end product. Bill Gibron

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Director: Alfred Hitchcock Film: The Lady Vanishes Subtitle: Criterion Collection Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty MPAA rating: N/A First date: 1938 Distributor: Criterion Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/l/ladyvanishes.jpg

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List number: 25

The Lady Vanishes

The Criterion Collection

A Criterion re-release with a better print, some new features, and an extra movie, Crook’s Tour, that follows two of the minor characters -- the drolly hilarious Caldicot and Charters -- from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 masterpiece on another comic adventure. Crook’s Tour is amusing but for fanatics only. The Lady Vanishes is for everyone; it is Hitchcock’s best work of pure entertainment, more streamlined, romantic, and thrilling than even North by Northwest. It’s even technically better: filmed on a studio set, there is no doubt that its protagonists -- the never-better Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood -- are hurtling along on a real train in an attempt to find a little old lady that has disappeared into thin air. Perfection. Peter SwansonThe Lady Vanishes

Director: Jack Hill Film: Spider Baby Cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Sid Haig, Jill Banner, Beverly Washburn MPAA rating: N/A First date: 1968 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/spider-baby.jpg

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List number: 24

Spider Baby: Special Edition

Universal

It remains a strangely satisfying experiment in terror: writer/director Jack Hill hired former fright master Lon Chaney Jr., turned him into a sympathetic caregiver for a collection of craven creeps, and gave the whole thing a freak show veneer of macabre monochrome. Subtitled The Maddest Story Ever Told, no other underlying label ever did a better job of describing a yarn’s intentions. Featuring future human oddity Sid Haig as the repugnant Ralph, and Mantan Mooreland in a minor cameo role, this arguably bizarre family fright night substituted novelty and wit for nastiness and the wicked. Still, it will be hard for newcomers to forget the truly horrific ending. Bill GibronSpider Baby

Director: John Woo Film: Face/Off Studio: Touchstone Films Cast: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage MPAA rating: R First date: 1997 US Release Date: 1997-06-27 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/f/face-off1.jpg

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List number: 23

Face/Off

Paramount

It took the worst clichés of 1990s shoot-em-ups and piled on John Woo's unhinged and bullet-pocked ballets for good measure, but damn if Face/Off didn't just blow you out of your seat with its giggly excess. There's been a basic DVD knocking around since 1998, but the film has long deserved the two-disc "collector's edition" treatment (deleted scenes and all) as the modern near-classic that it is. Chris Barsanti

Face/Off

Director: Lewis Milestone Film: All Quiet on the Western Front Studio: Universal Pictures Cast: Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres MPAA rating: N/A First date: 1930 US Release Date: 1930-04-21 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/a/all-quiet-on-the-western-fr.jpg

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List number: 22

All Quiet on the Western Front

Universal

It would be easy to make some kind of crass comment here, to tie this 76-year-old masterwork to the current war in Iraq and say something along the lines of "this should be compulsory viewing for every citizen." Instead, it's much easier to simply recognize All Quiet on the Western Front's main message -- that no matter how you dress it up, in dire consequences, imminent threat, or long-term legitimizing, armed conflict should never be viewed as a sensible solution. Stunningly remastered by Universal, yet lacking enough critical context to make the disc definitive, what we wind up with is one of the greatest movies of all time, perfectly preserved for future generations -- and that's just as important as the movie's motives. Bill GibronAll Quiet on the Western Front

Display Artist: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez Director: Quentin Tarantino Director: Robert Rodriguez Film: Grindhouse Studio: Dimension Films (The Weinstein Company) Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, John Jaratt, Marley Shelton Website: http://www.grindhousemovie.net/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/grindhouse/ First date: 2007 US Release Date: 2007-04-06 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/g/grindhouse-poster.jpg

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List number: 21

Grindhouse Presents, Death Proof - Extended and Unrated (Two-Disc Special Edition)

The Weinstein Company

I, for one, had zero gripes when the Weinstein brothers decided to split up the experimental twofer that was Grindhouse, and release Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof as two separate DVDs. It was a money decision (Grindhouse tanked) but now Tarantino’s portion can stand alone for what it is, a two-act art film that deconstructs slasher flicks, gear-head films, masculinity and femininity. Plus it has girls in short shorts, killer tunes, Kurt Russell as a homicidal maniac, and the best car chase of the new millennium. The DVD version presents the longer version of the film, the one that was released at Cannes. It’s better, and not just because it contains the lapdance. Peter Swanson

Grindhouse






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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

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"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

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