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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. 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

DVD: Extras
TV Show: Extras
Subtitle: The Complete Second Season
Network: BBC
Network: HBO
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen, Stephen Merchant
Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/extras/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0Gd7BsAyvY
Distributor: HBO
US Release Date: 2007-07-10
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/e/extras.jpg

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List number: 20

Extras: The Complete Second Season

HBO Home Video

If the first season of Extras was about the angst of middle aged stasis then the second, which begins at the pilot taping for Andy Millman’s dreadful workplace sitcom When the Whistle Blows, focuses on the problems of dealing with a promotion one might not be equipped to handle. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant restructured the series around the angst of the creative act with much funnier and cohesive results. They struggled with Andy in trying to understand their love of comedy and its relation to themselves. The DVD lightens the caustic undertones of the series with backstage footage showing that the creators aren’t perpetually neurotic about their sense of humor. Plus it includes an interview with David Bowie that proves he is a very funny man. Michael Buening

Extras

Director: Judd Apatow
Film: Knocked Up
Studio: Universal Pictures
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jay Baruchel
Website: http://www.knockedupmovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
Distributor: Universal
US Release Date: 2007-06-01 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/k/knocked-up-2007-poster.jpg

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List number: 19

Knocked Up: Unrated and Extended Edition

Universal

Even in this new, expanded form Knocked Up is a Tootsie for our times, a smart, subversive comedy that meshes different forms of wit to create a singular source of hilarity. It’s a combination of the practical and the profane, the character driven and the crazy. It has more heart than any standard RomCom ridiculousness and goes places your normal motion picture matchmaking would never attempt. Fleshing out his constantly coupling foursome with an amazing array of supporting and cameo casting choices, Apatow never lets his movie meander. It stays constantly focused, drawing even the most oddball remarks and riffs into a devastating study of what it takes to be human. Unlike other comedies of its type, Knocked Up is out to expand and dimensionalize its personas, careful to give even the most obscure references a concrete connection to reality. Bill Gibron

Knocked Up

Director: Sergio Leone
DVD: The Sergio Leone Anthology
Studio: MGM
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Rod Steiger, James Coburn
MPAA rating: N/A
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/sergio-leone.jpg

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List number: 18

The Sergio Leone Anthology

MGM

He was born into the belly of Italian show business. By the time he was a teenager, he was very familiar with the Italian film biz. While helping out on the peplum epic The Last Days of Pompeii, he suddenly found himself behind the lens, and it would be a place he’d remain for the rest of his career. He only made nine credited films, but for fans of the spaghetti Western, four would remain major motion picture milestones. But there was much more to Sergio Leone than squinting antiheroes and one-horse towns draped in quick-draw bloodshed, as illustrated all throughout this sensational box set. It’s the perfect place to begin your journey into the bleak bombastic world of the director, and all the cinematic splendor that comes with it. Bill Gibron

The Sergio Leone Anthology

Director: Fred Dekker
Film: The Monster Squad
Studio: Tristar Pictures
Cast: Brent Chalem, Leonardo Cimino, Michael Faustino, Lisa Fuller, Andre Gower, Jack Gwillam, Jason Hervey, Robby Kiger
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1987
US Release Date: 1987-08-14 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/monster-squad.jpg

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List number: 17

Monster Squad: 2 Disc 20th Anniversary Collection

Lionsgate

It’s one of the oddest tales in revisionist cinema — a slightly surreal late ’80s horror comedy that suddenly became a glorified geek stepping stone for an entire generation of cinephiles in training. Naturally, this meant any future DVD release had to meet the messageboard masses exacting standards. After many battles over copyright and bonus features, this 20th anniversary release did the terror tale proud. It’s overloaded with extras, and provides the kind of critical clarification that helps illustrate the film’s endearing qualities. Even better, it allowed fans a chance to rest, if only to ratchet up their obsession on some other lost in limbo title. Bill Gibron

The Monster Squad

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Film: Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)
Studio: Picturehouse
Cast: Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Roger Casamajor, Sebastián Haro
Website: http://www.panslabyrinth.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.ifilm.com/video/2769804
First date: 2006
Distributor: Optimum Releasing
US Release Date: 2006-12-29 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2006-11-24 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/pans-labyrinth-poster.jpg

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List number: 16

Pan’s Labyrinth – Two Disc Special Edition

New Line Home Video

Guillermo Del Toro’s harrowing adult fairytale set in Spain under Franco’s fascist rule casts as much of a spell on DVD as it did on the big screen. Del Toro uses a combination of old-fashioned movie trickery (puppetry, costumes) and CGI compositions to create an earthy fantasy in which Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) escapes her grim reality by imagining another world of fauns and fairies, one in which she might be a princess. Del Toro uses his visual artistry not just on the fantasy elements but on the dark-hued forests in which the war-story unfolds. And the story is simplicity at its best: good and evil exist in all realms, imagined or not. Peter Swanson

Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

Display Artist: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper
Director: Fax Bahr
Director: George Hickenlooper
Film: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
Studio: American Zoetrope
Cast: Eleanor Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola, Charlie Sheen, Marlon Brando, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Albert Hall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Robert Duvall, George Lucas
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
Length: 96 minutes
Price: $19.99
Distributor: Paramount
UK Release Date: Available as import
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/heartsdarkness-filmmakers.jpg

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List number: 15

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Paramount Home Video

There were rumors for years that the strangely long delayed DVD release of this thoughtful, eye-opening 1991 documentary about Coppola’s self-immolation during the seemingly cursed making of Apocalypse Now was due to it possibly being included in a future DVD package of Coppola’s pretentious war epic (maybe a new six-hour edit, Apocalypse Now Redux Redux). Such was not the case but at least we finally have George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr’s film to present to future generations of filmmakers who may wish to avoid similarly self-destructive hubris in their own work. Chris BarsantiHearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Director: John Ford
DVD: Ford at Fox: The Collection
Studio: Fox
Cast: Margaret Mann, James Hall, Henry Fonda
MPAA rating: N/A
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/f/ford-at-fox.jpg

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List number: 14

Ford at Fox: The Collection

Fox

It’s an absolutely astounding overview — one man, one studio, 24 career defining films. John Ford remains the very epitome of American movie making. Including such classics as My Darling Clementine, How Green Was My Valley, The Grapes of Wrath, and Young Mr. Lincoln, this must-own box set cements Ford’s status as one of the greatest directors of all time (especially when you consider the amazing masterpieces — Stagecoach, The Searchers — not included). While the price may seem a bit steep, it’s worth every penny. Like owning a cornerstone of cinematic history, there’s a lifetime of pleasures to be pulled from this dense DVD collection. Bill Gibron

Ford at Fox: The Collection

Director: Peter Watkins
Film: The Cinema of Peter Watkins
Subtitle: 5-Disc Box Set
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2007
Distributor: New Yorker Video
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/peterwatkins.jpg

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List number: 13

The Cinema of Peter Watkins

New Yorker Video

A perennial winner of the most underappreciated director award, Peter Watkins gets the retrospective he deserves with New Yorker Video’s superb collection of his work leading up to 1974’s Edvard Munch. From his “amateur shorts” to his dramatic-documentaries addressing historical and alarmist alternative reality scenarios it tracks the heady development of Watkin’s filmmaking skills, political ideas, and aesthetic theories during his formative years. Watkins is a provocateur and there is a grand tension between the stubborn individualism and humanistic communalism in his work that can be maddening, heartrending, and inspiring. He demands the active participation of the viewer in a world marked by increasing consumerist complacency. The Cinema of Peter Watkins is waiting for a new generation of filmmakers to take notice. Michael Buening

The Cinema of Peter Watkins

Director: Edgar Wright
Film: Hot Fuzz
Studio: Rogue Pictures
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Steve Coogan, Timothy Dalton, Martin Freeman, Paul Freeman, Bill Nighy
Website: http://www.hotfuzz.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/33/3933/video.php
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-04-20 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-02-17 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/hot-fuzz-poster2.jpg

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List number: 12

Hot Fuzz: 3 Disc Collector’s Edition

Universal

Stop with all the spoof talk, already. The latest masterpiece from Brit wits Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the spectacularly anarchic action buddy cop caper Hot Fuzz is more than just a simple-minded lampoon. Such a categorization limits what the amazing movie manages to achieve, bringing it down to a level of creative crassness that the duo manage to transcend time and time again. The truth is, Wright and Pegg have much larger funny business fish to fry than merely taking on the Bruckheimer/Bay gonzo gunplay dynamic — and it’s an intention illustrated over and over again by this stunning three disc presentation. There’s so much here, one could get lost in it. Bill Gibron

Hot Fuzz

Director: Greg Mottola
Film: Superbad
Studio: Sony
Cast: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hader, Seth Rogen
Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/superbad/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-08-17 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/a/august-superbad.jpg

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List number: 11

Superbad

Sony

An argument at a New Year’s Day party over Superbad ended with the compromise that, fine, the movie was funny but, admit it, will get less funny each time you see it. With the release of the DVD, this theory proves unable to hold water and the reasons aren’t hard to find. Michael Cera’s note-perfect performance as half of a the teenage duo determined to demolish the mysteries of GIRLS before splitting up for college, grows to awe-inspiring upon closer inspections; in a movie that seemed to be defined by its willingness to heap the shocking on top of the obscene, whether he’s facing down a roomful of stubborn cokeheads or hurrying away down a high school hallway, his laughs never feel cheap. He balances Jonah Hill’s cruder acting and provides Superbad’s center. The film’s other duo, Seth Rogen and Bill Hader as police officers who seem determined to remain stuck in high school, gains the most laughs, cheap or otherwise, and keep things from bogging down. The film’s closest relative is the day-in-the-life model of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, though it never aspires to that film’s patient artistry. Superbad, instead, stakes its claim on being loud, crude, and obsessed with dicks; the noisy workings of a teenage boy’s mind transposed to film. And though certain bits of it will age worse with time and the inevitable Judd Apatow-backlash, the more thoughtful moments that co-exist with the vulgar, and the film’s affinity for the banter of teenagers, will ensure thatSuperbad will continue to ring true for quite a while. Jon Langmead

Superbad

Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Film: I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba)
Studio: Mosfilm
Studio: ICAIC
Cast: Luz María Collazo, José Gallardo, Sergio Corrieri, Mario Gonzalez Broche, Raúl García
Website: http://www.milestonefilms.com/movie.php/iamcuba/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://video.aol.com/video-detail/i-am-cuba-trailer/930380178
First date: 1964
Distributor: Milestone Film & Video
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/iamcuba.jpg

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List number: 10

I Am Cuba

New Yorker Video/Milestone Cinematheque

The Soviets tried to bury this 1964 neo-realist dream-poem about the Cuban revolution almost immediately after director Mikhail Kalatozov finished, but it was finally rediscovered a few years back. The good people over at Milestone did a great job (as they also did with the Killer of Sheep release) put together this handsome package for a gorgeous piece of work, including a full-length making-of documentary, another feature by Kalatozov for good measure, and all of it housed in an honest-to-God cigar box. But it as a gift for someone else, and keep it for yourself. Chris Barsanti

I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba)

Director: David Lynch
Film: Inland Empire
Studio: 518 Media
Cast: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, Jeremy Irons, Terryn Westbrook, Grace Zabriski, Diane Ladd, Julia Ormand
Website: http://www.inlandempirecinema.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.ifilm.com/video/2802697
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-12-06 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/inland-empire-poster.jpg

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List number: 9

David Lynch’s Inland Empire

The Criterion Collection

Inland Empire is a masterpiece. It is also an aggravating avant-garde amalgamation of incomplete ideas. It’s a brilliant distillation of David Lynch’s career defining dream logic. It’s also a three-hour exercise in excess and a brilliant argument for the switchover to digital filmmaking. As with most works by the artist/auteur, this fragmented take on “a woman in trouble” (to quote the film’s tagline) raises many more questions than it ever dares to answer, and squeezes more imagination and invention into three hours than most movie studios manage in a lifetime. The DVD delves even deeper into the narrative, providing deleted material and additional context to show how the ‘film’ was formulated. Bill Gibron

Inland Empire

Director: Michael Apted
DVD: The Up Series
Cast: Various
Website: http://www.firstrunfeatures.com/upseries.html
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1964
Distributor: First Run Features
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/u/upseries.jpg

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List number: 8

The Up Series

First Run Features

Comprising seven of the best documentaries ever crafted for the small (and later, big) screen, The Up Series is a monumental achievement in cinema and DVD. It is hard to describe in plain and simple terms the impact and the power that these films really have. Though it’s hard to imagine how the chronicle of a dozen or more kids from childhood to adulthood could resonate with such colossal themes and universal platitudes, The Up Series is indeed such an exalted exhibition. But it is also much more. It is riveting human theater, the drama of lives fulfilled and dreams dashed, played out over the ambitious possibility of time and space. Bill Gibron

The Up Series

Director: Various
DVD: The Three Stooges Collection Volume 1: 1934 – 1936
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Moe Howard, Curly Howard, Larry Fine
MPAA rating: N/A
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/threestooges.jpg

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List number: 7

The Three Stooges Collection Volume 1: 1934 – 1936

Columbia/Sony

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 the first three years the performers pitched their vaudeville shtick to motion pictures, the 19 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 Volume 1: 1934 – 1936

Director: Billy Wilder
Film: Ace in the Hole
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Herbie Cook, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1951
Distributor: Criterion
US Release Date: 1951-06-29 (General release)
UK Release Date: 1951-06-15 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/a/aceinthehole.jpg

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List number: 6

Ace in the Hole

The Criterion Collection

Criterion has released Billy Wilder’s 1951 masterpiece, one rarely seen both then (it was re-titled The Big Carnival and re-released to drum up more money) and now. Kirk Douglas is a sneering journalist eking out a living at a New Mexico daily when he stumbles upon a trapped man in a collapsed mine and drums up a front-page story to get himself back into the big time. Its cynicism borders on the despairing; it’s as though Wilder was peering into the future, when hordes of paparazzi make their salaries off the mental illness of a young woman. If you don’t care about social commentary, then watch it for the trademark Wilder dialogue, on a par with anything in Double Indemnity or Sunset Boulevard. Peter Swanson

Ace in the Hole

Director: Ridley Scott
DVD: Blade Runner: Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Studio: Warner Brothers
Cast: Harrison Ford, Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, Brion James, Joanna Cassidy
Website: http://bladerunnerthemovie.warnerbros.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1982
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/blade-runner-5-disc.jpg

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List number: 5

Blade Runner – Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Warner Brothers

Talk about your long dormant Holy Grails. Ever since DVD became the format of choice, devotees of director Ridley Scott’s speculative noir have been waiting for a definitive digital version. But with missed released dates and cryptic messages from the director himself, it seemed like it would never happen. Then it arrived — a multidisc offering encased in a slick silver briefcase — and it’s amazing. It contains a staggering FOUR different cuts of the film (a new director’s, the original theatrical, an international configuration, and Scott’s 1992 revamp) as well as a workprint, dozens of documentaries, and lots of insightful featurettes. The old cliché would have some arguing that such an aesthetic overview would be worth the wait — and they’d be right. Bill Gibron

Blade Runner: Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Film: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Studio: MGM
Studio: Warner Bros.
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter
MPAA rating: G
First date: 1968/2001
US Release Date: 2001-11-02
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/2/2001_space_odyssey.jpg

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List number: 4

2001: A Space Odyssey – Two Disc Special Edition

Warner Brothers

Even if Kubrick was alive, it’s likely that this comparatively bare-bones DVD release of his 1968 spiritual sci-fi headtrip would be much different. Gnomic to the extreme when alive, the great director wasn’t one to spout on and on about his own work (other contemporary masters like the Coen Brothers and Scorsese follow this example, declining to contribute self-laudatory commentary tracks and the like to the DVD transfers of their films). Although they couldn’t resist tossing in a few substandard making-of docs on the second disc, Warner Bros. for the most part stuck to the basics here, presenting a pristine version of one of the 20th century’s greatest cinematic achievements. No more, no less. Chris Barsanti

2001: A Space Odyssey

DVD: Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition
TV Show: Twin Peaks
Network: CBS
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Lara Flynn Boyle, Joan Chen
First date: 1990
Last date: 1991
Distributor: Paramount
US Release Date: 2007-10-30
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/twinpeaks-goldbox.jpg

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List number: 3

Twin Peaks: The Definite Gold Box Edition

Paramount Home Video

David Lynch has kept fans of his quirky TV drama in limbo, promising to finalize the series’ short on air life with a DVD set including the original pilot and improved audio and video. Then years passed. Rumors circulated — Paramount won’t pitch in, the director’s new obsession with digital was distracting him — but in the end, it was merely a matter of time. Time to remaster the individual episodes. Time to create as much meaningful added content as possible. The results speak for themselves. This is an amazing box set, a true testament to the show’s legacy and the artistry attempted (and frequently found) by Lynch and his creative crew. Bill Gibron

Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition

Director: Various
DVD: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete TV Series
Studio: TimeLife
Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1964
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/man-from-uncle.jpg

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List number: 2

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series

Time Life DVD

The ’60s were spy crazy, a combination of post-Cuban Missile Crisis cold warring and a newfound jones for James Bond. Among the many examples of this espionage fixation (Matt Helm, Get Smart), this was the best – a smart, slick production fortified with acting heft and pop art pizzazz. Featuring input from none other than Ian Fleming himself (Bond’s creator) and scripts from brilliant scribes like Robert Towne and Harlan Ellison, the series balanced action with intricate plotting, and turned Robert Vaughn and David McCallum into icons. Topping most distributors who treat old TV with disrespect, Warner Brothers’ astonishing 41-disc presentation, overflowing with added features and bonuses, belies how well loved this seminal show remains. Bill Gibron

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete TV Series

Director: Charles Burnett
Film: Killer of Sheep
Subtitle: The Charles Burnett Collection
Studio: Milestone
Cast: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy, Angela Burnett, Eugene Cherry, and Jack Drummond
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1977
Distributor: New Yorker Video/Milestone Cinematheque
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/k/killlerofsheep.jpg

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List number: 1

Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection

New Yorker Video/Milestone Cinematheque

Unlike directors who see indie productions as passports to mainstream fame and fortune, Charles Burnett never strays for long from the subject that interests him most: life as it’s really lived in everyday families, neighborhoods, and workplaces. This was his first feature, and although he finished it in 1977, hassles over the music rights kept it off the screen until 2007, when it had a very belated premiere. Less a dramatic story than a string of gritty vignettes, it paints a richly sympathetic portrait of an African-American father who ekes out a living in a Los Angeles slaughterhouse. Rarely does a film evoke a time, a place, and a set of circumstances with such poignant, poetic sensitivity. David Sterritt

Killer of Sheep

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