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Best DVDs 2004

Mary Colgan

Colgan loves the bewitching Buffy and eye-dazzling Peter Pan as well as the comic brilliance of the Office.

:: BEST DVDS 2004 By Mary Colgan

Editor's note: Most of these DVDs feature extras, including commentary tracks and deleted scenes.

1. Peter Pan (P.J. Hogan)
This eye-dazzling version of the classic children's story could awaken the imagination of the most crotchety cynic alive. Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is transformed from sweet and motherly to crafty and adventurous (she's always wanted to be a pirate called "Red-handed Jill"). And Peter is utterly boyish, even played by a real-live boy (Jeremy Sumpter) rather than a grown woman. The Lost Boys are especially delightful. After Wendy is shot out of the sky, the boys and Peter stand around her body puzzling out what to do. "She must stay here and die!" Slighty (Theodore Chester) reasons. "No!" Peter rebukes, and Slightly quickly rescinds: "Oh, how could I have thought that? Stupid. Sorry."

2. Underworld (Len Wiseman)
Dark, atmospheric, and comic-bookish, Underworld seems a film adaptation of a video game. Capes swoop, vampires snarl, Kate Beckinsale (who plays Selene) is wicked hot, and as golden-haired innocent Michael (Scott Speedman) is dragged into the fray, viewers find themselves similarly powerless to resist this shadowy world where vampires and werewolves battle for supremacy. Admittedly corny and derivative, this film is delicious fun for anyone who thinks there should be more black leather in the world.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

3. The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy)
When Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) moves into an abandoned railway station, he finds a makeshift family rather than solitude. In this delicate film from first-time director Thomas McCarthy, Fin, Joe (Bobby Cannavale), and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), parent one another: Fin takes Joe and Olivia for walks on the railroad tracks and doles out beef jerky when they're hungry, Olivia tucks the boys in after a night of partying, and Joe fries up comfort food on a hot plate and reminds them all to hold hands and give thanks.

4. Mean Girls (Mark Waters)
"If you're from Africa, why are you white?" asks Karen (Amanda Seyfried), her pretty forehead furrowed in confusion. "Oh my God, Karen, you can't just ask someone why they're white," rebukes Gretchen (Lacey Chabert). Fresh-faced, pony-tailed Cady (Lindsay Lohan) just smiles; she's as polite and charming as any parent could hope. That is, until she is initiated into Girl World, where rules and behaviors mirror what Cady observed in Africa, "by the watering hole, at mating time." The teeth come out and the fur starts flying.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

5. The Office: The Complete First and Second Series (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant)
The entire run of this British comedy comprises only 12 episodes, but each is worthy of repeat viewings. Shot like a documentary, the series chronicles life at paper company Wernham Hogg. Regional Manager David Brent (co-creator Ricky Gervais) sees himself as a comic genius, but everyone else (save Gareth [Mackenzie Crook], his equally clueless second-in-command) sees him as a socially-retarded buffoon. Sales rep Tim (Martin Freeman) and receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis) yearn for more than low-level corporate life, but can't seem to break away.

6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season (Joss Whedon)
"You're a creature of the darkness, like me," Spike (James Marsters) tells Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) as they gulp shots of whiskey in "Life Serial." "Try on my world," he tempts her. "See how good it feels." Drunk, depressed, and newly-resurrected, Buffy complies, sort of. Throughout angsty season six, Buffy and the gang delve into their darker sides: she engages in rough, ravenous sex with Spike, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) turns black-haired and veiny via dark magic, and Dawn (Michelle Tratchenberg) takes up shoplifting.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Seventh Season (Joss Whedon)
Season seven brings the Scoobies back into the light. As Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) tells Willow in "Lessons," "In the end, we all are who we are, no matter how much we may appear to have changed." In the series finale, Buffy, Willow, Giles, and Xander (Nicholas Brendon), the series' original four, are once again bound together to save the world. Only now they're stronger, wiser, wearier, and more committed.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

8. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder)
This remake of the 1978 George Romero film features a nurse named Ana (the always awesome Sarah Polley). When her loving husband attempts to eat her alive, she discovers her inner action-movie tough girl. She joins with a band of survivors in a shopping mall where the muzak recalls the anesthesia of "normal" life. From their rooftop view, they see a veritable zombie mob pit, stretching out to the horizon. Though she remains compassionate, Ana also reaches a calm-eyed, rational state: when an obnoxious cohort (Ty Burrell) turns zombie due to his own stupidity, she dispatches him without missing a beat.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

9. Open Water (Chris Kentis)
Open Water lacks spectacular performances and script. But for fans of Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," it is full of vicarious thrills. Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) are left in the middle of the sea during a scuba diving vacation. Though their reactions are stereotypically gendered (Susan blames Daniel for not knowing how to save them; Daniel shouts at the heavens), their plight is affecting due to the grisly details (fish nibbling at wounds, sea-sickness). More terrifying even than the sharks is the moment when the sun sets. You can't help imagining yourself in their situation: at the mercy of all that lies beneath the sea.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

10. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Special Edition) (Henry Selick)
If I could choose one movie world to visit any time I liked, it would be Halloween Town. With an audio commentary, deleted footage, a "making of" featurette, and two short films by Tim Burton, this DVD release enhances an already stupendous movie.
   :. original PopMatters review

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