The 20 Best DVDs of 2005

While some argue that the DVD’s price was the reason the public pounced on the format so quickly, accepting it sooner than any previous home video variation, the truth is a lot more complicated. A film on disc cost about the same as a VHS version when it first arrived in stores, and while the picture quality was vastly superior, the selection of discs was scattershot at best. No, it was the decision to exploit the digital domain, to treat movies like memorable, preservable treasures that brought DVD to the fore. Just look at the 2005 Best-Of List. The majority of titles are older entries finally getting their special edition (or initial release) due. Other offerings represent recent box office hits in fully tricked out packages loaded with time capsule treats. Indeed, the main reason why digital won the format wars was the ongoing desire to accept film as an art, not a commodity, and in return making discs that preserve and enhance the medium. VHS was always disposable. DVD is forever… at least, for now.

20

Bad Boy Bubby
(Blue Underground)

Rarely seen outside its native Australia, this puzzling, near perfect fable about the need for human interaction is like a nightmare version of Forrest Gump. At the center is Bubby, a socially retarded manchild who has been his mother’s burden — and secret incestual lover — for decades. When his dingy dad returns home to claim the ‘boy’, it sets off bizarre abandonment issues, and before you know it, Bubby is roaming the Outback suburbs, lost in a strange social system he knows nothing about. This perverted pilgrim’s progress, following Bubby from a school for the handicapped to punk rock star, is as much a coming of age as it is a meditation on the pitfalls of maturity. It is a Thomas Pynchon novel of a film where every scene has several meanings, and differing layers diverge and reform to create something wholly original and inspired with each configuration. Along with his stellar cast of unknowns (including an award winning turn by Nicholas Hope in the title role) director Rolf De Heer has made a true post-modern masterpiece.
Bill Gibron Amazon

19

Team America: World Police
(Paramount)

When Trey Parker and Matt Stone announced that they would be making another movie, fans were prepared for another exceptional South Park outing (the first film is a corrupt classic). Then they announced that it would be a big budget Bruckheimer-esque action epic about terrorism and international political intrigue. A minor whiff of anticipation anxiety filled the air. Finally it was discovered that the movie would star puppets — and not just ordinary ones, but intricate, inspired by the Thunderbirds style marionettes. The result was either going to be a masterpiece, or a mess. Well, Team America: World Police became yet another notch in Parker and Stone’s satire six shooter, a rollicking, risqué denouncement of Hollywood, activism, patriotism and bad foreign policy. Less an attack on the government and more of a harpoon into the heart of the people who empower them, this manic ‘muppets gone commando’ was one of the year’s cleverest comedies. If you ever wanted to know how dolls do the nasty, this DVD has the how-to in uncut, uncensored spades.
Bill Gibron PopMatters review Amazon

18

Lost: The Complete First Season
(Buena Vista Home Entertainment)

Some people are just born with a Midas Touch. One of them is the brilliant J.J. Abrams. Not yet 40, he is the genius behind the hits Felicity, Alias, and now the action-adventure phenomenon Lost. The first season (now on DVD) is filled with obsessively thrilling puzzles, duplicitous characters and random events seemingly disconnected from the overall plot — 48 survivors of a plane crash find themselves stranded on a strange island. During the course of each episode, the cast is shown in flashbacks giving us a glimpse of their former lives and revealing them to be more complicated than initially believed. As the season advanced, several questions abounded: Are they in purgatory? Are they the victims of a government experiment? Are they in outer space? Thanks to such compelling queries, Lost kept viewers guessing (and ratings growing) from week to week, eventually garnering Emmy Awards for Direction and Outstanding Drama Series. The box set, loaded with goodies, will help newcomers ease into the complex mythology, while fans can use it as a primer for the series’ engaging enigmas.
Courtney Young Amazon

17

Frank Miller’s Sin City (Recut, Extended, Unrated)
(Dimension)

The film remains a landmark of technological style over oppressive Hollywood harping — now the DVD wants to reimagine the digital domain as well. Taking the middle initial in the format’s acronym to heart, Rodriguez has double-dipped his previous single disc release of said movie to include commentary, additional footage, and a unique way to watch each of the interlocking vignettes separate from the others. Imagine Quentin Tarantino (who shows up on several of the package’s extras) allowing Pulp Fiction to be placed in narrative order and you get the idea of what Rodriguez is driving at. Loaded with content — including a great “green screen” version of the film — this is how DVD’s “versatility” should be utilized. The presentation compliments the movie, while the film itself sets up the supplements perfectly.
Bill Gibron Amazon

16

King Kong, 1933
(Turner Home Entertainment)

For many DVD fans, it’s the Holy Grail of the format. As the classic titles from yesteryear — Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind — find their way onto the digital domain, rabid aficionados of Willis O’Brien’s stop motion monkey waited… and waited. Long hinted at, announced and then rescheduled, the Eighth Wonder of the World finally arrived in stores to coincide with the release of his big screen remake — and it was worth it. Beautifully restored, achingly researched and loaded with more contextual goodies than most modern masterpieces, the DVD version of Kong is everything a devotee could hope for. Sure, the movie itself is nothing more than a throwback to a far simpler time, spectacle wise, but O’Brien and his F/X crew truly pushed the envelope of fantasy filmmaking. Thanks to this comprehensive presentation, all secrets are revealed. But the magic… the magic remains.
Bill Gibron Amazon

15

Rize
(Lions Gate)

Nothing good has ever come from clowning. All you have to do is look at Cirque De Soleil, or John Wayne Gacy, for proof. But in South Central Los Angeles, a local homeboy harlequin named Tommy started teaching classes in his unique brand of manic movement, and before you knew it, krumping was born. Director David LaChapelle, introduced to the dervish dance style on a music video set, went out to investigate, and he came back with one amazing documentary. It’s not just the dynamics of krumping — which is actually an offshoot of ‘clowning’, though all still wear the greasepaint — it’s the people behind this new and novel form of expression that are spellbinding. Almost all are disenfranchised and view their dancing as an act of defiance — of striking out against a society destined to keep them down. While he’s not out to make a grand political statement, LaChapelle does argue for a truth and beauty in ethnic art forms that is rarely expressed in the mainstream media. Mastering krump may not help these kids escape the sorry state of their lives, but watching them try is insightful and inspiring.
Bill Gibron PopMatters review Amazon

14

The Man Who Fell to Earth: Criterion Collection
(Criterion)

Capitalizing on the true human space oddity that was early 70s David Bowie, director Nicholas Roeg created a quizzical, complex science fiction fantasy that had very little to do with interplanetary travails and everything to do with alienation and loneliness. Unfortunately, George Lucas and his serialized sensation Star Wars came along and changed the genre dynamic. As a result, The Man Who Fell to Earth never got its due. Criterion’s new treatment of the title emphasizes what a remarkably subtle and sentient film it really is. In this content laden collection we get definitive commentary from Roeg, Bowie and co-star Buck Henry, as well as engaging recent interviews with actors Candy Clark and Rip Torn. They all shed necessary light on a film that is purposefully oblique and problematically poetic — a true out of this world experience.
Bill Gibron Amazon

13

Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection
(Universal)

Alfred Hitchcock. The name alone conjures an amalgam of thoughts, sensations, and associations. If you’re a fan, film student or just a lover of exceptional cinema and you’ve yet to purchase any of his work on DVD, this is a good a place to start. This collection finds some of his less significant efforts (Torn Curtain, Family Plot) but there’s plenty of classics here as well — Psycho, Rear Window and Vertigo. Also featured are Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, The Birds, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, and Frenzy. The complete collection includes a bonus disc (with an AFI Salute, a documentary, and two making-of movie segments for The Birds and Psycho) as well as a colorful 32-page booklet. Each film is also accompanied by a number of special features, some having more than others. Perhaps the sole annoying aspect is that because of the Universal brand, the set excludes any movie not produced by the studio. This means that classics like North by Northwest and my personal favorite Strangers on a Train aren’t included, nor are Rebecca, Notorious, and The 39 Steps.
Courtney Young Amazon

12

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
(Warner Home Video)

Here it is all you groovy Goth ghoulies. Step right up and witness eccentric director Tim Burton’s greatest, grandest hits — all in one convenient, crackerjack film. This idiosyncratic moviemaker was destined to helm Roald Dahl’s most popular work, yet there was considerable fear from those who held the 1972 Gene Wilder cinematic version as sacred. They needn’t have worried — Burton wasn’t out to besmirch the past. Instead, he managed to make the story of poor Charlie Bucket and his visit to a legendary confectioner’s magical manufacturing plant all his own. Some critics cracked Johnny Depp for not infusing the role of Willy Wonka with his own brand of be-bop brilliance, but this is perhaps the actor’s best performance ever. Shorn of most of his telling thespian tics and riding on a pure sugar rush of blissful bewilderment, his candy man is a calculated kook, a nutjob who’s several subversive steps ahead of those who think he has lost touch with reality. No wonder he mirrors Burton perfectly. They’re two peas in a very peculiar — but wonderfully entertaining — pod.
Bill Gibron PopMatters review Amazon

11

Ugetsu: Criterion Collection
(Criterion)

An undisputed masterpiece of cinema, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu, now on DVD, is essential for any cineaste’s film collection. Mizoguchi’s exquisite chef d-oeuvre is set during Japan’s violent 16th century civil wars. The story follows two brothers whose aspirations and ambitions cause them to abandon their wives. In their absence, said spouses suffer tragic fates. An emotionally challenging yet deeply rewarding piece of cinematic art, the Criterion Collection two-disc set of Ugetsu is astonishing. It includes a commentary, biographical and historical detail, a 14-minute featurette entitled Two Worlds Intertwined and interviews with Tokuzo Tanaka (first assistant director) and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. Disc 2 consists entirely of Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, a 150-minute documentary from 1975 which provides a comprehensive history of Mizoguchi’s career. Along with a 72-page booklet that contains a well-written appreciation of the film and the three short stories that inspired it, Ugetsu is a timeless treasure.
Courtney Young Amazon

10

The Outsiders: The Complete Novel
(Warner Home Video)

This year was an S.E. Hinton fan’s dream. The author released her first novel in 20-odd years, and the film versions of The Outsiders and Rumble Fish were given first-class DVD treatment. Francis Coppola’s extended Outsiders cut, with 22 extra minutes and restored Elvis-heavy soundtrack, has been a long time coming. And, finally, the film makes sense. Hinton’s beloved characters are brought to life exactly as intended, with the brotherhood theme central to the story’s effect on full display. This new film, unlike the old version, is not about boys on the lam, but the boys themselves. The DVD is excellent, complete with director and cast commentaries, making-of and looking-back documentaries, and an hilarious audition reel.
Nikki Tranter PopMatters review Amazon

9

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Criterion Collection
(Criterion)

Bill Murray fans won’t be disappointed with Wes Anderson’s adventure film about an oceanographer’s quest to find the shark that killed his partner. Owen Wilson, Angelica Houston, and Cate Blanchett are among the dysfunctional and lovable characters along for the wacky ride undertaken by “Team Zissou”. It may be a bit more surreal than past Anderson films, but The Life Aquatic is by far the most interesting and visual of his creations. Murray’s deadpan disposition as Zissou and a score peppered with David Bowie tunes covered by Seu Jorge add to the film’s charm. Playful, clever, and odd, this movie is filled with moments of startling poignancy and hysterical weirdness. The 2-Disc Special Edition contains loads of extras including director commentary, cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scene footage, deleted scenes, and an intern video journal by actor and real life intern Matthew Gray Gubler.
Jennifer Makowsky PopMatters review Amazon

8

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection
(Fox)

Seven seasons. 40 discs. Six and a half thousand minutes. Do I have to say more? If anyone reading this really has been living in a box, underground, or on Mars, for the last decade or so, then they probably have more important things to be getting on with than shopping for TV on DVD — like joining the Church of Scientology, for example. Otherwise, all you need to know is that Buffy rocks, Willow rocks harder, and that no actor has ever played undead more convincingly than David Boreanaz. Ideally, of course, Alyson Hannigan (Willow), Iyari Limon (Kennedy) and James Marsters (Spike) would have got their own spin-off series in which the slayerific trio rented a Santa Monica apartment from an ill-matched married couple with hilarious consequences. But until that happens, if you happen to have $150 lying around the house, The Chosen Collection is just plain bufftastic. Except for “Once More, With Feeling”, that is.
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon

7

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
(Fox)

The last installment of the most popular film series in history, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith shines on DVD. From a technical angle, the main disc is incredible: the Dolby 5.1 EX sound is magnificent, the picture — transferred directly from the digital source — is fantastic, and the added documentary bonuses and commentary track are a real treat. Lucas even speaks here, admitting that the film is political. It was influenced by Vietnam however, not the Bush administration. The main documentary on the second disc Within a Minute: The Making of Episode III, takes over an hour to deconstruct one 60 second segment of the film, an excerpt of the duel on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. The idea is to cover all the aspects that go into creating that moment, from writing to set construction to accounting. Two other featurettes — It’s All for Real: The Stunts of Episode III and The Chosen One — are equally compelling. While the journey was ultimately satisfying, albeit a little uneven in parts, all Star Wars fans will truly appreciate this definitive digital effort.
Courtney Young PopMatters review Amazon

6

The Fly: Special Edition
(Fox)

David Cronenberg’s clever parable on love in the era of AIDS has long been disrespected by the digital format. Fans of the film previously had to suffer through a barebones flip disc presentation that saw it purposefully joined by its less than stellar sequel. Thankfully, 20th Century Fox has given The Fly the deluxe special edition treatment it so richly deserves. Very few films from the ’80s explored emotion as deeply — and as disturbingly — as this gore-covered horror allegory. Along with a cutting commentary by the director, there are nearly three hours of documentaries that cover all aspects of this production — from early rejected plotlines and F/X ideas to a horrible hackneyed “butterfly boy” alternate ending that was better left on the cutting room floor. Add in the gorgeous transfer and you’ve got a perfect package for a certified classic.
Bill Gibron PopMatters review Amazon

5

Hotel Rwanda
(MGM)

Dark, moving, and above all, important, Hotel Rwanda is the true story of the horrific events that shook the African nation over a decade ago, something virtually ignored by the rest of the planet. The tagline of the film says it all: “When the world closed its eyes, he opened his arms.” Don Cheadle is outstanding as Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who takes in hundreds of Tutsis refugees hiding from Hutu death squads. Infused by the love of his family, the courage and humanity shown by Rusesabagina in the face of shocking human brutality is inspiring. Remarkable performances by Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, as well as the focus on compassion give what could have been a grim cinematic experience and uplifting and heart-stirring spirit. This is one of those films that haunts you long after the credits roll.
Jennifer Makowsky PopMatters review Amazon

4

Raging Bull
(MGM)

“I remember those cheers / They still ring in my ears / After years, they remain in my thoughts. / Go to one night / I took off my robe, and what’d I do? I forgot to wear shorts” are the first words uttered by Raging Bull‘s Jake La Motta (played by the unparalleled Robert de Niro). One of my favorite films of all time, 2005 saw two DVD releases of Martin Scorsese’s brutal black-and-white biography of the self-destructive boxer and nearly 25 years later, it is still a cinematic masterpiece. The difference between the deluxe two disc edition and the standard single disc version of Raging Bull comes down to the bare commentary tracks and the added additions of featurettes and a documentary. Whichever one you decide on, you won’t be disappointed. The presentation of the movie in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio really enhances the shadows, and the monochrome cinematography that helped create the film’s magnificence is beautifully rendered. An absolute gem by any standards, Raging Bull would make a distinguished entry in any DVD collection.
Courtney Young Amazon

3

Bob Dylan – No Direction Home
(Paramount)

For Dylan fans only, I suspect. But, for Dylan fans, absolutely the DVD of the year. Thirty years after he directed The Last Waltz, flushed with the success of his study of the blues, Martin Scorsese plunged enthusiastically back into the career of America’s greatest songwriter. He produced a marvelous new PBS documentary that boasted extensive interview footage with the elusive Dylan himself, along with dozens of key figures from his life and career, including Allen Ginsberg and Dave Van Ronk — both of whom are now deceased. No Direction Home also includes vintage film clips, concert footage, and still photography; while the DVD package also features full-song versions of concert songs that were not screened on PBS.
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon

2

DiG!
(Palm Pictures)

In a year of remarkable music documentaries, DiG! reigns supreme for what it doesn’t do. Instead of focusing on how fucked up the music business is — exploiting talent for the sake of a corrupt corporate buck — it highlights how musicians delude themselves into believing their own hopeless hype. In this case, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre really thought they were the next big post-grunge thing. Instead, they were just egotistical dreamers who had to come to terms with the way the business of show is managed. Warhols’ leader Courtney Taylor-Taylor took it all in sell-out stride, and found his group on a major label, making videos and touring the world. BJM mastermind Anton Newcombe decided to continue the fight, and ended up a damaged junkie locked in deep self-denial. Watching both men attempt to emerge from their own private party is just part of what makes Ondi Timoner’s stellar documentary so incredible. The men at the center — and the marvelous music they make — complete the penetrating, poignant portrait.
Bill Gibron PopMatters review Amazon

1

The Incredibles: Widescreen 2-Disc Collector’s Edition
(Buena Vista Home Entertainment)

Arguably the best movie of 2004, The Incredibles yielded indisputably the best movie DVD of 2005. The quality of the transfer to the little shiny medium is… pardon me… incredible. The commentaries and “making of” features are genuinely instructive and fun. And the two additional shorts, Boundin’ and Jack-Jack Attack are also of the highest quality. Boundin’, which was shown before The Incredibles in theatres, achieves an aged feel and offers lots of rich visual detail, while Jack-Jack Attack is all new and tells the tale of exactly what went on Chez Incredible when Mom and the Kids went off to save Dad. As Valiant and Chicken Little have proved conclusively, it takes more than mere money and technology to do this stuff this well.
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon

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