The 20 Best DVDs of 2005


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.

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.

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

Team America: World Police

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

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

Frank Miller's Sin City (Recut, Extended, Unrated)

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

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

(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

The Man Who Fell to Earth: Criterion Collection

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

Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection

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

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

Ugetsu: Criterion Collection

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

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