PopMatters Picks: The 50 DVDs Every Film Fan Should Own

Edited by Bill Gibron / Produced by Sarah Zupko

It wasn’t supposed to take over so rapidly. Experts couldn’t see beyond the already dying laserdisc demographic as a possible home theater market. Videotape was so ingrained in our collective consumer consciousness that no one could legitimately envision another format taking over — or even coming close to matching its impact on the industry. Fast forward a little over a decade (the science was solidified in 1995) and the VCR is now an antique, the VHS cassette a laughable Luddite-esque contraption worthy of ridicule. Indeed, the new technology’s impact was that immediate, and that intense. Almost overnight, the slick futuristic appeal of DVD players and the compact aluminum disc transformed the way people experienced movies. In addition, it helped reignite previous passions, as it gave earlier versions of poorly mastered, pan and scan favorites a new widescreen / original aspect ratio lease on life.

Of course, with success comes excess. Every Tuesday, hundreds of brand new potential purchases hit the marketplace. Most are easily avoidable drivel, similar in style and substance to the classic direct to video schlockfests of years gone by. In addition, Hollywood (never one to look a generous gift horse in the potential profit margin) enjoys reconfiguring and re-releasing name brand blockbusters every few months, creating the dreaded ‘double dip’ that most fans of the format despise. So how does one navigate through this glut of prospective product, and better yet, how can one be decisive enough to ensure that their choices form the basis of a considered cinematic collection? Thankfully, PopMatters has put this question to our vast staff of cultural critics and have come up with a list of 50 DVDs that every motion picture aficionado should have as part of their own aesthetic assemblage. By no means all inclusive, but definitely the result of much handwringing (and film watching), our plan is to provide a guide to what’s good, and what’s grand, about these silver slices of Heaven.

Before moving on, there are a couple of caveats. First, there are at least a dozen titles that we purposely left off the list. It’s not because the films weren’t worthy (many represent the height of motion picture art) or that their DVD packaging is incomplete. No, from a strictly editorial standpoint, to rehash these choices once again would seem rather pointless. After all, is there a true movie maven who doesn’t already own a copy of Citizen Kane, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind? Is it possible to call yourself a student of cinema and not have a version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, 8&1/2, Goodfellas or Pulp Fiction as part of your collection? Celluloid is also one of the few domains were your inner geek can really run wild. Therefore, any card carrying film dork must have a version of the Star Wars Trilogy (the ORIGINAL cuts, only) or Frank Miller’s Sin City on the shelf. By consensus and suggestion, these were the discs that the writers at PopMatters considered so essential as to be rote.

There was also another name bandied about who won’t find himself represented on this roll call. Again, it’s not a question of talent or oeuvre. Indeed, his creative canon is so amazingly plentiful that practically every contributor to this piece mentioned him — and almost all cited a different film as part of the process. So boo and hiss all you want, but Alfred Hitchcock doesn’t get a single mention in our 50 DVD determination. No, he is so special, so much a part of film’s literal language, that it should be mandatory to own some or all of his output. Look along your bulging bookshelves — if Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, or Psycho are nowhere to be seen, you are missing out on moviemaking at its most vibrant and visceral. So don’t complain that the Master of Suspense is missing from our consideration. He’s so much a part of what makes movies magic that he demands to be a glorified given.

Enough preemptive preparations. Here it is, divided into fives sections covering as many significant shifts in the motion picture perspective. Beginning with Part 1: Pure Classicism and moving through Part 2: The Changing Face of Filmmaking, Part 3: The Stellar ‘70s, Part 4: Challenging Convention and finally, Part 5: The Return of the Auteur, our crew hopes to enlighten you on titles and artists you may never have heard of, as well as hit on those mandatory efforts that failed to peak your interest the first time around. But it’s more than just the movie being discussed — it’s how DVD changed the way we look at it. This feature also concentrates on how supplements and commentaries, remixed soundtracks and pristine transfers revived lost or forgotten gems, while perfectly preserving those works that warrant safeguarding. Remember, unlike videotape, the digital versatile disc is supposedly forever (or good until the newest HD/Blu-Ray format revamp comes along). That makes it an inherent match with the timeless treasure that is film.

Bill Gibron