|by Scott Weinberg
2004 was a fantastic year for the DVD aficionado. And while there are literally hundreds of releases that I've not yet been able to appreciate, I had very little difficulty coming up with a list of my 25 favorite DVDs of the past twelve months. In order to earn my Gold Star Seal of Enthusiastic Approval, a DVD must contain the following assets: a film (or TV series) that ranges from Very Good to Seriously Excellent, a pristine transfer of audio and video components, and at least a small handful of worthwhile supplemental material. So if you're looking for something to rent or a solid birthday gift for your boyfriend, grab a pencil and jump in!
25. Flirting with Disaster Collector's Edition (Miramax)
Before he delivered Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees, David O. Russell cut his teeth on this brilliantly-written and painfully uncomfortable comedy. It's the best movie that Ben Stiller and Tea Leoni have ever been associated with. It's got Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore being funnier than they've been in years. It's weird and vulgar and oddly sweet...and this re-issue actually has some solid goodies, too! Well, actually you're only getting a 5-minute EPK thing, a few outtakes and a handful of deleted scenes...so this is not a "Collector's Edition" jam-packed with extras. The movie itself is just that good.
24. The Untouchables Collector's Edition (Paramount)
OK, so the disc isn't exactly "stocked" with extra features. But this is Paramount we're talking about, so I'm grateful for small favors. And this release is a solid step up from the previous DVD, which was entirely bare-bones across the board. As inconsistent as Paramount may be with their extra goodies, that's how supremely reliable they are when it comes to flawless widescreen transfers and ultra-crisp audio tracks. If you're focusing on just the film itself, Paramount does a brilliant job every time out. Included in this Collector's Edition are a half-dozen featurettes that focus on different aspects of the movie. Yeah, I'd have paid double for a De Palma / Mamet audio commentary, but these mini-docs are pretty damn solid either way. Extras aside, I just love love love this movie, so it would have made the list either way.
23. The Thing Collector's Edition (Universal)
If you're one of the trillions who already love this movie, then you're probably well aware that this release is almost identical to the previous (and now out-of-print) DVD...save for a few important things. Gone is the isolated score audio track (galdurnit), but gained is an all-new anamorphic transfer! (The previous DVD was widescreen and workable, but more than a little muddy-looking here and there.) There's also a truly fantastic documentary entitled "Terror Takes Shape" and an addicting little audio commentary between John Carpenter and Kurt Russell! Basically, a brilliant DVD package for a classic horror film.
22. Predator Collector's Edition (Fox)
One of Ahnuld's best finally gets the swanky Special Edition it truly deserves. The movie looks great, director John McTiernan contributes a solid yak-track, and there's an entire second platter full of Predator-related gooey goodness! If you own the bare-bones DVD version, slap it up on eBay and go get this one. It's worthy of the upgrade.
21. Dawn of the Dead ('04) Unrated Director's Cut (Universal)
Some still call the remake a blasphemous affair, but forgive me for enjoying the living hell out of Zack Snyder's take on the classic Romero zombie-fest. Now toss in some great new scenes, an audio commentary, several deleted scenes, and supplemental material that actually complements the film! The movie looks great, it sounds great, and it's full of exploding zombie heads. What's not to love?
20. Blazing Saddles 30th Anniversary Special Edition (Warner Bros.)
Not only is it one of the funniest movies ever made, but this upgrade from the earlier DVD has all sorts of great little goodies. You'll find a weird audio commentary from Mr. Mel Brooks, a great retrospective documentary called "Back in the Saddle," a loving look back at Ms. Madeline Kahn, and the original TV pilot of the failed "Black Bart" spinoff! For a disc that runs about twelve bucks, this one's an absolute no-brainer.
19. After Hours (Warner Bros.)
Scorsese fans rejoice! One of the master filmmaker's most underrated movies finally earns a DVD release! Frankly I'd have been satisfied with a bare-bones release, but we also get an audio commentary with Scorsese and a big gang of contributors! PLUS a mini-feature look back and some deleted scenes! Do yourself a favor and rent this disc...but be prepared to buy the thing a few weeks later.
18. Shaun of the Dead (Universal)
One of this year's best comedies gets the full-blown DVD package it deserves. Not only is the movie great on repeat viewings, but this disc is absolutely swollen with romantic zombie goodness: commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, featurettes, deleted scenes, videos, and more. The movie itself is worthy of your 20 bucks, but the extra features guarantee the DVD a spot on this list.
17. The Iron Giant Special Edition (Warner Bros.)
Few movies have enjoyed a video-shelf resurgence like Brad Bird's Iron Giant has. And every ounce of that latecoming praise is entirely well-deserved. A huge step up from the previous DVD release, the SE includes filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes, a few featurettes and random goodies. Tell the clerk at Best Buy that you're buying it for the kids if you must - but get this DVD.
16. Bubba Ho-tep Collector's Edition (MGM)
One of the most blissfully bizarre movies of the past several years delivers all sorts of DVD goodies for those who've grown to love the flick. Obviously I'm one of 'em. In addition to the sublimely weird feature presentation, you'll also get multiple audio commentaries (including one from "The King" himself!), fascinating featurettes, and a whole lot of other insightful little nuggets. You're just gonna have to trust me on this one, folks.
15. Elf Infinifilm (New Line)
Obviously your tastes for this one will depend entirely on how much you like or loathe the antics of Mr. Will Ferrell. Personally, I think the guy's freaking hysterical, I believe that Elf is the finest holiday comedy since Bob Clark's A Christmas Story, and I know that New Line did a phenomenal job on this 2-disc DVD set. (They had almost a full year to work on it, don't forget.) Fans of the film will find a few hours' worth of remote-clickin' fun, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the supremely cool "pop-up" menu screens. It's not often that I'll even notice what a DVD's menu screens look like, but this DVD reminded me that some producers give a lot of attention to even the smallest of details. A very funny film, a sleigh-full of extra treats, and an overall package that just hums with quality.
14. Aladdin Platinum Edition (Disney)
One of my very favorite Disney musicals gets the Platinum Edition treatment it really deserves. Anyone who owns the Snow White or Lion King DVDs knows what to expect: two discs packed with extra features. True, some of the material is promotional fluff and disposable kiddie material, but the grown-ups will surely appreciate the filmmaker's commentary, the featurettes, and the lovely production value of the package as a whole. Next up on the Platinum docket: Bambi! (March 1st)
13. Friday the 13th From Crystal Lake to Manhattan (Paramount)
Yes, they're bad movies. Yes, they're basically all the same, laden with horrible acting and moronic writing. But who cares? I grew up on this series, and I thank Paramount for giving me all eight in one thrifty package. The supplemental material, long the bane of internet chatboards (due to what wasn't included as opposed to what was), should leave most Jason junkies quite appreciative indeed. Odd that there would be audio commentary for only half the films...but four is better than none! Not surprisingly, coming from Paramount, the audio and video are as good as Jason's ever earned, the extras are pretty enticing, and the price is just dandy. Slasher fans, put this one on your next Christmas list!
12. Shrek 2 (DreamWorks)
I'm well aware that there's a huge contingent of movie fans who just don't dig the whole Shrek phenomenon. Happily, I'm not one of them. And the DVD makes this hilarious flick even better by adding on a surprisingly funny skit called "Far, Far Away Idol" and an extended finale that should keep the family's toes tappin'. You'll find loads of games, featurettes, visits from the cast and crew, and even a breezy audio commentary from the filmmakers. Heck, everyone reading this probably has this one in their collection already, so let's move on...
11. Spider-Man 2 Special Edition (Sony)
It's tough to be cynical about "blockbuster movies" when Sam Raimi's still got the helm on the Spider-Man series. Improving upon a truly excellent Part 1, this sequel elevated the cinematic super-hero game with effortless craftsmanship. And the DVD? Hoo boy! Not only is it packed with all the gee-whiz spectacle of the movie, but it also presents one of the finest behind-the-scenes documentaries I've ever seen on a DVD. You'll want this one the minute you finally break down and buy that huge widescreen TV.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ('03) Platinum Series (New Line)
Say what you will about New Line Cinema, but when they commit to delivering a kick-ass DVD package...they deliver like nobody's business. Obviously this is not a Special Edition you'll want to break out when Granny comes by, but if you're a fan of Marcus Nispel's remake (which is a damn good time even if it isn't in the same league as Hooper's original) there's hours of material to wander through. The supplemental material is grade-A stuff, particularly the stuff that veers away from the film and focuses on what makes serial killers so damn fascinating. This is an odd choice for #10, but that's how impressed I was with this package.
9. The Commitments Collector's Edition (Fox)
The winner of "most improved DVD" goes to this entirely wonderful 2-disc set. (Let's not forget that the first Commitments DVD was an atrocious Fullscreen transfer! Yuck! Alan Parker's addictively entertaining tale of "black Irish soul singers" has never looked (or sounded!) better, and there's a second platter full of goodies both visual and aural in nature. Fans of this flick, and I know there are a LOT of you out there, should absolutely upgrade their old DVD as soon as possible.
8. Alice in Wonderland Masterpiece Edition (Disney)
Ironic that the supplemental material on this "Masterpiece Edition" is so much better than what's generally found on Disney's higher-profile "Platinum Editions," but who really cares about those designations in the first place? One of Disney's more controversial classics is brought to digital life quite gloriously, and the extensive extras offer a whole lot of history and background information. DVDs like this are like film school in a box, and I really do mean that in a good way.
7. Ed Wood Special Edition (Disney)
One of Tim Burton's best films finally hits DVD...after many delays and logjams! So rabid was I to get my grimy fingers on this DVD that I somehow finagled myself one of those pre-recall versions! And what a joy this package is. It's a great movie about the love of movies, and the extras are as lighthearted as they are respectful. Burton's gorgeous B&W photography looks absolutely perfect, and the movie's proven to be a repeat-viewing delight. Absolutely essential for all the passionate movie nuts out there.
6. The Shawshank Redemption Special Edition (Warner Bros.)
Say goodbye to that dusty old bare-bones version that's probably been played to death. Treat yourself to an upgrade on one of the best prison flicks ever made. Everyone knows how great the movie is, so I'll spare you all the adjectives. But this 2-disc set throws some delicious icing on to the cake: writer / director Frank Darabont contributes a seriously informative commentary track, the disc-2 featurettes offer reverent retrospectives, old-school cast interviews, and even a slick little spoof entitled "The Sharktank Redemption." The movie looks beautiful, sounds flawless and is surrounded by a quality batch of supplements. Needless to say...a must own.
5. Goodfellas Special Edition (Warner Bros.)
When the words "Warner Bros. 2-disc Special Edition" become attached to a film you love, well, we'll forgive you if you start salivating immediately. Here we have Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, a mob movie that's virtually perfect in every way. Combine that movie with a commentary from Marty himself, an additional yakker with the real Henry Hill and former FBI Agent Edward McDonald, and a whole extra platter filled with featurettes and retrospective recollections... It's almost too much for a movie nut to bear. (Almost!)
4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Extended Collector's Set (MGM)
Newly-added scenes, a pristine transfer, and a non-stop deluge of Leone goodness contribute to make this package one of the year's best. The movie alone warrants a spot on the list, but MGM was kind enough to deliver a boatload of fantastic extras. Film critic and historian Richard Schickel presents a fantastic running commentary, while the second disc is packed with material about Leone, Eastwood, the era and (of course) the film itself. If all you know about this film is late-night UHF viewings, do yourself a favor and check this package out.
3. Trainspotting Collector's Edition (Miramax)
One of my all-time favorite films finally gets a Region 1 DVD treatment that it deserves! Put aside the fact that the movie itself is a vibrant and hilarious piece of art. This new-and-improved DVD packs a real wallop for the trillions of you who, like me, just adore Trainspotting to death. Included is an old commentary between director Danny Boyle and a few others, interviews both new and old, a handful of fascinating mini-features, and a few extra odds and ends. This is a disc I'll be coming back to year after year.
2. Star Wars Trilogy Set (Fox)
So I guess this officially brands me a "sellout," eh? That I'd hold this package in such high esteem, despite the fact that the original theatrical versions are not included... Yeah, yeah. I've heard it all and I even agree with most of it. All I know is that I now have my boyhood favorites sitting on my DVD shelf, ready for action whenever I'm in the mood for jawas, stormtroopers and, yes, ewoks. Plus the "new" material doesn't really bother me as much as I thought it would. Yeah, Han shot first and all that jazz....plus the new musical number in Act I of Return of the Jedi is truly awful, but this 4-disc set represents about 99.2% of the Star Wars that I know and love, so consider me a satisfied customer. And at least you're getting your money's worth: Lucas and gang contribute audio commentaries for all three features, and the fourth platter includes one of the most comprehensive behind-the-scenes documentaries that I've ever had the pleasure to devour. (For the record, I'd still really like the original versions to hit DVD one day, but I'm not holding my breath.)
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Extended Edition (New Line)
Surprise, surprise. OK, not really. But I don't feel the need to apologize for loving this extended trilogy with all my movie-addicted heart. If only 20% of all film and DVD producers could exhibit this kind of care, heart, creativity and craftsmanship, well...let's just say there'd be a lot more happy movie critics in the world. (Not to mention movie fans.) The formula to LOTR's success? Talent and hard work in equal, massive doses. Try taking a film that won 11 out of 11 Oscars and then making it better. And then get virtually everyone involved with the film to deliver four separate audio commentaries. Oh, and then fill two extra discs with some of the best behind-the-scenes material ever presented. (And then wrap it up in a very handsome faux-leather box.) The simple fact is that the trio of Lord of the Rings Extended DVDs has all but raised the bar on what these shiny little discs can deliver. I bet even the folks who run The Criterion Collection look at this DVD and say "Wow. Good work!" The films suck you right in with the finest moviemaking skill; the DVDs show you how it was done from every angle imaginable. I'll still be flipping through my Lord of the Rings DVDs two decades from now, happy and eternally grateful to everyone who worked on these phenomenal packages.
Special Prize to Universal Home Video for their extremely excellent series of "Legacy Collection" sets. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man,. The Invisible Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon each got their own nifty little DVD package. Each set includes 3 to 6 full length films, audio commentary by various film historians and a few extra bells and whistles to keep the horror hounds happy. All that and each set is priced at twenty bucks each. Very well done!
--But wait, there's more! Since my Top 25 was movie-exclusive, I just wanted to take a few extra minutes to mention something a bit different - but equally wonderful. And that would be TV-on-DVD. Just as a quick shout-out to my own personal favorites from the past twelve months, I hope you'll consider giving some of these sets a spin (and you know my email address if you want to thank me later):
Arrested Development Season 1 - This is my new litmus test. If you think Arrested Development is A) very funny, or B) downright freakin' hilarious, then you're someone I can like. Everyone else might have to work a little harder. Great series, excellent DVD package, low price. You've no excuses.
Freak & Geeks - The Complete Series - Now, here's something that makes TV-on-DVD so damn special: were it not for this drop-dead wonderful package from Shout Factory, I'd have NEVER SEEN this series. Ever! And that's too depressing a thought to bear. Don't let this happen to YOU! Rent it, borrow it, blind-buy it. You will not be disappointed.
Smallville Season 2 / Season 3 - And here's a show that I started to enjoy well into its third season. What's a fan to do? Well, rent the first few discs, become instantly addicted, run out and get the full season sets, and have a ball with 20+ hours of a show you just have to catch up on! Sure, it's a little corny and all that, but hey...it's SUPERMAN! And I like the cast, too. Nyeah. The DVDs are quality affairs, with bold, sturdy packaging and a few solid commentaries sprinkled throughout. Plus it's presented in a lovely widescreen presentation, which makes Smallville seem more like a very long (and very episodic) movie instead of just another TV show. Fun stuff.
Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection - Hey, everyone went nuts for the Looney Tunes Golden Collection (and rightly so), so I've no problem touting this one. It's got some of the very best T&J cartoons, a worthwhile package of features, and I think the thing cost me 16 bucks. In terms of nostalgia, it's worth ten times that price.
Seinfeld Season 1 & 2 / Season 3 - One of the world's most hotly anticipated TVDVD releases, and the producers did not disappoint. A handful of enjoyable yak-tracks and a bunch of other clickable fun can be found between the episodes...but the show is where the gold's found. How Jason Alexander never won an Emmy for this show is just.......incomprehensible.
The Simpsons S4 & S5 / Futurama S3 & S4 - Matt Groening's babies at their peak power. There's just nothing like hitting "Play All" for four consecutive adventures of Homer Simpson in his prime...and don't even get me started on Futurama. So smart, so funny and so damn geeky that I'm stunned it lasted a full four seasons! (And on Fox!) I'm still a bit perturbed at the way Fox practically willed Futurama to death on their network, but damn if the DVD versions aren't worth their weight in Slurm. On the yellow side, you won't find many things on Earth that are funnier than The Simpsons seasons 4 through 9. On both series, Fox delivers a grand slam DVD. You'll find wild and aimlessly funny commentaries on every single episode and all sorts of other little goodies. True, each set will set you back 25 to 35 bucks, but you really will get a lot of material for your hard-earned pennies. (Trust me; I'm broke and I still own 'em all!) Plus, very few shows have the pure "rewatch" value of these animated classics.
So that's pretty much it. My favorite DVDs of 2004. But I did a quick poll among some serious DVD enthusiasts, and they informed me that the following DVDs are so awesome that they all but demand purchase tomorrow. Based on what I've read, I'm not apt to disagree with any of these choices
The "I don't own them (yet) but am told they're brilliant" list of honorable mention DVDs:
Clerks - 10th Anniversary Edition (Miramax)
Dawn of the Dead ('78) 4-disc Ultimate Edition (Anchor Bay)
Dr. Strangelove - 40th Anniversary Special Edition (Columbia Tri-Star)
Freaks (Warner Bros.)
Garden State (Fox)
Gone with the Wind 4-disc Collector's Edition (Warner Bros.)
Hellboy Director's Cut (Columbia Tri-Star)
Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 2 (Warner Bros.)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Collector's Edition (Fox)
The Matrix Ultimate Collection (Warner Bros.)
Mary Poppins Anniversary Edition (Disney)
Meet Me in St. Louis Special Edition (Warner Bros.)
Panic Room Special Edition (Columbia Tri-Star)
Schindler's List (Universal)
That's Entertainment Trilogy Collection (Warner Bros.)
THX-1138 Director's Cut (Warner Bros.)
Did I forget your favorite DVD? Am I an imbecile for including something stupid? Drop me an email (email@example.com) and make your voice heard!
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originally posted: 12/29/04 20:42:13
last updated: 01/25/05 07:30:25