Combustible Celluloid

Slipping a Disc: 2002

Chooosing The Year's Best DVDs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The phrase "one in a million" could easily describe the task of choosing this year's top DVD releases. DVD was in full swing after five years of existence, and releases of both old and new movies came like a constant, pelting rain.

1. Contempt (1963, The Criterion Collection)
Godard's Contempt re-invented the notion of film as personal essay with its tale of a screenwriter (Michel Piccoli) who takes a job working for an egomaniac American producer (Jack Palance) much to the distaste of his gorgeous wife (Brigitte Bardot). The film-within-the-film is an adaptation of Homer's The Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang (playing himself). Criterion's double disc set contains the year's most enticing extras, including a one-hour sit-down interview between Godard and Lang.

2. Close-Up (1990, Facets)
Abbas Kiarostami's stunning combination of real life and fiction already has a spot on my all-time personal ten-best list, so unless Facets screwed up the Close-Up DVD completely, it was a shoo-in. Fortunately, the disc preserves the film's beautiful rustic photography and includes a video interview with its master director.

3. Near Dark (1987, Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Another outstanding double-disc set, this neon-drenched vampire film is another of my all-time favorites. Director Kathryn Bigelow provides an intellectual commentary track, and the entire screenplay is available through the DVD-Rom feature.

4. Roman Holiday (1953, Paramount)
I'd like to award the year's best use of digital technology to Roman Holiday. Besides restoring this Audrey Hepburn treasure to an unbelievably crisp black-and-white luster, the technicians at Paramount have seamlessly installed the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo's writing credit into the opening credits sequence. Bravo!

5. Die Nibelungen (1924, Kino)
Kino's stunning two-disc set of Fritz Lang's passionate two-part (nearly five-hour) adventure flick now is potent and vivid enough to give his best films a run for their money.

6. Beauty and the Beast (1991, Disney)
This was not only Disney's best new animated movie in years, but also their best DVD. It includes the 1991 theatrical release and the 2001 IMAX release with a "restored" song. But the real treasure is the 1991 pre-release, "work in progress" version, a rare and essential item for animation buffs.

7. Griffith Masterworks (2002, Kino)
This excellent box set combines superb prints of four of Griffith's most important features (The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms and Orphans of the Storm), plus 28 two-reels shorts on seven discs.

8. Sports Night: The Complete Series (1998, Buena Vista)
This box cobbles together every single episode of one of the greatest television shows ever created in one place, and even the lack of commentary tracks or featurettes can't dim the genius of this amazing show. Not to mention that William H. Macy gives one of his career-topping performances as the cranky, moustached ratings guru Sam Donovan.

9. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, Artisan)
Whenever I need to think of a successful cinematic adaptation of a play, I always think of this lean, mean little movie with its amazing widescreen compositions, use of color and weather and astoundingly brilliant performances by all concerned. Artisan perfectly transfered its essence to home video with this two-disc set.

10. A Hard Day's Night (1964, Miramax)
As if by some force of magic, the Beatles' first attempt at the movies is not only a success, but one of the greatest movies of all time, and the model by which all other rock 'n' roll movies continue to measure. The new 2-disc DVD set boasts the remastered print shown in theaters a few years ago, and comes with more mini-documentaries than I care to count.

Runners up:

Movies Unlimtied