Combustible Celluloid

2003: The Year's Best DVDs

Slipping a Disc

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

1. Tokyo Story (1953, Criterion Collection)
Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece was the best film I saw in 2003, period. Criterion has done this great film proud with a handsome double-disc set. This film could easily change your life.

2. The Alien Quadrilogy (Fox)
The most impressive large-scale DVD release of the year has several days' worth of extras, especially if -- like me -- you're a fan of this nerve-rattling sci-fi monster series.

3. The F.W. Murnau Collection (Kino)
Kino's collection of five films from one of the cinema's two or three greatest masters would have been number one if it had included Murnau's greatest film, Sunrise. Unfortunately for all of us, Fox owns the rights to the film and seriously botched this year's much-anticipated DVD release, making it available only to viewers who bought three other Fox titles and sent in proof-of-purchase tabs. If they had allowed Kino to include it, this box set would have been arguably the most important DVD release of all time. But with five masterworks, Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, Tartuffe, Faust and Tabu, it's still very impressive.

4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, Criterion Collection)
Another magnificent double-disc set, this time of a recent, misunderstood masterwork, so this time plenty of archival material was still available; the disc contains a treasure trove of it. Best of all: watching Ralph Steadman paint the main menu titles by hand.

5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Disney)
This is a personal favorite I've been able to watch again and again, and Disney's excellent double-disc set had me enthralled for hours. Disc One offers the kid-friendly version, and the second disc is for hardcore fans.

6. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Sony)
Paul Thomas Anderson's remarkable comedy taps into Adam Sandler's soul -- and the results are frighteningly beautiful.

7. Man with a Movie Camera (1929, Kino)
Kino finally made this landmark film available to the masses with their crystal clear DVD. It's a mesmerizing experience, cramming dozens of poetic, cinematic ideas into a compact 80 minutes.

8. 25th Hour (2002, Buena Vista)
In retrospect, Spike Lee's amazing movie should have made my ten best list of 2002, so now here it is on the ten best DVD list of 2003.

9. The Decalogue: Special Edition (1988, Facets)
Though the picture and sound quality is still the same as on the 2000 release, Facets repackaged Krzysztof Kieslowski's great ten-part made-for-TV film in a more attractive, more user-friendly box set and included a few first-time extras. (Runner up: Miramax's nice packaging on Kieslowski's Three Colors Trilogy.)

10. Eraserhead (1977,
Though it's widely available in England, copyright issues prevented Eraserhead from being sold anywhere in the U.S. except through Lynch's website. But Lynch himself worked on the digital transfer, and this black and white classic looks astonishing in its new format. The disc also includes a feature-length documentary. Just to be annoying, Lynch packaged the film in a square box that doesn't fit on the shelf with your other DVDs. Just like the film itself.

11. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition) (2002, New Line)
Not surprisingly, the extra footage included here makes this second chapter even better.

12. Lawrence of Arabia (Superbit Edition) (1932, The Criterion Collection)
Though it lacks any kind of extras, this new Superbit disc presents the ultimate audio and visual experience that this, the greatest of all epics, has to offer.

13. Willard (2003, New Line)
One of this year's most underrated movies -- with an amazing Crispin Glover performance -- also has the year's best extra feature: a 75-minute making-of documentary called Year of the Rat, directed by production assistant Julie Ng. It's the most in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at the movie world since Hearts of Darkness or Burden of Dreams.

14. Shoah (1985, New Yorker)
What more can one say about one of the greatest achievements in all of cinema?

15. The General/Steamboat Bill Jr. (Image Entertainment)
Though Kino has already given us the ultimate Buster Keaton on DVD, this new double-feature disc does these two pictures one better with their excellent new Alloy Orchestra scores.

16. Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection (Warner Home Video)
Though far from complete, this box set does contain a large number of Chuck Jones films and at least two essential masterworks: "Feed the Kitty" and "Duck Amuck."

17. The Simpsons: Season Three (Fox)
The greatest television show of all time -- in its prime.

18. Halloween: Divimax 25th Anniversary Edition (1978, Anchor Bay)
The definitive DVD version of this horror classic.

19. The Miyazaki Collection (Buena Vista)
Buena Vista's reverent handling of three Hayao Miyazaki animated masterworks, Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky, should be applauded. Each film is available in carefully-dubbed English and original Japanese, plus many extras.

20. Once Upon a Time in the West (1969, Paramount)
This all-time great -- and still underrated -- Western is now finally available in a beautifully crystalline widescreen format worthy of its brilliance.

21. Knife in the Water (1962, Criterion Collection)
Roman Polanski's debut film comes without the ability to fast-forward, giving this suspense classic an even more claustrophobic, trapped feel.

22. Trouble in Paradise (1932, Criterion Collection)
Unavailable on home video for so long it should have been a crime.

23. Casablanca: 60th Anniversary Edition (1942, Warner Home Video)
Now with more extras than ever before. And really, who can ever get enough of Sam's Cafe Americain?

24. The Work of Director Spike Jonze (Palmm Pictures)
A collection by the skateboard film/music video genius containing at least four mini-masterworks: "Sabotage," "It's Oh So Quiet," "Praise You" and "Buddy Holly." More, if you look harder.

25. My Darling Clementine (1946, Fox)
John Ford's most achingly beautiful Western appears here in two luminously restored cuts, producer Darryl Zanuck's theatrical release cut and Ford's preferred version, plus a commentary track by Wyatt Earp's grandson!

Movies Unlimtied