Combustible Celluloid

2008: The Year's Best DVDs / Holiday Gift Guide

Slipping a Disc

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Blu-Ray threatened to take over in 2008, but there were still enough great DVDs to warrant applause. Following is my list of the 25 best, plus more examples of great new movies, classics and box sets. And they all make great gifts!

1. The Films of Budd Boetticher (Sony Pictures Classics)
More than just a set of "B" Westerns, these great films stand as an all-time great example of just what can be done with skill, imagination, economy and space. Every filmmaker should be required to see them.

2. Satantango (1994, Facets)
This dropped to #2 only because die-hard fans have had the option of buying the British import version, but it's great to finally have it for U.S. viewers as well. DVD is the perfect home for this masterpiece, running 7 hours and demanding more than one viewing.

3. Murnau, Borzage and Fox (Fox)
Not every one of the twelve films is a masterpiece, and the price tag ($250) is a bit high, but the new DVDs of Sunrise, Seventh Heaven and Street Angel are outstanding.

4. Silent Ozu: Three Family Comedies (Criterion Eclipse #10)
So far Criterion is the only U.S. company to distribute Ozu pictures on DVD, but even they had short-changed him on his early, silent pictures. No longer. This exemplary box set contains the masterpiece I Was Born, But... and two other fascinating works.

5. The General (Ultimate 2-Disc Edition) (Kino)
I've seen this movie many times, in many different formats, ranging from 16mm to bad public domain VHS tapes, and this is the highest quality version I've ever seen. Essential.

6. White Dog (1982, The Criterion Collection)
Here's another "lost" film that collectors have sought for many years. It's ridiculous to think that director Samuel Fuller would make anything even remotely resembling a racist film, but that's what happened (the accusers, of course, had not seen it), and that's why this film was buried.

7. Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition (1958, Universal)
We're creeping ever closer to having a complete Orson Welles filmography -- with all the various versions and re-cuts -- on DVD. There are still a handful of titles missing (The Magnificent Ambersons, Othello, The Immortal Story, etc.), but this release from Universal, which included three different cuts, provides a more complete view of the film and its nuances.

8. Harry Langdon: Three's a Crowd/The Chaser (Kino)
Kino righted another wrong this year, proving that Harry Langdon's "decline" was nothing of the sort; these two self-directed films are as brilliant as anything by Langdon's contemporaries.

9. The Furies (1950, The Criterion Collection)
I prefer Anthony Mann's films with James Stewart, but there's no denying the mastery behind this, his most psychologically complex film, and an unheralded masterpiece.

10. Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer (Flicker Alley)
Flicker Alley's huge, 11-film box set provides an essential, early chapter in the career of Fairbanks as an artist and filmmaker.

11. Classic Caballeros Collection (Disney)
These two shorts were made at Disney's creative peak, but also with a daring, na•ve eye on the rest of the world. They're among his craziest, most endearing works. (They were available separately before, but this disc finally unites them.)

12. Vampyr (1932, The Criterion Collection)
I thought I was happy with my 1998 Image DVD until I watched this new transfer of one of my favorite films; it was like getting glasses.

13. Griffith Masterworks 2 (Kino)
The companion piece to Kino's great Griffith box is slightly less interesting, but the two boxes together should adorn the shelves of any cinema buff. If that's not enough then I have three words for you: Way Down East.

14. The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (Paramount)
I was slightly disappointed by the 2001 DVD set, shocked at how much grain was in the picture, so I was glad to see Coppola and Paramount finally righting that wrong.

15. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, Disney)
Disney's old, out-of-print disc was pretty great, but this new one is even better.

16. An Autumn Afternoon (1962, The Criterion Collection)
Criterion's Silent Ozu box is the one to get, but this release of the master's final, full-color film is no slouch either.

17. Vertigo: Special Edition (1958, Universal)
A remastered picture, yes, some new extras yes, but the real reason to check this out is the dramatic commentary track by William Friedkin.

18. Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema - 1896-1913 (Flicker Alley)
Five discs, 173 films and more than five hours. This is a terrific, essential chunk of history that everyone should see, but it can drive one to madness trying to navigate the individual films. How to choose just one? Or even ten?

19. The Last Laugh (1925, Kino)
Highly acclaimed upon its release, The Last Laugh has recently fallen out of favor, so it's time to take it back. Kino's original DVD release was slightly botched; this new one not only rights it, but also provides an alternate, slightly better cut of the film.

20. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (3-Disc Special Edition) (Universal)
Guillermo Del Toro is one of the few filmmakers who really gets his hands on the DVD release, and he does it again with this rich disc, full of surprises and hidden depths. Not to mention that the movie was one of the summer's most underrated events.

21. Iron Man (2008, Paramount)
I only have the single-disc edition, but I was happy to see how terrific it looked, and how delightfully re-watchable the movie is (despite the slight dip in quality during the third act).

22. The New World: Extended Edition (2005, New Line)
I've now seen this movie three times in three different lengths, and it's a masterpiece no matter how you cut it. I wish someone could explain to me whether or not director Malick had anything to do with this cut, but I'm also certain that this version -- with more narrative thrust -- would have pleased critics and moviegoers a great deal more had it been released in theaters in 2005.

23. Irma Vep (1996, Zeitgeist)
This is another compulsively re-watchable mind-bender that was only available in a low-quality release. The new disc is a vast improvement, with lots of cool extras.

24. L.A. Confidential: Two-Disc Special Edition (1997, Warner Home Video)
I thought it was a bit overrated upon its 1997 release, but now that a decade has gone by, I've come to adore its straightforward simplicity and surprising depth. The new DVD replaces the crummy early edition.

25. Chaplin: 15th Anniversary Edition (1992, Lionsgate)
2008 was the year of Robert Downey Jr., so it's only fitting that we get a new DVD of his only Oscar-nominated performance, worthy of Chaplin himself.

  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  • Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
  • Belle Toujours
  • Diary of the Dead
  • Enchanted
  • Encounters at the End of the World
  • Fireworks Wednesday
  • I'm Not There
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Mother of Tears
  • My Blueberry Nights
  • No Country for Old Men
  • Still Life
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Tropic Thunder
  • WALL·E
  • Wristcutters: A Love Story
  • An American in Paris: Two-Disc Special Edition
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • The Bridges of Madison County
  • The Chronological Donald Volume Four: 1951-1961
  • Come Drink with Me
  • Dark City: Director's Cut
  • The Dragon Painter
  • Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 2
  • Heroes of the East
  • It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
  • J'Accuse
  • Lost Highway
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Psycho: Special Edition
  • Rear Window: Special Edition
  • Roman Holiday: Centennial Collection
  • La Ronde: The Criterion Collection
  • La Roue
  • Sabrina: Centennial Collection
  • Saved from the Flames: 54 Rare and Restored Films 1896-1944
  • Tenebre
  • The Thief of Bagdad: The Criterion Collection
  • The Three Stooges Collection Volume Two: 1937-1939
  • The Three Stooges Collection Volume Three: 1940-1942

  • Hulu
    Movies Unlimtied