My adventures in Blu-ray purchasing/obtaining did not find me with a treasure trove of stellar finds this year, so I was able to craft a list of pretty much the only 8 Blu-rays I got that had a little bit of thought put into them and some care for the product. Though, having had the opportunity to read the lists of my colleagues on this site has certainly given me some good recommendations for my list of things to add to my collection. It is a treat to be in league with such robust cinephiles, even when we disagree about Batman V Superman. Anyway, list time!
8. The Immortal Story (Criterion Collection) [Review]
I was in the fortunate position of being able to review a number of great Criterion Collection releases this year and The Immortal Story was no exception. While not really brimming with the kind of content that can be found on some of the films that I will be highlighting further down this list, this release could stand alone on the quality of its main feature. Although only an hour long, the made-for-French-TV film is a gorgeous, colorful, brilliant telling of a simple story using Orson Welles’ gift for complex, layered shot composition. The restoration by the Criterion Collection is pretty much flawless and while the special features and audio don’t really do too much to make this a must-have, it is a very enjoyable Blu-ray release I am proud to have.
7. The Player (Criterion Collection)
This is a wonderful film. It is absolutely a very Hollywood film for very Hollywood people, but it is tense and compelling and the opening shot is just as great as its hype has hinted that it could be. The acting is stupendous. The dialogue is fast and clever. The story, while taking place in a particular time, could be talking about the nature of Hollywood at any point in its history or even its future. It is a film worth owning. This release does it a wonderful service with some informative features, a clean transfer, and a very cool set of commentaries on the opening scene. I mean, there is a commentary for the whole film as well, but the opening scene is something else and totally deserves its own commentary track. The Player is great and Criterion is dedicated.
6. South Park Season 19 [Review]
My favorite season of the show came out with a less-than-stunning set of features in this Blu-ray release. However, just having all ten episodes and available to watch to remind myself of Trey and Matt’s superior effort is enough to catapult this Blu-ray into my top 9. In a departure from the format of the previous 18 seasons of the show, season 19 took on a serialization model of season-long consistency that brought new challenges and exciting opportunities for the producers and fans of this series. I lapped it all up and enjoyed every little crumb of bonus content to be found on this Blu-ray as well. Though it looks like the show may deviate from serialization when season 21 starts next year, it is great to have the place where two seasons full of continuous story began sitting on my rack ready to make me laugh.
5. Night Train to Munich (Criterion Collection)
Something really remarkable and penetratingly memorable about this film is that it was released in 1940 but is set in Germany during the beginning of World War II. Part of the beginning of the film takes place in what the best guess as to what a concentration camp was at the time and it looks like any other detention camp with a little bit of barbed wire and a few guards. Rarely do depictions of concentration camps seem quaint, but Night Train has the honor of embodying that portrayal. Other than that little moment, this is a gripping and supremely well-directed adventure given a crystal clear transfer by the diligent wizards of Criterion. Only a few features to speak of on this release, but the film itself will keep people talking about just what a compelling mix of comedy, romance, goofery, wittiness, and suspense it is and that is enough for me.
4. Pan’s Labyrinth (Criterion Collection)
Before getting this Criterion Collection release, I actually hadn’t seen this film since it was in theaters. Though memorable and full of all kinds of stuff that I like in a film, I guess I was just subconsciously waiting for the right release before seeing it again. Well, the right release came about this year in the form of this Criterion Collection Blu-ray. The already impressive creature effects and detailed visuals pop off the screen with the newly done transfer. The audio is engrossing and sometimes mesmerizing. And this release is full of awesome featurettes and interviews that round out a solid Blu-ray. Guillermo Del Toro is present on this; I could feel him giving this Blu-ray that little push it needed to be a necessary addition to a person’s home collection and I appreciate it.
3. The Kid (Criterion Collection) [Review]
The Criterion Collection has really opened me up to the world of Charlie Chaplin. Past releases from them have given classic Chaplin in Modern Times and City Lights as well as later non-silent Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight but this year saw the release of his first feature film The Kid. Unsurprisingly for those who have been able to take in Chaplin’s exceptional talent, this film is funny, touching, technically masterful, and absolutely necessary to own. This is the kind of film that one shows to other people frequently. Marveling at Chaplin’s sheer inventiveness is a totally worthwhile group endeavor. From the score composed by Chaplin himself to the wacky situations that his Tramp character gets into there is something for everyone in this film. Additionally, Criterion has kindly gone out of their way to make having this release extra delightful by including a helping of great features, a super informative essay, and an attractively designed box. I really loved this release.
2. The Iron Giant: Signature Edition [Review]
The endlessly watchable, Brad Bird directed, competitor for Vin Deisel’s best voice role (I mean, he has more than one line in this one) came to Blu-ray this year and was treated with the same love and care that a film of this caliber should have been treated. The Iron Giant is one of my favorite animated films, so just getting a Blu-ray would have been enough for it to be one of my top releases of the year. But, add to that additional footage, an excellent documentary, and that gorgeous transfer and it becomes treasure. Yes, just freaking yes to this release!
1. The Graduate (Criterion Collection) [Review]
The Graduate is in my (somewhat ever-changing) top 5 films of all time. This Criterion Collection release of the film on Blu-ray is the right way to experience it. The digital restoration is flawless, clean, love-filled, and so clear that there are new details to be seen in the film that were previously muddled in the DVD release I used to own. The two commentaries are like a film school class on the picture, the interview with Dustin Hoffman is interesting, the other little special features are really just icing on like a perfectly designed custom-ordered cake that tastes like all the best parts of late 60s upper-middle-class ennui. This is an outstanding addition to the Criterion Collection and will remain a cherished member of my personal collection until I begrudgingly replace it with the inevitable 4K version in a few years. Until then, I hold this release in the highest regard and encourage anyone who enjoys film to make sure that this Blu-ray remains within arm’s reach at all times, even if that involves purchasing one copy per room of one’s house. Look, yes, that sounds preposterous, but it is that good!