The DVDs of 2010

24 critics and curators choose their releases – and rediscoveries – of the year. Introduced by James Bell.

James Bell , Sight & Sound contributors
Updated:

Web exclusive

Though we seem to read regularly that the DVD and Blu-ray industry is under threat – from online piracy, from a public more interested in gaming than cinema, from the closure of yet another high-street retailer – the fact is that 2010 remained an exciting year for both DVD and Blu-ray releases. The variety of new titles emerging from enterprising distributors somehow seemed more extensive than it had ever been before; barely a week would go by without the revival of a forgotten film by a major director, or a cult favourite brought in from the cold corners of a neglected or maligned area of film history.

That sense is borne out by our short poll of contributors, DVD distributors and curators below. Yes, the year also saw exemplary releases of canonical titles (such as Criterion’s box sets of Rossellini’s ‘War Trilogy’ and three of Josef von Sternberg’s silent films, or their release of Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, or Masters of Cinema’s Blu-ray releases of Fritz Lang’s M and the restored Metropolis, to name just a handful).

But it was the revival of more obscure titles that really caught the eyes of many of our contributors, from the BFI’s ‘Flipside’ releases of overlooked cult British films (such as Barney Platts-Mills’ Bronco Bullfrog) and the very different – but similarly neglected – gems drawn from the National Archive in the post-war documentary set ‘Shadows of Progress’. Likewise Second Run’s release of a classic of 1960s Czech cinema in Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Night, or Criterion’s set of the films of Canadian documentarian Allan King.

Even when canonical figures are mentioned, it tends to be their less heralded films that are cited. Thus Fassbinder’s previously virtually forgotten, made-for-television 1973 sci-fi film World on a Wire was a favourite for many, and while BFI DVD’s project to release all 32 of Yasujiro Ozu’s surviving films gets plaudits all round, it’s the release of the lesser-seen earlier films, such as 1936’s The Only Son, that caused most excitement.

Note: Editions are UK Region 2 unless otherwise stated.

Geoff Andrew
Head of film programme, BFI Southbank, UK

I’ve yet to get Blu-ray (soon, soon…), so I haven’t so far been able to check out some of the most enticing recent releases from Eureka! (such as Make Way for Tomorrow, 1937, in the Masters of Cinema series). I restrict myself here, then, as far as that excellent label is concerned, to welcoming the reconstructed / restored longer version of Lang’s Metropolis (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka!, Blu-ray / DVD).

For the same reason, I haven’t been able to take full advantage of the BFI’s dual-format Ozu sets (terrific offer!), but since Tokyo Story, Late Spring and Early Summer come doubled, each with a rare, lesser-known earlier feature (in some cases on DVD only), these well-mounted sets are surely irresistible.

Meanwhile, Criterion has, as ever, continued to provide top-grade movies: Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg (USA, 1927-28; unrated, Region 1) surrounds Underworld, The Last Command and The Docks of New York with an appropriately lavish array of extras, while the new special edition of Close-Up (Nema-ye Nazdik, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1989; unrated, Region 1 Blu-ray) includes Kiarostami’s first feature The Traveller in its luxuriously appointed two-disc set.

But it’s not always the extras that are most important: Criterion’s Eclipse brand offers next to nothing by way of bonuses, but when you’ve a selection as intelligent and, for many of us, as unfamiliar as The Actuality Dramas of Allan King (Canada, 1967-2005; unrated, USA Region 1) – its five titles including the late Canadian’s Dying at Grace, a remarkable confrontation of the universal inevitability that is death – one is reminded that in the end sheer quality outweighs quantity… and always will.

Sergio Angelini
Critic, UK

The Avengers

Various directors, UK, 1961-69; Cert PG/12, Optimum

This year Optimum completed its six-season DVD releases of The Avengers, a quintessentially British series that traverses the 1960s, from the black-and-white noir of Cold War espionage to Pop Art moon-landing psychedelia. Some technical hiccups aside, this high-octane escapism has been beautifully rendered on video, with masses of extras too.

The World at War

Various directors, UK, 1973; Cert N/A, Fremantle

Carefully remastered from original film elements and then panned and scanned for widescreen presentation to the considerable ire of many (if amazon.com’s review pages are to be believed), this Blu-ray presentation of the 1970s documentary series may, for pre-digital television programmes, prove to be literally and figuratively the shape of things to come.

Mr Palfrey of Westminster

Various directors, UK, 1983-84; Cert 12, Network

A welcome release from Network of this sadly neglected low-key exercise in intrigue, starring Alec McCowen as the eponymous spymaster.

Doctor Who

Steven Moffat, UK, 2010; Cert PG, BBC

Sherlock

Paul McGuigan / Euros Lyn, UK, 2010; Cert 12, BBC

On television the man of the moment must surely be Steven Moffat. His richly textured relaunch of Doctor Who as an enveloping fairytale for all the family, built around an exuberantly eccentric Matt Smith, is exquisitely presented in high definition. On top of that, it offers in Amy Pond the ultimate fan-cum-companion, who becomes besotted with the time-travelling hero after initially encountering him as a child and who literally gets to save the universe in the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. Sherlock also succeeds in refashioning a television icon for a new age, and the presence of the unaired pilot in the extras offers a fascinating opportunity to measure the sometimes infinitesimal distance between a near miss and a hit.

Michael Atkinson
Critic, USA

Metropolis

Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka! (Blu-ray / DVD)

Fantômas

Louis Feuillade, France, 1913-14; unrated, Kino (USA, Region 1)

3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

USA, 1927-28; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties

Oshima Nagisa, Japan, 1965-68; unrated, Criterion Eclipse (USA, Region 1)

Chaplin at Keystone

Various directors, USA, 1914; unrated, Flicker Alley (USA, Region 1)

Sure, the ‘new’ Metropolis was superdupercool, but that’s reflexive – the Kino set of Louis Feuillade’s entire Fantomas saga was my year-maker, an antique-yet-ultramodern daydream that seemed to go on forever.

It seems absurd to make a case for movies that are nearly a full century old, spawned at the medium’s infancy, just as it would be to do so for Cervantes, Baroque music or Bosch, but obsolescence in cinema is often a generalised sentiment, coupled with profit and hipness. Yet Feuillade’s first serial masterpiece – with its primitive yet elegant fixed-frame romance with time and space, its evocation of a child’s spontaneously conjured pretend play and its pervasive sense of lurking mystery – is required eye-food for everyone who might read Sight & Sound – and a good chunk of the population beyond that, if only they could relearn the lost art of sitting still and stepping into the delirium.

If only. Cinema has been peddled to us since Griffith as an instrument of clarity, of access and simplification and omniscience, and this transaction has proved comforting to the broad population. But that is its Jekyll mode. Just as powerful is its repressed persona as a mystifier: a Gnostic mission we undergo and through which we come to understand life and the world as being larger, more complex and less definable than we may tend to prefer. In Feuillade we find something closer to the truth, where the medium becomes an experience that celebrates the fact that the truth is unknowable.

James Bell
Sight & Sound

The Ozu Collection

Ozu Yasujiro, Japan, 1936-53; Cert U, BFI (DVD + Blu-ray)

Having Early Summer, Late Spring and so on in new HD editions is welcome enough, but the real cause for celebration at the BFI’s project to release all 32 of Ozu’s surviving films is that such better-known later films are being twinned with Ozu’s earlier silents and pre-war sound films, including (on the Late Spring disc) his first sound film The Only Son, for my money perhaps the most moving of all his films, and that’s saying something.

Profound Desires of the Gods

Imamura Shôhei, Japan, 1968; Cert 15, Masters of Cinema / Eureka! (Blu-ray)

Imamura’s long-unavailable, one-of–a-kind, epic examination of the earthy, ‘primitive’ customs of the inhabitants of one of Japan’s southern islands looks spectacular on Masters of Cinema’s Blu-ray only release.

Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

USA, 1927-28; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

Diamonds of the Night

Jan Nemec, Czechoslovakia, 1964; Cert 12, Second Run

World on a Wire

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973; Cert 15, Second Sight

Honourable mentions also for Patrizio Guzman’s The Battle of Chile (Icarus Films, Region 1 DVD), Blood on Satan’s Claw (Odeon Entertainment), Masters of Cinema’s ‘Lubitsch in Berlin’ set, and also their Blu-ray release of F.W. Murnau’s City Girl, which looked stunning in sensitively worked high-definition. Also to the BFI for their ongoing work in bringing films from the neglected corners of British cinema to light – from cult features in the Flipside series, to a total reassessment of postwar documentary through the labour-of-love ‘Shadows of Progress’ box set.

Michael Brooke
Screenonline, UK

Earth (Zemlya)

Alexander Dovzhenko, Russia, 1930; Cert 18, Mr Bongo

One of Britain’s most irritatingly variable distributors for once played an absolute blinder with this damn near flawless presentation of Dovzhenko’s masterpiece, at the correct speed and with a purpose-composed orchestral score. Compared with the old DVDs from Image and Kino, it’s all but unrecognisable.

Five Element Ninjas

Chang Cheh, Hong Kong, 1982; unrated, Tokyo Shock (USA, Region 1)

This would be a guilty pleasure if I felt any guilt, but I’ve adored this film ever since catching it at the late lamented Scala Cinema in the 1980s, and can’t believe it’s taken a quarter-century for a decent version to come out. But this was worth the wait, with the pedagogical subtitle footnotes an unexpected extra pleasure.

The World (Shi Jie)

Jia Zhangke, Japan / China / France, 2004; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka! (Blu-ray)

Eureka’s world-cinema offshoot had a fantastic year, and almost any of their Blu-ray releases belong here (City Girl is the benchmark for silent-film transfers, and their Metropolis is definitive). But Jia’s film just about edged it for me, for its superb technical presentation and rich array of context-setting extras.

A Zed and Two Noughts

Peter Greenaway, UK, 1985; Cert 15, BFI (Blu-ray)

Greenaway’s films are crying out for high-definition treatment, and this gorgeous transfer did him full justice. A particularly welcome bonus was his delightfully bonkers Michael Nyman collaboration The Sea in Their Blood (1983) – nominally a COI documentary about Britain’s coastline, but you’d guess director and composer in seconds.

The Frantisek Vlácil Collection

Czechoslovakia, 1967-69 and 2003; Cert 15, Second Run

An unbelievable bargain if you’re new to the Czech master’s work, and pretty good value if you’ve bought one or two of Second Run’s earlier releases, this bills three of his strongest films (Marketa Lazarová, The Valley of the Bees and Adelheid) with Tomás Hejtmánek’s eccentrically solipsistic dramatised documentary portrait, Sentiment.

The latter reminded me of my most memorable DVD viewing experience of 2010, a weekend spent watching most of Vlácil’s 1970s / 80s output via a mixture of discs of varying levels of English-friendliness. In one case I had a printed translation, and in a couple of others I found electronic subtitles online – but with two, I was only able to find them in Russian and Czech, which I ran through Google Translate via some free software called Jubler. The results, inevitably, were frequently as baffling and / or hilarious as they were useful, but it did at least enable me to get the gist. That said, I hedged my bets: my final description of the films was more visual and musical than analytical!

Ian Christie
Professor of film history, Birkbeck, UK

Tokyo Story

Ozu Yasujiro, Japan, 1953; Cert U, BFI (DVD + Blu-ray)

For anyone who hasn’t already got Ozu’s great drama of generational friction within a family in some earlier format, this combined DVD and Blu-ray edition, with a bonus 1941 Ozu title, Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family, makes an excellent reminder of last year’s BFI Southbank and touring Ozu retrospective and is an auspicious start to the BFI’s dual-format release policy.

Diamonds of the Night

Jan Nemec, Czechoslovakia, 1964; Cert 12, Second Run

Second Run continues to release both classic and less familiar titles from Central Europe, and this debut from the heady era of Czech 1960s cinema lives up to its reputation as a masterpiece. Before entering the allegorical territory of The Party and the Guests, Nemec produced sheer visceral New Wave cinema with this story of two teenagers trying to escape the Nazi round-up.

A Room and a Half

Andrey Khrzhanovsky, Russia, 2009; Cert 12, Yume

Veteran animator Khrzhanovsky skilfully counterpoints Joseph Brodsky’s poetry with animated interludes in his nostalgic celebration of life in Soviet-era Leningrad, where the young Brodsky grew up in part of a communal apartment, defying the authorities and dreaming of wider horizons. This is a film to savour on DVD for the acting of Alisa Friendlikh and Sergey Yursky as Brodsky’s loyal parents, the subtle textures of the city and a glorious soundtrack.

Julius Pinschewer – Klassiker des Werbefilms

Germany, 1910-52; unrated, Arte Editions / Absolut Medien (Germany, Region 0)

The name Pinschewer is unlikely to be known to many, but this pioneer of filmed advertising in Germany had an extraordinary career, from a corset ad made in 1910 up to television commercials in the late 1950s. Apart from the social history timeline this generous selection of his work offers (admittedly all in German, with an excellent booklet by film historian Martin Loiperdinger), some of Pinschewer’s work has genuine avant-garde appeal, notably the films he made in the 1920s with Walther Ruttmann and Guido Seeber. Much more by Ruttmann is available, incidentally, on last year’s Munich Filmmuseum double-set of Berlin, die Sinfonie der Grosstadt and Melodie der Welt, with all the early abstract shorts.

The Red Shoes

Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1948; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

I nominated the ITV Studios DVD and Blu-ray of The Red Shoes last year, but can’t help coming back to the new Criterion version of the same restoration – even though this carries my original commentary (dating from the days of laserdisc!). What makes this essential to recommend is first, the sheer quality of the transfer from the 2009 restoration, allowing detail and nuance to shine as never before, and second, the range and variety of the extras. The newest of these is a brief guide to the restoration itself, narrated by Martin Scorsese, which shows concisely just what was done to the original camera negatives and why it was worth doing. Plus, it includes a fabulous selection of Red Shoes memorabilia and context, even by Criterion’s standards.

Kieron Corless
Sight & Sound

Letters from Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa

Portugal, 1997-2006; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

Himmel und Erde (Between Heaven and Earth)

Michael Pilz, Austria, 1979; unrated, Edition Filmmuseum (Austria, Region 0)

The Avengers – Season 4

Various directors, UK, 1966; Cert PG/12, Optimum

World on a Wire

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973; Cert 15, Second Sight

The World (Shi Jie)

Jia Zhangke, Japan / China / France, 2004; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka! (Blu-ray)

Sam Dunn
BFI DVD, UK

As if to defy the laws of probability, home entertainment’s 30th year saw as many if not more fine DVD and Blu-ray editions of previously unreleased and underexposed British (as well as international) films than any previous year. It’s heartening to see that this momentum shows no sign of diminishing.

Particular favourites include the UK premiere releases of Alan Gibson’s 1970 obscurity Goodbye Gemini (Odeon, DVD only, some interesting extras), Freddie Francis’s 1963 Psycho-infused Paranoiac (Eureka, DVD & Blu-ray, includes trailer, separate M&E track and looks absolutely outstanding in HD!), Jack Clayton’s intense and disturbing 1964 drama The Pumpkin Eater (Sony, DVD only, no extras), Wolf Rilla’s uncompromising 1962 exposé The World Ten Times Over (Optimum, DVD only, no extras), and Sidney J. Furie’s brilliant 1962 tale of rebellion and the long arm of the law The Boys (Renown, DVD only, no extras).

[I’ve been instructed not to mention my favourite BFI titles, which would have included The Party’s Over, Bronco Bullfrog and the extensive Shadows of Progress box set.]

Of course, what with countless new release titles and an impressive number of Blu-ray premieres from the likes of Masters of Cinema and the Studio Canal Collection, as well as from the major studios (including Universal’s essential Blu-ray of David Fincher’s meta-action movie The Game), 2010 has offered much more besides a number of previously neglected British gems. But while in-store racks and online product pages continue to bulge with the weight of ever-more mainstream and bargain-bin offerings, it’s extremely reassuring to know that there are labels out there who are dedicated to breathing new life into the unsung and neglected films of yesteryear.

The Ferroni Brigade
aka Christoph Huber & Olaf Möller
Critics, Austria / Germany

[12 Films by Raffaello Matarazzo]

Italy, 1933-62; unrated, Titanus / Ripley’s Home Video (Italy)

While the Ferroni Brigade – still somewhat shell-shocked from last year’s God-awful-quality video screening of Matarazzo’s mad masterpiece La nave delle donne maledette (1954) at the Venice Film Festival retrospective – eagerly awaits a serious showcase of this top-grade auteur, some solace could be found in a wave of Italian Raffaello Matarazzo releases this year.

While the Titanus label offers Catene (1949), Tormento (1950), I figli di nessuno (1952), Chi è senza peccato… (1952), Torna! (1954), L’angelo bianco (1955) and Malinconico autunno (1959), the good folks of Ripley’s Home Video give us Treno popolare (1933), Joe il rosso (1936), Sono stato io! (1937), Giù il sipario (1940) and La schiava del peccato (1954). And to triple the pleasure, Ripley’s has added more magnificence via two DVDs of essential Vittorio Cottafavi chefs d’oeuvre, I nostri sogni (1943) and the sublime sensation Una donna ha ucciso (1952), plus Giorgio Bianchi’s Il mio amico Benito (1962). Italian incandescence galore!

Die Parallelstraße

Ferdinand Khittl, Germany, 1962; unrated, Edition Filmmuseum (Austria)

John Gianvito once travelled from the US to the Federal Republic of Germany just to see this incredible, rare and pioneering work of New German Cinema – its first wave. Now, actually that’s the right thing to do, but we wouldn’t call you a carpetbagger (or, to be precise, a ‘Roßtäuscher’) for settling on the option of acquiring this fine Edition Filmmuseum DVD, especially since it also gives you several, no less rare, Khittl shorts, including Ferronian favorite Das magische Band (1959).

McDull – Kung Fu Ding Ding Dong

Brian Tse Lap Man, China / Hong Kong, 2009; unrated, Panorama Distributions (Hong Kong)

The most adorable animation feature series of our time continues, and it’s just as fantastic the fourth time around. Yet again it’s unique and subtly different in tone, as evoked by the onomatopoetic euphony of its title (although we will admit the alternative title McDull Kung Fu Kindergarten, used on its all-too-brief rounds on the festival circuit, does not lack for appropriate charm).

The surreal adventures of our beloved Hong Kong piglet – this time entering martial arts school – might be the saving grace for Westerners who suffer from want due to the slow trickle of SpongeBob SquarePants episodes, thanks to its generous helpings of wisdom, wackiness and innocence. It’s available via a quick order from Panorama Distributions, although we find it impossible to advise you whether to pick the DVD with the “first pressing gift” of a McDull – Kung Fu Ding Ding Dong notebook or the two-disc deluxe edition including the original soundtrack.

Rather than spending time on this difficult decision maybe it’s better to also get Vernon Chatman’s comedic RagnarökFinal Flesh (2009) from Drag City; we’ve listed it on the ‘regular’ Ferronian top five for 2010, but this is an opportunity to point out it’s available on disc.

Errol Flynn Adventures

Raoul Walsh / Lewis Milestone, USA, 1942-45; unrated, Warner / TCM (USA, Region 1)

More Raoul Walsh is always a right thing, an ancient Ferronian proverb reminds us, and further proof comes via this splendid-looking Warner / TCM box-set of Errol Flynn World War II films, including four 1940s feasts from the master: Desperate Journey (1942), Northern Pursuit (1943), Uncertain Glory (1944) and Objective, Burma! (1945). OK, so Objective, Burma! has been out for a while, but if there’s a film that deserves to be reissued on a daily basis then this masterpiece is a prime candidate; plus it’s a new pressing, not just a repack.

And if purist quibblers fret about the additional inclusion of Lewis Milestone’s Edge of Darkness (1943), let’s just point out that: a) hey, how many films are there with Errol Flynn as Norwegian resistance fighter?; b) this is actually pretty interesting Milestone; and c) nevertheless, in contrast it serves as a useful example to allow for easy recognition of Walshian superiority.

Still unhappy? Then comfort yourself by importing a DVD of Walsh’s western Saskatchewan (1954), still available from one of Germany’s finest, reliable Koch Media!

Grzegorz Królikiewicz Box-Set

Poland, 1972-89; unrated, TiM Film Studio (Poland)

The East also shines bright on silver disc, a fine example being this (English-subtitled) DVD box-set including four key works by Polish avant-garde maverick Grzegorz Królikiewicz (Through and Through, Permanent Objections, Dancing Hawk and Killing Auntie) — with some rare Królikiewicz shorts thrown in for additional joy. When one of his films recently made the rounds at some festival, we always told people to simply go see it, nothing more. This certainly got ’em going; we were more than a little gratified to find out that almost everybody loved it. So, we’ll keep it like that: just get the box and…!

Bonus blasts:

Loving Memory

Tony Scott, GB, 1970; Cert 15, BFI

Actually, this is by no means less worthy than our other selections, but to avoid all allegations of nepotism we’ve listed this beautiful BFI restoration separately. While Unstoppable (2010) demonstrates on theatre screens which Scott brother is truly deserving of wholehearted contemplation, this fine example of the BFI’s recent unearthing of British gems (can’t wait to catch up with John Irvin’s 1965 striptease docudrama Carousella) shows that people really should have noticed much earlier.

Especially since it not only includes both ‘Anthony’s’ superb Loving Memory and his remarkable Bierce-inspired student short One of the Missing (1968), but also, for instructive comparison, elder (Sir) Ridley’s already pretentious debut A Boy and a Bicycle (1965), starring Tony. Which begs the question: might he also have embarked on a career as the West’s answer to Sammo Hung?

And a book:

Killed: Rejected Images of the Farm Security Administration

William E. Jones, PPP Editions (New York, 2010)

When all is watched and done, the Ferroni Brigade certainly appreciates a good book. And what better choice this year than Bill Jones’s stunning selection of 157 images ‘killed’ by the US Farm Security Administration’s director Roy Emerson Stryker? That these photographs (by Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott, Arthur Rothstein and others) show their sign of rejection — Stryker punched a hole in the negatives to render them unusable and they languished in the archives until recently — only stresses the vital question: what is in there that caused their cancellation from official historiography? It’s an amazing inventory of a secret history of America during the Great Depression and its aftermath.

Philip French
The Observer, UK

Make Way for Tomorrow

Leo McCarey, USA, 1937; Cert U, Masters of Cinema / Eureka!

The greatest revelation of the year for me was this McCarey classic of the Depression era. I was bowled over by a family drama that looks forward to Ozu’s Tokyo Story. In his essay to accompany the Blu-ray disc, Peter Bogdanovich recalls Orson Welles telling him: “Oh my God, that’s the saddest movie ever made.”

The Queen of Spades

Thorold Dickinson, UK, 1959; Cert PG, Optimum

The Secret People

Thorold Dickinson, UK, 1952; Cert PG, Optimum

These two important post-war movies are an essential contribution to a revaluation of a fine British director. The Queen of Spades is an immaculate adaptation of Pushkin’s novel with great performances from Anton Walbrook and Edith Evans. The Secret People is an unusual political movie from Ealing, a flawed masterpiece reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Sabotage. Lindsay Anderson chronicled its production in his book Making a Film, which someone should reprint.

The Exiles

Kent Mackenzie, USA, 1961; Cert 12, BFI

MacKenzie’s 70-minute docudrama about a group of Native Americans from Arizona living in poverty in Los Angeles hasn’t been seen here since the 1962 London Film Festival. It anticipates John Cassavetes and the American independent cinema, as well as capturing the now vanished downtown area of LA known as Bunker Hill. A valuable rediscovery that I’d been wanting to see again for nearly 50 years.

La signora di tutti

Max Ophüls, Italy, 1934; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka!

Made a year after his departure from Nazi Germany, Ophüls’s only Italian movie is a highly accomplished work that shows how the themes and visual elements of his mature style were falling into place. The background is the Italian film industry, and in her first major role 23-year-old Isa Miranda plays a movie star reviewing her brief life from an operating table after an attempted suicide.

The War Lord

Franklin J. Schaffner, USA, 1965; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka!

Schaffner was one of the most interesting Hollywood directors of the 1960s. He came late to the cinema and made three or four classics, most famously Planet of the Apes and Patton. This literate, small-scale historical drama set in 11th-century Normandy deserves to be better known. It is atmospherically lit by Russell Metty, who worked on everything from Bringing Up Baby to Touch of Evil, and has one of Charlton Heston’s most striking performances.

William Fowler
Curator, BFI, UK

Sherlock Holmes: 1964-1965

Various directors, UK; unrated, BBC Warner (USA, Region 1)

The look may be cheap and the pace occasionally slow but these precursors to the more well known BBC Holmes serials staring Peter Cushing are funny, moody and really very satisfying. Phillip Saville, Peter Sasdy and Peter Duguid cover directorial duties and Sheila Keith, Patrick Troughton and Patrick Wymark tread the boards. It’s not been bettered since.

John Latham Films 1960-1971

UK; unrated, LUX / Flat Time House / Lisson Gallery

Not just an overdue release that rightly highlights Latham’s significant contribution to the history of British artist film but a terrific publication in its own right. Lovingly designed, filled with contextual information and liberally illustrated – the accompanying book is sumptuous.

Possession

Andrzej Zulawski, France / West Germany, 1981; Cert 18, Second Sight

Given half the chance I’d probably list this brilliant, shocking and superbly visceral film about the disintegration of a relationship – and of self – in any ‘best of’ poll I could. It’s incredible. And although another version has already been released in Germany and the USA, the extras here – interview and making of doc – are well worth checking out.

MisinforMation

COI (various directors) + Mordant Music, UK, 1970s-80s / 2010; Cert 18, BFI

Mordant Music rescores a selection of Central Office of Information films and, channelling the spirit of Throbbing Gristle, creates strange, new, compelling yet fractured units of disharmony that evoke the darker side of the 1970s. A brave and extraordinary project that deserves serious acknowledgement – it’s officially sanctioned, after all!

Secrets of Sex (aka Bizarre / Tales of the Bizarre)

Antony Balch; Cert 18, Odeon

Balch’s immersion in both exploitation and experimental cinema was wholly unique in this country and this delightful package reflects his unusual position rather well.  We get the mixed but distinctly unusual sexploitation feature (what other films have been narrated by an Egyptian mummy?), the Balch/Burroughs films, Towers Open Fire and The Cut-Ups and excitingly – for this writer – a commentary from influential producer Richard Gordon.

David Jenkins
Time Out London, UK

World on a Wire

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973; Cert 15, Second Sight

In which Fassbinder proves the (untested) theory that concentric, 8-bit cyber landscapes, a ferocious anti-corporate polemic and interior design straight out of a 1970s bongo flick are indeed all you need to make an amazing, philosophically meaty sci-fi odyssey. Think of it as Terry Nation’s Inception (if Inception had been rich with human empathy). Now could we please see some more of the man’s television work?

WoAW just pipped the BFI’s trio of double-film Ozu releases to my choice. The more of his work you see, the less it becomes clear why Tokyo Story is commonly deemed his masterpiece, as the large majority of his output usually meets (and, in the case of 1936’s The Only Son, occasionally exceeds) the quality of this canonical lodestone.

I also enjoyed (if that’s the right word?) the complete works of Argentine minimalist Lisandro Alonso, which got a plush box-set treatment in France. Apparently, it’s questionable whether the UK will get to see the sublime Los Muertos – about a monosyllabic ex-con rediscovering his primitive roots – due to its scenes of extreme violence directed at goats and bees.

Obligatory shout-outs also go to the UK’s two best DVD imprints, Masters of Cinema and Second Run, who just aren’t in the business of churning out mediocre, market-driven tat. From the former, I had the most fun with their release of Obayashi Nobuhiko’s House, a demented haunted house horror film in which characters perish by, say, drowning in cat’s blood or getting turned into bananas. From the latter, I liked Jan Nemec’s gruelling World War II chase movie Diamonds of the Night, especially for the consummately handled time-shifting element that’s woven into its second half.

Philip Kemp
Critic, UK

Metropolis

Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka! (Blu-ray / DVD)

The utterly unlooked-for discovery of 25 minutes of excised footage in a tiny archive in Buenos Aires gives us Lang’s futuristic tour de force all-but complete. The plot’s still pretty sappy, but at least now it makes narrative sense.

Chaplin at Keystone

Various directors, USA, 1914; Cert U, BFI

Okay, the humour’s of the crude, primitive, ‘if-in-doubt-kick-someone-up-the-bum’ stamp – but it’s fascinating to see Charlie, in his first year in the movies, visibly learning on the job.

Bronco Bullfrog

Barney Platts-Mills, UK, 1969; Cert 15, BFI

Good to have the debut feature of one of our most staunchly independent mavericks back again, handsomely restored – and to see how little it’s dated.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Albert Lewin, GB, 1950; Cert PG, Park Circus (DVD + Blu-ray)

For thunderous, overblown romanticism at full throttle Albert Lewin’s saga of mythic doomed love rivals Powell & Pressburger at their most highly coloured. The script almost sinks under its weight of cultural references, and in Jack Cardiff’s lensing, Ava Gardner is heartbreakingly lovely.

The Frantisek Vlácil Collection

Czechoslovakia, 1967-69 and 2003; Cert 15, Second Run

One of the great forgotten names of the Czech New Wave gets his belated due in this well-presented four-disc set: two powerful medieval dramas, Marketa Lazarová and The Valley of the Bees, and the equally stark Adelheid, set just after WWII. Tomás Hejtmánek’s lyrical feature-length portrait of Vlácil, Sentiment, completes the set.

Mehelli Modi
Second Run DVD, UK

How does one even begin choose just five releases in a year when there have been so many wonderful DVD labels doing the most amazing curatorial job and giving us access to so many important films from the past to the present? We should feel privileged and support them as best as we can to keep their caring, hard work alive.

In restricting my selection to just five releases, I’ve given myself certain very strict criteria: there could be only one release from each of the three DVD labels that I most love and respect, and I wanted to include a contemporary filmmaker whose body of work I’m sure will attain distinction, plus an undoubted documentary masterpiece. Therefore, in no particular order…

Letters from Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa

Portugal, 1997-2006; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

Ossos, In Vanda’s Room, Colossal Youth: audacious, beautiful and challenging films from one of the most important artists working in cinema today. Four-disc set.

Profound Desires of the Gods

Imamura Shôhei, Japan, 1968; Cert 15, Masters of Cinema / Eureka! (Blu-ray)

An epic saga by the extraordinary Imamura, who examined the state of Japanese society through the extraordinary films he made for almost 50 years, until his death in 2006.

Bronco Bullfrog

Barney Platts-Mills, UK, 1969; Cert 15, BFI (DVD + Blu-ray)

A low-key black-and-white feature film, reputedly made for £17,000, Bronco Bullfrog is a raw and honest work that beautifully captures a moment in time in its a casual portrait of late-1960s ‘suedeheads’.

It’s released by the BFI (Blu-ray plus DVD) in their Flipside strand, which has been responsible for rescuing some wonderful British films from neglect and obscurity.

Lisandro Alonso: Four Films

Argentina, 2001-2008; unrated, agnès b / Potemkine / Film Institute Netherlands

The Argentinian new wave is now clearly amongst us. For many admirers, Lisandro Alonso is its visionary leader and already building a body of work that is remarkable. Four-disc set including La Libertad, Los Muertos, Fantasma, Liverpool and (but note that Liverpool does not contain English subtitles).

The Battle of Chile

Patricio Guzmán, Chile, 1975-1978; unrated, Icarus Films (USA, Region 1)

Riveting, monumental, vital, Guzmán’s guerrilla-shot, documentary epic is finally available on DVD.

Kim Newman
Critic, UK

The Avengers – Season 4

Various directors, UK, 1966; Cert PG / 12, Optimum Thriller

Thriller

Various directors, USA, 1960-62; Image, USA / Region 1

Two vintage television packages. The first has been out before, but this release seriously upgrades the materials – this season was the first shot on film, but is still in black and white, and partners Patrick MacNee’s John Steed with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel. It remains a masterpiece of pop surrealism.

Thriller, not to be confused with the British 1970s show of the same name, is the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology program of the 1960s, which began as a crime drama but mutated and turned out some of the best gothic horror ever done on television (again, it’s in black and white, with richly dark shadows). Both of these releases are distinguished by thoughtful, enthusiastic extras that serve to put the achievements of the programs in perspective.

World on a Wire

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973; Cert 15, Second Sight

Another television science-fiction / fantasy show, Fassbinder’s two-part 1973 adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye’s novel Simulacron-3 (aka Counterfeit World). It’s a significant item from the Fassbinder filmography, but also an important science-fiction film – and unlike practically every American film based on an American sci-fi novel, it feels an obligation to respect its source, which is where the ideas all come from – that happens to prefigure the ‘rubber reality’ mode that has become dominant in the genre in the last ten years.

Doctor Death Seeker of Souls

Eddie Saeta, USA, 1973; Scorpion Releasing, USA / Region 0

Not the most significant horror movie from 1973, but an interesting, amiable minor item in which John Considine tries for horror stardom as an evil alchemist/medium. It’s an excellent example of a minor release being given sterling treatment – the transfer makes the film look better than it ever has, with especially rich reds, while the extras, including a lively commentary, serve to highlight the film’s modest charms without overselling it.

Vic Pratt
Curator, BFI, UK

Colditz: The Complete Collection

Various, UK, 1974; Cert 12, BBC / 2 Entertain

As a big fan of the unfairly sniggered-at BBC war drama Secret Army, I’ve been waiting for this, in many ways its predecessor, to escape from the vaults for years. So what if the accents are dodgy and the imposing prison walls are made of cardboard? It’s the intelligent, downbeat scripts, solid acting, and stiff upper lips that count.

Peanuts 1970’s Collection: Vol. 2

Phil Roman / Bill Meléndez, USA, 1975-79; unrated, Warner Home Video

I loved these animated specials based on Charles M. Schulz’s superb newspaper strip when I was a kid, and I love them even more now. Because Schulz himself was involved, they retain the beautiful bittersweet charms of the originals, but add splashes of post-psychedelic colour and the groovy jazz soundtracks of Vince Guaraldi.

Come Play With Me

George Harrison Marks, GB, 1977; Cert 18, Odeon Entertainment

Quite simply the finest film ever made. Only joking! But it is a wonderfully weird and financially successful example of that great British phenomenon, the saucy smut comedy. Is it awful? Who cares? Any film teaming Harrison Marks, Alfie Bass, Mary Millington AND Cardew Robinson gets my vote, and speaks volumes about the true history of British popular cinema. It also features a great sleeve note by Simon Sheridan.

The Rough and the Smooth
on The British Cinema Collection: Dramas 3

Robert Siodmak, USA, 1959; unrated, VCI Video (USA, Region 1)

This smoky, dark, distinctly perverse drama, starring underrated Austrian actress Nadja Tiller and brimming with odd undercurrents of erotic torment, has not had a DVD release in the UK, but it’s out on a cheapo US package – though sadly in a cropped, venerable-looking transfer that doesn’t do it justice.

Blood on Satan’s Claw

Piers Haggard, UK, 1970; Cert 18, Odeon Entertainment

1970s British horror at its eeriest and most splendidly absurd. Patrick Wymark’s Judge is terrific, lunging about with wobbly sword, powdered wig a-flying; Linda Hayden’s amazingly evil Angel sports wonderfully enticing eyebrows; Anthony Ainley plays pained man-of-God Reverend Fallowfield to perfection.

Nicolas Rapold
Film Comment, USA

Available for the first time on DVD, Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (Germany / France, 1988; unrated, Icarus Films, Region 1) offers an extraordinary demonstration of historical investigation, synthetic editing, and sheer interview technique, as Marcel Ophuls takes multiple stabs at the notorious ‘Butcher of Lyons’, Klaus Barbie.

Criterion’s bounty included Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, USA, 1956; unrated, Region 1), appropriately named not only for James Mason’s monstrous depiction of 1950s authority gone amok but also for its wide-screen compositions; a Sacha Guitry set (France, 1936-38; unrated, Region 1), of which I most enjoyed The Story of a Cheat, for its Continental wit and playful storytelling; and a Josef von Sternberg set (USA, 1927-28; unrated, Region 1), in which The Docks of New York is worth singling out for its beauty and torment.

Finally, who better to teach How to Live in the German Federal Republic (Leben – BRD; West Germany, 1990; unrated, Facets, Region 1) than Harun Farocki, ever sharp?

Tony Rayns
Critic, UK

Batting away all the talk of the death of DVD publishing, the still-birth of Blu-ray publishing and the impending closure of the UK’s last major home-entertainment retailer, let’s enjoy the fact that digital formats won’t go away any time soon – not least because anyone who wants to build a home film library to match their book collection will go on using DVDs for the foreseeable future. 2010 was the first year I spent as much buying impossible-to-find archive titles from online bootleggers as I did buying new releases. And legit releases of archive titles trumped the vast bulk of the new stuff out there.

The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of Imamura Shôhei’s Profound Desires of the Gods (Japan, 1968; Cert 15) offers the single most beautiful transfer from film to video I have ever seen; the film looks better than I ever saw it looking in a movie-theatre.

Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (USA, 1998; unrated, Criterion / Region 1) also looks great and has the year’s best supplements, including revelatory interviews with the casting director, many of the supporting actors and the daughter of novelist James Jones; the reticent Malick (who of course doesn’t appear in the extras himself) comes into remarkably sharp focus.

My other archival favourites of the year included the Lux compilation of Alfred Leslie shorts under the title Cool Man in a Golden Age (USA, 1959-2008; unrated), which features the first affordable release of Pull My Daisy (1959, made with Jack Kerouac) and a couple of his brilliant collaborations with the poet Frank O’Hara.

On the other side of the world, the latest director to get the box-set treatment from the Korean Film Archive is Lee Man-Hee (1931-1975), a nuanced poet of everyday life in South Korea’s ‘dark days’ of military governments. The Lee Man-Hee Collection Box Set (Korea, 1964-68; unrated, Region 3) includes four of his 1960s features (one is the long-banned A Day Off, 1968), while his swansong The Road to Sampo (Korea, 1975; Region 3), a peerless winter road movie, is released separately. All offer English-subtitle options.

Kate Stables
Critic, UK

Portrait of a Miner

Various directors, UK, 1947-78; Cert 15, BFI

The BFI’s weighty and engrossing first pick of shorts from the National Coal Board Archive felt like a time capsule from a vanished world, brimming with post-war social and industrial history running from King Coal to Ewan MacColl.

Lourdes

Jessica Hausner, Austria / Germany / France, 2009; Cert U, Artificial Eye

Hausner’s deftly ambiguous and darkly comic film showed that studied delicacy and detachment (oh, those watchful long-shots), combined with Sylvie Testud’s gloriously understated playing, could seize one’s interest as fiercely as the noisiest melodrama.

Last Train Home

Lixin Fan, China, 2009; unrated, Dogwoof

Lixin’s moving and quietly melancholy documentary about a Sichuan migrant worker family splintered by economic pressures ravished the eye while bringing home painfully the human cost of China’s rapid industrialisation.

Grindhouse

Quentin Tarantino / Robert Rodriguez, USA, 2007; Cert 18, Momentum

Wading through the vast eight-hour Blu-ray package for Grindhouse got me reassessing both the two movies (a surprisingly level outcome for the gore-fest and the jaw-fest), and the filmmakers’ fearless mission to explain every scintilla of shooting time. Their copious, garrulous home-entertainment ‘extras’ signalled a shift in the traditionally aloof and asymmetrical relationship between auteur and audience.

Good Hair

Chris Rock, USA, 2010; Cert 12, Icon

Possibly inspired by the Rev Al Sharpton’s remark that “you comb your exploitation and oppression every day”, Rock’s slyly good humoured but eye-opening documentary about the culturally freighted topic of black hair care was the catalyst for a girlfriend’s screening parties in which chemical relaxers and weaves were fiercely forsaken in a latter-day Bonfire of the Vanities. And to think that they said consciousness-raising was dead…

Brad Stevens
Critic, UK

The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

Japan, 1943-45; unrated, Criterion Eclipse (USA, Region 1)

Criterion’s Eclipse label – which specialises in barebones collections of films, without those lavish extras usually expected from Criterion – is fast becoming more interesting than its parent company, excavating a series of rarities by such underrated filmmakers as Kira Muratova, William Klein and Sacha Guitry. This box-set of four early Kurosawas – the two Sanshiro Sugata films, The Most Beautiful and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail – is especially welcome.

Lubitsch in Berlin

Ernst Lubitsch, Germany, 1918-21; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka!

This box-set of six silent films made between 1918 and 1921 by Ernst Lubitsch is perhaps the most important Masters of Cinema release from 2010. Special mention should also be made of their disc of Jia Zhangke’s The World, a film that fully justifies being released in Blu-ray.

The Ozu Collection

Ozu Yasujiro, Japan, 1936-53; Cert U, BFI (DVD + Blu-ray)

The BFI’s dual-edition releases of Ozu Yasujiro’s films may have gained less from the high-definition format (frankly, I couldn’t see much difference between the Blu-ray and standard versions), but it’s nice to finally have good quality DVDs of Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951) and Tokyo Story (1953), vastly superior to the muddy NTSC transfers distributed by Tartan in 2004. But what really makes these discs exciting is the inclusion of three rarely seen Ozu features as extras: The Only Son (1936), What Did the Lady Forget? (1937) and Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941).

The Unpolished (Der Unerzogenen)

Pia Marais, Germany 2007; Cert 18, Second Run

Pia Marais’s sublime study of a teenage girl, surely among the finest European films of the last decade, was never given a UK theatrical release, but has thankfully been rescued from obscurity by Second Run, one of our most enterprising DVD labels. In the name of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I wrote an essay for the booklet that accompanies this disc, though blogger Glenn Kenny found my contribution “tiersomely (sic) querulous”, and insisted it was “this package’s sole weakness”.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide

Various trailers / Jake West and Marc Morris, GB, 2010; Cert 18, Nucleus Films

I was also involved (as an interviewee) with this release, a fact that almost precluded my including it on what should be an ‘objective’ list. But then objectivity wasn’t exactly the aim of this openly partisan account of a shameful period of British history, which saw mediocre MPs rising to fame on the backs of imprisoned video distributors. Ironically, Jake West’s splendid documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape (around which this three-disc collection of trailers and interviews is constructed) appeared just as the BBFC insisted on making massive cuts to A Serbian Film, underlining just how little has changed.

David Thompson
Critic and documentarian, UK

Profound Desires of the Gods

Imamura Shôhei, Japan, 1968; Cert 15, Masters of Cinema / Eureka! (Blu-ray)

Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

USA, 1927-28; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951‑1977

Cert 15, BFI

The Frantisek Vlácil Collection

Czechoslovakia, 1967-69 and 2003; Cert 15, Second Run

The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series

Various directors, USA, 1992-98; unrated, Shout! Factory (USA, Region 1)

All chosen as editions providing superb transfers of very rare material.

Gary Tooze
Founder / editor, DVD Beaver, USA

2010 was a magnificent year for film fans to truly appreciate important cinema in the comfort of their home. The higher resolution of Blu-ray injected new life into previously available digital releases. This was highly evident in Terrence Malick’s sober, philosophical, meditation on war, The Thin Red Line (USA, 1998; unrated, Criterion / Region 1) – looking and sounding pristine on Criterion’s 1080p edition. Stacked with extras, including a commentary, this alone is a strong enough reason to own a Blu-ray player.

Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis (Germany, 1927; Cert PG, Masters of Cinema / Eureka!, Blu-ray / DVD) was described by Luis Buñuel as “a captivating symphony of movement”. It is brought to us in the highest standard of digital release from Masters of Cinema and includes the discovery of 25 minutes of footage presumed ‘lost’ forever. The optional Jonathan Rosenbaum / David Kalat commentary only adds further appreciation to the unheralded imagery of the most influential of all silent films. Possessing the Blu-ray is akin to holding a piece of film history in your hands.

Another storytelling genius of the silent era, Frank Borzage, made three masterpieces starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. Looking and sounding the best is 1929’s Lucky Star (USA, 1928; unrated). Carlotta Films of France have put this delicate melodramatic romance out on Blu-ray. The visuals are impressive indeed, but the Caliendo score in 5.1 lossless audio is as miraculous and inspiring as the film itself.

It’s not enough for fans to finally have Charles Laughton’s only directorial effort, Night of the Hunter (USA, 1955; unrated) – a quintessential Americana treatise of good versus evil – finally in its correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1. However, Criterion offers it in high-definition resolution with wonderfully addictive textured grain, plus the supplement of the entire year: the two-and-a-half-hour documentary ‘Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter’, filled with behind the scenes honesty and painstakingly pieced together over decades by Robert Gitt.

Lastly, film should always be fun and Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (USA, 2009; Cert PG) succinctly captures the spirit of children’s author Roald Dahl’s lyrical, warm and briskly humorous fable by using the artistic appearance of stop-motion animation. Perhaps the gifted young director’s best work to date, the film’s unique appearance remains visually hypnotic on 20th Century Fox’s Blu-ray release.

James White
Head of Technical, BFI Content

As Blu-ray enters another year, we’ve seen definitive releases for the sort of titles you’d expect (Alien, Apocalypse Now, Psycho, Dr Zhivago). These are wonderful to have and should expose more people to Blu-ray and the significant leap in quality it offers. But while releases of this kind certainly deserve praise, I’m more interested in what films can still be discovered and made newly available, even if it is, in some cases, still only in standard definition. Outside of my own work on BFI releases, the following titles were highlights for me in 2010 (for the sake of fairness, I’ve limited myself to one title per label, with a list of runners-up below):

Profound Desires of the Gods

Imamura Shôhei, Japan, 1968; Cert 15, Masters of Cinema / Eureka! (Blu-ray)

Imamura’s long lost epic was one of the great discoveries for me this year, well served in this edition by its lovely high-definition transfer.

Columbia Film Noir Classics II

Edward Dmytryk / Phil Karlson / Fritz Lang / Irving Lerner / Jacques Tourneur, USA, 1952-58; unrated, Sony (USA, Region 1)

Nightfall, Human Desire, Pushover etc. I’ve been waiting a long time for these late-era noir favourites to be made available, and this box-set didn’t disappoint.

World on a Wire

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973; Cert 15, Second Sight

The mind-bending sci-fi epic by Fassbinder beautifully restored. Completely new to me and thoroughly fascinating.

Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton, USA, 1955; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

A spectacular edition, with a flawless transfer and brilliant extras. It’s everything I could have hoped for. Black-and-white films have been under-represented on Blu-ray so far, but hopefully this release will urge others to follow suit.

Brewster McCloud

Robert Altman, USA, 1970; unrated, Warner Archive (USA)

Along with Criterion’s ‘America Lost & Found: The BBS Story’ set, 2010 has been a goldmine for fans of long-desired 1970s classics. Although I would have preferred a fully stacked edition of Robert Altman’s cult classic, I’ll take what I can get.

Runners-up: America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg, The Thin Red Line (Criterion); M, La Planete Sauvage (Masters of Cinema / Eureka!); Allan Dwan Coffret (Carlotta); The Unpolished, Morgiana (Second Run); Le Cercle Rouge, Peeping Tom (Optimum / Canal); Agnès Varda Collections (Artificial Eye); Inferno, Spirits of the Living Dead (Arrow); Szamanka (Mondo Vision); Stranger on the 3rd Floor, Madam Satan (Warner Archive); Monte Walsh (Paramount); Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (Universal on-demand).

Nick Wrigley
Founder & Director, Masters of Cinema

It’s ten years since DVD greatly excited me (and changed my life) but my love affair with the SD format has begun to grow a little stale thanks to the new ‘Blu-ray goggles’. Glorious 1080p HD resolution, better visual compression codecs, uncompressed audio: Blu-ray is an altogether more immersive experience (if you have a big enough TV to appreciate the 1080p image – anything less than 40” doesn’t cut it). So I’ve been watching mostly Blu-rays this year, and it’s been such a fantastic time, a golden era, a slap-up feast for the eyes. My jaw has rarely been off the floor when viewing most new Blu-rays (with only the odd misstep). I do have difficulty keeping on top of all the incredible releases, there’s so much out there now, but I’ve been most astonished by Criterion and BFI Blu-rays – both labels have perhaps had their best ever years, going at full tilt, and producing dreamlike editions. Lots of people have been working very, very hard.

Bearing in mind there was a lot released this year that I haven’t seen yet, of the discs I managed to get to, these are the ones I enjoyed the most:

Stagecoach

John Ford, USA, 1939; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1 Blu-ray)

Paths Of Glory

Stanley Kubrick, USA, 1957; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1 Blu-ray)

Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton, USA, 1955; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

Close-Up (Nema-ye Nazdik)

Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1989; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1 Blu-ray) Blu-ray

Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

USA, 1927-28; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1)

America Lost and Found: The BBS Story

Bob Rafelson / Dennis Hopper / Jack Nicholson / Henry Jaglom / Peter Bogdanovich, USA, 1968-72; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1 Blu-ray)

Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy

Roberto Rossellini, Italy, 1945-48; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1 DVD)

Make Way for Tomorrow

Leo McCarey, USA, 1937; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1 DVD)

Letters from Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa

Portugal, 1997-2006; unrated, Criterion (USA, Region 1 DVD)

The Edge of the World

Michael Powell, UK, 1937; Cert U, BFI (Blu-ray)

Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday)

Jacques Tati, Fr, 1953 / 78; Cert U, BFI (Blu-ray)

Tokyo Story / Late Summer / Early Summer

Ozu Yasujiro, Japan, 1936-53; Cert U, BFI (DVD + Blu-ray)

All the BFI Flipside Blu-rays

Secrets of Nature: Pioneering Natural History Films

Various directors, UK, 1922-33; Cert E [exempt], BFI (Blu-ray)

The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke, Germany / Austria / France / Italy, 2009; Cert 15, Artificial Eye (Blu-ray)

The Frantisek Vlácil Collection

Czechoslovakia, 1967-69 and 2003; Cert 15, Second Run

Enter the Void

Gaspar Noé, Fr, 2009; unrated, Wildside (France, Blu-ray)

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)

John Scheinfeld, USA, 2006; unrated, Kino (USA, Region 1 DVD)

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