Best DVDs of 2001
There's little question that 2001 has been an interesting year for DVD. Player and software sales are way up, more and more releases hit the market all the time and we collectors are assaulted by a range of titles and extras that would have been unthinkable a scant two years ago. Summing up the top ten discs in any given year is a daunting task. I can't claim to be the last word on this topic but I can offer a roundup of the additions to my collection from this year's crop that seem to stand out. Here then, in alphabetical order, are those discs:
Akira Limited Edition Tin
Few so-called limited edition releases garnered as much attention as the Akira tin. In some markets this two-disc set flew off shelves in the wink of an eye. In others the release was easier to find but still sold out in a reasonably short period of time. Akira is considered by many to be the film that started the Anime trend. It's a beautifully realized work of art made mostly by hand that suffers only slightly from a muddy story line. This version of the film is carefully restored to near pristine condition and sports both the original Japanese language track and a newly recorded English dub. The extras are a little thin (this is no Ultimate Toy Box) but they do add a great deal to the viewer's understanding of how animated films were made at the dawn of the computer age.
An overrated and over analyzed movie or an established film classic, no matter how you look at it Citizen Kane looms large over the history of world cinema. It is visually appealing, has an engaging story, is funny at times and includes several fine performances. It was also one of the most anticipated releases of 2001 and fans weren't disappointed when it finally hit the shelves. The transfer is beautifully done and the sound track is clean as a whistle. There's a nice set of extras to explore and a second disc with an excellent PBS documentary The Battle for Citizen Kane. My only complaint is the rather fragile pasteboard packaging.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
I'm not the geekiest of home theater fanatics but I do have a wide screen digital TV and a respectable 5.1 audio system. It should come as no surprise then that I'm always on the lookout for a great demo disc. The clear winner this year is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. This computer animated adventure film may not have the best script or the finest vocal performances and that's more than a little disappointing. What it does have though is visual and auditory thrills in abundance. Every image is computer generated and the data on the disc comes directly from that digital source. It'll give your home theater a workout like no other disc on the market, even if it does put your intellect to sleep.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
I'm not sure what I was expecting going into this gender-bending-rock-opera-mocumentary but what I got was one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences I've had all year. Adapted from John Cameron Mitchell's hit off-Broadway stage show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch blends elements from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, This is Spinal Tap and Tommy into a unique and memorable feast for the eyes and ears. Hedwig has humor, depth and a sound track that will rock your friggin' socks off. The disc includes a feature length documentary (an hour and a half long) that details Mitchell's development of the Hedwig idea from its earliest performances, through its success on stage and right up to the release of the film at Sundance. Watching Mitchell grow, with the help of songwriter Stephen Trask, from a serious stage actor in unknown waters to a strong, confident rock and roller in the mold of David Bowie is really something to behold.
One of the many popular topics of discussion on the DVD Talk forum is films that have a high 'rewatchability' factor. It's a quality that depends almost entirely on an individual's personal taste so there'll never be a definitive list but Memento certainly falls into that category for me. I was on the edge of my seat watching it in the theater and have played it again and again here at home. The film has a satisfyingly Noir look, the plot is interesting and Guy Pierce really shines as the man who can't make new memories. The DVD release leaves a little to be desired when it comes to ancillary content but the quality of the film alone earns it a place in my top ten this year.
Monty Python & the Holy Grail
How can you say anything bad about a film that features a three headed giant knight who demands landscape architecture from passing strangers? Monty Python & the Holy Grail made it to DVD this year in a newly restored version that adds a few seconds of new footage. This fully anamorphic transfer isn't as good as some of us were hoping but it's head and shoulders above the previous release. Holy Grail is my favorite Python picture and a very welcome addition to my collection. The disc includes two audio commentaries and a handful of other interesting extras, all wrapped in menus based on Terry Gilliam's animations. Now go buy this disc or I shall say 'Ni' to you again!
The heated battle of egos between Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznic was never more manifest than in postproduction for Rebecca. Hitchcock shot only the footage needed for his anticipated final cut but Selznic intervened, re-recording dialogue, cutting and re-cutting until he arrived at the version we see today. Each man had an entirely different vision for the story, they bumped heads over it for months and in the end both were at least partially vindicated when the film won an Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940. Rebecca may not be Hitchcock's greatest work but it is a masterful entertainment that holds significance in the Hitchcock cannon as a turning point in his career as an American director. This two-disc Criterion special edition is jam packed with interesting extras including three hours of radio show adaptations and an isolated music and effects track.
Requiem for a Dream
There's always a danger when interesting independent directors get their first chance to make a big budget Hollywood picture (CF: Mallrats). Luckily for fans Darren Aronofsky's follow up to the indy favorite Pi was a home run. In Requiem for a Dream Aronofsky builds on his unique visual style while presenting a gritty, thought provoking story of addiction induced mayhem. There were several films on this general topic last year (Blow, Traffic) but I think that Requiem was the best of the crop. The disc includes an interesting featurette and running commentary from Aronofsky himself.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Say what you will about the Disney Corporation's modern day approach to socio-economic engineering, in the early days it was a company fueled by innovation and artistry. Walt Disney was a visionary who pushed animation to unimaginable heights. He saw a market for fully animated features and gambled his entire career on filling that niche. The result is Snow White, a wild success in its time and a film that spawned an entire industry. This amazing two-disc set has enough extras to keep you busy for many hours. You'll find everything from the full text of the original Brothers Grimm fairy tail to character design galleries and information on the film restoration process that lead to this DVD. Disney knows how to pack a disc with extras and this is one of the best examples of that craft.
When Russell Crow picked up a sword and shield for Ridley Scott's Gladiator it was almost inevitable that comparisons would be drawn with classic films like Ben Hur and Spartacus. Luckily for DVD fans both films came out on disc this year. Warner Brother's Ben Hur is a nice release but the Criterion edition of Spartacus blows the competition right out of the Amphitheater. This comprehensive two-disc set adds audio commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, hundreds of production stills, vintage news reels and more to a beautifully restored version of the film with newly remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Criterion spared no expense on this disc and the result is a film classic in a package that does it justice.
- Chris Huges
DVD Talk Reviewers and Columnists take on the Top DVDs of 2001 :
DVD Talk Main Best of 2001 Page
Brian R. Boisvert
Glenn Erickson (DVD Savant)
G. Noel Gross (CineSchlock-O-Rama)