Best DVDs of 2001
Jason Bovberg's Top 10 DVD Events of 2001
I tried to keep it to 10! I tried! But it didn't work. DVDs enjoyed a banner year in 2001. I even had to leave out some excellent DVDs (such as Superman and Requiem for a Dream), simply because of lack of space. So allow me to present a "themed" Top 10 DVDs of 2001, each number of which offers two-and in one case, three-DVD titles that share that number's honor.
Number 1: In Which Long-Anticipated Classics Debut
Although many of us complained that the transfers could be better, Paramount's release of The Godfather films on DVD is like a long, orgasmic sigh. Sure, the prints need a true restoration job and the darks appear a little too dark, but this package was very much worth the wait. When all is said and done, Coppola's masterpiece looks terrific, and the three commentary tracks from the director himself are film-geek nirvana. This is the most important DVD release of 2001.
But I would be negligent in my duties if I didn't mention the equally worthy Citizen Kane set from Warner. Sporting a restored print that rivals the very best of today's transfers, this set also offers a comprehensive documentary about the history of the film. Roger Ebert's audio commentary is bliss for Kane beginners.
Number 2: In Which Two Very Different Animated Features Square Off
Is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the finest animated feature ever made? Of course not-but it was the first. And it's a worthy crown jewel in the Disney vault. An amazingly clean transfer and giddiness-inducing supplements, including a commentary featuring cryogenically frozen Walt Disney, make Snow White the essential animated flick on DVD in 2001.
But challenging Snow White's crown is Dreamworks' computer-animated Shrek, that hilarious green ogre with Fat Bastard's voice. This DVD is loaded with fascinating extras, including behind-the-cels featurettes and a fun commentary. To top it all off, this disc's sparkling digital-to-digital transfer bests that of any other 2001 DVD.
Number 3: In Which Hitchcock Struts His Stuff
Criterion's one-two punch of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious and Rebecca left us all gasping for breath. Both Hitch classics are presented with new dazzling transfers and cleaned-up soundtracks, both feature ultra-informative commentaries from film historians (Notorious sports two!), and both offer more than enough supplements to remind you that Hitch was a damn genius. Devote a day to each package and you'll discover a new appreciation for film as art.
Number 4: In Which Criterion Continues to Impress
Many people whine about Criterion's pricing, comparing Criterion's products to efforts from higher-profile studios. But such a comparison fails to account for Criterion's praise-worthy efforts in film preservation. When I buy a disc from Criterion, I feel like I'm doing one small part to help protect great and obscure movies from oblivion, as well as to keep the masses informed about film history.
Although not a shining example of that personal philosophy, Criterion's two-disc release of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing is still a thing of beauty. Featuring a gorgeous new anamorphic transfer, in which Spike's sweltering summer colors seem to sweat out of the cellulloid, the DVD also contains a wealth of extras, including a terrific peek at the first script reading.
Two other essential Criterion releases in 2001 were the intricate French noir Rififi and the always-disturbing The Vanishing. Even when Criterion releases a bare-bones disc, as with the latter, you can count on a film experience that will stay with you for a while. As is par for the course for Criterion, both DVDs offer vibrant transfers.
Number 5: In Which Music Assaults the Senses and Emotions
Baz Luhrmann's spastically edited musical Moulin Rouge debuted toward the end of 2001 in a rich 2-disc set and surged immediately to the cream of the year's crop. Two commentaries, a plethora of production featurettes, and extended sequences make this quirky and loud DVD a must-own. This movie's boundless energy and sense of escapist romance will bowl you over, and its over-the-top images and sounds will fill your home theater with fireworks.
But while we're talking music, we can't forget the long-anticipated release of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous: Untitled: The Bootleg Cut. This striking three-disc set includes the director's cut, the theatrical cut, and even a fun (but listen-to-once) Stillwater music CD. Over the director's cut, Crowe shares commentary duties with his mother, and I'll admit it: She freaked me out.
Number 6: In Which Television Is Wrapped In Plastic
The best way to watch commercial television is, of course, without the commercials! And on a medium that bests the quality of any original network presentations! Fox's box set of The Simpsons: The Complete First Season was worthy of a Homer-sized Mmmmmmmm. The transfers are fine-the best that we could hope for from the first season-and Matt Groening's eager participation in the features, especially the commentaries, is an outstanding bonus.
Right on the yellow heels of the Simpsons in this category is David Lynch, with his Twin Peaks: The First Season box. A late 2001 entry, this set delivers all of this avant-garde show's surreality and doughnuts in crisp transfers and glorious sound. You also get informed crew commentaries. But beware: You don't get the pilot episode-D'oh!
Number 7: In Which DVD Kicks Ass and Takes Names
Now it's time to really give your surround-sound system a workout. The format saw two essential action releases in 2001. Fox's Die Hard: Five Star Collection wins top honors in this category. Released a few years ago with unimpressive transfers and lackluster sound, all three Die Hard films have been spruced up with new transfers and Dolby Digital and DTS sound. Add a bunch of featurettes, deleted scenes, and commentaries, and you can't help but yell "Yippee ki yay."
Fox also released a clean new transfer of The French Connection, also a Five Star Edition. Although the advertised Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider commentaries are really just interview snippets, it's still nice to hear from them. The disc offers other great supplements, including an unexpectedly terrific documentary.
Number 8: In Which Two Comedies Shine
Columbia TriStar's Monty Python and the Holy Grail special-edition DVD manages to take the film's odd humor and spread it seamlessly across the menus, packaging, and all the extras. I laughed myself to tears even before pressing Play. Who else but Python would give us menus for the hearing impaired, or subtitles for people who don't like the film? The softish image shows the film's age, and the soundtrack has lost some fidelity, but this is the best presentation of this movie we'll probably ever see.
As long as we're talking comedies, I must admit that Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace debuted in a fantastic DVD set. I just can't get enough of the scene where Jar Jar steps in the Bantha poodoo, or when those wacky Gungans take on the Ewokian task of decimating entire squadrons of bumbling battle droids, or when that crazy Anakin goes "Yippee!" Who am I kidding? This movie sucks. What's most frustrating is that its DVD presentation is mostly outstanding, delivering a fantastic Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack that will shake your home's foundation. Unfortunately, edge enhancement lends an annoying softness to an otherwise pristine image. But that's OK: I'll watch the extras more than I watch the movie anyway. Disc two contains one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.
Number 9: In Which a Great Director's Work Is Done Justice
David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge On the River Kwai each received special-edition treatment in 2001. Columbia TriStar's two-disc Lawrence offers an intricately restored print (save for an annoying blue line across one important scene) and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, along with a great documentary and interview with Steven Spielberg about the film's influence. Columbia TriStar's Kwai also sports a wonderful transfer and massaged sound, as well as an illuminating hour-long documentary. On top of all that, each set's case is beautifully designed, a true collector's item.
Number 10: In Which We Watch with Eyes Wide Open
Criterion strikes again with the fabulous two-disc Spartacus, which provides a dramatic anamorphic transfer of Stanley Kubrick's great epic. You also get one of the few commentary tracks that you'll listen to more than once. Hearing Kirk Douglas talk about making Spartacus with Kubrick just leaves you shaking your head in wonder.
Speaking of Kubrick, Warner took the time in 2001 to release an acceptable career box set, and the most impressive disc in the set is the improved Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb disc. The non-anamorphic transfer is acceptable (because of the film's shifting aspect ratio), but the star here is the bevy of extras, including a fine documentary and original interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott.- Jason Bovberg
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)