2013 had a lot of great releases to home video. The DVD Talk review panel looked back on the past 12 months and selected the best-of-the-best, the 10 discs that we'd most want to have on our shelves. It is a diverse group, from a silent classic to movies that had their theatrical release this past year. Japanese anime made the list, as did a series of French films, a collection of classic horror flicks staring a well known actor, comic book inspired animation, and a nearly forgotten TV show from 1976. From arthouse films to the chanbara (action-filled Japanese sword fighting movies) series that starts off the list, there is something for every taste. Read on to see which films and collections made it to DVD Talk's Top 10 Releases of 2013.
1. Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman: One of Criterion's best-ever home video releases (and that's saying a LOT), this set is also an incredible value: 25 films plus some significant extras for a retail price of $225... available for less with a little searching. The movies, all starring Shintaro Katsu as the eponymous blind, wandering masseur and gambler represent Japanese genre filmmaking at its finest. They are beautiful to watch, visual and aural virtuosity, and feature some intense action sequences to boot. Taken as a whole the Zatoichi series is one of the great epic stories of world cinema and this set get's DVD Talk's Best Release of the Year badge.
2. The World's End: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have reunited once again with their frequent director Edgar Wright for The World's End, another amazing entry (alas, the final one!) in their Cornetto trilogy that began with Shaun of the Dead and continued with Hot Fuzz. The film reaffirms the comedic genius of the dynamic filmmaking team and it even adds good dramatic depth that brings the series full circle.
This is an instant classic in the comedy genre and it seamlessly blends the elements of comedy, action, sci-fi, and drama into an amazing effort. With an amazing Blu-ray release that features quality PQ/AQ and hours upon hours of supplemental material, this is an essential release for fans of this tremendous film and the rest of its beloved trilogy.
3. My Neighbor Totoro: My Neighbor Totoro is one of the most charming, intelligent, and moving animated pictures of all time: the story is sentimental without being over-the-top and the journey it takes is one full with magic and wonderment. Regardless of whether or not one generally ascribes to Japanese anime master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki is one of the world's greatest filmmakers and this is easily one of the writer-director's best efforts. The Blu-ray release by Disney has identical PQ and AQ to the much more expensive Japanese release and a decent selection of supplements, adding to the immense value of this masterpiece of filmmaking, which will delight devoted cinema fans of all ages; young and old. This release deserves a spot in every film collection.
4. Safety Last!: Comedy perfection is rare, because by its nature comedy is usually chaotic, the antithesis of perfect. But in Safety Last!, master silent comic Harold Lloyd’s timing is so incredibly dead-on that every note lands with laser-like precision, resulting in some incredibly funny moments, and a movie that’s highly entertaining across the board. Criterion’s presentation is equally impressive, with excellent audio and video, while delivering a wealth of bonus content, including an informative and enjoyable commentary, three restored Lloyd shorts and a feature-length documentary, makes the release a master class in Lloyd on one disc. It’s a great intro for those new to Lloyd and the right and proper treatment his fans have been waiting for.
5. (tie) Akira: After disappearing from Blu-Ray due to shifting rights issues and fetching a high-price on the secondary market, the 25th Anniversary Edition is worth a purchase based on affordability alone; that said, while the release is lacking in substantial extras, the A/V quality is top notch, sporting not only a remastered transfer, but multiple audio tracks including the fan favorite late-80s dub in 2.0 Dolby True HD. There's no reason why you shouldn't pick up this release of one of the all time great anime features.
5. (tie) Pierre Etaix Collection: You have likely never heard of Pierre Etaix, and are as confused as much by who he is as how to pronounce his last name. Don’t worry, this Criterion boxed set will remedy both problems. The French performer starred in and directed five films in the 1960s, starting with the short comedy Rupture and ending with the experimental documentary Land of Milk and Honey. A sort of nouvelle vague Charlie Chaplin, Etaix’s films bear a small resemblance to his contemporary Jacques Tati, while also having much of the same anarchic quality as Monty Python, stitching together short concepts in service to a larger narrative. His comedies are funny and inventive, playfully messing about with the politics of relationships and, well, politics. The restorations in Criterion’s boxed set are gorgeous, ensuring that your first time will very much resemble the actual first time these wonderful films were released.
7. Before Midnight: A decade passes between installments of Richard Linklater’s Before... series, and the time definitely shows on the screen. Before Midnight is the third pairing of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as lovers Jesse and Celine. They met in their youth, and have now grown to middle age together. Despite some added wisdom and experience, things aren’t any easier. Before Midnight has an emotional rawness that is simultaneously invigorating and discomforting. Over the course of an evening, the vacationing duo dissects shared problems and one another, flexing their egos and exposing their insecurities. It can hurt at times, the way watching any of your friends fighting would be, but there is so much soul in the writing and performances, you won’t want to trade a second of it for a flimsy rom-com that might otherwise go down easier.
8. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: This highly regarded cult series is an almost indescribable subtle satire of suburban American blandness and consumerism. The show ran for a year and a half starting in 1976 and was seemingly forgotten soon after, Shout! Factory has released in a wonderful collection including all 325 episodes. The show as has aged astoundingly well, probably because the targets of the show's satire (insatiable consumerism, celebrity-obsession, television) are more relevant now than ever. This set also includes two bonus discs filled with extras including ten episodes of the related parody show Fernwoood 2 Night.
9. Vincent Price Collection: Shout! Factory's horror line, Scream Factory, released a lot of great discs this year but one of their crown jewels was The Vincent Price Collection. Giving six of the late, great horror icon's finest films on Blu-ray domestically for the first time, including the best of his collaborations with director Roger Corman on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, this set was stacked with top quality extras that offered up a lot of interesting historical and cultural context. It’s the movies that matter the most though, and thankfully this set also presented classics like The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Haunted Palace, The Abominable Phibes and the notorious Witchfinder General with fantastic audio and video quality. Throw in some great liners notes and slick packaging and it’s easy to see why this set was so well received by fans of horror movies and classic film alike!
10.Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: While the two-part adaptation of arguably the greatest Batman story ever told, if not one of the finest graphic novels ever written worked incredibly well as two separate releases, the Deluxe edition release of "The Dark Knight Returns" offers Batman fans not only a singly edited feature length film presentation, but a complete bevy of bonus features including a director commentary and documentary on writer Frank Miller. To top it off, all bonus features from the two previous releases are included and the A/V remains top notch, making this a must buy for far more than just your average Batman fan.