Around this time every year the DVDTalk Review Panel starts to look back and discuss which releases over the past 12 months were the best. Naturally there's a lot of disagreement, but we vote on it and come up with a list of 20 titles that we dub the best of the year. This time we've come up with an eclectic group: Everything from a recent big budget Hollywood blockbuster that was released last summer to a French silent film that was first projected 110 year ago. There's a 60's soap opera, some Pixar flicks, a couple of Spielberg films, and some art films that Criterion and Kino released. Looking back, it was a great year for home video enthusiasts, no matter what genre is your passion. Take a look at what the DVDTalk Review Panel has named as the Top 20 releases of 2012.
1. Jaws: Released more than once on DVD, Jaws 2012 arrival on Blu-Ray marked the definitive edition of Steven Spielberg's breakout film. If the reference quality transfer and audio weren't enough, the bonus features of Laurent Bourzerau's uncut "The Making of Jaws" and the long awaited consumer release of "The Shark Is Still Working" ensure that any question one could have about the legendary tale of oceanic horror is answered.
2. Star Trek: The Next Generation - Seasons 1 & 2: Star Trek: The Next Generation never looked great on TV or DVD, but CBS has gone to great lengths in making TNG a must-own series in high definition. Each episode has been reassembled frame-by-frame from the original film elements (as opposed to previous versions, which were edited on videotape) and the soundtrack has been tastefully remixed as well. The resulting A/V overhaul has breathed new life into this influential, highly popular sci-fi series…and if that weren’t enough, we’re treated to a fine assortment of new and vintage bonus features. Set your wallets to “buy”.
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
At this point, a David Fincher film hitting home video without an impressive package of content is as shocking as one of his films' memorable climaxes. From the moment you open the stark packaging of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and see that tone-appropriate faux DVD-R, you know you're in for something special, and the pile of bonus material, from the in-depth master class of a commentary to the wealth of featurettes exploring nearly every aspect of the film, delivers on that promise. That the film is so beautifully dark and brilliantly shot is almost icing on the cake, rather than the main reason for showing up.
4. Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series: This day time soap opera which ran from 1966-1971 is oddly addictive, with a gothic atmosphere that works better than it should and some intriguing mysteries the like of which daytime television had never seen before and hasn't since. MPI really went all out on this release, crafting an eye-catching coffin-shaped case to hold the series and including some very nice extras inside. The set contains an astounding 1,225 episodes that span 131 discs (including several DVDs devoted to extras). If that's not enough, the price is incredibly reasonable. A wonderful engaging show this complete collection is easily one of the most impressive releases of 2012.
5. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Anniversary Edition: E.T. is a simple story loaded with heart, and everything about Universal's Blu-Ray should excite and entertain fans of classic family entertainment. The film itself has held up quite well during the last 30 years, from the groundbreaking special effects to John Williams' memorable score. Universal's Anniversary Edition serves up a pitch-perfect technical presentation and a wealth of terrific supplements from the past three decades. It's a lovingly crafted and well-rounded Blu-Ray release in all departments, and one that any film lover should be proud to have in their collection.
6. A Trip to the Moon: Restored: Georges Melies' legendary 1902 silent short is a whimsical (and prescient) fantasy, a storybook come to life whose delightfulness never ages. This year, Flicker Alley brought us the definitive home-video version via this deluxe Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, which includes the meticulous recent high-definition restoration of the film with its all-important, long-missing hand-tinted color fully intact; a new, unexpectedly apt score by French future-retro pop act Air; and a jackpot of extras including a handful of other Melies works and a documentary, The Extraordinary Voyage, that goes behind the scenes of the years-long restoration process. Whether you're jonesin' for the childlike wonder the film itself never fails to offer, or you're looking to explore cinema history and dig into the roots of special-effects/sci-fi/fantasy/surrealist film, this is one of the most essential releases of the year, and not to be missed.
7. Rashomon: Akira Kurosawa created an enduring and pertinent comment on perspective with Rashomon: a story about a murder, a handful of people involved with the incident, and the different recounts of what happened based on personal agendas and moral codes. On the surface, it appears to be a clear-cut critique on humanity's desire to save its own hide, where lies and half-lies lead to an obscured telling of a samurai's death at the hands of a ramshackle bandit. The film, however, cuts deeper than that, focusing on the very nature of universal truth that often disappears among bias and interpretation, an inherently human trait that evolves and persists as time passes. Who or what do we trust when we can't see something happen for ourselves -- and is that, by nature, an unanswerable question? The recent restoration by the Academy Film Archive arrives on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, preserving Kurosawa's significant glimpse at human nature in celebratory fashion.
8. Lawrence of Arabia: Ask any film fanatic what their most anticipated high-def release was a year ago, and it'd be a safe bet Lawrence of Arabia would be their answer. David Lean's beautifully shot desert epic finally arrives on Blu-Ray for the film's 50th anniversary in a truly loaded box-set (a single, disc only release is also available) that includes an 88-page book on the film, a 70mm film frame and two exclusive bonus discs (one is the film's soundtrack). As expected, 1080p does "Lawrence of Arabia" the justice it deserves visually and the quality of the film itself makes it a must own release for any film fan.
9. The Avengers: Director Joss Whedon juggles a several major - and beloved - superheroes quite well in The Avengers, and the film offers a mostly enjoyable mix of action, drama and even a few surprisingly big laughs. The performances are first-rate, as well, although Downey, Jr's Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo's marvelous performance (and Ruffalo in the role is an inspired and fantastic bit of casting) as the Hulk are highlights. One of the biggest films of the year gets a superb DVD release from Disney, with superior video quality that will delight fans. However, as enjoyable as the video quality is, the roof-shaking audio is terrific and also likely to be among first choices for people looking to show off their system. Given the size and success of the film, the release comes up a bit short on the supplemental side, although a commentary from Joss Whedon is highly entertaining and insightful.
10 (tie).The Game:
For years, rumors of a Criterion DVD for The Game floated around, as fans of David Fincher's work waited for that hole to be filled in their collection, where an older, mediocre disc sat unwanted. Finally, with Blu-Ray taking over for DVD, Criterion made movie fans very happy, bringing the film back in glorious high definition. Fans may not have loved not getting anything new in terms of the extras, but how many people have actually experienced the original laserdisc and its terrific bonus material, including a gloriously edited group commentary and some terrific on-set footage. Underrated by film fans, and rewarding to multiple viewings, it's a modern classic and one heck of a thriller.
10 (tie). Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures: If you have a soft spot for action and adventure films, you're obviously a fan of Indiana Jones and his daring international exploits. From the groundbreaking Raiders of the Lost Ark to the divisive Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this successful franchise has enjoyed enduring popularity for over 30 years. This Blu-Ray boxed set will satisfy fans of the franchise with its near-perfect A/V presentation, sharp packaging and treasure trove of bonus features. Even if you don’t like the underrated Crystal Skull, this entertaining collection of films represents all the fun and entertainment of the old-fashioned serials that spawned them. Seriously, Crystal Skull is better than Temple of Doom.
12 (tie). David Lean Directs Noel Coward: Producing four films in four years, the collaboration between the celebrated playwright and the young editor-turned-director has a better batting average than most long-term cinematic team-ups. And few have as much variety: a light comedy (Blithe Spirit), humanistic war propaganda (In Which We Serve), a generations-spanning family drama (This Happy Breed), and a heartbreaking romance (Brief Encounter). Criterion’s boxed set gathers up the full quartet, along with some enlightening supplemental features, and presents them in a package suitable for the high-def age. More than sixty years later, the Lean and Coward combination still packs an emotional wallop. Expect to laugh and cry in equal measure.
12 (tie). Finding Nemo: Finding Nemo is Pixar’s most popular stand-alone production to date, thanks to top-notch visuals, an accessible story, great voice work, a terrific score and schools of colorful characters. It also turns 10 years old in 2013, but Disney celebrated early with a wonderful Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (also available in 3D) that features a reference quality A/V presentation and a generous amount of old and new supplements. Quite simply, it’s pixel-perfect family entertainment and one of the year’s best high definition releases.
14. The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection: Kino has been doing a great job releasing top-notch silent films on Blu-ray, and with this set they have collected all of the silent features of one of the best comedians of from the early days of film. Including such classics as The General, Sherlock Jr., The Navigator, and Steamboat Bill, Jr., the set also has several discs worth of Keaton shorts. All in all it's a wonderful collection of hilarious films.
15. Lonesome: Criterion's unburying of Paul Fejos's utterly unique 1929 silent-talkie, B&W/color hybrid -- imaginatively tapping the best creative possibilities available in a technologically transitional period for its fantasia of urban loneliness and the sweet salvation of a romantic connection played out in a swooning rush on Coney Island -- is the movie-lover's equivalent of glimpsing Bigfoot: It's long been one of the most-acclaimed but least-available classics, and now we can all see for ourselves how worthy it is of the reputation preceding it. Add in the two additional, only comparatively more minor Fejos features included on the disc, and you easily have yourself one of the best discs of 2012.
16. Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection: This massive box set, which encompasses 14 films including mold-breakers, great works, and other, less imposing but always, always superlatively-crafted highlights from Hitch's storied filmography is, first and foremost, the Blu-ray debut of three flat-out indispensable classics of world cinema: Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, and Vertigo, each as gorgeous and as breathtakingly perfect as ever. But that's far from all. Beloved, famous, and endlessly thrilling favorites such as North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds are here, too, along with unfairly neglected jewels like Marnie and Family Plot, all brought together as an extensive single-package reinforcement of the great filmmaker's inimitable humor, cleverness, and coolly intense, incomparable cinematic intelligence. There was some controversy over the mastering and picture quality of some of the discs, but regardless, one of the most highly anticipated Blu releases of the year turned out to be well worth the wait and one of 2012's most outstanding home-video highlights.
17 (tie). The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series: It's back. Again. This time on Blu-ray. And that dreaded word "upgrade" rears its ugly head. "I'm a consumer. That's what I am - I'm a consumer!" For fans of Rod Serling's superlative, iconic 1959-64 anthology series, home video has been a boon and a bust (to the wallet), with a maddeningly expensive VHS Columbia House version, multiple DVD releases. But this is one upgrade that's really justified. There are lots of new extras - new audio commentaries, isolated music scores, and a heretofore unreleased quasi-pilot, "The Time Element." But what really stands out are the shows themselves. Some of these you’ll know practically shot-for-shot yet you’ll be continuously dazzled by the added high-def clarity. There are lots of new extras - new audio commentaries, isolated music scores, and a heretofore unreleased quasi-pilot, "The Time Element." Ultimately though, it’s the shows themselves that make Twilight Zone so great, especially in terms of the unforgettable teleplays by creator and primary scribe Rod Serling, ably aided by such fantasts as Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, and Earl Hamner, Jr.
17 (tie). Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection : 2012 was a great year for horror fans, and for those who howl in delight for films that ooze atmosphere and drip with chills, there's no question that the release of this set was a dream come true. These films served as the template for horror in cinema throughout the last 80 years, and Universal has gone above and beyond with a restoration that ensures their legacy will carry on for decades to come. Poor contrast, unstable imaging and soundtrack deficiencies have all been corrected, so no matter how familiar you are with all 8 films (or 9 if you include the Spanish version of Dracula), you'll genuinely feel as if you're watching them for the first time. Taking their entertainment value, historical significance and immaculate A/V presentation into consideration, there's not a single reason this set wouldn't belong on any 'best of' list from 2012.
19. Brave: It's a bit of a knee-jerk habit to predict that the next Pixar film will end the studio's incredible winning streak (no matter how you feel about Cars 2, it still made a profit) but Brave certainly seemed like a good possibility to be Pixar's first dud thanks to issues with the director and the risky move of making a young girl the hero. Though you don't have to look hard to find detractors, it's a well-made action movie with plenty of laughs, and it's probably the most gorgeous film Pixar's made, as the beauty of Scotland shines in every frame. The 3D Blu-Ray delivers it beautifully, with plenty of insightful extras exploring essentially everything that went into the film, including what might be the best art gallery on a video disc ever.
20. Les Vampires: In the early 20th century, most serialized entertainment--be it comic books, radio shows, or pulp magazines--was designed to offer fleeting thrills. Cliffhangers were meant to be disposable, aiming for little more than luring you back for the next installment. So, too, was French filmmaker Louis Feuillade’s 1915/16 crime/horror mash-up, Les Vampires, intended to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Little did Feuillade know that for the next century, he would continue to inspire and influence filmmakers to come, from the Nouvelle Vague to contemporary auteurs as disparate as Steven Spielberg and Olivier Assayas, just to name a few. Split into ten parts, this silent epic is just as fun as ever, and the herculean restoration efforts put forth by all the people behind this disc is equal in magic and illusion to the tricks of the Vampires themselves.