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The Top Discs of 2010
Welcome to DVDTalk's Top Releases of 2010.

Looking back on it, 2010 was a pretty good year for movies, both theatrically and on home video. From big budget Hollywood flicks to foreign films and classic movies the past year saw some great releases. The DVD Talk review panel got together to pick the best of the best, and after two rounds of voting and much gnashing of teeth, this is the result. There are some surprising choices, and some truly great releases didn't quite make it, but that's what happens when you get a group of film geeks together. In any case, all of the entries are top-notch movies and TV shows that deserve a little extra time in the spotlight. Be sure to see if your favorite release made the list.


Blu-ray:

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Poke around any movie-centric message board or blog, and chances are you'll immediately plow into a rant about how theaters are being flooded with remakes and double-digit IQ sequels -- that no one's taking any chances or doing anything original. If you're part of that group, then...well, you really shouldn't have passed up Scott Pilgrim vs. the World back when it was making the rounds in theaters. At least now you have a chance to catch up on Blu-ray. Edgar Wright's adaptation of the universally loved graphic novels is a breathlessly infectious adrenaline rush. Picture the manga rack at Barnes and Noble guzzling down a bag of Pixy Stix and then plunking a couple of quarters into a Double Dragon arcade game, and you're somewhere in the ballpark. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World easily ranks among the most visually inventive and tightly constructed films of the year. It's howlingly funny and is so densely packed with gags that you'll still be picking out stuff you missed your eighth or ninth time through. Its hyperkinetic battle sequences are more imaginative and more skillfully choreographed than pretty much every traditional action flick that's come down the pike in ages. The sprawling ensemble is straight across the board brilliant, and...c'mon, I should've had you at "Edgar Wright". It's a pretty spectacular showcase for what Blu-ray can belt out too with reference quality video and audio, not to mention 17 hours-plus of extras. Buy and stuff.

2. Alien Anthology: Yeah, I've bought the Alien movies more times than I care to remember, too, but you have to believe me, this is the best they have ever been. The high-def restoration exceeds anything you've seen before, and the newly complete documentary on Alien 3 is worth buying all on its own. The sci-fi juggernaut continues to set the standard for technology: this set is exactly what you bought a Blu-Ray player for.

3. The Complete Metropolis: Expanded by 25 minutes with footage found in a film archive in Argentina by Paula Félix-Didier and Fernando Peña of the Museo del Cine, this restoration is very close to the original premiere version of Fritz Lang's masterpiece. The added footage fleshes out the story and makes the narrative easier to follow. An important piece of cinematic history, this complete version looks great on Blu-ray. A must-own release.

4. Moon: A rare sci-fi flick with a brain and a heart, Moon works as the best sci-fi does--by using technology and special effects and cool sets to compliment a genuine, thought-provoking, human narrative. While some of it is clearly inspired by other material, director Duncan Jones spins this yarn into something unique and fresh and new and exhilarating. You give yourself over to it as it hurls intriguingly from one scene to the next, occasionally recondite but never detached. It's a terrific picture, and Sony's Blu-ray presentation is top-shelf.

5. (tie) America Lost and Found: The BBS Story: This eclectic collection of seven films produced by Bob Rafelson and company in the late-1960s/early-1970s is a comprehensive snapshot of how the changing face of American cinema mirrored the social change that was then sweeping the country. The set has a few genuine classics (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show), a couple of oddities (the Monkees movie, Jack Nicholson's directorial debut), and one that just may be your new favorite (King of Marvin Gardens). Plus, amazing new video quality and a veritable bounty of intriguing supplemental materials. Let these guys blow your mind.

5. (tie) Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition: The definition of definitive, the "Full Disclosure Edition" of "Apocalypse Now" has everything a fan could want. Both the original theatrical cut and the arguably less effective Redux edition are present, and unlike the previous DVD release, both are in their original aspect ratios. The A/V presentation is stunning for a catalog release, but the bonus features are where things truly shine.
Extended interviews with main star Martin Sheen and screenwriter, John Milius are just the tip of the iceberg. Additional segments are included, as well as a full commentary by Coppola on the film. The real treasure of the set is the HD version of the famed making-of documentary, "Hearts of Darkness" complete with a feature-length commentary by Coppola. A flawless package.

7. Grindhouse Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's B-movie double feature was a rip-roaring three-hour ride when it was in movie theaters...for about a week. After biding their time with individual director's cuts on both DVD and Blu-Ray, The Weinstein Company has finally offered up the original theatrical presentation (complete with fake trailers) in a 2-disc Blu-Ray set that boasts a hefty slate of all-new extras. A lossy audio presentation is a small blemish on the set, but ever-patient fans are likely to forget all about it by the time they're pressing play.

8. Fantasia / Fantasia 2000: What first started as a way to reinvigorate the Mickey Mouse character with the short "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" soon turned into Walt Disney's concoction of a road-show production, becoming the visual and aural experience known as Fantasia. He and Leo Stokowski cooked up a new sound design (Fantasound) and a reverence to classical music to backdrop Disney's animation style, and the product -- including bits of "The Nutcracker Suite", "The Rite of Spring", and a combo of "Night on Bald Mountain" and "Ave Maria" in the same piece -- becomes what's considered to be one of the first real projections of the "cartoon" as an actual exertion of artistic beauty. Disney's Blu-ray presentation, which also includes Fantasia 2000 (though that's almost considered a "supplement" to the main attraction) and the Disney-Dali collaboration Destino in high-definition, taps into the company prowess in polishing the hand-drawn animation; it looks almost brand-new with its vivid colors and shapely lines, while sounding equally as spectacular and containing a hearty amount of special features that include a terrific new commentary with the original film. Absolutely delightful, though this author's bias is, to say the least, palpable (it serves as the backbone to his appreciation for both animation and classical music, period).

9. Steamboat Bill, Jr: The last film that Buster Keaton made as an independent filmmaker, Steamboat Bill Jr. has been released in high definition on a lovely Blu-ray disc from Kino. The story of a steamboat captain and his effete son is a simple tale that builds to a riotous conclusion and includes a hilarious, and dangerous, stunt that has become a classic. The Kino disc looks and sounds great, and will be a wonderful addition to any film library.

10. (tie)Avatar (Extended Blu-Ray Collector's Edition): The highest grossing film of all-time, "Avatar" generally entertained the masses, while leaving critics split. As promised by James Cameron, "Avatar" arrived twice this year. Once earlier in the spring as a barebones, Blu-Ray/DVD combo. The A/V was stunning, but the film remained the original theatrical release. Now, the ultimate experience has arrived in the form of a truly loaded, three-disc mega set.
The highlights here are the two extended versions of the movie which do flesh out a few character quibbles. Even for non-fans, the behind-the-scenes footage is tremendously interesting, highlighting Cameron's tremendous effort in bringing a seemingly impossible film to fruition. The capper on the set is the gorgeous A/V presentation which has not been compromised from the initial release, despite the longer runtime. A must own for "Avatar" fans and film nuts alike.

10. (tie) Inception: "Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime". That's the crux to Inception explored by Christopher Nolan, one of modern cinema's more adept orchestrators of edgy, mind-challenging thrillers. He'd had the idea baking in his mind for ten years, where he uses the space in people's dreams as a location that's malleable, sometimes unstable, and ultimately able to be broken into in search of secrets. That's the backbone to Cobb's (Leo DiCaprio) line of work, a thief of ideas who employs a slate of skilled rogues and architects to enact heists. It's when an energy tycoon (Ken Watanabe) provokes him to perform inception, the risky planting of an idea, that the film finds its backbone. Its structure echoes to standard heists films, but the way that Nolan combines the ideas of manipulating dream-space, harebrained physics, and implanting a life-changing idea that the film really earns its accolades as a brilliantly-written piece of sci-fi. And, though some disagree, Inception also contains an overlooked, potent emotional core built around the presence of Cobb's wife lingering in his conscious -- and his desire to return home to his children. Combine that with a clever red herring of an ambiguous ending, and this little maze of contemplation transforms into one of '10's best pictures. WB's presentation delivers near-reference audiovisual merits, along with a terrific (though low-in-number) bundle of special features that include a high-definition soundtrack, 45-minutes of excellent behind-the-scenes bursts, and an intriguing dream doc.

DVD:

1. Che: Criterion Steven Soderbergh's four-and-a-half-hour, two-part epic is an invigorating, thoughtful, serious look at a complex historical figure. The performances, particularly by del Toro, are remarkable. Under-appreciated during its theatrical run, Che will very likely grow in stature over time. Its deep engagement with the past represents an intellectual commitment filmmakers rarely make, and its seamless technique is nothing short of masterly. Taken together with an outstanding package of extras via The Criterion Collection, Che merits a place in every film enthusiast's library.

2. Red Riding Trilogy: This series of films, based on crime novels by David Peace, was originally produced for the BBC, but the size and scope show just how well the once small screen now rivals the big screen. Covering nearly a decade, Red Riding follows a string of abductions and murders that haunt a rundown suburb in Northern England, sifting through the embedded corruption and questioning the darkness that prompts men to evil deeds. With a revolving cast and a number of recurring characters, each film stands apart, but taken together, create one compelling story. (Note: Also available on Blu-Ray, but the packaging takes better advantage of the technology in this format.)

3. Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy: The Italian director Robert Rossellini revolutionized filmmaking more than once, but this boxed set represents the first sea change. Shot in the Italian ruins at the tail-end of World War II, these pioneering Neorealist narratives reveal the complex politics and the struggles of the citizens who fought against fascists and Nazis alike. These movies have never looked better, and the underlying drama remains powerful even more than half a century later.

4. (tie) 3 Silent Classics By Josef Von Sternberg: In one of the best years yet for silent films on DVD, this Criterion set stands tall as one of the best of the best. Collecting a trio of the legendary director's earliest efforts, the set proves what a vital medium early cinema was. These movies are all visually bold and pack a narrative potency that put most modern movies, with all of their technological conveniences, to shame.

4. (tie) Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965: Much more than a superb documentary - informative and fascinating, tense and exciting, shocking, tragic, and finally deeply moving - it's the kind of DVD that truly belongs in every home: it's that monumental. Despite its familiar subject matter - segregated busing and schools, the murder of black and white activists in the Deep South, and the climatic Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery - it digs deep to reveal complex politicking and divided loyalties, ultimately focusing on the incredible bravery of the movement's foot soldiers rather than leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Long unavailable, money was raised to reacquire expired rights and restore this six-hour, six-part series.

6. Community: The Complete First Season On the outside, Community may look like a sitcom, but on the inside, it's a whip-smart, meta spin on TV and cinema, chopped up into brilliant, 30-minute slices crammed with everything from amazing one-liners to elaborate background gags. Thanks to a stellar cast that includes The Soup host Joel McHale, SNL vet Chevy Chase, and the lovely Alison Brie, this DVD set collects every essential episode of the increasingly brilliant first season plus a full slate of extras, as well as a comic book called Kickpuncher. So good, it will wrinkle your brain.

7. The Wolf Man (1941) Universal Legacy Series Special Edition: Timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Universal's The Wolf Man remake, this 2-disc set in a nice-looking clamshell case proves to be the definitive home video release of this seminal 1940's horror film. Jack Pierce's makeup artistry and moodily atmospheric fog-shrouded sets are augmented by a fantastic cast including Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi, and, of course, Lon Chaney Jr. in his signature role. Documentaries on Lon Chaney Jr. and Jack Pierce as well as the Kenneth Branagh-narrated Universal Horror highlight the extras.

8. Thriller: The Complete Series: Genially hosted by Boris Karloff, Thriller has acquired an almost legendary status through the years. Stephen King called it "the best horror series ever put on TV," for instance. Does it still hold up? Yes - the best episodes are uniquely scary, unsettling, and disquieting, while others are merely infused with wonderfully evocative Gothic atmosphere. But that's only part of the story. Thriller is remembered only as a horror anthology, which isn't the case at all. Initially patterned after Alfred Hitchcock Presents, it was as much a mystery-suspense/crime series. Those quick to dismiss the crime shows in favor of the more lurid horror episodes do it a disservice, because some of these are in the same league as the horror shows. Along with all 67 hour-long episodes on 14 discs you get more than 50 hours of special features.

9. The Ultimate Golbergs: A simply wonderful six-disc set featuring all 71 extant (and now restored) episodes of acclaimed but little-seen early (1949-56) television series, shows whose warm humor and humanist stories easily overcome the new medium's technical limitations. The Goldbergs are a Jewish family living in a large Bronx apartment building, with sunny matriarch Molly, portrayed by Gertrude Berg (also the show's creator-producer-star as well as its prolific writer), at its intimate center.

10. ESPN 30 for 30 Gift Set Collection, Volume 1: The first half of ESPN Films' tremendous series of documentaries is a perfect gift for both sports fans and cinephiles; the films, from the likes of Albert Maysles, Steve James, Barry Levinson, Brett Morgen, and Ice Cube, maintain a consistently (and astonishingly) high quality, examining sports stories of the ESPN era with style, precision, personality, and pathos. 30 for 30was an ambitious project, and could have gone wrong in countless ways. But it didn't. These films are brilliant--well-made, intelligent, entertaining, suspenseful--and stimulating even for those of us who'd never watched ESPN before they aired. It's a dazzling set. Bring on volume two.

Honorable Mention:

The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series Droll, sophisticated, intelligent, and edgy, The Larry Sanders Show remains one of television's most entertaining examples of artists ruthlessly biting the hand that feeds them, with scathing satire written from the inside out. But it is also a classically constructed workplace comedy, in the best tradition of The Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Office (one of the many later series that clearly drew upon it for inspiration), filled with memorable characters, ingenious situations, and endlessly quotable dialogue. There were plenty of great television comedies in the 1990s. This was the best.

Lost: The Complete Series Collection/ Lost: The Complete Sixth and Final Season Blu-ray: It featured one of the most divisive endings in television history. Yet for every fan disappointed by the series resolution there was someone who felt an immense impact had been made on their lives. Spiritually and emotionally groundbreaking for a prime-time network show, this sci-fi drama brought genre fans something that was at its core very human. It was flawed (answers to mysteries were promised with some never becoming resolved), but it also grasped for greatness more than most shows would ever even dream of. Series show-runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof had a drive to ignite viewer's imaginations and to tell a story with a genuine beginning, middle, and end with characters we cared about and who would transform as people through finding their own redemption's in the end. The final season brought that element full circle and will be remembered and debated for decades to come as an essential work in television history.

The series arrived in a mammoth Complete Series Blu-ray set this year and also with an individual Season 6 release. With a plethora of entertaining bonus features and a near perfect A/V presentation either release would make a necessary addition to any Lost fan's collection. As a cherry on top, the final season set features an epilogue entitled 'The New Man in Charge' which provides answers to fan favorite mysteries and brings resolution to a beloved character missing from the series finale.

Back to the Future - 25th Anniversary Trilogy (Blu-ray): Many fans might remember the days of watching these favorites on degrading VHS tapes in full frame, or on the trilogy box-set that arrived on DVD with incorrectly framed transfers for the two sequels. Fans can finally let out a sigh of relief with one of the most beloved trilogies of all time now available with faithful transfers and impressive audio on Blu-ray. The Delorean has never looked or sounded better, and with an extensive array of bonus features fans can be kept busy for hours. It's that time capsule dream you always wished for but never quite expected to arrive until sometime in the distant future.



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