Top Twenty Releases of 2007
2007 has been another great year for DVDs. Even with the format war going strong and many of the A-list catalog titles having been released over the past decade, the studios have been able to maintain a steady flow of quality discs. There were so many impressive DVDs that it was hard to whittle the releases of 2007 down to just the ten top discs. For that reason the review staff at DVDTalk decided to expand their list to the Top 20 DVDs of 2007. After much thought, discussion, hand-wrangling and soul-searching, this is the result. Are there some great discs from last year that didn't make the list? Definitely. Will everyone agree with every selection? Probably not. While there may be some discussion about the titles chosen and those left off, all of the entry are top-notch movies and TV shows that deserve a little extra time in the spotlight. Without further ado, here is the list:
DVDTalk's Top Twenty Releases of 2007
1: Ace in the Hole: Criterion Collection: Billy Wilder's cynical, noirish tale of a big-city newspaper reporter (Kirk Douglas) manipulating the news for a small-town rag has been a sort of holy grail for film fans for decades now. Lambasted on its release in 1951, it's been out of circulation almost completely since, never released on home video and only rarely showing up on cable TV. So, it's no surprise that when this lost classic finally got a proper re-release, it would end up on the Criterion label and receive an awesome two-disc collection to reward us all for being patient. With a package designed to mimic a newspaper and packed with illuminating extras, Ace in the Hole is the DVD that got the most of us excited around these parts. Snappy dialogue, excellent performances, and a compelling plot that was ahead of its time and still socially relevant today, the movie more than lives up to its mythical reputation. Read both David Walker and Glenn Erickson's reviews.
2: Seinfeld - The Complete Series: Seinfeld changed the television landscape with its daring scripts and fresh approach to the sitcom format. For the past several years, it's also been one of the top-of-the-line examples of the best way to put television shows on DVD. Now, all nine seasons can be bought in one handsomely designed package, complete with a bonus hardcover episode guide and a special disc bringing the principle show creators back together for the first time in ten years. This is the best way to watch this groundbreaking show, complete and in order.
3: Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition: "Who killed Laura Palmer?" was the question on everyone's lips in 1990. Now, thanks to Paramount, you can find the answer out for yourself with Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition. David Lynch's surreal vision is finally available in a complete set, with both seasons of the show and the long sought after pilot. Each episode is available with the original Log Lady introductions and several new extra features, including the brilliant Twin Peaks sketch from Saturday Night live. Twin Peak's influence on modern television is immense, and all these years later it still presents an engaging mystery to solve and dissect. Cherry pie not included.
4 (tie): Cult Camp Classics - Volumes 1 - 4: In a canny bit of marketing ingenuity, Warner Home Video packaged a dozen lesser library titles into four irresistible volumes, sets that undoubtedly appealed to a wider audience than they might have as stand-alone-only releases. Grouped more or less by genre -- "Historical Epics," "Sci-Fi Thriller," "Women in Peril," and "Terrorized Travelers" -- these sets offered a few long-requested DVDs like Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs, but consisted mostly of bona fide cult favorites like Queen of Outer Space, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, and the Sergio Leone-directed The Colossus of Rhodes, an epic peplum. There were some surprises, too, like Hot Rods to Hell, a surprisingly effective thriller about a family terrorized by bored, overindulged teens. And the rarely seen Zero Hour!, the basis for the early-'80s hit comedy Airplane!, turns out to be practically the same movie with even some of the same dialogue, only played straight and not bad at all! Christopher Frayling and Tom Weaver provide fun and informative commentaries; only the condescending track on The Giant Behemoth rains on this parade.
4 (tie): The Films of Jodorowsky: Alejandro Jodorowsky is a major figure for fans of underground cinema. In a turn of events that befitted the strangest director working today (David Lynch could be Frank Capra compared to him), Jodorowsky's films languished for years in a legal limbo. Eager enthusiasts were forced to make do with blurry bootlegs, often only on VHS. A few of his films have been available in other countries, but the price of importing was steep, and the content was censored. The only one of his pictures easily available in the U.S. was his first feature, Fando Y Lis. With The Films of Jodorowsky we finally get high quality editions of not just Fando Y Lis, but also the director's breakout picture, El Topo, its confounding follow-up, The Holy Mountain, and an early short entitled La Cravate. Each film comes with a director's commentary that is worth the purchase price alone (not that they provide any kind of definitive answers to the questions raised in each), and a full complement of extras round out the set. These movies aren't for everyone, but for those ready to head off the beaten track, you can't get much better than this.
6: Knocked Up - Extended and Unrated: Between Walk Hard, Superbad, and this massive mainstream hit, Judd Apatow and the gang are having quite a year. Less farcical and more family-oriented than the other comic gems he produced, the amazing chemistry between Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl gives this free for all frat boy look at fertility its heart and soul. The DVD version of Knocked Up - offered "Extended and Unrated" - expands on the theatrical experience without losing what made the movie great in the first place. Of special note are the 'mock' documentaries dealing with Apatow's alleged directorial woes during production, and the almost impossible chore of casting the role of Ben Stone. And that's just the tip of the added content iceberg.
7: 2001: A Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick's seminal science fiction masterpiece, considered by many to be the greatest film ever made, is finally given the treatment it deserves in this excellent two-disc special edition. A brand new transfer brings to life the vivid detail inherent to the picture, and showcases Kubrick's demanding eye. The special features offer insights from almost every major member of the cast and crew, along with a series of interviews with filmmakers influenced by the experience. The gem in the set is a lengthy 1966 radio interview with Stanley Kubrick that reveals how much more down to earth he was than his reputation suggests. Anyone even mildly interested in movies needs to own this DVD.
8: Heroes: Season One: Heroes: Season One hit the ground running with an amazingly taut pilot, then ceased to ever look back once it caught such a kinetic rhythm. NBC concocted a thrilling, evocative tale here of superheroes within a modern-day, realistic environment; within that, it drew in a strong fan base on a breakneck style of cliffhanger narrative. Enthusiasts of comic books and of outstanding storytelling alike should appreciate the nuanced autonomy within each episode of Heroes' freshman season. It's an enjoyably addictive experience even for those who aren't typically fans of television series' method of story presentation, no matter whether the plot takes its viewer's attention through a few weeks or engulfs their attention over a solid weekend. Universal assembled a vivid sonic and visual presentation with its Heroes: Season One multi-disc set, making the experience of delving into the Petrelli Family, HRG, and the sadistic realm of Sylar all that more immersive and worthy of return visits.
9: Jungle Book: 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition: Disney's animated adaptation of Kipling's The Jungle Book is tied up in many a boy's childhood memory. The freewheeling life of Young Mowgli, seeking adventure in the jungle with his animal friends, the stubborn refusal to grow up--what more could one wish for? A lot of us probably didn't understand that whole ending with the girl--I mean, geez, Mowgli, way to be a sell-out!--but even that hopefully made sense eventually. A top shelf release of The Jungle Book is just what the DVD doctor ordered, and Disney's 40th Anniversary Edition has added another sparkle to their already prestigious Platinum line. The two-disc set has a plethora of extras, both for the younger viewer and the older, including deleted scenes and song demos, as well as a gorgeous gallery tour of the extensive Disney archives. But what will really knock your socks off is the image quality. A brand new 1.75:1 transfer and a 5.1 audio mix means The Jungle Book looks better today than it has since the movie premiered in 1967, allowing several generations to relive their childhoods while a whole new generation is indoctrinated to the cause.
10 (tie): Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series: "Open Channel D!" Attention all swinging secret agent lovers out there! Time-Life has released The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series, an astonishing 41-disc collector's blockbuster that includes every single episode from the groundbreaking 1960s espionage romp, along with a truly stunning array of bonus features and extras that will give you a PhD. in all things U.N.C.L.E.. Agents Napoleon Solo (the suave, urbane Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (the enigmatic David McCallum) battle the evil Thrush, a criminal organization bent on world domination - while dazzling the various beauties who become embroiled in their weekly capers. Pick up The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series today and rediscover this neglected gem from the golden age of network TV!
10 (tie): Viva Pedro - The Almodovar Collection: Though it lacks Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's earliest films and a few from the early-1990s, this fantastic set offers cineastes a great opportunity to explore nearly the entire oeuvre of one of the finest filmmakers of the past 30 years. This set of eight features spans 1986's Matador to 2003's Bad Education, and traces Almodovar's increasingly sophisticated (and refreshingly, liberatingly explicit) explorations of gay, straight, and transgendered sexuality, Catholicism, post-Franco Spainish culture and politics, drug addiction and inter-personal obsessions, fate and life's alternately tragic and funny ironies. The transfers are all outstanding and include the uncut NC-17 versions of three films: Matador, Law of Desire, and Bad Education. Among the highlights: Live Flesh, a film full of noirish plot twists; All About My Mother, a remarkable and moving tribute to mothers and actresses everywhere; Talk to Her, a devastating portrait of straight men triggered by fate into surrogate maternalism; and the autobiographical Bad Education. Extras include two hours of interview-filled featurettes on a ninth disc.
12: Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection: Tex's years at the MGM animation studios gave the director fertile ground to tear apart the envelope of what could be done in short subject cartoons. He debuted the Droopy character in 1943, and it became one of his most enduring creations. The little dog with the downbeat disposition starred in twenty-four theatrical shorts before stepping off the big screen in 1958, eventually to return on the small one. Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection puts all of these cartoons on two discs. Stuffed with great gags, this set showcases some of the best comedy in any medium, and Tex and his crew were at the peak of their powers as far as animation quality. You can't go wrong for the sheer tonnage of laughs you'll get out of this material.
13: Three Stooges Collection: Volume One 1934 - 1936: Arguably the most mismanaged "franchise" among classic library titles, The Three Stooges' popular two-reel shorts had been subjected to overpriced, inanely-themed sets and even worse colorized reissues, but Sony finally got its act together in 2007 with this marvelous set. At long last fans of the iconic comedy team are getting what they've been asking for all along: the shorts presented in chronological order in gloriously restored versions that, despite their familiarity, are so impressively pristine that it's almost like watching them for the first time. Though just eight of the 19 shorts are new to DVD, they represent the team at its hilarious peak and include such classics of short comedy as Punch Drunks, Uncivil Warriors, and Three Little Beers. One question remains, however: Will Sony see this through to the end, through the peaks and valleys of Stoogedom with later "Third Stooges" Shemp Howard and Joe Besser? Only time (and sales figures) will tell.
14: Caligula: Imperial Edition: Granted, Caligula is just awful - an amalgamation of sloppy history, passable period piecing, and unnecessary hardcore pornography. Apparently, that's what you get when author Gore Vidal, director Tinto Brass, and producer/Penthouse Publisher Bob Guccione butt egos with creating a Roman epic. So why is this notorious '70s bomb on our Top Ten List? Because Image delivers one of the year's definitive digital packages. With three discs overflowing with bonuses - commentaries (featuring disgruntled actors Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren), deleted scenes, and interviews exposing some of the scandal involved in the production - this overview out-Criterions the famed film preservationists. It's a boon for fans and neophytes alike.
15: Popeye the Sailor: 1933 - 1938: 2007 was a banner year for classic cartoons on DVD, and this first Popeye the Sailor collection is as good as it gets. Bringing together the mumbling tough guy's first sixty cartoons on four DVDs, 1933-1938, vol. 1 gives animation aficionados the complete black-and-white years, as well as Popeye's initial forays into color. These violent short subjects have an hypnotic, almost Dadaist quality, showcasing the pint-sized pugilist in a variety of scenarios. They also happen to be hilarious. The set itself is wonderfully put together, with a ton of brilliant extras and fantastic art direction on the box and slipcase. In short, Popeye the Sailor: 1993-1938, vol. 1 packs a whole lotta punch.
16: Witchfinder General: A big "Thank You" to James Owsley (formerly of MGM Technical Services) is in order for his dedication in restoring this unique yet highly influential and extremely disturbing historical drama to its original form. A scathing portrait of a lawless society where its citizens passively permit political opportunists to torture whomever they please, the film stars Vincent Price in a superb restrained performance of casual malevolence. As a self-styled Witchfinder General, Price's Matthew Hopkins capitalizes on widespread fear of war and disease, roaming the countryside imprisoning and torturing political undesirables, all in the name of protecting the populace from nebulously defined "evil-doers" (sound familiar?). For years this was available only in an altered U.S. cut called The Conqueror Worm; for legal reasons, previous home video releases also used an awful replacement synthesizer score, but Owsley and his team at MGM have put Withcfinder General back in order, and it stands as a tribute to its young director, Michael Reeves, who died soon after this was made.
17: I Love Lucy: The Complete Series: I Love Lucy is a show that a lot of people take for granted. It has been on the air constantly since it's first run in the early 1950's, both in the US and abroad, and just about everyone has seen the show. Because of its ubiquitous nature, it is easy to forget how good the show actually is. Ground breaking for its time, this program is still able to get laughs from modern audiences over 50 years after it was first created. Now Paramount has released the entire show, all six seasons of I Love Lucy, and the 13 episodes of the follow up series, The Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz Show all in a very attractive heart shaped box. With copious extras including the I Love Lucy movie available only in this set, this wonderful collection is easy to recommend.
18 (tie): Film Noir Classic Collection 4: Though Warner's massive well of classic movies starring Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Busby Berkeley and Fred Astaire is starting to run dry - with nearly all their A-list titles now out on DVD - there seems no end to the library of captivating film noir. After releasing such familiar genre stalwarts as Out of the Past, The Set-Up, and On Dangerous Ground, what was left? Lots, apparently. This set of ten films on five discs is full of surprises, from the hypnotic Where Danger Lives, the terrific police procedural Mystery Street, and near-perfect gritty L.A. "B" Crime Wave, this is one outstanding collection. For many, the highlight undoubtedly will be Poverty Row quickie Decoy, a wild ride mixing over-the-top noir with sci-fi elements, and featuring the baddest femme fatale in all of noir. The light-hearted south of the border noir The Big Steal is the only disappointment, but even that includes a fascinating back story told by audio commentator Rick Jewell. The other commentaries and featurettes are a mixed bag, but it's heartening to see such good transfers from such a variety of studios (Monogram, Warner Bros., RKO, MGM). A must.
18 (tie): Pan's Labyrinth: Two-Disc Special Edition: Movies are a visual medium, but a truly memorable fantasy film needs more than pretty sights and a convincing atmosphere to make a lasting impression. That's why Guillermo Del Toro's most recent film, Pan's Labyrinth, is such a satisfying effort. Seamlessly blending fantasy and horror, this tale of a young girl trapped in war-torn Spain is almost disarming in its simplicity---but subtle layers lurk underneath for those who enjoy digging. The skillful mix of CGI, practical effects, fantastic landscapes, imaginative beasts and striking colors creates quite a feast for the eyes, yet the brutal violence ensures that this fairy tale isn't for younger audiences. New Line's dense two-disc package blesses the film with a strong technical presentation, supported firmly by an assortment of quality extras.
20 (tie): My So-Called Life: The Complete Series (Shout Factory): As one of the 1990s' best-loved cult classics, Winnie Holzman's My So-Called Life left quite a legacy during just one season. Multi-layered characters, sharp editing, passionate performances and spirited storylines helped to make this tale of high school and family life a critical darling, though dwindling ratings managed to cut its life short. Featuring breakout performances by up-and-comers Claire Danes and Jared Leto, My So-Called Life is anything but an early career curiosity: it's an authentic and honest reminder of how families and friends can make it through troubled times. Fans who couldn't afford BMG's long out-of-print boxed set will find Shout Factory's six-disc collection worth every penny: boasting a mildly-improved technical presentation, strong bonus features and great packaging, it's one of the best TV-on-DVD release to date.
20 (tie): Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film 1900-1934: This set features 48 movies that deal with life in America. It's a great collection filled with many rarities, from the first gangster movie and King Vidor's earliest surviving film to Paramount's and Cecil B. DeMille's last silent pictures. There are movies directed by D. W. Griffith, William Desmond Taylor, and Lois Weber as well as pictures featuring Mary Pickford and Richard Dix. There are newsreels, cartoons, features, and shorts, all of which deal in some way with some of the social problems in America at the time. From the women's suffragette movement to the plight of orphans and the problems of loan sharks in big cities, these films offer a look back into the past when America was a very different place.
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