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The Top Ten Overlooked DVDs of 2003
by John Sinnott

Eschewing the big DVD releases of the past year, I've made a list of my favorite DVDs that people may have overlooked for one reason or another.   To make it on the list, it had to be a DVD I really enjoyed that I had not seen a lot of discussion about.  Very subjective I know, but these lists always are, aren't they?   I tried to include a wide variety of genres, and passed over some equally good DVDs for the sake of breadth.  (I could have easily added three or four more silent movies.)  Here they are, in alphabetical order, my Top Ten DVDs you might have missed last year:

Adventures of Captain Marvel
This was an easy choice.  I've always been a fan of movie serials, and The Adventures of Captain Marvel is arguably the best serial that every came out of the Hollywood studios.  Veteran serial directors William Whitney and John English were the prefect choice to bring this comic book superhero to the silver screen.  They were able make take what could have turned into camp comedy and make a dramatic and exciting show.  The flying effects, using carefully set up camera angles and wires, were the best that had appeared in any movie up to that time, and wouldn't be surpassed for decades.  This Artisan disc looks good for a sixty year old B movie, and is very reasonably priced.   Well worth checking out.

This psychological thriller TV show from the BBC is an outstanding series.  Fitz is a psychologist who workes wilth the London police.  He is absolutely brilliant at reading a person's personality and motivations.  He also may be less sane than the serial killers that he helps the police catch.  Excellent acting, a wonderful script and engaging characters.  The plots are well thought out, with tight plotting and surprising twists.  A must buy for anyone who likes well crafted tales.

Flight of the Phoenix
This has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it on TV in the early 70's.  A great disaster movie that puts most of the genre to shame.  A cargo airliner is blown off course and goes down in the middle of the Sahara.  Knowing that rescue is impossible, and having a small supply of food and water, an engineer aboard comes up with an insane plan to build a plane out of the mangled parts of the wrecked one.  The well written story packs a lot of suspense and realistically portrays how people react under extreme stress.  Jimmy Stewart leads an impeccable cast.  The beautiful cinematography makes the movie.

Gamera I, II, and III
What top ten list would be complete without a giant monster move?  This trio of Gamera movies, sold separately, are the 1990's updates of the classic 60's monster.  The effects are better, but the stories are the same.  A Giant flying turtle fights evil monsters bent on destroying Japan.  Great fun!

The General/ Steamboat Bill Jr.
No one who enjoys finely crafted comedies should miss these two classic Buster Keaton movies on one disc.  Keaton was that rare individual who had an instinctive grasp of comedy and the technical knowledge to make his funny movies into art.  Left to his own devices by the producer, Keaton pulled out all the stops on The General and created one of the best comedies ever made.  This story of a train engineer whose train is stolen by enemy solders during the civil was his masterpiece and still as funny today was it was eighty years ago.

Steamboat Bill Jr. is another excellent movie about a rough and tough steamboat captain who is dismayed to find that his son (Buster Keaton,) has turned into a fop.  The movie contains Keaton's most famous, and probably most dangerous, stunt. The facade of a two story house falls on him, but Keaton is spared by an open window on the second story.  Great gags and slapstick make this, Keaton's last independent film, a wonderful complement to The General.

The Kids are Alright
And next on the list is this movie that spent more time in my player last year than any other DVD.  An amazing film, The Kids are Alright, a film by über-fan Jeff Stien, captures all the power and exhilaration of The Who.  Consisting of their earliest television appearances, interviews, and performances made especially for the film, the humor, energy, and excitement of the group comes shining through.  The restoration makes this film look better than the first time I saw it during it's theatrical release.   A great DVD to annoy your neighbors with.

Lone Wolf and Cub, Sword of Vengeance
The first in a series of movie adaptations of  the Japanese comic, Lone Wolf and Cub is a great samurai movie.  Having fallen from grace through an act of treachery, Ogami Itto, once the Shogun's executioner, is now a masterless samurai.  Selling his services as an assassin, Ogami travels with his infant son, while planning vengeance against the people who disgraced him and killed his wife.  The gorgeous cinematography, interesting narrative and almost non-stop action earned this film a place on the list.

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
This documentary shows how one man's hubris can cause him to be successful in his profession and cause his undoing.  The movie starts out profiling the slightly bizarre, self trained execution consultant, Fred Leuchter.  It seems like a normal biography until about half way through, when it takes an unforeseen twist, and Fred attains a degree of fame.

The Office 1st season
A British TV series about the worst boss in the world.  Not because he's mean or unreasonable, but because he is so incredibly irritating.  Filmed in the style of a reality TV program, this show manages to be very funny while not feeling like a sitcom.

War & Peace
Clocking in at over seven hours, this movie is the most accurate portrayal of Tolstoy's masterpiece ever filmed.  Made with the might of the Soviet Union behind the production, this lavish film rivals the epics of the silent era for extravagance.  Having over 120,000 extras, including full Russian and French armies, and 35,000 costumes, this film was reputed to cost $100 million over the seven years it took to make.  The results are spectacular.

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