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DVD Talk's Top Twenty DVDs of 2003
For our annual selection of the top DVDs of 2003, DVD Talk's vaunted staff of disc reviewers decided to do something different this year. Whereas in years past our reviewers posted separate lists all their own, inevitably duplicating the big titles and providing merely an okay look at the year in DVD, this year the reviewers have thrown their individual lists together and tallied up a "meta-DVD Talk" Top 20 list of the year's best offerings. More than two dozen reviewers slammed their heads together to produce the list that follows, a list that represents a cornucopia of unique perspectives and genre slants.

The in-fighting was fierce, and we came close to losing a few of our ranks to mental injury in the midst of heated debate. At one point, we had a five-way tie that was broken only by brainstorming through the night and into the morning. In the end, the list was born: twenty DVDs and DVD sets that represent the pinnacle of our chosen obsession in 2003. In addition to this 'Master' top twenty list, many of the members of the DVD Talk Review staff put together special topic-oriented top ten lists, including: Best Documentaries, Top Sports DVDs and Top Animation DVDs. See the complete list of all DVD Talk's Top DVDs of 2003 at the bottom of this page!

Now, without further ado, let's start at the top, in a place called Middle Earth…

1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Extended Edition
What else can you say about New Line's Lord of the Rings Extended Editions that hasn't been said already. Last year's Fellowship of the Ring set a new standard for DVD presentation, and this year's The Two Towers maintains that high standard and snags the top spot in our voting. Although fans might argue over which third of the trilogy reigns supreme, there's no doubt that this middle section of a sweeping epic is a rare masterpiece, one that scores high with critics and fans alike. Sagas like Lord of the Rings don't come around very often, and neither do DVDs like this. This set is truly a labor of love from everyone involved. You'll find top-notch audio and video quality and a wealth of supplemental materials on this four-disc set, all at a reasonable price. This is one release (along with the Extended Edition of Fellowship of the Ring and next year's inevitable Return of the King: Extended Edition) that you really can't afford to miss! (Blurb by Randy Miller III. Read the review by Holly Ordway.)

2. The Alien Quadrilogy
Nipping on the heels of Peter Jackson's deserving epic is the Alien Quadrilogy set, a DVD behemoth that will astound and amaze even the most demanding Alien fan. This meticulously produced set drops to the second spot only because the third and fourth films in the saga can't hope to live up to the effectiveness of the first two, but this nine-disc collection is a must-own in many respects. Prepare yourself for sparkling new video transfers audio mixes, especially in the case of Alien, which will—quite frankly—blow you away. Get ready for new footage in all four films, including a new Special Edition cut of Alien3 that vastly improves the troublesome film. Watch Aliens in its original Theatrical Release form for the first time on DVD. Immerse yourself in an almost incomprehensibly vast collection of behind-the-scene footage, uncommonly candid interview segments with a huge variety of participants, on-set antics and camaraderie, special-effects tests and failures, amusing outtakes, peeks behind the intricate sets, in-depth looks at memorable scenes, and an awe-inspiring archive of original art, conceptual designs, storyboards, production photographs, and candid shots. The Alien Quadrilogy boasts an honesty and candidness in its presentation that we don't often see on DVDs. (Blurb and review by Jason Bovberg.)

3. The Adventures of Indiana Jones
Remember those movies you absolutely loved as a kid? Those great adventures with lots of thrills and always something cool happening? In short, remember how much you loved Indiana Jones? You might be wondering if these films really stand the test of time. The answer is a resounding "Yes!" In fact, the Indiana Jones films shine even more brightly now: In a nutshell, these are great movies. Raiders of the Lost Ark is every bit as exciting and fun as it was when it debuted in 1981 (and who can forget that opening sequence in the temple!). Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though generally considered the weakest of the three Indy films, holds up quite well once it gets moving. And the outstanding Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade shows that sometimes a franchise gets even better as it ages. Indiana Jones remains the high-water mark for fun action and adventure, and finally the trilogy is on DVD in a great boxed set. (Blurb by Holly Ordway. Read the review by Aaron Beierle.)

4. Finding Nemo: 2-Disc Collector's Edition
Pixar continues its amazing dominance in the realm of CG animation with Finding Nemo, one of its very finest concoctions. It's no accident that this is the highest-grossing animated film in history: It's a spectacular and emotionally involving tale about a father and son, two tiny fishes separated in the middle of a vast ocean. But it's not just the heart-warming story and imaginatively voiced characters that will win you over. The gorgeously colorful and rich animation will astound your eyes, and the creative surround track will amaze your ears. Although this set's supplements tend to target the kids, it also provides some interesting extras for the animation enthusiast. (Blurb by Jason Bovberg. Read the review by John Sinnott.)

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
This summer, Walt Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer teamed up for one of the year's most popular and exciting entertainments. Although a film based on an amusement-park attraction might not sound terribly promising, the film version of Pirates of the Caribbean far exceeded expectations with its humorous look at a loopy former pirate captain, a governor's daughter who yearns for adventure, a dashing young man who pines for the leading lady, and a cursed captain who will do anything to free himself of the curse's burden. The DVD offers pristine image quality and superb DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital tracks. This two-disc collection also offers a treasure trove of extras, such as three commentary tracks, 19 deleted scenes, a documentary, and several fascinating featurettes. (Blurb by Jeffrey Robinson. Read the review by Aaron Beierle.)

6. Casablanca: 2-Disc Special Edition
For years, we lived with a pretty good Casablanca DVD that did little justice to the Bogart/Bergman classic, but in 2003 our prayers were answered with a lavish two-disc special edition. The new set has much more to offer the timeless romance, most notably in the extras department. Featuring documentaries, deleted scenes, and even the classic Looney Tunes tribute cartoon Carrotblanca, this special edition will increase your appreciation for the film and help you understand its place in movie history. Although Casablanca is now over 60 years old, its beautifully restored picture and sound are nothing short of astounding. Relive the magic of Casablanca all over again. (Blurb by Randy Miller III. Read the review by DVD Savant.)

7. X2: X-Men United
In Bryan Singer's X2: X-Men United, we rejoin familiar faces such as Wolverine and Professor Xavier in a thrilling sequel to Singer's original X-Men, as our heros unite with their enemies, as well as some new faces, to protect and save mutants and mankind alike. X2 was without a doubt a dynamite success at the box office. Although few would call it the best film of 2003, it's definitely one of the most exciting. The two-disc X2 DVD set features spectacular image quality and mind-blowing DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital audio. The DVD also offers excellent extras, including two commentary tracks, 11 deleted scenes, several documentaries, and three featurettes. (Blurb by Jeffrey Robinson. Read the review by David Blair.)

8. Tokyo Story: Criterion Collection
Described as "the most traditional and Japanese of film directors," Yasujiro Ozu is criminally underrepresented when it comes to Region 1 DVD releases. But in 2003, the centennial of the great master's birth, Criterion set out to rectify this grievous injustice with its splendid release of Ozu's widely acknowledged masterpiece, Tokyo Story. The film itself is a fine epitome of Ozu's masterful filmmaking prowess, with its meditative simplicity, skillful scene compositions, and devastatingly powerful examinations of truth and sadness. The beauty of Tokyo Story is not so much in its plot — which is simple but heartbreakingly real -- but in its deliberate, contemplative manner of storytelling (the film critics who contributed to the 2002 Sight & Sound poll didn't vote Tokyo Story the fifth greatest film ever made for nothing!) Criterion pulled out all the stops with this two-disc special edition. The two+ hour film has been beautifully restored and remastered, with an exhaustive feature-length commentary by film scholar David Desser, the film's original trailer, and two magnificent documentaries that not only run nearly three hours in length, but will also satisfy even the most insatiable Ozu devotee. Tokyo Story isn't just one of the greatest films ever made; it's one of the finest DVDs of the year, and Criterion has topped even its own impeccable standards. (Blurb and review by Matthew Millheiser.)

9. Spirited Away
What a nice surprise to see such attention paid to an anime film! Although Disney typically reserves its special editions for films such as The Lion King and Sleeping Beauty, the company made an exception with this remarkable film by Hayao Miyazaki, a living animation legend. You could've sneezed and missed Spirited Away during its initial American theatrical release, so it's particularly nice to see it get the royal treatment on DVD. Spirited Away is a unique "fairy tale" gem that boasts memorable characters, imaginative landscapes, an unlikely heroine, and a timeless story. With stunning video and audio (including the original Japanese language track) and some decent bonus features, this DVD should be treasured by animation fans of all ages. (Blurb by Randy Miller III. Read the review by Aaron Beierle.)

10. The Looney Tunes Golden Collection
Fifty-six cartoons. Four discs full of unedited Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and Porky Pig shenanigans. And the rest of the gang is here, too, in this wonderfully irreverent selection of classic toons from the vintage Warner Brothers/Mel Blanc/Carl Stalling animation era. Completists cried foul, but seriously, did they really expect Warner to churn out a chronological hundred-disc set of the purported 1100 cartoons that the company produced-without testing the waters first? What we have here in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection is nearly eight hours of cartoons, historical commentaries, isolated music tracks, and a whole lot of zany fun, and it's more than enough. This set will bring back those cherished moments of your childhood when you spent long Saturday mornings being thrilled by a bunch of wacky, violence-prone talking animals. (Blurb by Jason Bovberg. Read the review of the Premiere Collection by DVD Savant.)

11. Deep Space Nine: The Complete Seasons 1 through 7
The year 2003 saw the release of all seven seasons of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Arguably the best Star Trek series ever, and certainly one of the best science-fiction series to be shown on television, Deep Space Nine was an ambitious and very successful project. DS9 proved itself willing to set up complex ethical situations, draw fully three-dimensional characters, explore the many shades of gray between "good" and "evil," and push the Star Trek envelope in creating a show that was darker, grittier, and more intense than Next Generation had ever dared to be. Season 1 introduces us to the cast and to the conflict between Bajor and Cardassia. Season 2 develops the Bajoran situation, introducing a further complexity in the rebellious Maqui, and setting up for the introduction of the Dominion in Season 3. The use of a continuing storyline is developed further in Season 4 with the Dominion threat becoming ever stronger, leading into a knockout Season 5 with the Klingons as well as the Dominion now at war with the Federation. DS9's high point comes with Season 6 with episodes that really shake things up and make us face tough issues about loyalty, duty, and the costs of war. Though Season 7 is rather uneven compared to the earlier seasons, it has its share of excellent episodes as it wraps up DS9's epic story arc. And since Paramount delivered DS9 with outstanding transfers, great packaging, and a generous helping of special features, these are seven season sets that aren't to be missed. (Blurb and reviews by Holly Ordway)

12. Once Upon a Time in the West: Special Collector's Edition
How happy we were to see Sergio Leone's 1968 masterpiece get the loving special-edition that it so richly deserved in this surprisingly affordable two-disc set from Paramount. A brooding, epic, almost slow-motion deconstruction of westerns that came before it, Once Upon a Time in the West elevates its genre to become something higher than itself, similarly to the way this year's Kill Bill Volume 1 transcends itself. There's really not much going on at the heart of Leone's (or Tarantino's) film, but you watch every grizzled face, every dusty landscape, with rapt attention and film-geek awe. And that Ennio Morricone score gives the film an operatic scope that lifts Once Upon a Time in the West into greatness. Paramount presents the film uncut and in a jaw-droppingly gorgeous transfer, and the set holds some truly illuminating extras. (Blurb by Jason Bovberg. Read the review by DVD Savant.)

13. Black Hawk Down: Three-Disc Deluxe Edition
Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down is one of the most effective and important war films in recent memory, particularly in light of our recent efforts in Iraq. Columbia first released a practically barebones disc in 2002, then followed up a year later with this exhaustive set. The highlights of this massive package are an extensive behind-the-scenes documentary (which is longer than the film itself!), documentaries from PBS and The History Channel (which go into great detail about the true story behind this fascinating movie), and, perhaps best of all, utterly absorbing audio commentaries from Ridley Scott, the author and screenwriter, and the Task Force Ranger veterans who took part in the mission! (Blurb by Randy Miller III. Read the review by Aaron Beierle.)

14. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Special Edition
If you love good old-fashioned adventure yarns, you can't go wrong with Jules Verne as seen through the eyes of Walt Disney. This extravagant 1954 screen adaptation of the saltwater-soaked classic follows an 19th century seaman who is kidnapped by the mad Captain Nemo, who pilots the futuristic submarine Nautilus. Watch out for that giant squid! The movie's special effects were way ahead of their time, and the Cinemascope imagery filled your entire span of vision with wonders. This DVD recreates that experience in glorious anamorphic widescreen. The generous extras include an audio commentary from the director, scintillating making-of documentaries, and unused animation. (Blurb by Jason Bovberg. Read the review by DVD Savant.)

15. Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors: The Exclusive Collection
Since the inception of the DVD format in 1997, we've been clamoring with unrestrained ardor for Krzysztof Kieslowski's acclaimed and revered Trois Couleurs trilogy. Christened after the colors of the French flag, each of Kieslowski's films explores one of the tenets of the French Revolution. Bleu (Blue) observes the tenet of Liberty within the context of a woman trying to escape the pain and mourning resulting from the accidental death of her husband and daughter, Blanc (White) presents Equality within the milieu of a love story/revenge fantasy, and Rouge (Red) examines the concept of Fraternity between a model and a reclusive retiree. The Three Colors DVD set is a joy to behold. The audio and visual presentations are wonderfully rendered, and the sheer wealth of extras provides for a richer, deeper understanding of Kieslowski's masterpiece. The wealth of supplemental material is wonderful, making this boxed set a true Special Edition. This is a must-have DVD set. (Blurb and review by Matthew Millheiser.)

16. Alias: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2
Studios rushed to release popular new television shows on DVD in 2003, and none were better than the Alias season 1 and 2 boxed sets. Following the kick-ass adventures of a young CIA double agent, the series has all the ingredients necessary to serve up a great TV feast: fast-paced and well choreographed action, red-hot sexual tension, the perfect touch of comic relief, startling cliffhangers that'll make you glad you don't have to wait a week for the next episode, and for those into that kind of thing, very skimpy, sexy outfits. Since the show has everything, would you expect anything less from this year's two 6-disc boxed sets? Both sets feature the respective season in its entirety with rather nice anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital presentations. Both sets also offer entertaining commentary tracks, informative behind-the-scenes featurettes, funny blooper reels, and more. If you're looking to meet new friends to fill up your social calendar, I suggest introducing yourself to Sydney Bristow and the cast of Alias. (Blurb by James Powell. Read the Season 1 review by Aaron Beierle and the Season 2 review by James W. Powell.)

17. Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a sequel that equals and even improves on the charming Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Faithful to the book without being slavish to it, the film follows Harry in his second year at Hogwarts, where he and his friends Hermione and Ron encounter what seems to be a mysterious crusade against all non-pureblood wizards. With an engaging story and characters and impressive but not overdone special effects, The Chamber of Secrets ends up being a highly entertaining film. This DVD improves on the first film's DVD's tendency to slavishly target the youngsters, offering interviews, deleted scenes, and production sketches. (Blurb by Holly Ordway. Read the review by Aaron Beierle.)

18. The Adventures of Antoine Doinel
In 1959, François Truffaut startled the film world with the release of his Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows). This film not only helped start the French New Wave movement but also introduced the autobiographical Antoine Doinel, a young delinquent played by Jean-Pierre Léaud. Over the next 20 years, Truffaut would make a total of four movies and one short about Antoine and the challenges he faces at different points in his life. Criterion has put out this superb set containing all of the films in the Doinel cycle: The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run, and the 1962 short subject, Antoine and Colette. The movies in this set are all excellent, showcasing Truffaut's talent as a director, and the wonderfully powerful Jean-Pierre Léaud. Filled with copious extras, wonderfully creative packaging, and a short paperback book on the films, this set belongs in every foreign film lover's collection. (Blurb by John Sinnott.)

19. The Day the Earth Stood Still
A spaceship lands in Washington D.C., and an alien emissary brings a warning and a message of peace. Will the inherent distrust and paranoia of humankind lead to disaster? The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the most enduring and influential of the 1950s-era pulp science-fiction films, and Fox has bestowed a fittingly scrumptious DVD treatment on the title. The audio commentary by Robert Wise and Nicolas Meyer is worth the price alone, but you also get a fantastic 70-minute documentary and other interesting extras. And the restoration efforts on the image are superb. (Blurb by Jason Bovberg. Read the review by DVD Savant.)

20. Mondo Cane Collection
A relatively new face to the DVD market, Blue Underground hit a home run with its recent release of the notorious Mondo Cane Collection. These controversial documentaries were first unleashed on the public with 1962's Mondo Cane, which spawned many "sequels" (and tons of imitators). These movies toiled in general obscurity on VHS for many years, but finally received a first-class treatment on DVD in the form of this mammoth, 8-disc boxed set. Featuring director's cuts of several of the films and beautifully restored picture and sound, the discs also include a respectable amount of bonus materials. The eighth disc, entitled The Godfathers of Mondo, is an especially nice inclusion that really adds to the value of this awe-inspiring boxed set. The limited edition run of 100,000 copies sold out quickly, but you can still obtain it for less than $100 if you shop around. Overall, this set is a tremendous effort from Blue Underground that makes the studio worthy of your attention in 2004. (Blurb and review by Randy Miller III.)

Runners up include Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes, 24: Season 2, Eraserhead, Scarface, Straw Dogs: Criterion, Fargo: Special Edition, The Kids Are Alright, Shoah, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Babylon 5: Season 3, Narc, Boyz in the Hood, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Criterion, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Whale Rider, and Coupling: Seasons 1 and 2.

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