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DVD Talk's Top 10 Releases of 2014
Though a lot of people have been predicting the demise of physical home video media, 2014 saw a lot of great new releases proving that both DVD and Blu-ray have some life left in them. Recently the DVD Talk review panel looked back on the past 12 months and after a lot of arguing, pleading, and some gnashing of teeth, selected the best-of-the-best, the 10 discs that we'd most want to have on our shelves. The result is a diverse group too: from a film starring a pop band to a TV show featuring Academy Award nominated costars (and one of them even took home the Oscar), to art-house films, classic horror flicks and movies that had their theatrical release this past year, we have included a little bit of everything on the list. Whether you're a fan of old TV or live for recent Hollywood releases, there is something for every taste included.

1. True Detective:  The harrowing path taken by Louisiana detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), both personal and professional, as they track down a twisted killer, made for one of the finest series on TV in recent history. A show dripping in atmosphere, from the iconic opening titles to the powerful interviews, from the high-octane action scenes through to the creepy climax, <i>True Detective</i> is powered by the acting of two brilliant performers, deft (if controversial) writing and gorgeously evocative aesthetics. On Blu-ray, director Cary Joji Fukunaga's work looks incredible and T. Bone Burnett's music sounds fantastic, while the discs offer up some fine insight from the creative staff in its bonus content. A self-contained classic.

2. Snowpiercer:  Snowpiercer's interesting premise, striking set design, potent atmosphere, and committed performances ensure that the post-apocalyptic setting feels as real as possible, even when some of the (intentionally) goofy moments subvert the seriousness on many occasions. Director Joon-ho Bong's assured direction keeps the momentum going at a steady clip: his efficient, no-nonsense shooting style ensures that we got a final cut the first time through. Likewise, Anchor Bay's Blu-ray avoids the "future double dip" pattern set by most modern releases, serving up a high quality A/V presentation and a satisfying collection of bonus features, including a documentary about the film's graphic novel origins and a feature-length commentary hosted by former DVD Talk reviewer Scott Weinberg. It's a fantastic package and possibly worth a blind buy, especially considering Snowpiercer's almost non-existent U.S. theatrical release.

3. Hannibal: Season 2:  This series almost---almost---has no business being this good. From start to finish, it remains a unique and captivating experience that meets or exceeds everything about show's excellent first year. This is easily one of the finest network dramas in recent memory: equal parts magnetic and repulsive, the show's exquisite attention to detail, pitch-perfect performances, and considerable sonic presence makes Hannibal a visceral feast for the senses, while its clever twists and turns will keep even the most astute viewers on their toes. Lionsgate's Blu-ray serves up a strong amount of support including a near-perfect A/V presentation and plenty of entertaining and informative bonus features. All things considered, this is one of the year's very best TV-on-DVD packages and well worth hunting down...and though new viewers should start from the beginning, no one else should ignore this.

4. Herzog: The Collection:  To some, Werner Herzog is a funny-accented depressive who makes documentaries about nature and is sometimes self-aware enough to make a jokey voice cameo in Penguins of Madagascar. Of course, Herzog is also so much more. He is one of the finest artists to ever work in the relatively young medium of cinema. The must-own Blu-ray box set from Shout! Factory, Herzog: The Collection, spans thirty years -- from 1970 to 1999 -- and contains sixteen of the director's documentaries and fiction features, which combine human interest stories, eye-catching meditations on the natural world, semi-surreal reveries, bitter satirical moments, flights of fantasy, political agitprop, and classical heroes' (or anti-heroes') journeys. The absolutely essential collaborations with actor/madman Klaus Kinski are here, as are most of Herzog's other best known films. On the other hand, Herzog made more than thirty films during the time period highlighted here. Is it too much to hope for The Collection, Vol. 2 in 2015?

5. Gravity:  If you were unfortunate enough to miss "Gravity" on the big screen, Warner's Blu-Ray release is a pretty solid substitute. Alfonso Cuarón's seemingly single-take, space epic is replicated perfectly: from the 2.40:1 transfer to the DTS-HD Master 5.1 track; "Gravity" is a technical achievement as well as a very intimate saga of physical and emotional survival, thousands of miles from human contact. Featuring amazing performances by both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, "Gravity" must be experienced to be believed.

6. Essential Jacques Demy:  With audiences flocking to see <i>Into the Woods</i> this holiday season, it's no better time to remind people that Criterion released <i>The Essential Jacques Demy</i> a few months back. Like Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's play, Demy's filmography often comes across as grown-up fairy tales, be it a literal princess-and0castle story like <i>Donkey Skin</i> or the more colorful subversions of romance and fate in the musicals <i>The Umbrellas of Cherbourg</i> and </i>Young Girls of Rochefort</i>. Were they to come out now, Demy would be very much of the moment. In addition to those, we are also treated to Demy's earlier movies, his takes on the nouvelle vague (<i>Lola</i>) and the crime genre (<i>Bay of Angels</i>). Supervised by Demy's heirs and his life partner, filmmaker Agnes Varda, this boxed set couples new transfers with informative extras to preserve these wonderful films for generations to come. Much like I discovered Demy as a young film fan through mid-90s restorations some twenty years ago, these new versions mean he can now be someone else's new discovery today.

7 (tie). Batman The Complete TV Series Limited Edition (Blu-ray):  Holy digital media Batman! The live-action Batman series has been at the top of many people's 'most wanted' lists since DVDs first hit the scene in the 1990's. Now the long wait is over. All 120 episodes have been remastered for this release, and this set really benefits from the advantages of Blu-ray. The candy-colored action looks amazing and all the silly fun comes across better than it's ever been seen. This limited edition comes packed with some cool extras including a program guide, a reproduction set of the trading cards released back in 1966, a Batmobile, and The Adam West Scrapbook.

7 (tie). Edge of Tomorrow:  Edge of Tomorrow---hastily re-titled Live, Die, Repeat for home video, at least according to some online retailers---is a looping sci-fi production that follows a reluctant soldier (Tom Cruise) who dies in combat only to be resurrected the previous day. Doomed to die a countless number of times, he eventually learns the purpose of his "condition" from a fellow soldier (Emily Blunt); together, they try to save humanity from a race of alien beings with unusual powers, superhuman speed, and unpredictable attack methods. Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's young adult novel All You Need Is Kill, this pleasant surprise scored with critics but floundered at the box office, despite---or perhaps, because of---its playful structure, accurately described as "Groundhog Day as an action film". Warner Bros.' Blu-ray offers a reference-quality A/V presentation and a handful of bonus features, but the existence of "retailer exclusive" extras might drive collectors up the wall.

9 (tie). Halloween Complete Collection:  Since 1979, the Halloween series has jumped between four different distributors, and if a DVD-era box set for someone as esteemed as Stanley Kubrick represented a rare example of corporate cooperation, a Halloween box set bordered on pure fantasy. That didn't stop Shout! Factory from dreaming a Mr. Sandman-style dream, and when the rights for Dimension's entries shifted to Lionsgate, they set about making it a reality. Halloween: The Complete Collection - Limited Edition isn't perfect, but it's not for lack of effort, with hours and hours of fabulous new and archival material created by Shout! spread out over 15 discs. Even aside from being able to get the whole series in one go, the crown jewel of the set is another mythical item for Halloween fans: the legendary "Producer's Cut" of Halloween 6, boasting a new 1080p transfer that puts everyone's convention bootlegs to shame.

9 (tie). A Hard Day's Night:  Films based around pop stars are rarely this great. And great films are rarely this much fun. With its loose camerawork, quick-witted dialogue, and impossibly charming lead performances, A Hard Day's Night manages to convince us that we might actually be getting an unguarded glimpse of the world-famous Beatles, in their full down-to-earth, goofball glory. Of course, it's all just an ingeniously made cash-in, but there's no denying that this flick is one for the ages. And those songs are fantastic. The Criterion Collection does well by the Beatlemaniacs, offering the original mono sound mix as well as two new, improved (i.e., better than Miramax's) stereo and surround remixes. They also do well by the movie buffs, by loading up plenty of bonuses on the career of director Richard Lester. And the packaging... well, it's very clean.

9 (tie). Sorcerer: Held up for ages in lawsuits, William Friedkin's "Sorcerer" arrives on home media, properly, for the first time. If you've only experienced the murky full-frame hack job on DVD, it's time to give the Blu-Ray from Warner a spin. Featuring a reference quality 1.78:1 transfer, sourced from a 4K restoration and DTS-HD Master 5.1 track that recreates the hypnotic Tangerine Dream score and lush jungle atmosphere, "Sorcerer" is a forgotten classic, led by a career performance by Roy Scheider, one of a trio of outlaws and outcasts, tasked with transporting nitroglycerin by truck through a brutal jungle locale; "Sorcerer" is a story of man versus the elements and himself.


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