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Best DVDs of 2002
by Jason Bovberg

Most lists of 2002’s greatest DVDs will feature a few obvious titles—notably, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Special Extended DVD Edition; Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones; and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: Ultimate Gift Set. By now, you’ve read pages worth of praise devoted to those DVDs, and admittedly, they’re three damn fine sets. However, in the interest of variety, I want to get past those ubiquitous sets and focus on the next tier of titles. So, without further ado, here are numbers 4 through 13.

Memento: Limited Edition

Christopher Nolan’s neo-noir masterpiece received ho-hum DVD treatment in 2001 but debuted in a twisty-turny psychological-testing-themed special edition this year. The upgraded image and sound quality are most welcome, but the most interesting aspect of this double-disc set is the large number of easter eggs you must locate to access the special features. Normally, the necessity of the extra effort would be annoying, but in this case, the complexity of the menus and the squirreled-away features only add to the experience of a mind-bender film. To top it all off, you get that most-hoped-for special feature: a chronological cut of Memento that lets you experience the film not as it was intended but as a deconstructive film-school tool. The commentary by Nolan is a dry but informative track.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s frothy masterpiece is a film that will be rewatched often in my home theater, if only to escape into a fantasy world that truly lightens the heart and brightens the day. The DVD set isn’t as lavish as the one that Europe and Canada obtained, but this is still a nice set that’s as colorful as the movie itself. Image and sound quality are excellent, and the extras will make you smile. Amelie is already one of my very favorite films.

The Royal Tenenbaums
Criterion released a number of noteworthy titles this year—including a gorgeous rerelease of Traffic—but Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums was the highlight of their 2002 collection for me. Following in the quirky footsteps of Rushmore, Tenenbaums delights with subtle humor as it strikes tragic and melancholy notes. The DVD set contains all the extras you might expect from a lavish Criterion release and boasts superior image and sound, as well.

Near Dark
An Internet rumor became rampant over the past few years that the original film elements of Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire western were lost forever, and that we’d never see appropriately exquisite DVD treatment of a kick-ass horror flick. Anchor Bay proved all rumors false with this gorgeous two-disc set that features excellent audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a very engaging documentary—not to mention a pristine image.

Monsters Inc
Notch yet another hugely successful DVD into the belt of Pixar Animation Studios. An underappreciated story, wonderfully drawn characters, and surprisingly affecting emotion make Monsters, Inc. the best animated fare on disc in 2002. The set includes humorous audio commentary from the Pixar team, short animated films, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and a sound-effects-only track. The image and sound quality on this DVD are both reference quality.

Clint Eastwood’s greatest film, Unforgiven satisfies on so many levels that it’s ethereal. I watch it with elevated respect each time I view it. Until 2002, I had to be satisfied with the blah DVD that’s been around for a few years. The new special edition corrects a few wrongs of that early DVD—jittery image, underwhelming features—with a set that pays appropriate attention to this classic western. A fascinating commentary and information-packed documentaries add up to a DVD to be savored as much as the film.

The Devil’s Backbone
Guillermo Del Toro’s greatest and most personal film, The Devil’s Backbone, is at once an eerie ghost story and a poignant, symbolic take on the Spanish Civil War. Full of soaring child performances, bleak landscapes, and disturbing special effects, this film is the kind that stays with you and demands repeated viewings. It helps that this DVD provides an insightful and entertaining Del Toro commentary and fascinating behind-the-scenes material.

Blade II
Del Toro strikes again with a sequel that bests the original Blade. This film represents Del Toro’s commercial side, boasting vigorous action and wildly gory special effects. The story builds on the mythology set up in the first film and—as Aliens did to Alien—pumps up the action and the volume. The plethora of special features on this set are awe-inspiring. And as always, Del Toro gives great commentary.

Panic Room: Superbit
In Panic Room, David Fincher set out to make an effective thriller—that’s all. Nothing complex or elaborate like Fight Club or Seven. Fincher makes no apologies for creating simply a tense exercise in urban paranoia, and he succeeds brilliantly. Jodie Foster and Forrest Whitaker deliver fine performances in service of a taut chiller. As per usual on Superbit titles, image and sound quality are wonderful. You don’t get much of anything in the way of special features—just a tepid trailer—but Panic Room the film is special enough.

Christopher Nolan makes the list again with his follow-up to Memento, the remake of Insomnia. Watching this film, I happily observed Nolan’s ascendancy into the ranks of the upper echelon of genius filmmakers. I also gained a new appreciation for the acting talents of Al Pacino and Hilary Swank. The DVD offers spectacular video/audio quality and extras that you’ll want to immerse yourself in. Chief among the latter is an audio commentary in which Nolan walks you through the film’s scenes in their shooting sequence.

Honorable Mentions

I valued many more DVDs this year. On a short list of honorable mentions would be David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, The Hustler, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Donnie Darko, From Hell, The Others, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, The Producers, Ghost World, and the Tarantino films Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown

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