1. Bond 50 (MGM/Fox)
Easily joins the ranks of the Alien Quadrilogy, The Apes Cycle and Blade Runner: The Final Cut (which was re-released as a 30th Anniversary Edition and would easily top this list if it wasn’t just a newly repackaged version of the previous 25th anniversary release. That said if you don’t already own, Blade Runner, buy it, it doesn’t get any better) as the greatest BD set of all-time with 4K transfers that make even Dr. No look like it was shot yesterday and potent sound that is room shaking and stirring. Every 007 film in chronological order, at last, with all the copious special features that were created over the last two decades, much of it revamped for HD. Given the abundance of re-purposed goodies that are second-to-none, it’s easy to overlook the shoddy and sparse new bonus material and the lack of digital copy. Nobody does it better indeed.
2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Sony) / The Game (Criterion)
David Fincher’s unjustly maligned adaptation of the bestselling novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, looks beautiful in all its snow-drenched, twisted glory. And David Prior’s hours of bonus features are superb as is the accompanying David Fincher commentary. The only caveat is unwieldy menu navigation that makes it nearly impossible to unearth everything this disc has to offer. Simpler to navigate is the re-purposed Blu-upgrade of The Game from Criterion which retains the excellent Fincher production commentary as well as the special features from the previous DVD and laserdisc.
3. Sunset Boulevard (Paramount) / Rosemary’s Baby (Criterion)
It’s easy to fault Paramount (and, I do) for historically failing to honor their catalog properly, particularly on the studio’s centennial anniversary, but when they do actually put out a classic, they sure do it right. Sunset Boulevard is not only a gorgeous black and white transfer, but they also unearth a deleted scene from the Billy Wilder masterpiece along with including all the special features created for the anniversary DVD from a few years back. Back then they had faces – and it shows in every exquisite pixel of this essential purchase. As for a classic film from the Paramount library that the studio didn’t release, look no further than the amazing new Blu-ray transfer of Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s genius thriller based on Ira Levin’s potboilers. Although the featurette from the Paramount DVD is M.I.A., there’ s a neat new documentary featuring the as-always gregarious Robert Evans and new interviews with the kooky Mia Farrow and Roman Polanski re-telling familiar stories with new panache. Criterion will truly leave fans wondering “what have you done with its mediocre transfer” when you get a load of the truly magnificent Blu-ray restoration.
Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe may have left some fans with chest pains, but this magnificent Blu-ray with a behind-the-scenes doc whose running time is longer than the actual movie is a marvel and the rare case of a disc with deleted scenes that should have remained in the film. A disc that is everything a Blu-ray should and could be even if the movie itself wasn’t.
5. Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Paramount)
Sturdy, collectible book-like packaging compliments this long-coveted set of the Indiana Jones films, particularly the set’s sole masterpiece, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which gets a spiffy new transfer and some fascinating new bonus materials, much of it utilizing vintage behind-the-scenes material. Along with the original Die Hard, Raiders remains the benchmark as one of the greatest contemporary action films ever made. Although the films get progressively worse culminating in the abomination that is Crystal Skull, it’s worth having Doom’s magnificent first and last 15 minutes and the delightful rapport of Ford & Connery in Last Crusade which should have remained that way. You throw me the idol, I throw you the Blu-ray.
6. Star Trek: The Next Generation – Seasons One & Two (CBS)
An ambitious undertaking by CBS Home Video will leave one marveling at how good this 25-year old series looks with a new pristine HD upgrade. The fact is TNG never came close to looking this good on television and the stunning new hi-def transfers are complimented by the best (and most candid) Trek bonus material from producers Roger Lay and Robert Burnett are the best to ever grace a Trek collection featuring both candid and eye-opening commentary from the cast and crew. Full disclosure: I am interviewed on the second season disc, but this should only discourage you from buying it. Otherwise, it’s a must-own archival version of the series which will satisfy Trekkers and neo-gen-phytes alike.
7. Lawrence of Arabia (Sony)
It took awhile to coming to Blu-ray, but was definitely worth the wait. Go with Sony’s weighty box set which not only includes a pristine new transfer of David Lean’s epic, but bonus features ranging from incisive musings from Martin Scorsese to excised scenes and the soundtrack album. A great double feature with Prometheus if you have a few days to kill…
8. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) / Battle Royale (Anchor Bay)
Before you starting hurling slings and arrows at me, let me explain, the movie certainly doesn’t warrant inclusion among any best-of-the-year honors, but the feature-length documentary created for the disc surely does. Director Gary Ross proves an articulate and fascinating tour guide through this superb overview of the film and makes you wish he had made the movie he had in his head rather than the one of the screen. Other special features including a fawning Donald Sutherland are equally compelling. And if you’re interested in seeing the hardcore version of Hunger Games and its spiritual forefather, Anchor Bay finally releases the only legit American version of the classic Japanese film on Blu-ray. It also includes the less satisfying sequel, but if you haven’t seen Battle Royale, and have the stomach for two hours of carnage, you should definitely own it.
9. Jaws (Universal)
Steven Spielberg’s classic gets the full HD upgrade fans have craved for years. And despite the existence of plentiful bonus material previously created for the film, including the superb Making of Jaws documentary, originally created for the über-laserdisc set over a decade ago, Universal throws an enjoyable new documentary, The Shark Is Still Working, into the mix to round out an already terrific package that is everything Jaws fans have been chumming for.
10. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Paramount) / Mission Impossible: The Complete Series (CBS)
Fans of the Mission: Impossible got to bookend their year in style beginning with the memorable release of Brad Bird’s rollicking high-octane action thriller, Ghost Protocol, filled with a plethora of behind-the-scenes footage. Ringing out the year was the massive Mission Impossible: The Complete Series DVD collection which not only includes every season of the Bruce Geller classic but includes the less-beloved 80s sequel series, one of which was produced during the 1987 writer’s strike in Australia with old scripts, cleverly packaged in a stack of dynamite with the requisite fuse attached. There’s also some new bonus features which is another reason to own this series and not just revisit it on Netflix. If you don’t buy this now, the secretary will disavow all knowledge of your lack of taste.
Singing in the Rain (Warner Bros), Casablanca (Warner Bros), The Great Dictator (Criterion), Rules of the Game (Criterion), Le Grande Illusion (Lionsgate/Studio Canal), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Universal) and The Killing (Criterion)
- Mark A. Altman
Follow Mark’s latest musings on Twitter: @markaaltman