Gary Couzens's Top 5 DVDs of 2001
I bought my DVD player in October 1999 (a Samsung 807, which still serves me well). That I guess makes me an early adopter of the format in the UK, though I've never been a typical one. I'm still a regular cinemagoer. I'm employed at least part of the time in reviewing theatrical releases, for this site and elsewhere. I'm not the target market for most Hollywood blockbusters on DVD, as most of them I will have seen at the cinema and in most cases once is enough. (I'm leaving my round up of the year's best films for the coming weekend, as there are some possible contenders I'm planning to see over the next few days.) Nowadays, a full set of extras is all but obligatory for a major release. When you hear that an hour and a half was cut out of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, you just know that most if not all of that footage will turn up on the DVD release. So you have the situation where films which will be most likely forgotten in ten years' time are graced with extras-packed DVD releases (frequently spilling over onto a second disc - sometimes even, God help us, a third). In the meantime, films which have stood the test of time get bare-bones releases. I realise that finding extras for older films takes a little more work, but it's an effort that should be made. For me, the great benefit of the DVD format, coupled with Internet access, is the chance to see films I might never be able to see otherwise.
Here then, are my choices for the best DVD releases of 2001. I'm trying not to duplicate my colleagues too much, and bear in mind that some titles (for example In the Mood for Love and Suspiria) I've yet to buy. The single best DVD I saw and reviewed this year was Criterion's Region 1 Gimme Shelter, on which one of the great rock documentaries looks and sounds better than it ever did before, but is presented in a package which is a genuine historical artefact, a primary source for a key event in Western popular culture. However, as that was released in November 2000, I'll note it here but leave it off my Top 5, which are in no particular order.
Including box sets might be cheating, but I can't leave out Warners's Kubrick Collection, whichever region you buy it in. Many of these films were formative experiences for me, and they look and sound as good as they possibly ever will. There aren't many extras, though the last disc, A Life in Pictures is really one long two-and-a-quarter-hour extra. Guess which film I'll be seeing this year out with?
Another box set, in fact three of them so far: MK2's Truffaut collections (Region 2). The first set Women and Love has five discs (Jules et Jim, Silken Skin, Two English Girls, The Last Metro, The Woman Next Door) Box Two, The Adventures of Antoine Doinel contains the features The Four Hundred Blows, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board and Love on the Run, the shorts Les mistons and Antoine and Colette plus a bonus disc containing a documentary on Jean-Pierre Léaud. The third box contains the two thrillers Shoot the Pianist and Finally Sunday. For an example of how good French DVDs can be, you need look no further: stunning transfers (anamorphic and in the correct ratio) with a full set of well-chosen extras. All the films have optional English subtitles. If I give the first set the nod, it's from an English-speaking perspective: the extras are subtitled as well.
With acknowledgements to The Godfather Trilogy and the The Three Colours Trilogy, my remaining choices are all single films, though the first has two discs.
Almost Famous was released earlier in the year in a single-disc edition, as a stopgap until Crowe had finished making his new film and could devote the time to doing a proper job of the DVD. Like the film, Dreamworks's The Bootleg Cut (Region 1) is an obvious labour of love. Not only is there the theatrical version of the film, but also Crowe's 39-minute longer Untitled version, plus some excellent extras and also a six-track soundtrack CD. As Crowe says, this is one for the fans: if you like the film in the first place, you'll like the extras and the additional scenes. This was one of my films of the year, though ultimately it's not up to Jerry Maguire, one of my favourites of the last few years. And where's the special edition of that?
I've had an interest in Australian cinema going back about twenty years. In reviewing Australian DVDs, I hope to draw your attention to excellent films you might not otherwise see, and hopefully demonstrate that there's more to Down Under than cheaper versions of major-studio releases. One of the reasons for buying a multi-region DVD player was to be ready for the day when Region 4 started releasing its back catalogue on disc. That day is now here. There are still too many non-anamorphic, bare-bones releases, but Roadshow's Region 4 release of Newsfront shows what can be done: an undeniable classic film - not to mention, a very enjoyable one – superbly packaged on DVD. This is one of the best DVDs I've seen this year, from any region.
As to more recent films, I'll give a mention to Roadshow's Region 4 edition Looking for Alibrandi, but not include it as it actually came out at the end of last year, though I saw it in 2001. Madman are an independent distributor with a promising list of forthcoming titles. Although not anamorphic, their Region 0 edition of Paul Cox's fine film Innocence is exemplary. Innocence is due a British cinema release in the New Year; see it if you can. If you can't, by all means buy this DVD.
Happy New Year to all DVD Times's readers!