Dave Foster's Top 5 DVDs of 2001
Another year, and another selection of quality DVD releases although strangely I do not find myself as enamoured with this years selection of, shall we say, Mainstream releases? I have missed the excitement that releases such as Fight Club, Toy Story Ultimate Toy Box and Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition brought me back in good old 2000 with only a couple of releases this year even coming close in terms of overall achievement through my eyes. However, what I will say is that 2001 has been an exceptional year in terms of World Cinema (with an Asian bias thanks to my personal taste) with a whole slew of superior Special Editions being released in all corners of the world so it is with little surprise that you will find my Top Five DVDs is made up almost entirely of foreign language films!
In no particular orders lets kick things off with the sublime Wong Kar-Wai directed In the Mood for Love 2-Disc French release. The film is a visual masterpiece with acting from its two leads to match while Kar-Wai's taste in music never ceases to amaze. It is of course this quite outstanding 2-Disc set from TF1 that garners the true praise as by crafting a Menu System that will draw you in via the music only to keep you there with the sheer volume and quality of extra features you will soon wish the creators were given the entire Kar-Wai library of films for a penny!
Now in the mood for something Japanese I have the difficult task of choosing one of the many superb Studio Ghibli releases from the past year. In the end it comes down to a race between the almost perfect Kiki's Delivery Service DVD and the 'how did they ever better the R1 quality?' Princess Mononoke 3-Disc set and oh what a tough choice this is! I could very easily put both of them into this top five and cancel out the only western film I had in mind but have decided to give you a little something from every area I feel deserves praise, so my final choice here goes to Princess Mononoke. A return to the epic storytelling Hayao Miyazaki originally envisioned with the likes of Nausicaa and Laputa, Mononoke Hime (to give the Japanese title) is a tale of the ongoing struggle between mankind and nature and of course, mankind again. Lavishly and quite beautifully realised with another score from Jo Hisaishi to positively cut your heart in two the Japanese did what only they could by releasing a 3-Disc DVD Set a full year after the Region 1 release that not only perfected the already stunning video quality found on the R1 but included the entire storyboards and a third disc that will surely be of some use to the odd person with its 8 Foreign Language Dub tracks!
Moving on to what I consider to be my personal discovery of the year we have the Stephen Chow Hong Kong comedy, Shaolin Soccer which comes on one of the best R0 Hong Kong discs of the year boasting an Anamorphic Widescreen transfer, DTS Audio and a selection of interesting extra features. Conceptually it is the kind of the film that any Hollywood studio (at least one year ago) would have simply laughed off but not in Hong Kong, and it is because of their ability to have a go at any film that the best comedy of the year was born. So why was it my discovery of the year? Well, a further 7 titles from the back catalogue of the films star and director, Stephen Chow, have adorned my DVD player since I laid my hands on Shaolin Soccer and I am happy to report that my labelling him a genius in my review was completely 100% accurate!
So, I ought to choose an English Language release I guess! While there are a few titles vying for this prestigious spot only one really deserves a mention as it delivered in a way I was never expecting it too. Ginger Snaps, released in its native Canada on a Special Edition R1 DVD that blows away all of the alternatives here is a horror film that I have enjoyed repeatedly since its release back in October and even though many may argue the films merits none can do so with regards to this thoroughly packed Special Edition DVD. The fact that the producers kept it all on a single disc instead of sticking an hours worth of extra material onto an advertising gimmick 2nd disc is reason enough for my praise and is also the reason why the equally superb Platoon Special Edition nearly took this Top Five spot, although as the extra features of that release have been available on DVD before in a long since Out Of Print Artisan release Ginger Snaps took pride of place right here.
Finally, going back to Japanese Cinema I have to mention the fantastic effort from Pioneer with the R1 release of the Akira Special Edition as my final choice. Releasing what is possibly the most famous (at least on Western shores) anime ever was no small task but Pioneer came through with an outstanding effort which not only remastered the film to the standards we have come to expect from our DVD releases but by also gathering a comprehensive selection of extra features that will keep the most ardent of fans busy for several days! Fortunately the film is not half bad either!!!
So there we have it, my Top 5 DVD Releases of the year. But wait! The choice was far from easy and several other titles were of course in the running but before I get to those I feel I must offer up a separate award for my Top DVD Producer/Publisher of 2001 which hands down goes to Hong Kong Legends whose R2 treatments of so many fantastic Hong Kong classics meant I was struggling to include only one in my Top 5! Game of Death Platinum Edition was in the running but this way I get to include the entire HKL catalogue, but then if Hong Kong Legends can keep up the good work next year and bestow their superb 'Platinum' treatment on a good film then they already have a guaranteed place in my Top 5 of 2002!
Wrapping things up (because I have ranted for far too long already) I have to agree with my colleagues that this year has been a fine one for Region 2 DVD which truly has come of age with releases that nearly always equal those on R1, and on several occasions surpass it. We can only hope 2002 yields greater quality, but without further ado, here are a small selection of titles that were very much in the running for my Top 5...Platoon Special Edition, From Dusk Till Dawn Special Edition, Almost Famous Bootleg Edition, Star Wars Episode 1, Dogma Special Edition, Die Hard SE, Hannibal, The Simpsons Season 1, Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbour Totoro, and Le Pacte Des Loups that, if its 3-disc French release is translated to a UK or US release will be another dead cert for my 2002 round-up.