Alex Larman's top discs of 2001
In 2001, DVD finally came of age, thanks in no small part to the Playstation 2, which lifted the format into the mainstream, as Joe Public discovered the wonders of widescreen, special features and- oh yes- regional coding. Thankfully, the selection of discs that were released this year finally established DVD in every film buff's estimation, as countless classic films were released, more often than not in stunning special editions. Occasionally, there was the odd minor letdown (Criterion's Withnail and I really wasn't anything like as good as we might have hoped for, and Fox's Die Hard boxset was let down by the lacklustre treatment given to the sequels), but, by and large, this has been the best imaginable year for DVD, with the omissions (Indiana Jones being the most regrettable) less striking than those we had.
My first pick would be Criterion's utterly brilliant version of Spartacus, which silenced the naysayers who have dared question their commitment to in-depth supplements and painstaking picture restoration, with the package topped off by a remarkably candid commentary, with the only omission being the absence of Kubrick's participation, given that he was alive when much of the material was being compiled for the laserdisc release. Still, a fine package, with an uproarious Peter Ustinov interview the icing on a very appealing cake.
Next up would be Fox's excellent Die Hard release. While it could, perhaps, have done with a lengthy retrospective documentary, given the film's legacy to the thriller genre, the extras were genuinely original and interesting, and complimented by the film looking and sounding better than ever. A fascinating 'text commentary' feature is one of the most revelatory features of the disc, even if New Line's superb Infinifilm series later emulated it on such discs as Thirteen Days, Blow and 15 Minutes.
If it's not cheating to include a boxset of films, then The Godfather trilogy is an easy inclusion, containing as it does two of the greatest films ever made, along with the controversial third, on which opinion will, seemingly, forever range from its being dreadful to a neglected masterpiece. Regardless of your views on it, the first two justify the purchase price on their own, with great Coppola commentaries, some fascinating extras, and vastly improved picture quality (although we've been so spoilt by restoration jobs that many film reviewers announced how dreadful the print was!). Paramount finally showed that they could produce DVDs to rank with the best of them with this release, which bodes well for their eventual release of the Indiana Jones films.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail was always an eagerly anticipated disc, after a weak bare-bones version was released to lacklustre interest, and the long-awaited special edition did not disappoint. Clearly a disc made with the interest and participation of the Python team, everything from the hilarious animated menus to the uproarious commentaries acted as the ideal accompaniment to the film, which was released in a 'director's cut', with an extra 24 seconds. Cue Gilliam, Jones and co. cocking a snook at the James Camerons of this world.
Finally, Baz Luhrmann's stunning Moulin Rouge, was, in the opinion of many, the best film of the year; certainly, it had more wit, imagination and passion in a single frame than years worth of soulless Hollywood blockbusters, while still managing to remain an incredibly enjoyable experience to watch. The DVD set new standards for new film releases; an incredibly in-depth look at the film's production managed to remain entertaining and revelatory, with some wonderfully unexpected detours (Count Von Groovy? Oscar Wilde?). The picture and sound were, of course, perfect, proving that Fox are easily in the forefront of DVD producers.
Unfortunately, such a list has to omit many, many superb discs. Here are a few that could easily have gone into any other top 5 list: Almost Famous: director's cut, Basic Instinct, Citizen Kane, Dogma, Hannibal, Lawrence of Arabia, Le Pacte des Loups, Les Rivieres Pourpres, Notorious, Rear Window, Rebecca, The Stanley Kubrick collection, The Wicker Man and, of course, the legendary Wishbone Ash: Legends of Rock...