Mike Sutton's Top 5 DVDs Of 2002

MIKE SUTTON'S TOP 5 DISCS OF 2002

Yet again, the past year has been one of size over substance in the mainstream DVD market. Big, dumb films have received big, dumb DVD releases which groan under the weight of the multi-disc filler which tends to grow in inverse proportion to the quality of the movie within. You might well ask, what's new about that, and you would be right. But, examining the shelves of the local DVD retailers has become increasingly depressing as important, classic films are released with poor transfers and little, if any, bonus content. There are, thankfully, exceptions, but as the market grows it seems acceptable for the studios to flood the market with mediocre discs, in much the same way as they did on sell-through VHS ten years ago.

Thankfully, shining out as good deeds in a bad world, the releases of Anchor Bay, Criterion and Hong Kong Legends managed to maintain a certain standard - although some of the R2 Anchor Bay titles were in dire need of a remastering and the covers were occasionally missing important information; for example, a superb commentary on Herzog's Nosferatu The Vampyre goes unmentioned on the cover. On the other hand, how many other companies would dredge up an amusingly awful slasher flick such as Madman and go to the trouble of remastering the film in widescreen and recording a highly entertaining commentary track from the stars and the filmmakers ? Although their discs are somewhat outside my personal sphere of interest, Hong Kong Legends continue to impress with the sheer love that goes into their discs, even persuading me to take a chance on Fist Of Fury which I enjoyed much more than I expected. Criterion remain, generally speaking, marvellous, although some of their featureless discs are workaday at best, and somewhat overpriced.

Choosing five favourite DVDs of the year wasn't exactly difficult, although the following discs deserve a mention as worthy also-rans: Paris Texas, From Hell, The Office Series 1, Dirty Harry, Conan The Barbarian SE and Y Tu Mama Tambien. I'd also like to mention the Tartan Bergman Collection, which is somewhat lacking in extra material but which continually produces beautiful transfers of the some of the finest movies of the 20th century. I will be reviewing most of the titles from this series in the next few weeks on DVD Times.



TOP FIVE

1. STRAW DOGS R0 (Fremantle Media)

Not only is this the first Special Edition release of a Peckinpah movie, it's also the most impressive disc of the year. A superb, dangerous and intensely disturbing film, Straw Dogs remains essential viewing for anyone interested in modern cinema, and this DVD presents it beautifully. The widescreen transfer is excellent and even though the sound has been criticised by some viewers it does not detract from the pleasure of the disc. The supplementary features have been thought out with loving care, with two fascinating commentaries, lengthy interviews and loads of text based extras including revealing correspondence between the producer and the BBFC. Fremantle, a small company who mostly produce mediocre budget discs, have beaten the big boys at their own game with this one. I very much doubt that the upcoming Criterion disc will be able to better this one.

2. DONNIE DARKO R1 (Fox DVD)

The film tends to encourage a love-it or hate-it response from viewers, but there's little doubt that it's one of the most daring and original movies of the past few years. As a parable of the horrors of suburban existence it is obvious but funny, matching sharp observations with witty black comedy. But it works best as a poignant contemplation on fate and free will, enhanced by exceptional performances. The DVD is a model of a good Special Edition, featuring two enjoyable commentaries, a well presented selection of deleted scenes and a variety of other supplements. Given the reprehensibly limited release of this film in the UK last Autumn, the disc became something of a bestseller following the positive word of mouth which the film received.

3. WILD STRAWBERRIES R0 (Criterion)

It's not Ingmar Bergman's best film. It's been overrated by critics who then go on to underrate his later, more interesting work. It's sentimental and somewhat inconsequential. And yet, Wild Strawberries is strangely beautiful, a magical piece of filmmaking which carries you along on a journey, only giving you chance to spot the flaws once it's over. Victor Sjostrom's performance, as the elderly professor returning to his University to receive an award, is simply extraordinary and the vignettes along the way are vivid, poignant and funny. Criterion's edition of the film is, as you would expect, exceptional. The picture quality, in particular, is quite stunning, especially if you're used to the somewhat grey, dull version which pops up on TV from time to time. Peter Cowie's expert commentary is a little dry but often invaluable, and the 90 minute documentary is equally fascinating (although inevitably more interesting for those familiar with Bergman).

4. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS R1 (Criterion)

The best film of last year received a very pleasing DVD release, which looks more impressive on a careful viewing than it did on a first look. The film, a picaresque and moving study of a deeply dysfunctional New York family headed by the simultaneously appalling but oddly touching patriarch Royal - a lovely comic portrait by Gene Hackman - disappointed some for not being very funny, largely because they expected a comedy and got something quite different. I'm not at all sure how to categorise it, but it's strange and wonderful and totally unique. The two disc set contains, as you'd expect, an excellent transfer of the film and the quirky soundtrack, but also features an insightful commentary from the director, a brief but interesting featurette, some interviews and a delightfully off-the-wall mock-documentary featuring some of the minor characters being interviewed by another minor character. Best of all, the package contains some lovely illustrations and a beautifully designed diagram of the Tenenbaum house.

5. THE VERY BEST OF HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU R2 (VCI/BBC)

A purely personal choice this one, and a disc which has given me endless pleasure since I first bought it. The finest comedy show of the nineties, which is now growing a little stale, is well represented here by a carefully chosen selection of clips from 1990-2002. All the famous encounters are here; Ian Hislop versus Paula Yates, the legendary appearance of the tub of lard, Cecil Parkinson laughing gamely as his dignity is mercilessly shredded, the Hamiltons digging themselves ever deeper into a very dark hole, the infamous joke about the Maxwells which cost the BBC an awful lot of cash. Paul Merton is consistently hilarious, Hislop is more satirically cunning than I had remembered and the much-missed Angus Deayton demonstrates why he is so much more than just a 'reader of headlines'. The disc is carefully compiled with some entertaining extras, a very funny trivial subtitle track and, best of all, a bracingly indiscreet commentary from Merton and Hislop.

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