Noel Megahey’s Top 5 DVDs of 2003

It’s traditional for DVDTimes reviewers to select 5 DVD releases that have most impressed during the past year. Noel Megahey reflects on the best releases of 2003, celebrating the diversity of World Cinema.

As the DVD boom spreads worldwide and the standard rises, it is becoming more and more difficult to narrow down to a selection of 5 exceptional DVD titles. In my Top 5 DVDs for 2002, I restricted myself to only new release films – which this year would prevent me including superb releases of Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, Fritz Lang’s M and outstanding Criterion releases of La Belle et La Bête and Contempt (Le Mépris). This year, I’ve restricted this further to only include titles that I think demonstrate diversity from the Hollywood template and have to some extent pushed cinema into new territories. It’s worth noting that none of the titles below have yet been released in the UK or USA.

Just reaching UK cinemas now, Lucas Belvaux’s 2002 trilogy of films Un Couple Épatant / Cavale / Après La Vie is a hugely ambitious attempt to follow multiple, simultaneous storylines through three standalone films, each in a different genre – a comedy, a thriller and a melodrama – where the secondary characters of one film become the principals in one of the others. It’s an amazing experience, enhanced by a fine French DVD boxset with a fourth disc of extra features. Each of the films individually would hardly be exceptional, but as a trilogy, their collective achievement is impressive.

It might owe a little to the style of Terry Gilliam and the story of the Korean film Save The Green Planet might seem like a standard hostage/captor scenario, but there is nothing at all predictable about the wild trajectory that this amazing film follows. Confounding expectations at every turn and successfully jumping between genres of comedy, drama, melodrama and science-fiction, it’s a whole world of diversity in itself.

Forget Kill Bill: Vol 1. Entertaining as it was, it just recycled ideas that had been done much better and with much more convincing swordplay in many Hong Kong movies. Hero on the other hand did genuinely push the martial arts/swordplay genre into new areas, with stunning action sequences beautifully photographed by Christopher Doyle and superb performances from an all-star cast including Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Maggie Chung and Tony Leung. Despite a Best Foreign Film Oscar Nomination, there still hasn’t been a theatrical Western release of Hero, much less a DVD release, but there are various editions in Hong Kong, China and Korea, all with English subtitles and any of them would qualify as one of the best DVDs you will see this year.

Playing around with the conventions of Korean melodrama in a similar way to Lars von Trier in Breaking the Waves and Dancer In The Dark, Lee Chang-Dong’s Oasis created an improbable relationship between a recently released convict and a severely disabled girl and overturned every preconception about you might have about the romantic melodrama genre, in the process making us question our own attitudes and prejudices. Technically released in December 2002, Oasis qualifies for selecton here because it was too late for last year’s list and because it is still better than almost any other film released in 2003.

Lars Von Trier constantly strives to do something new and push the film medium forward, and if the results aren’t always entirely successful (Dancer In The Dark), they are at least always fascinating. Dogville, which will finally get a cinema release in the UK in February, is probably his best work yet – controversial, experimental and anything but conventional, it’s certain to infuriate and alienate viewers as much as it impresses others. The full length film is also available in Denmark on what is clearly the best DVD presentation I have seen this year.


Updated: Dec 26, 2003

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