As part of DVD Times’ end of the year review, Mike Sutton has chosen his Top 5 DVDs of 2004.
It’s been a damn fine year for lovers of classic movies with favourites arriving on a regular basis. Studio of the year has to be Warner Brothers who are displaying the kind of loving care for their back catalogue that is beginning to rival Criterion – and they do it in a much less self-important way. Four out of five of my selections are Warner titles – and from the looks of their upcoming Gunga Din and Gangsters set, it might be the same story next year. Paramount have consistently provided good transfers but tend to skimp on the extra features and MGM drift between impressive and sloppy with alarming inconsistency. They also commit the ultimate sin of including 5.1 remixes but not the original mono track – the otherwise pleasing R2 SE of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly was a notable offender here. A disappointment was the decline of Fox Studio Classics. Although they began well with My Darling Clementine and The Grapes Of Wrath, the choices of films became ever more bizarre – Desk Set ??? – and the quality of the extras has dwindled. Hopefully, Fox will show an improvement next year with their long awaited Noir series.
The following choices are in no particular order.
CASABLANCA R2 (Warners)
A candidate for the title of most enjoyable film ever made, Casablanca looks better and better as the years go by. An example of Classic Hollywood star power at its most intense, it presents a collection of cliches and renews them before your eyes. Bogart was never more charismatic, Bergman never more gorgeous and there are flavoursome contributions from Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt and the immortal Claude Rains. Warners’ DVD is stunning with one of the finest black and white restorations I’ve ever seen and some judiciously chosen extra features including two riveting commentaries and some entertaining featurettes.
DVD Times review here
FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION R1 (Warners)
Now that popular interest in film noir is at a pitch not equalled since the 1970s, it’s an appropriate time for Warner to celebrate their quite staggeringly good back catalogue with a box of five films. These were the very good Murder My Sweet and Gun Crazy, the exceptional The Set-Up and the plain bloody brilliant Out of the Past and The Asphalt Jungle. The technical presentation of each film is quite stunning and although the extras are limited, the commentary tracks are insightful and detailed enough to render anything else pretty redundant. Frankly, if you can play R1 and haven’t got this set, then you’re insane.
THE INGMAR BERGMAN COLLECTION R1 (MGM)
MGM may have been inconsistent in the quality of their releases but they certainly win a special award for customer care. When they originally released this box set, two of the films were misframed. Admirably, MGM admitted the mistake and pulled the set, re-releasing it with the corrected transfers a few months later. The results were highly impressive. The films include some of Bergman’s best – Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Shame – and two which are at least interesting – The Passion Of Anna, The Serpent’s Egg – in beautifully remastered versions, accompanied by extras which were a little oblique in places but always interesting.
DVD Times reviews of Hour Of The Wolf, The Passion Of Anna and The Serpent’s Egg
GONE WITH THE WIND R1 (Warners)
Not the greatest film ever made and certainly not great art but MGM’s 1939 blockbuster is still a hugely entertaining trash masterpiece. Made with the kind of loving care which was the hallmark of Golden Age Hollywood and acted with brilliance by Vivien Leigh and the great Clark Gable, it’s way overlong but somehow that doesn’t matter. It’s the kind of film which invites the audience to sit back and wallow, even if their better instincts tell them otherwise. It’s certainly never looked as heavenly as it does on this Warner Special Edition 4-Disc set. The picture quality is breathtaking. Making the DVD even better are a range of bonus materials, from an interesting commentary to lengthy documentaries, which will enhance everyone’s viewing of the film and may reveal some new information even to people who’ve seen it more times than they can count.
THE MARTIN SCORSESE COLLECTION (Warners)
One of the best filmmakers of his generation gets a fine accolade with this six disc collection, containing five films. I’ve always considered Goodfellas rather overrated and eclipsed by its companion piece Casino, but this 2-Disc SE is certainly a fine package. Of the four remaining films, there are two good ones – After Hours, Who’s That Knocking On My Door? -, an exceptional one – Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – and Mean Streets, Scorsese’s masterwork and a film which is so extraordinary that words can’t do justice to it. The DVDs offer excellent picture and sound quality and extras which enhance but don’t overpower the films – Scorsese himself offers surprisingly brief but always worthwhile contributions.
Runner-ups include the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection and the Universal Monster Legacy series. A special mention also for Anchor Bay’s Norman Warren Collection, a loving tribute to a little-known filmmaker.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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