DVD Review HTF Reviewers Pick: Their FAVORITE DVD Releases Of 2004

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Jan 3, 2005.

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    HTF Reviewers Pick
    Their FAVORITE Top 10
    DVD Releases For 2004





    Herb Kane

    1. Warner’s Film Noir Collection – Volume #1.
    My most anticipated release of the year and it was worth the wait. I think what amazes me about this collection the most is the diversity in terms of the styles of various films noir that were chosen, considering the amount of noirs they have among their vast library i.e. an archetypical heist film, a non criminal-element noir, a “B” noir, a noir with comedic infusion and perhaps the finest example of the “perfect film noir”, with Out Of The Past… obviously a lot of thought and effort went into this collection and the presentations were vastly beyond what I had expected. Just might be my favorite DVD set release – ever. Titles included are: Gun Crazy, Murder, My Sweet, The Set-Up, The Asphalt Jungle and Out Of The Past. I really can’t wait for Volume #2.

    2. The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection
    This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year as well and it did not disappoint. Nine Hitchcock films with not a stinker in the bunch, a terrific grouping of films including a few of his very best and again, the presentations were terrific. The set contains, North By Northwest, Stage Fright, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, I Confess, Dial M For Murder, Suspicion and Strangers On A Train SE. This set most certainly does the Master of Suspense proud.

    3. Pickup on South Street – The Criterion Collection
    This is an absolutely wonderful film noir with gritty performances from the cheeky Richard Widmark and the always wonderful Thelma Ritter. Great presentation and incredibly informative special features. My favorite Criterion of the year and I'm looking forward to the other upcoming 20th Century Fox/Criterion noir releases.

    4. Gone With The Wind – 4 Disc Collector’s Edition
    Believe it or not, this film is not a favorite of mine - in fact far from it. But this release of one of the most celebrated films in history is terrific with one of the very best examples of Technicolor from the period on DVD thus far, as a result of one of the finest restorations to have ever taken place and the special features are mind boggingly plentiful. Perhaps the very best release of a single title – ever.

    5. Mystic River – 3 Disc Deluxe Edition
    I must admit, over the past several years, the amount of new release films that I have really enjoyed seem fewer and fewer. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy contemporary films, but I’m talking about films which really move me. Mystic River did just that. With Clint Eastwood at the helm and a career performance from Sean Penn, this was easily one of my favorite films to come out of Hollywood for the past several years. The presentation on the DVD is flawless and I really enjoyed and appreciated the Eastwood soundtrack CD.

    6. The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection
    Unlike the recent WB release of Marx Brothers titles, Universal’s Silver Screen Collection doesn’t have a clunker in the bunch. The set contains five of the funniest Marx films, a few of which are among the funniest movies ever produced. Included in the set are: Duck Soup (1933), Horse Feathers (1932), Monkey Business (1931), Animal Crackers (1930) and The Cocoanuts (1929). While concerns were raised as to the quality of the presentations, consideration must be granted for films of this era, particularly those that have never looked better - ever.

    7. Collateral
    Okay, we need to add one popcorn action easy-on-the-brain flick... Actually, this spot was tied with another 2004 action picture, The Bourne Supremacy - which I actually preferred, at least as far as the storyline was concerned. However, I absolutely love Michael Mann and his ability to photograph and capture large metropolitan cities. Vincent could have been driven around the back of that Yellow Cab all night doing nothing but talking to Max and I would have been impressed. One of the most beautiful visually stylistic movies to come out of Hollywood in years, and was key for the swing in my decision. Entertaining film, great presentation.

    8. “M” – The Criterion Collection (Newly restored version)
    Beyond a film that dealt with taboo subject matter in a place that was taboo to show it, what strikes me most about this film is how much it seems to be ahead of its time. If you haven’t yet seen this version of M, you’ll hardly believe it’s a 1931 film… and the special features? Well, they’re about as good as you’ll ever see in a set.

    9. Duel
    This thing finally surfaced in 2004 after being almost as elusive as DB Cooper. Spielberg’s first major directorial effort finally made it to disc and the wait was indeed worth it. While not knowing what to expect from a 30+ year old made for T.V. movie, this transfer is gorgeous and the DTS sound far surpasses what I would have expected – oh, and it’s a pretty good little film too.

    10. Peter Gabriel’s PLAY
    In an attempt to keep the list as diverse as possible (yeah right), my favorite music disc of the year is “Play”, a compendium of Gabriel’s videos, some of which are the most innovative videos ever created. The disc appropriately shows each video in their correct aspect ratio and the DTS track on this disc is to die for – it sounds amazing.



    Believe it or not, compiling this list was more difficult than I thought it would be. 2004 was indeed a terrific year. Specifically, I feel almost guilty not having The Flintstones S1 and S2 as well as The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume #2 included in my top 10, but it's a testament to how great 2004 was for DVD. Other runners up would include: The Bourne Supremacy, The Grapes Of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, Criss Cross, I Love Lucy S2, Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines, Meet Me In St. Louis, The Cary Grant Signature Collection, The Martin Scorsese Collection, That's Entertainment (trilogy) and The Good the Bad and the Ugly SE. 2005 is already shaping up to be another great er... expensive year.



    Michael Elliott


    1. Freaks (Warner)

    I think I’ve taken part in these “Best Of” lists since 1999 and this is the first time I’m going to pick a film I didn’t care for to win. Tod Browning’s cult classic about sideshow freaks seeking revenge when a normal woman hurts one of their members is a film I’ve never really cared for but if you’re a fan of the film then Warner has given you the greatest gift of your life. Starting with the extras we got a wonderful commentary track from David Skal, which discusses all the myths and legends surrounding the film, its director Tod Browning and his previous works with the carnival circuit and talk about all the controversy that surrounded the film then and now. We also got an interesting documentary, which runs longer than the actual film plus an alternate endings segment, which showed various endings the film had over the years. However, the reason I’m calling this the best disc of the year is due to the video quality. If you’re new to the film then you’re going to think I’m nuts due to all the scratches, cuts and other issues but if you’ve ever seen the film before then you’ll understand why I’m calling this transfer a miracle. The film has been cut to shreds over the years and for a while it was considered lost and the transfer, while clearly damaged, is the most remarkable job this year when you consider how bad its looked in the past.

    2. Warner Boxed Sets (Warner)

    In 2004 Warner turned out to be a good friend to those who love movies but can’t afford everything that gets released. Thankfully Warner picked up their already wonderful quality and also offered many great sets, which kept the quality of their 2-disc Special Editions and best of all offered the items in a very low price. Starting in April with The Chaplin Collection: Volume 2 and continuing throughout the year with the likes of the That’s Entertainment Collection and the Alfred Hitchcock: The Signature Collection. In between these releases were other great sets including Martin Scorsese: Signature Collection, Cary Grant: Signature Collection, Marx Brothers Collection, Tarzan Collection, Film Noir Collection Vol. 1 and even the Police Academy Collection. Each of these sets were loaded full of movies looking the best they ever have with all sorts of extras ranging from commentaries to featurettes to those always welcomed short films. I mentioned nine of these sets here, which contained a total of fifty-five films and the best thing is they are all available at a cheap price for fans and those wanting to discover this classics (we can question the quality of Police Academy).

    3. Here’s Lucy (Shout! Factory)

    When I received the screener to this title I had to admit that I had never seen the show or heard of it for that matter. I own a lot of TV on DVD products but there’s not a single one that comes close to touching the greatness of this release. Shout Factory has always released quality products in their short history but this one here is a product every studio should look at before releasing TV products. The video and audio quality was better than shows, which were produced the past few years and best of all is that Lucy’s children were involved with the production, which led to some wonderful and touching commentary tracks as well as some home movies, deleted rehearsal scenes and other goodies.

    4. Gone With the Wind (Warner)

    Geez, where do you start on this one? This is considered the greatest epic ever made so why shouldn’t Warner deliver an epic set, which covered all the bases at such a high level. Technicolor films on DVD are often botched up but Warner once again raised the bar letting fans know how this film must have looked back when it was first shown. Even if Warner has used the previous transfer this thing would still be one of the greatest DVDs ever produced due to the wonderful extras, which will take the viewing more time to watch than it took to actually make the movie.

    4b. Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition (Anchor Bay)

    If Gone With the Wind is the greatest epic ever made then George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is the greatest horror epic. There’s no question that this is one of the greatest horror films ever made but it’s also great enough to say it’s one of the greatest films period. Back in the early days of DVD we got two different versions from Anchor Bay and earlier in the year we got a single disc release and there have even been at least twenty releases from overseas but this bad boy has everything a fan could want. Not only did we get the previously released Theatrical and Director cuts but the European cut also made its U.S. debut. The film has never looked better but like the above release, the real joy comes in term of extras, which includes three audio commentaries, 2 full-length documentaries plus other goodies like trailers, TV spots and a wonderful package.

    5. The Butterfly Effect (New Line)

    Most of my selections are going to older products so New Line’s The Butterfly Effect gets my vote for the best newer release of the year. Once again, I wasn’t expecting much from the movie but it really blew me away unlike any recent film I’ve seen in quite some time. This two-disc set not only offered the theatrical cut but also allowed the directors to premier their preferred alternate cut, which took some guts from New Line considering the subject matter. The set was packed with wonderful extras dealing with the making of the film but the real highlight was the wonderful video and audio quality, which was the best of the year. The video was reference quality while both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks were powerful enough to where I’d probably call them the best ever put to DVD.

    6. Live Aid (Warner Music Vision)

    After all the dust settled about who didn’t make it on the DVD, there’s no question this here is the greatest music release due to the absolutely stunning video and audio quality, which clearly blows away any other release I’ve seen. I’m sure everyone would have preferred a more complete concert but considering we’re getting over ten hours a music for around $25, I really don’t see how anyone could be unhappy in the end. The detail in the video was shockingly grand and the audio made it appear as if you were actually at the concert. Plus, the release is going for a good deed so I personally don’t find anything to be unhappy about.

    7. The Final Countdown (Blue Underground

    Attention studios, this is how you treat these smaller cult titles on DVD. After all the controversy surrounding a bootleg product of this title, which was a horrid P&S affair, Bill Lustig and Blue Underground stepped up to the plate and delivered a wonderful package for fans of this film. I had never seen the film but after viewing the DVD it quickly jumped up on my list of all time favorites. While there weren’t too many extras included, the video and audio certainly made up for that. The beautiful 2.35:1 image was terrific looking and the new Dolby Digital and DTS tracks made the film appear to be brand new. Blue Underground always releases quality products that often times manage to be better than Criterion but I picked this title since it would be the safest bet for the more mainstream crowd. If you want something lesser known then Blue Underground delivered there with Sadomania, Night Train Murders and Deathdream.

    8. Thriller: A Cruel Picture (Synapse)

    The more mainstream following probably wouldn’t notice but there are at least ten exploitation titles released each month and probably triple that when you consider everything being released overseas. These smaller companies have serious issues when they release this stuff due to all the bootleg’s that have been out there for decades. It’s funny that Disney messed up Kill Bill so badly yet the small Synapse delivered a home run with this cult shocker that influenced the Tarantino film. Previously only available on ugly bootlegs, Synapse delivered this film totally uncut with a new anamorphic transfer as well as two audio options. Something like this isn’t going to sell as much as Star Wars but I guarantee you that Darth Vader wouldn’t mess with “One-Eye”.

    9. The Boston Strangler (Fox)

    While I’m grateful Fox opened their vaults for The Alligator People this 1968 shocker is probably their best release of the year. This is a wonderful little thriller with Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda, which has sadly been forgotten the past few decades due in large part to the horrid looking P&S prints people have been viewing. Fox went all out delivering a pretty good looking 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer as well as a restored Mono track. Unlike some other budget releases from Fox, this one here is also loaded with extras, which include a newsreel, theatrical teaser, a trailer and finally a wonderful episode of the AMC Backstory series, which features interviews with Curtis.

    10. Best of Abbott and Costello Vol. 1-3 (Universal)

    Okay, so the quality wasn’t the high standards of Warner but back on January 1, 2004 had someone told me we would get twenty-four Abbott and Costello films I would have asked how much they had to drink the previous night. In 2004 we got three volumes of A&C films, which contained a total of twenty-four films and the best part is that we got all of them for around $60. People complained about the quality but these still looked a lot better than previous versions and it’s a wonderful way for new fans to take a look at the comic duo.


    Runner Ups: Fox continued their wonderful “Studio Classics” line with stellar releases including Desk Set, My Darling Clementine and The Three Faces of Eve. Subversive Cinema stepped into the league of Synapse and Blue Underground with The Witch Who Came from the Sea. Shriek Show came through with a great presentation of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie while Rhino went the extra distance to remaster and give extras to the worst film ever made in Orgy of the Dead. Paramount continued their usual high standards with releases of The Rose Tattoo, The Greatest Show on Earth, Last Train from Gun Hill and various other classics, which can be had for $10. Paramount delivered a far from ultimate set with Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan but even this set was a lot better than the Star Wars release. Universal, even with all their mistakes, offered some nice box sets at a cheap price including more Legacy Collections in The Invisible Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Not to mention other sets including Airport, which contained all four films with anamorphic transfers. Finally we go back to Warner with releases like Mutiny on the Bounty, Days of Wine and Roses and double features in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Gaslight.




    Scott Kimball

    1. The Return of the King - Extended Edition (New Line)
    The fan boy in me couldn't pass on this as my top pick of 2004. Tolkien himself once said that his trilogy was unadaptable. While purists may nitpick at some minor changes in chronology and the loss of some plot devices in Peter Jackson's adaptation, it manages to keep the spirit of the original. Whether or not you like the film, it was a monumental achievement in filmmaking. This Extended Edition on DVD, like the ones preceding it, is an elegant presentation all the way - from packaging and menu design, to inserts, artwork, and the presentation of the film itself. And the extras? Set aside a week or so for this one. These aren't throwaway extras, either - they are all truly interesting and relevant - practically a film school on disc. Elegant isn't a word I often use for a DVD presentation... so there you have it.

    2. Star Trek: The Original Series (Season Sets 1-3) (Paramount)
    Trekkies have been waiting since the inception of DVD for their favorite series to be available in a comprehensive set. Paramount provided excellent transfers, with few exceptions uncut, in interesting packaging and with some pretty good extras. While the extras could have been more comprehensive, these sets of the classic Trek are... classy.

    3. Top Gun: Special Collector's Edition (Paramount)
    The ultimate 80's popcorn flick finally gets special treatment in this late 2004 re-release from Paramount. Aside from a nearly flawless anamorphically enhanced visual presentation in its original aspect ratio, and a kick-butt DTS track, Charlie De Lauzirika has put together an amazing, exhaustive behind the scenes documentary. Topped off with cool and flashy menu design, TV spots, music videos and more, this set is hard to beat.

    4. Strangers on a Train (Warner Bros)
    I could pick any of Warner's Hitchcock releases from 2004 for my top ten, I'm sure. Since this one is the only one I've had a chance to view, it's the only one I can place on my list. It's a great presentation of the classic, with a second disc of special features by Laurent Bouzereau - plus a special "Preview Version" of the film. How can you go wrong with The Master?

    5. The China Syndrome: Special Edition (Columbia)
    This was a powerful (and amazingly relevant) film when it was released in 1979 - and it is still so today. All the elements are there: a great script, solid direction, and top notch acting by Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas. Columbia's Special Edition release does it up right, with excellent A/V and even a few extras.

    6. The Manchurian Candidate (MGM)
    The original can't be beat in the political satire / thriller / noir categories. An excellent release of a classic film. Included are a commentary by John Frankenheimer, interviews with Frankenheimer, Frank Sinatra, and more.

    7. Duel (Universal)
    This release is long overdue - and we fans were teased by its release for quite some time. Not only is it a great film, it is historically important cinema in that it put Steven Spielberg on the map. Complete with a DTS soundtrack, and interviews with Steven Spielberg and Richard Matheson. You've never seen "Duel" look or sound this good.

    8. Jerry Lewis (Paramount)
    Okay, this is a category, and not a film. Paramount's fall release of 10 Jerry Lewis classics will have his fans rolling in the aisles. Perhaps the most well known of these films is The Nutty Professor. This, and some of the other Lewis releases are complete with commentary by Jerry Lewis, and feature archival footage from Jerry Lewis' archives. A must for fans.

    9. Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2 (Warner Bros)
    How could this not make the list? A collection of the best of the Warner Brothers short animated films featuring Bugs Bunny and the gang. Of particular interest for me was the inclusion of the famous "What's Opera Doc," as well as so many of the Roadrunner cartoons that were missing from the first Golden Collection.

    10. MI-5 (BBC Video)
    Britain's answer to America's "24." This show is more grounded and believable than its American counterpart. It's a slick production from start to finish. The show follows a team of MI-5 agents as they deal with domestic terrorism. Outstanding stories and acting make for a compelling show.

    An honorable mention goes to Spacecraft Films continuing releases relating to the Apollo and Gemini missions and the Saturn rockets. These DVD sets contain hours of NASA launch and flight footage - and many have feature length documentaries, as well.



    Aaron Silverman

    Star Wars Trilogy -- The Big One that many people have been waiting for since the inception of the format. I personally did not buy a DVD player until Fox decided to support the format. While these are not the original versions with which we grew up, further Lucas tweaking has at least given us a major improvement over the 1997 not-so-special editions. And considering the truly horrendous condition of the original film elements, they did an amazing job with the transfers and soundtracks.

    Nostalgia Special: Footloose/ Top Gun/ Purple Rain -- Three popcorn specials that provided the soundtrack for a decade. While as films, these are merely cheeseball fun, they are also important pieces of '80s pop culture. If you're a member of Generation X, then you likely know all the songs, whether or not you saw the films. All three discs replace mediocre early releases with improved A/V quality and fun extra features.

    Dream Theater Live At Budokan -- This release sets a new standard for concert films. Superb anamorphic video, incredible 5.1 audio, and a lengthy set list that pushes three hours, not to mention a second disc packed with rockin' extra features, add up to the hands-down music DVD of the year. It even includes a lyric subtitle track for jammin' along, karaoke-style. The first pressing had a problem with the audio track, but those who bought it early can send away for a replacement.

    Meat Loaf Live With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra -- There's no one quite like Meat Loaf. He may be aging, but he can still put on a great show. Although the transfer isn't the greatest, and there's a momentary dropout in the DTS track, this is a fantastic concert that features all the Jim Steinman hits plus a fun array of special features.

    Star Trek Original Series complete set -- Yes, I grew up as a sci-fi geek, spending my weekend afternoons boldly going where no man had gone before with Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew. Tempted and teased by the early 40-disc release, those who waited have been rewarded with a complete set sporting A/V quality that's as good as these old shows are likely to ever get and a nice selection of bonus features. A pricey set, but a good value for fans.


    Walt Disney Treasures: On The Front Lines -- Pretty much all of the Walt Disney Treasures series are worthy of special recognition, but On The Front Lines, more than any of the other titles, combines classic hilarity with a serious look at a bygone era. It's highly entertaining as well as truly educational.

    The Great Escape Special Edition -- Is it the best-looking transfer of a 40-year-old film? Maybe not, but when a true classic like this is looking and sounding as good as it ever has in a home format and is sporting a veritable treasure trove of extra features, it's reason to stand up and cheer. The eight included featurettes, while unfortunately not time-coded, add up to hours of fascinating insight into both the film and the history behind it, and the informative commentary track features many different people involved in the production.

    Master & Commander Collector's Edition -- While not for everyone, this film is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in the age of Tall Ships and Napoleonic-era naval warfare. The amazing picture and sound will transport the viewer to the decks of a two-hundred-year-old warship like no other film has ever done. The extras are fascinating, including a unique feature on cannon fire sound design that's actually "interactive." Minus points for releasing a single-disc edition at a regular price and a two-disc edition at an inflated price for those who want the extras, but it's still a worthwhile purchase for those interested in what it has to offer.

    Universal Monster Legacy Collection -- Yes, this set has some technical issues, namely with Dracula. But 14 classics (well, maybe not *all* classics ) in one box, with some nice extras and statuettes that are a lot classier than they might have turned out, make this a worthwhile addition to the collection. Honorable mention goes to the later releases (The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and Creature From The Black Lagoon), although it would have been nice if they'd gotten their own boxed set.

    NBA Dynasty Series: Boston Celtics - The Complete History -- This jam-packed 5-disc set features several documentaries on the history of the team from the early days to its '60s and '80s dynasties to its recent struggles. It also includes tons of classic game footage, including several complete game broadcasts from the glory days. It's a blast for any fan, even those of us who have soured on the weak style of play that passes for basketball in today's NBA. (After watching some of this footage, I'm thinking that, unlike any other sport, the best NBA teams of 20 or even 30 years ago would do quite well against the teams of today.) Sets are also available for the Chicago Bulls and the LA Lakers.

    Runners-Up: I haven't watched them yet, so they can't make the official list, but there are at least three releases documenting the. . .wait for it. . .{sob of joy}. . .RED SOX WORLD SERIES VICTORY!!!



    Jason Perez

    1.Return of the King – Special Extended Edition

    After the work New Line did on the first two Extended Editions, I expected nothing less than a great release, and was not disappointed! Quite simply, this release more than does justice to one of the best films ever made, with stunning picture and sound quality and a TON of extras that actually enhance the experience. The sad thing is that there is not one of these to look forward to next year…hopefully it will not be too long a wait until “The Hobbit”!

    2.Star Wars Trilogy

    Sadly, these are not the beloved theatrical releases I had hoped for, but I have been waiting for these to appear on DVD for so long, there was no way I wasn’t buying. And some “creative decisions” / technical glitches aside, these DVDs feature amazing A/V transfers, interesting commentaries for all three films, and a bonus disc that includes the entertaining documentary “Empire of Dreams”. If you are one of the ten people who don’t already own this, go out and pick it up!

    3.Universal Monsters – Legacy Collection

    In my opinion, this boxed set is probably one of the greatest values I have ever seen on DVD! Fourteen films, including three of the horror genres absolute best, lovingly produced and comprehensive bonus features, and handsome busts of the Wolf Man, The Count, and the Frankenstein Monster. Yet another must-have, in what turned out to be a fantastic year for DVD collectors!

    4.Gone With the Wind – Collector’s Edition

    Finally, one of the most acclaimed films ever made gets the restoration it so richly deserved, allowing it to shine in all of its Technicolor glory! And the extras…well, you will probably be an expert on the film by the time you get through with them. An amazingly thorough and satisfying release, plain and simple!!!

    5.Duel

    It took ‘em long enough, but Universal finally got this disc for the film that made director Steven Spielberg a household name to market, and thankfully, it turned out to be worth the wait! The transfer is sublime, and for a tele-film that is 3 decades old, the 5.1 channel sound (particularly the DTS track) is unexpectedly engaging. Bet you’ll think twice before cutting off a semi after you watch this…

    6.Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition

    I love George A. Romero’s films, especially this one, which has a lot to say about consumer society underneath all of the blood, gore, and chaos. There have been more versions of Dawn released in previous years than you can shake a stick at, but this one is the be-all-end-all release for this film. What do you get? Well, not only does the film look and sound as good as ever, but three different cuts are offered (theatrical, director’s cut, and European cut), and there are some truly wonderful extras in this package, including great behind-the-scenes documentaries and audio commentaries.

    7.Star Trek – The Original Series (Seasons 1 – 3)

    Being a die-hard fan of the show, there is no way these were not making the list! To be sure, the show is cheesy by today’s standards, but the interplay between Kirk, Spock, and Bones just never gets old to me. Unfortunately, the extras are somewhat of a disappointment, but I really love the packaging, the overall A/V presentation is great, and the price is even better (some have griped about the sets being expensive, but remember it would have required 40 DVDs at about $15 a pop to complete the series before, not to mention an abundance of storage space). To sum it up, these season sets are the best way yet to “boldly go where no man has gone before!”

    8.Master and Commander – Collector’s Edition

    To be quite honest, I did not get the same warm and fuzzy feeling about this film that many others seemed to, but this is probably the best example of a disc giving viewers the feeling that they are right in the middle of the action that I saw this year. The picture and sound are both mind-blowing, and there are several sequences that would make perfect demos for showing guests what your home theater can do! In addition, this “Collector’s Edition” boasts some really interesting extras, although it does cost quite a bit more to get them…

    9.Ed Wood – Special Edition

    The subject matter is dark (Bela Lugosi’s later years were tragic indeed), but Tim Burton has never delivered a finer film, and the performances are absolutely superb, especially those of Johnny Depp and Martin Landau. Ed Wood’s A/V quality is top-notch, and the supplements proved to be as interesting and insightful as I had hoped. This is yet another film that I had been waiting a long time to get my hands on, and am glad to have in my collection.

    10.The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly – Special Edition

    The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is an exceptional movie for many reasons, including its smart direction, wonderful photography, the interesting backdrop the Civil War provides, and the fact that the acting and music are also extremely memorable.

    Forget the term “Spaghetti Western”, this is one of the greatest Westerns – scratch that – it is one of the greatest films ever made! The Special Edition re-release of this gem also makes it case for a spot in any DVD collection, by including a different cut of the film, elegant packaging, better than ever visuals and remixed sound, and a bounty of extras! Saddle up gunslingers, and give this set a spin!



    Michael Osadciw

    My top 10 titles mostly consist of DVDs I’ve reviewed on the forum, or that are associated with the studios I review for. So in Top 10 here is my pick for the year:


    10. Monster - This film gave Charlize Theron an Academy Award for 2003 Best Actress as her potrayal of the life of serial killer Eileen Wuornos. Your opinion of this disturbing film will depend on whether you agree or not to sympathize with the character. This film will certainly entice discussion of whether or not people are victims of our social and justice system or victims of their own fate.

    9. Spellbound - Try being one of the nine million American children entering to win in America's Spelling Bee contest. What's a diatomaceous or a solipsism? I have no clue! But imagine being 10 years old and being under severely intense pressure to know and spell these words. This relatively short documentary follows eight kids from the beginning showing us how stressful it can be on them until the winning event. Very funny, very stressful, and very well paced keeping interest all of the way through.

    8. Man on Fire - Not only was this an enjoyable film, but I loved the stylized imagery of this Tony Scott film. The excellent image quality on the disc and the superb 5.1 surround mix on this DVD are to die for! This is an awesome soundtrack available with both DTS and Dolby encodings. Deep bass kicks in all channels and all speakers assault you with sound. This is one disc to check out for a lot of home theater fun! After all, have fun with your hobby!

    7. Arrested Development: Season One - Okay, so I'm going to toss in a TV show in the top ten just because I think the good shows should be recognised and because television shows have become popular on DVD. Arrested Development is a wacky show about a man trying to manage his father's housing development business while trying to keep the rest of his brothers, sister, and mother out of the way from screwing things up - again...and again... Recorded like a reality TV show with HD cameras, the video on this season is great to go along with the countless laughs.

    6. Hellboy: Special Edition - This is another reference DVD in terms of audio and video quality, but this release also has a second disc of quality bonus features that take an in-depth look at the creation of the movie. As a bonus, this release has four old UPA cartoons that are great to watch. A director's cut of this movie was released later in the year, I have not reviewed it but I imagine the quality is consistent.

    5. Shorts! - This is where it has become more difficult to determine which order I should place the remaining titles. This DVD is a collection of 15 short films won at various film festivals around the world. I'm putting this release up against some major releases because I feel these shorts send out more story and emotion to the viewer than so many other major films we know. I loved this DVD and look forward to seeing more of these.

    4. Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition - I was not able to review this big release for the forum but was fortunate to do so with the single disc release in March. This film is neither gory nor scary, in fact I find it funny as hell poking at our consumer society. This Anchor Bay release is the best collection of all three versions of this film and is packed with lots of bloody features. Few will complain about an inaccuracy or a missing element here or there, so I highly recommend picking up this excellent compilation of my favorite DEAD FILM.

    3. The Passion of the Christ - I was moved by this Mel Gibson film and thought it was pieced together beautifully. I think this is an excellent film and deserves the number three spot for that reason. Forget the criticism and forget the technicalities - and it doesn't matter what religion you believe in or not; this movie depicts the last few hours of Christ as he gives himself up to the brutality of mankind. It makes you think that not much has changed in over 2000 years. It is a bare-bones release and I can't wait for a special edition. As a bonus, if you have the Canadian release you get to experience this film in full bitrate DTS rather than the half bitrate DTS included on the US release.

    2. The Star Wars Trilogy - This was the most anticipated DVD release and the final product was met with mixed feelings. I guess with a fan base of its kind that should have been expected. While I can say this trilogy could deserve the number one spot on my list for effert in restoration (but then there are many FOX Studio Classics that also deserve this space for that one and only reason), there isn't much in this release in terms of special features. Even though there is a very good documentary, there is still so much more to be given to us fans. I think of this set really as a fabulous movie-only release, because beyond that and the one documentary, there isn't much more to shout hooray for.

    1. Panic Room: Special Edition - I give huge thumbs up for this three-disc set because of the amount of effort placed into making this release as dynamite as possible. I enjoyed this David Fincher film and have been pleased with the quality of the previous Superbit Edition. While this Special Edition drops the DTS encoding found on the other release and the picture quality is just a hair less texured on an eight-foot screen, there is a housefull of special features found on the three discs that will give many "ultimate editions" a run for it's contents. The DVD menus navigate through the film's house and its options cover everything about a movie I can think of. For a CTHE release, this is an awesome collection of material that I recommend watching to anyone who wants to see "behind the scenes" extensively.




    David Boulet

    The titles that have crossed my path (that being the key issue here...haven't had the time to enjoy as many DVDs this past year as I would have liked) here are the real stand-outs for overall kick-ass presentation in terms of content, AV quality, and extras.

    LOTR Return of the King

    for all the obvious reasons. Who can deny...that near-reference 16x9 transfer with incredible audio (both DTS and DD) and bonus material that is as interesting and engaging as the feature presentation...and that is saying a lot!!!

    Star Wars Trilogy

    A bit of a let-down that it's only the "revamped" versions, but still a must-have and the restoration and image/sound presenation is astonishing. These three discs are among the very BEST LOOKING DVDs I have in my collection. No EE and so much natural detail that guests always do the "oohh...ahhh" and ask if it's hi-definition.

    Tomorrowland (Disney Treasures)

    A really ground-breaking program for 1950's television and the archival special feature content and shear beauty of this set is absolutely marvelous. Any sci-fi fan (or sci-fact fan for that matter) should get a copy of this. Quality programming at its best and I'm so pleased Disney has taken the time to make these materials available in such glorious quality.

    On The Front Lines (Disney Treasures)

    Bravo to Disney for taking some serious risks with this amazing collection of WWII propoganda and entertainment shorts/material. Any history buff or WWII fan needs to own this. The images are often disturbing, and it is a good sign of things to come that Disney had the guts to release this set as they did. Some really astonishing material here.

    Meet Me in St. Louis

    What a gorgeous restoration and what a great movie and nice set of extras. I love to see classic catalog films like this restored and released in such glory.

    Gone With The Wind

    Same as above. WB deserves some serious praise for the restoration and DVD presentation they're affording for these classic films.

    Clerks X Anniversary

    An incredible SE set. I'm not even a "avid" fan of the movie but the special edition *really* impressed me with it's SE content and really increased my appreciation for the film (what I consider to be Silent Bob's best movie).


    Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2 (Warner Bros)

    How long did we wait? Thanks WB for making these shorts available in such a historically-minded fashion (unedited and true-to-original form). Bravo.

    Aladdin

    A great film, and better PQ than Disney's usual (less EE and more detail) and a great set of bonus material in this SE set. Bravo and this is the bar to which all Disney's classics should be raised.

    Shrek 2 (amazing picture quality)

    A bit shy on bonus materials, but an INCREDIBLE movie (IMO the best comedy of 2004) and the picture quality is absolutly stunning on a projection system. Demo-disc![/size]
     
  2. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    absolutely fantastic list for 2004.

    Still I found titles that I had not seen or heard of, so my cc is going ka ching

    Well done

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Mark_vdH

    Mark_vdH Screenwriter

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    Great lists, though the thread title could easily be changed to best dvd's of American (& English language) movies (with M as the proverbial exception).... [​IMG]

    I can't believe no one mentioned great quality, multi-disc sets of important classics like The Battle of Algiers, Rules of the Game, La Dolce Vita and Ikiru as well as brilliant American stuff like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Shawshank Redemption, Capturing the Friedmans, Schindler's List, Short Cuts, Seinfeld and Goodfellas!

    Sorry, had to plug my own favorites of 2004. [​IMG]

    Keep up the great work!
     
  4. Rod

    Rod Agent

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    Mark is absolutely right! 2004 was a stellar year for foreign releases and the fact that not a single title (except for M) made anyone's top ten list is confounding. Okay, maybe you didn't see Diary of a Country Priest, Scenes From a Marriage or I Vitelloni, but how could you miss the remarkable 5-disc release of Fanny and Alexander or the beautiful 3-disc release of The Leopard, and c'mon guys ... Rules of the Game was a wonderful multi-disc release of one of the most honored films in cinema history.

    With all due respect, it wouldn't hurt you guys to broaden your horizons a little.

    -Rod
     
  5. Casey Trowbridg

    Casey Trowbridg Lead Actor

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    Well, if this thread did anything, it sold at least one more copy of Gone with the Wind.
     
  6. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    One of the unfortunate side effects of watching 120 or more discs in one year as a reviewer is that we often don't have the time to watch things for pleasure. You might notice that our picks may be slightly skewed to the studios we review. It's simply economics of time. I review product from Paramount, and I can count on one hand the number of foreign titles released by that studio. I think they had one foreign title in the last quarter of 2004.

    While there are a number of foreign titles on my "to buy" list from 2004, I can't include them in my picks if I haven't seen the product. The next disc I purchase will probably be "M".

    -Scott
     
  7. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Rod,

    A couple of things to keep in mind. Think of this list as a collection of “favorites” among us – not necessarily “the best” the year had to offer, although many of these certainly do qualify.

    Most importantly, like Scott said, reviewing titles for a specific studio (or group of studios) as we do here, takes up much of our viewing time to watch a). titles from many of the other studios and b). titles we just want to watch ourselves.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of simply broadening our horizons – I know for a fact that several reviewers here are fans of foreign film, myself included. Given the way we review titles here at the HTF, I think a more accurate statement with respect to broadening ones horizons would be to include titles from varying studios – not just an emphasis on genre or foreign films. I think in this case, we’ve done that.

    Remember, this is just for fun…!
     
  8. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Heck, have you ever seen ORGY OF THE DEAD and GONE WITH THE WIND in the same write up? [​IMG]

    As for the lists, you can see that I cheated more than anyone else due to how many titles I listed. I had ties, 10+ titles at the #2 spot plus a fairly big "runner up" list. The problem is that I couldn't list everything and I actually probably listed a bit too much. HERE'S LUCY made the list because it just had to due to all the work that went into the release. The same with GWTW.

    FREAKS made my #1 because of how poor this title has always looked. Again, if a newbie looks at the DVD they're going to think I'm crazy because of the scratches on the print but to me, seeing the film previously, it was my pick as Warner's best restoration job even though I didn't like the film.

    I've got THE LEOPARD, FANNY AND ALEXANDER and M sitting here to watch. I haven't viewed this yet so I couldn't include them on the list. I reviewed THE KING OF KINGS a few days after I made my list and decided not to go back and change things or this would have been included. However, due to my price issues with Criterion, I'm not sure how many of these would have made my list because there were several wonderful releases from Kino, Blue Underground and other smaller guys that didn't get mentioned.

    Of course, THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE is a foreign film that was directed by Bergman's assistant director on films such as PERSONA and HOUR OF THE WOLF. The problem is that most haven't heard of this film so they wouldn't know to check it out. THRILLER isn't as big or well known as FANNY AND ALEXANDER so perhaps people will overlook this title. That was one of the bigger reasons it made the list. Criterion gets a lot of praise because people know the films they are releasing. Companies like Synapse, Blue Underground and Shriek Show are doing just as impressive work with foreign films but they don't get recognized because people haven't even heard of the films let along actually seen them or know the history behind them.

    But as Herb said, it was done for fun. [​IMG]


    ***Edit to ad: With my list, it's the Top 10 best discs that I looked at this year. Only 2 of all the titles I mentioned would make a "favorites" list.
     
  9. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    I'm just chiming in with more of the same. . .please consider this a "Favorite Watched Titles" list, rather than a straight top 10 of *all* releases.

    I have a lot of stuff on my shelf that might have made the list but that I simply haven't watched yet -- Ikiru, The Leopard, Return of the King, Gone With The Wind, and plenty more. Remember, I have to let that stuff slide so that you guys can get your review of Resident Evil: Apocalypse! [​IMG] O, the sacrificies of the HTF DVD Reviewer. . .
    [​IMG]
     
  10. Bob-N

    Bob-N Supporting Actor

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    Maybe Ron should change the subject line....[​IMG]

    You guys do a great job and the lists are varied between the reviewers. There are only a few overlapping titles. I would say that there is a pretty good variety there if you look at all of the lists as one giant list.

    Keep up the good work.
     
  11. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    Guys,

    I'll take he blame for this.

    An idea was put forth for a Top 10 list
    for the year as picked by our reviewing staff.

    It was never actually discussed how the criteria
    would be selected -- based on TOP titles or FAVORITE
    titles.

    It is apparant that this list is based on FAVORITE
    titles. I have modified the subject line to reflect
    this change.

    ...so please lay off the reviewers. [​IMG]
     
  12. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Good idea and really wonderful lists! I know I'll be adding a few more to the shelf this week... gladly!

    What's the use in posting if one can't quibble? [​IMG]

    SS did a nice two-disc set, and not all of the special features are of the disposable variety. But they didn't quite get the transfer right. I'd recommend Blue Underground's release instead for two reasons: (1) more accurate color timing (arguable, of course, but the cartoony colors of the Shriek Show release don't strike me as being as accurate as the more natural color scheme of BU's); and (2) Shriek Show's continuing failure to properly flag their transfers for progressive playback. BU, as usual, gets this right.

    So, I'd recommend the Blue Underground disc and a Netflix rental of the Shriek Show bonus disc (which is, in part, very much worth seeing, at least once).
     
  13. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Blame? Good lord! No worries, Ron.


    Yeah, what he said! [​IMG]
     
  14. AlexHL

    AlexHL Stunt Coordinator

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    I have to agree with Mark and Rod. This was perhaps the year of Criterion yet they go almost completely unmentioned! Saying that you haven't seen them is not really a valid excuse as some of the titles mentioned here were released well over half a year ago. Surely it's because of personal preference then.

    Still, you guys do a wonderful job. Don't mean to bash you! [​IMG]
     
  15. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    However, that's exactly what you did! Anyhow, I enjoyed reading your lists.





    Crawdaddy
     
  16. David_Blackwell

    David_Blackwell Screenwriter

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    Nice lists. I thought the PANIC ROOM SE was one of the best of the year (and one of my favorites).
     
  17. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Um. . .of course it's valid -- it's true! [​IMG]

    Believe me, not having seen some of those classic Criterion titles that have been on my shelf for months is NOT due to "personal preference!"
     
  18. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    I agree with what you said Rich. As a die hard fan, I actually bought both and still kept my AB disc. I actually prefer the color on the SS version but the issue with the PS isn't good. Due to the price mixup at BB, you could own both for $30, which was the retail price of the SS version to start with.

    As I said earlier, Criterion gets all the praise when companies like Blue Underground, Synapse and Shriek Show are releasing just as good releases yet no one talks about them because they don't know the films. If one were really to "expand their horizons" then I'm sure more people would be talking about these three studios. Criterion has certainly done their job with their Bergman titles but Blue Underground has had a lot tougher job with their Franco titles. Seriously, how many are hearing of Jess Franco for the first time in this paragraph?

    BU is releasing much smaller foreign films to a smaller group of fans so they certainly have a lot more to lose and aren't charging $40+. I singled out THE FINAL COUNTDOWN because it's the one title I think more people could enjoy. With that being said, other titles like SADOMANIA, NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR and even KILLER NUN were great releases. With SS, I picked ZOMBI because it was the better known of all their releases. Something like MAN FROM DEEP RIVERS also deserves a mention for its beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer as well as featuring the original Italian track.

    I was certainly being a bit bias but I wanted to get the word out that these smaller guys are doing terrific work and have been doing so for years. As I said earlier, the problem is that most film buffs haven't seen or even heard of these films so I wanted to get another shot out to them.
     
  19. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    Not true. I have well over a dozen Criterion's in my collection. I bought "Tin Drum" on release day, and still haven't had a chance to watch it. Surely, I wouldn't spend the money if I didn't have an interest. I wish I had time to watch more... but watching DVDs for about six hours a week as part of this job leaves precious little time to watch other things. Plus, I have two other jobs, and sort of have other things I like to do on occasion, too... [​IMG]

    Also, btw, foreign titles comprise nearly 10% of my collection.

    I also have to say that, fan that I am, Criterion is no longer the undisputed king of classic films on DVD. All one has to do is look at Warner to realize that.
     
  20. Mark_vdH

    Mark_vdH Screenwriter

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    I'm thinking about buying this because of the recommendation panel. [​IMG]

    However, as this is a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, is it best that I (re-)watch that first? I've seen "Night" a long time ago and don't really remember anything, except that I didn't really like it.
     

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