Gabe's 2008 DVD Awards
Our Gabe screams 'Better Late Than Never!' and shakes his fist threateningly
Memorably, 2008 will be seen amongst home video aficionados as the year that HD DVD officially died. It’s good to have a single high definition format, and it had been looking like Blu-ray was going to win the battle for some time, but I still regret the passing. I love my HD DVD player and discs, and am constantly cursing my second gen Blu-ray player. I’m not much of a tech-head, so perhaps the differences between the formats is beyond my comprehension, and in the end these were both stepping stones to direct download, which will put me out of a job, and make my collection hideously moot, so perhaps I should just look on the bright side.
2008 was also the year that the majority of the new classics of 2007 were released for home video consumption. Unfortunately, I didn’t personally consume too much that wasn’t sent for me by studios for review purposes, so it appears I’ve still missed a lot. Regardless, here’re my choices for the most memorable and loveable releases last year, and a couple shots at some of the less than good pics that hurt my feelings.
Once again Gabe ‘Shocking Revelation’ Powers chooses cartoons as the best way to waste a weekend. Watch ‘em again and again, until your eyes burn out of your skull, and settle in little white puddles on the carpet. 2008 featured many of the same releases that had made me happy in 2007, including the final season of Nickelodeon’s Americana-Anime series Avatar: The Last Airbender. With the end of Avatar comes the end of my pointing at children’s entertainment as the best television entertainment available on DVD, and hopefully I’ll be more likely to point towards adult entertainment in the upcoming years.
That ‘adult’ entertainment includes three awesome releases from Adult Swim studios. At a mere twelve minutes an episode Metalocalypse and Frisky Dingo are the ultimate time wasters, inspiring a record number of ‘Well, maybe just one more’ from even the most exhausted fan. The delayed release of the second season of Boondocks was another cause for celebration, even if twenty-two minute episodes are a little less addictive than twelve minute episodes. The hits keep coming in 2009, with the DVD releases of Venture Bros. season three, and Frisky Dingo season two. The less I reveal about Tim and Eric Awesome Show is probably the better.
My R1 Avatar Book 3 Review
First Runner Up: Mad Men(Season 1 Blu-ray and DVD)
I regret much of my glowing review of the first season release of AMC’s Mad Men television series—it wasn’t nearly glowing enough. A second, post-review viewing opened my eyes widely to the perfection of the show, and the following season blew my mind even further. Mad Men is one of those shows you think about even when you aren’t watching it. It’s one of those shows that will make you new friends, assuming they’ve seen it too. It begs a DVD or Blu-ray ownership due to the requirement of second and third viewings. It’s a huge time waster because you can’t turn it off.
My RA Blu-ray Review
Second Runner Up: Dexter(Season 2 DVD)
Dexter was yet another show I missed on its initial release, and when the second season showed up expecting review I decided to watch the first season in preparation. I ended up watching both seasons in less than a week, and lost time to an alarming degree. The Blu-ray release of season one at the top of this year calls for the obsession to start all over again. Look for that review soon. I think.
My R1 DVD Review
Dark City: Director’s Cut(Blu-ray and DVD)
For years and years—ten years to be exact—fans had heard about director Alex Proyas’ general disapproval with the changes he was forced to make in the final cut of Dark City, the film generally considered the visually adept director’s best. Well, we finally got our director’s cut, along with a decent smattering of new extras in 2008. The differences between the cuts are negligible in length, but tonally there’s now a sizable chasm. Proyas gets to say ‘I told you so’, and we get a better movie.
Faces of Death(Blu-ray and DVD)
There’s little confusion over the actual value of the original Faces of Death—it’s crap, but MPI’s 30th Anniversary Blu-ray release was deliciously entertaining. There weren’t a lot of extras, but they were all worth their weight in gold, especially considering that this was the first time in years that the film’s falsifications were fully admitted on film. The price is also right, but a rental is probably the best way to go for most of us. The commentary track with real director Conan LeCilaire is the juiciest morsel.
My RA Blu-ray Review
Tie, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood(Blu-ray and DVD)
The two greatest films of the great year that was 2007 are so equally great I’ve had a hell of a time decided which one is the best. I’ve watched each visually and audibly wondrous disc a number of times over the last year, and have changed my mind at least a dozen times. The one thing I think we can all agree on is the general disappointment in the size and scope of the extra features on both discs. Unlike many initial releases I don’t think we can expect anything more in the future. The Coen Brothers have never expressed much interest in supplemental features, and Paul Thomas Anderson seems to want to surround There Will Be Blood with a degree of mystery. These are still, of course, amongst the must-owns of 2008.
Here are my reviews: No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood
Sleeping Beauty: 50th Anniversary Edition(Blu-ray)
Walt Disney’s most visually stunning animated film was the perfect choice for their first back-catalogue Blu-ray release. The image clarity on the disc is almost frightening, and the brightness of the colours may set your television on fire. This is also the first time the film’s been presented in its full 2.55:1 widescreen. The newly minted 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is another exciting addition, and quite possibly the best revamp of an older audio mix ever. The extras are pretty cool too.
Runner Up: Baraka(Blu-ray)
Technophiles will definitely want to pick up a copy of MPI’s affordable Blu-ray release of Baraka, an odd but accessible little visual catalogue originally filmed in 65mm. Scanned at 8K resolution, the print is ‘over sampled’, pushing it beyond the capabilities of a 1080p scan. This roughly means that Baraka looks so good it’ll make your brand new set look bad.
My R0 Blu-ray Review.
Wristcutters: A Love Story(DVD)
I expected to like Goran Dukic’s book based dark comedy after learning the concept and seeing the trailers, but I wasn’t prepared to like it quite as much as I did. It’s not a perfect film, or even a film that I’d suggest to the majority of readers, but I’ve watched it three times now, and have most of the soundtrack on my iPod. I’d like the film to find a larger audience, but would also be happy keeping it for myself.
My R1 DVD Review
First Runner Up: Rambo(Blu-ray and DVD)
I’m not a big fan of the Rambo film series, beyond a general respect for the original film, and an appreciation of the ridiculous nature of the first two sequels. I had no use for a belated fourth entry in the terminally dated series. Little did I realize that Stallone’s final (?) thoughts on the character would prove so unavoidably entertaining. I’m not sure I like the film for all the right reasons; in fact, I find the final act much funnier than I’m assuming Stallone originally intended, but I’ve watched it several times since, and don’t regret it being the one and only John Rambo film on my shelf. And don’t you dare miss that commentary track.
My RA Blu-ray Review
Second Runner Up: Enchanted(Blu-ray and DVD)
Unlike Wristcutters, I had zero interest in even glancing at a solitary frame of Kevin Lima’s real-life Disney princess movie. When I finally made myself watch the film for review I was shocked at its charm and grace. Above all I was shocked at the film’s overall intelligence, and enthralled with Amy Adams’ pitch perfect performance. Enchanted is a wonderful film, and one I was happy to watch on more than one occasion. My 6/10 review is actually a little unfair.
My R1 DVD Review
Mother of Tears(DVD)
In a year filled with terrifyingly overwhelming disappointments, including the second and third films in the Futurama series, and an incredible awkward animated adaptation of Justice League: The New Frontier, one release was definitively and irrefutably soul crushing, and that was Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears. I know, I know, the guy’s been circling the bowl for two decades, but there was something in his silly Masters of Horror shorts that tricked me into thinking he was interested in filmmaking again. The nearly thirty year gap between the last of his ‘Mothers Trilogy’ ( Inferno) should’ve been enough to scare me into expecting nothing from Mother of Tears, but I’m a romantic at heart, and I kept my hope glass half full, not half empty. I was wrong, the movie is terrible. Awful. The worst film the man’s ever made. Don’t even bother renting it.
On a more positive note, Anchor Bay re-released the only two Argento classics they still hold the rights to— Tenebre and Phenomena—with brand new anamorphic transfers. Here are my reviews: Tenebre and Phenomena.
Godfather Trilogy: The Coppola Restoration(Blu-ray and DVD)
I didn’t realize how weak the transfers on my old Godfather DVDs were until I got these new discs in my Blu-ray player. The restoration of the first two films doesn’t result in a picture perfect transfer, and it shouldn’t, but this is far and away the best the films have ever looked. The new extras aren’t particularly exciting, and the third movie still isn’t all that good, so some Blu-ray fans might want to wait for the single film releases, if they ever come.
My R0 Blu-ray Review
First Runner Up: James Bond Blu-rays
They just keep releasing the James Bond movies on home video. Sneaky bastards. Now they’ve released them on this new-fangled hi-def format, and they expect the fans to shell out for the same twenty-one movies all over again. Well, I’m not much of a fan, so I didn’t actually own any of the James Bond movies, and these Blu-ray releases are stunning, some of them look as if they came out yesterday. There aren’t many worthwhile extras that you didn’t see on the older DVD releases, but really, they look awesome guys, you should buy them again.
My Bond on Blu-ray reviews:
From Russia with Love
Live and Let Die
For Your Eyes Only
Die Another Day
Second Runner Up: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue(DVD)
Ignore the title change, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is the same movie as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Anchor Bay’s original release was a Godsend to horror fans, and not only because it was a thrill to see the hard to find classic, but because the studio went all out on the transfer. I didn’t think Blue Underground’s second release under a different title was too much cause for celebration, but a comparison between the two transfers speaks for itself. Hopefully the studio will stick the film on their Blu-ray listing soon.
My R1 DVD Review
The Dark Knight(Blu-ray)
The Dark Knight was the mammoth of the year —critically acclaimed, audience adored, and a massive money maker (though when inflation is taken into account it doesn’t even break the top twenty-five grossers’ list). I found the film sensibly flawed (the first act is rough, and it feels like ten minutes are missing from the tail end), and have found myself a bit annoyed by the teeth gnashing fanaticism that has come along with the phenomenon, but even I can’t downplay the film’s good points, which are many and varied. The behemoth was released on disc with a collection of lamely brief featurettes, and made-for-TV additionals we all saw for basic cable charges when the movie came out in theaters. None of those thirty-plus minutes of deleted scenes we heard so much about, and no real making of information on much but the car chase. I don't know about the rest of you, but I really want to see the behind the scenes on that Two Face effect. I don’t think an audio commentary is in the cards, but I know they have something waiting for a second release some time in the near future (definitely post Oscars).
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay!(R0 DVD)
There was a good chance that Oldboy director Park Chan-Wook’s success would go to his head, and that his Vengeance Trilogy follow-up would be a mess of self-indulgent mob of baroque visuals, and abstract storytelling. To a certain degree I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay! is a self-indulgent, baroque infused and abstract mess, but the director doesn’t lose track of his narrative, his originality, or faith in his actors. I’m a Cyborg isn’t your usual ‘feel good’ movie, but compared to the nihilistic melancholy of the Vengeance Trilogy, Cut, and J.S.A, its heart is as light as a feather, and downright accessible. I really wish Tartan hadn’t gone out of business I’d probably have a Blu-ray version by now, which would be beautiful.
My R0 Review
Zodiac: Director’s Cut(HD-DVD)
I looked through all my reviews this year, and the only platinum award I gave was to a piece of dead technology. The director’s cut, two disc special edition of David Fincher’s Zodiac was released on DVD as well, but in 2008 my eyes weren’t about to suffer the ails of standard definition (I've become an eyeball snob), and a year ago (almost exactly) it still looked like HD-DVD might survive. Don’t worry though, by the time this editorial goes live the Blu-ray version of this release should be available (with TrueHD audio even).
Of course without a good movie behind it all the look and sound of perfect wouldn’t be worth our time, or my platinum award. Zodiac isn’t just a good movie, it’s a stand out among titans. Any other year it would’ve been the must see motion picture experience, and even in the shadows of There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men Fincher’s film is a notable achievement. The film is remarkably re-watchable, genuinely improving with each new viewing. The two disc collection’s extras are exhaustive, but never exhausting, filling the viewer’s time with hours of palatable info-tainment. There is nary a lick of wasted space, and you will come out the other side a more intelligent movie goer and human being. I can’t praise the set enough.
My HD-DVD Review (look for my Blu-ray update very soon).
First Runner Up: Wall-E(Blu-ray)
It wasn’t a perfect movie, but Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E was more or less my favourite film of 2008 (though that doesn’t mean much considering all I missed), and the high definition release was a must own several months before it was released simply based on the awe inspiring visuals. Therefore, the surprising news wasn’t the quality of the film or the A/V quality, but the inclusion of the documentary film The Pixar Story on the second disc. Pixar discs have always had their share of extras, but nothing has ever compared to this.
My Blu-ray Review
Second Runner Up: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Guillermo del Toro’s blood, sweat and tears follow-up to the most unlikely super-hero movie of all time is a sharply flawed masterpiece. It wasn’t the best of the large summer comic book crop in most terms, but what it lacked in structure it made up for in imagination, and stunning imagery. Again, the high definition audio and video weren’t a surprise at all, and in this case, neither were the extras, including a fascinating behind the scenes documentary, and another lovingly rendered commentary track from Del Toro, who’s quickly becoming to the go to guy for the practice.
My Blu-ray Review
Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Blu-ray, DVD)
Another contender for double-dip of the year, Sony’s better-late-than-never re-release of Terry Gilliam’s second most troubled production (which is sayin’ a lot for Terry) looked good in hi-def (or anamorphic widescreen on DVD), and had a great selection of extras.
Bonnie and Clyde (Blu-ray)
Arthur Penn’s bloody game changer wasn’t my top choice for hi-def enhancement, but it’s hard to argue with the results, and the new extras are a nice touch after years of owning the same extra-less full frame DVD copy.
Iron Man (Blu-ray)
Just like The Dark Knight, Hellboy II, Incredible Hulk and Wanted, Marvel’s metal-clad anti-hero’s film was a flawed introduction, but the charms of Robert Downey Jr. proved impossible to resist. The exceedingly pretty Blu-ray disc was packed with valuable extras, including a very long making-of doc, and a featurette on the origins of the character.
My Blu-ray Review
The Mist (DVD)
I still haven’t gotten my mitts on a Blu-ray copy of the first good Stephen King movie in a decade (or more), but my two-disc DVD has gotten a big workout in 2008. I’ve shown the movie to friends in both black and white and colour mode several times just to watch them quake with discomfort as the final credits roll. A truly remarkable movie experience, and something I probably should’ve found room for in the awards section.
Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)
The newly minted extras aren’t worth the double-dip, even for Jack Skellington’s most ferocious fans, but moving from non-anamorphic DVD video to full 1080p in a single stroke is huge. The new DTS-HD Master Audio track is a bit of a thrill as well.
My Blu-ray Review
6 Films to Keep You Awake (DVD)
Lions Gate dumped this collection of made-for-television horror films on disc in a box that let the prospective audience know nothing of its country of origin. In fact, 6 Films to Keep You Awake was the Spanish equivalent to America’s depressingly average Masters of Horror series. The six films in the set (which is very affordable, by the way) are all good, but two constitute must-sees for genre fans— The Baby’s Room and The Christmas Tale.
My DVD Review
Son of Rambow (DVD)
For some stupid reason Garth Jennings enormously charming coming of age comedy was a Best Buy store exclusive when it was first released, which hurt the film’s chances to find the right size cult audience right off the bat, and a Blu-ray release is still nowhere in site. Regardless, Son of Rambow was the sweetest treat you were likely to see all year.
My DVD Review
Sukiyaki Western Django (Blu-ray)
Takashi Miike’s wild and wacky spaghetti western homage isn’t going to change any of the widely varying opinions on the man’s work, but for fans it’s a must see. I only regret my later discovery of a twenty-three minute longer Japanese cut, which is not included on any of the US releases. From what I understand the cuts were made by Miike himself, but the option would’ve been nice.
My Blu-ray Review
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Blu-ray)
Tim Burton’s welcome return to the dark side was another of 2007’s many marvellous achievements that improved with each viewing. As per the Burton norm the extras don’t really impress, but the A/V quality of the Blu-ray release was a marked improvement over the original DVD release.
My Blu-ray Review
The Third Man: Criterion Edition (Blu-ray)
I would’ve included Criterion’s re-release of Carol Reed’s seminal noir in my Golden Foree runners up, had the DVD equivalent not been released in 2007. It just felt like cheating. Regardless, it’s still a perfect movie.
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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