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It’s been a while since I did a year-end wrap up. A few times I was too sick at the end of the year to throw something together, but the bigger problem is that I tend to watch only what I’m sent to review, which leaves me rather unprepared to truly gauge the best home video releases of any given year. This year, I’m going to try something different – I’m going to make a list of the best titles I reviewed over the last 12 months and will largely ignore other titles that may be worthy of celebration (I may also be a bit of a baby about not getting a copy of the Avengers, but I’m trying to be a big boy here). So then, please join me as I revisit my year in review. Or maybe it’s review my year in review.

Gabe's 2012 Wrap-Up

The Year of Hitchcock

Until 2012, there were not many Alfred Hitchcock movies available on Blu-ray disc. As far as I know, the only Hitchcock titles available on the format (in region A) before this year were Psycho (from Universal), North by Northwest (from Warner Bros), and The Lady Vanishes (from Criterion). That soon changed in January when Fox and MGM released three of the Master’s pre-colour classics – Rebecca (Hitch’s only Best Picture winner), Spellbound, and Notorious. These releases all feature strong, 1.37:1, black & white transfers and a decent collection of extras, but weren’t given quite the celebratory roll-out as Universal’s mammoth Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, which was released in late October as part of the studio’s 100th anniversary celebration. The Masterpiece Collection features 10 of the director’s most celebrated films ( Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds), along with his final five films ( Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot), which aren’t so celebrated, but still something worth owning in HD. The fan favourites all look and sound good to amazing, but there are some issues with the transfers on the latter five. These issues aside (and really, only Family Plot looks flat out bad), the collection is certainly worth owning and probably my personal favourite among the releases I’ve written about all year. Meanwhile, Paramount also re-released their Centennial Collection DVD version of To Catch a Thief onto Blu-ray format and the 1080p boost corrected many of the SD video’s issues.

My complete Rebecca, Spellbound, and Notorious group review.

My complete Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection reviews, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three, all including comparison images.

My complete To Catch a Thief Blu-ray review.

And, just to break my first rule right off the bat, I’d like to note that Strangers on a Train, The 39 Steps and Dial M for Murder (in 3D) were also released on Blu-ray in 2012.

Gabe's 2012 Wrap-Up

More Classic Making Their Blu-ray Debut

Next to the Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, the coolest thing to come out of Universal’s 100th anniversary celebration was a compendium of the studio’s most famous classic era horror films. Released under the title Universal Classic Monsters Essential Collection, this release featured Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera (1943), and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Unlike the Hitchcock Collection, there were no major errors in terms of video or audio quality, making for a handsome collection of great-looking films and brimming with extras carried over from the older DVD collections. The only thing holding this set back is the fact that the 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera isn’t very good, otherwise, I personally discovered new love for The Mummy and The Invisible Man I didn’t even know I had. Hopefully, Universal’s interest doesn’t end with the centennial and more of the studio’s classic horror is on the docket for Blu-ray release next year.

My complete Universal Classic Monsters Essential Collection review.

Hitchcock and Universal Monsters aside, it’s likely that the most anticipated catalogue releases of 2012 were Paramount’s (who was also celebrating its centennial in 2012) Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures and Universal’s Jaws. I don’t personally know many people that want to own a copy of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but otherwise, the Indiana Jones collection met expectations in terms of A/V quality (there have been some complaints about the colour-timing leaning too orange) and featured many of the extras from previous DVD versions while Jaws was given a truly stunning HD makeover and a liberal stuffing of extras, some of them new to home video.

My complete Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures review.

My complete Jaws review.

The other notable collection of titles I checked out this year was Fox and MGM’s Forever Marilyn set, which featured the first home video HD releases of some Marilyn Monroe favourites, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, and The Seven Year Itch, along with re-releases of Some Like it Hot and The Misfits (both of which were made available the previous year as stand-alone releases). There weren’t too many extras in this collection and There’s No Business Like Show Business is kind of a bad movie, but the Technicolor and CinemaScope HD transfers are absolutely gorgeous. Hopefully the other Monroe titles popping up on Netflix’s instant queue lately, like Bus Stop, Monkey Business, and We’re Not Married, will signify a second Forever Marilyn set next year.

My complete Forever Marilyn review.

Other standout catalogue releases this year included Paramount’s Sunset Boulevard and Chinatown, Disney’s Ed Wood, Castle in the Sky, Finding Nemo and Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition, Universal’s To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition, and MGM’s The Apartment.

Gabe's 2012 Wrap-Up

The Best of the Brand New

There were many great new releases throughout 2012, but many of the best ones eluded me. Or I was lazy and handed them off to Jonathan. The best of what I saw starts with Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release of Drew Godard’s Cabin in the Woods, a brilliantly fun horror comedy that is overflowing with amusing and informative extras. Also on the extras-heavy side of things is Fox’s three-disc, 3D/2D release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Once again, I’m cheating, because I didn’t actually review the three-disc set, but, considering how hard it is to convince people that the film itself isn’t terrible (I liked it!), I figure I need the extra bounce provided by the incredible documentary I didn’t actually review.

My complete Cabin in the Woods review (with co-writing help from Jonathan).

My complete Prometheus 2D Blu-ray review.

Among the slightly less extras-heavy, but still perfectly pleasant new releases are: Disney’s The Muppets, a triumphant return to form for the beloved felt creatures; Universal’s Moonrise Kingdom, a triumphant return to live-action for director Wes Anderson; Paramount’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the series best film and animation director Brad Bird’s first live-action feature; and Fox’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, which was among the year’s pleasant surprises.

As per usual, there were a handful of genuine shocks -– movies I assumed would be terrible that ended up being a good time. These start with the year’s biggest financial flop, Disney’s John Carter. Andrew Stanton’s film is certainly uneven, but it’s much better than the negative reviews would have you believe. It also looks and sounds spectacular on Blu-ray. Another surprise was Fox’s release of Josh Trank’s Chronicle, which overcame the tired tropes of the found footage and superhero subgenres to be an entertainingly unique mini-blockbuster. But the biggest surprise of them all was Fox’s release of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Three Musketeers, not because it was a good movie, by any means, but because it just wasn’t that bad. It was, gulp, actually kind of entertaining. Alexandre Dumas must be rolling in his grave.

* My favourite film of the year was probably Rian Johnson’s Looper, but there isn’t time to include it here. I plan on adding a link after the fact.

Gabe's 2012 Wrap-Up

Killing Time with TV Season Sets

When I first started reviewing DVDs, I used to love getting season sets in the mail. Covering something that extensive and large always felt like a real accomplishment. These days, I tend to greet a season set with apprehension and, in some cases, even disdain, because I now understand how much work they entail. Too often, the reward of accomplishment isn’t worth putting a half-dozen other review items on the backburner. But some season sets are worth the effort and will be revisited even outside my requirements as a critic. This year’s big TV on Blu-ray release would probably be season one of HBO’s Game of Thrones – a painfully addicting mix of genres played out on a truly epic scale rarely seen on television. The Blu-ray package came in a classy fold out box, looked wonderful, sounded better than most blockbuster movie releases, and featured a wide array of special features, enough to keep a fan occupied for days. AMC and Lionsgate’s release of Mad Men’s fifth season also filled my time nicely. It was a pleasure revisiting the season again, despite having just finished it earlier in the year on its initial run. I also found myself very impressed with Paramount’s Star Trek: The Next Generation season one Blu-ray release, which had a few minor sound issues across an episode or two, but otherwise gave a nice taste of what else to expect from further HD re-issues. High among this year’s TV surprises was Fox’s release of American Horror Story – one of 2012’s most entertaining and enjoyably daft new series. So far, the second season is just as ridiculously dumb/fun.

My complete Game of Thrones: Season One Blu-ray review.

My complete Mad Men: Season Five Blu-ray review.

My complete Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One Blu-ray review.

My complete American Horror Story: Season One Blu-ray review.

Gabe's 2012 Wrap-Up

Cult, Horror, and B-Movie Exploitation Bonanza

I look forward to the prestige and blockbuster releases as much as the rest of you, but I’m also a relatively obsessive collector of cult films, exploitation rarities, imported horror, and other brands of B-movie entertainment. The biggest news in cult Blu-ray releases this year was probably Anchor Bay’s release of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale. This release came in two flavours – a single disc director’s cut (which I was sent for review) and a collector’s edition containing the superior theatrical cut, the director’s cut, and an additional DVD of extras (most of which were available on Arrow’s UK release). The transfer wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly acceptable and, in any case, this marked the first official stateside home video availability of the film since its 2000 release.

My complete Battle Royale director’s cut Blu-ray review.

Blue Underground released a handful of Blu-ray firsts, including Aldo Lado’s brutal Last House on the Left clone/improvement Night Train Murders and two of the best and most challenging films of the Euro western movement – Damiano Damiani’s A Bullet for the General and Giulio Questi’s Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot!. The two spaghetti western discs featured particularly strong 1080p transfers, free of the usual bits of digital noise that have hurt some of the studio’s earlier releases, but, sadly, Django Kill was released way back in July and the studio’s recent news items list DVD-only re-release through next April. Other exciting cult releases include Synapse Film’s Twins of Evil, one of the more underappreciated Hammer Horror films, and Drafthouse Films’ Miami Connection, easily the best random catalogue find of the year.

Gabe's 2012 Wrap-Up

In Closing

It’s been a good year and there’s a lot to look forward to next year. There isn’t an excess of news on upcoming releases past the first quarter of the year, but, given what we know, I’m especially anticipating:

New Releases

(including a lot of stuff I missed in theaters)
  • Cosmopolis (January 1st, EOne Entertainment Blu-ray and DVD)
  • Archer: Season Three (January 8th, Fox Blu-ray and DVD)
  • Dredd (January 8th, Lionsgate 3D/2D Blu-ray, and DVD)
  • Cloud Atlas (January 29th, Warner Bros Blu-ray and DVD)
  • Argo (February 19th, Warner Bros. Blu-ray and DVD)
  • Holy Motors (February 26th, Indomina Blu-ray and DVD)
  • The Master (February 26th, Starz/Anchor Bay Blu-ray and DVD)
  • Lincoln (February 26th, Disney Blu-ray and DVD)
  • Life of Pi (March 5th, Fox 3D/2D Blu-ray, and DVD)
  • Wreck It Ralph (March 5th, Disney 3D/2D Blu-ray and DVD)
  • Skyfall (March 12th, Sony Blu-ray and DVD)

Catalogue Releases

  • Two Lane Blacktop (January 8th, Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
  • Wake in Fright (January 15th, Drafthouse Films Blu-ray and DVD)
  • That Obscure Object of Desire (January 29th, Lionsgate Blu-ray)
  • Laura (February 5th, Fox Blu-ray)
  • Game of Thrones: Season Two (February 19th, HBO Blu-ray and DVD)
  • Prison (February 19th, Shout Factory Blu-ray/DVD combo)
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (March 12th, Disney Blu-ray)
  • Badlands (March 19th, Criterion Blu-ray)
  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (March 19th, Criterion Blu-ray)
  • Phantasm II (March 26th, Shout Factory Blu-ray and DVD)
  • From Beyond (March 26th, Shout Factory Blu-ray/DVD combo)
  • James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition ( East of Eden, Giant, and Rebel without a Cause, second quarter, Warner Bros. Blu-ray)
  • House of Wax (third quarter, Warner Bros. 3D Blu-ray)
  • The Right Stuff (fourth quarter, Warner Bros. Blu-ray)

Happy Holidays and see you next year!

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