The year 2007 has seen the release of some outstanding movies on DVD, and I've made a list of those I found to be the best. My criteria included the artistic merit of the movie, the enhancement value of the bonus materials, and the picture and sound quality. I applied these criteria in a completely subjective fashion, and the result is a personal, idiosyncratic list of my own favorites that doesn't necessarily reflect the popular wisdom. In alphabetical order, here are some of the best DVD movie releases for 2007.
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
(1968) is a landmark film that features a cut during which four million years elapse, graceful movements of spacecraft accompanied by "The Blue Danube" and a mind-blowing trip by an astronaut through kaleidoscopically changing shapes and colors, not to mention a talking computer that says, "My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it." The DVD set provides a ton of extras, including commentary by actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, a making-of documentary, four featurettes and additional bonus materials.
Kirk Douglas gives an outstanding performance in the film noir Ace in the Hole
(1951), one of Billy Wilder's best movies. Douglas portrays an unscrupulous New Mexico reporter who yearns to be a big-shot journalist in New York. When he happens upon a man trapped in a cave-in, he slows down rescue efforts to make the news story bigger. The trapped man's wife refuses to attend a special mass for her husband, saying, "I don't go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons." The DVD set has a pair of interviews with Wilder and one with Douglas, a worthwhile scholarly commentary and additional extras.
Set in Morocco, Japan and the California-Mexico border area, Babel
(2006) is a visceral drama that intercuts linked stories of four families in a jigsaw-puzzle narrative structure. The majority of the dialogue is in English, but quite a bit is in Japanese, Spanish and Arabic. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu infuses Babel
with exuberant filmmaking as he takes us from children herding goats in the Moroccan desert to deaf young people dancing at a pulsating Tokyo nightclub to a joyous wedding in a Baja California village. The DVD set provides an excellent 88-minute making-of documentary.
Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin
(1925) is an important silent film, both in terms of cinema history and world history. This DVD set contains the 2005 restoration of the movie, which incorporates all known footage, has good picture quality, and has the score from the 1926 Berlin premiere in 5.1 stereo. The DVDs contain two slightly different versions of Potemkin
, one with English intertitles, the other with Russian intertitles (with English subtitles available). Also, there's an informative documentary describing how the restorers tried to come as close as possible to Eisenstein's intentions.
Jean-Luc Godard's debut film was Breathless
(1960), a groundbreaking French New Wave movie starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. It was influential because of its amoral characters and its discontinuities between frames. The story involves an offbeat romance between Michel (Belmondo) and Patricia (Seberg), but Michel is on the lam because he just killed a cop. There's lots of interesting dialogue, as when Patricia says, "I don't know if I'm unhappy because I'm not free, or if I'm not free because I'm unhappy." DVD extras include a 78-minute making-of, interviews and an 80-page booklet.
Jack Nicholson gives a brilliant performance in Chinatown
(1974), a film noir with a great script, which was written by Robert Towne. The protagonist is a private eye named Jake Gittes (Nicholson), who is hired to investigate an extramarital affair, but soon finds himself caught up in a web of deceit and violence. He gets involved with a woman (Faye Dunaway) and meets a tycoon (John Huston) who says, "Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough." The DVDs contain insightful interviews with Nicholson, Towne, director Roman Polanski and producer Robert Evans.
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, The Departed
(2006) is an entertaining crime drama directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson. The story is about the Massachusetts State Police trying to bring down a mob boss (Nicholson). They have an undercover trooper (DiCaprio) infiltrate the mob, but there's a dirty cop (Damon) inside the state police secretly working to protect the mob's interests. The DVD set contains a featurette on the real-life gangster behind Nicholson's character, an 86-minute documentary on Scorsese's career and more.
Kenneth Branagh directed and plays the title character in Hamlet
(1996), which has Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Derek Jacobi as Claudius, Julie Christie as Gertrude and Hollywood stars in minor roles. The film is four hours long and preserves all of Shakespeare's words. But the time frame is moved forward to the latter half of the 19th century, and the movie has elaborate and opulent sets, colorful and elegant costumes, location shooting at Blenheim Palace and a good musical score. The DVDs provide a superb commentary by Branagh and a Shakespeare scholar, a video intro by Branagh and a making-of.
The year 2006 saw the release of a pair of complementary films directed by Clint Eastwood: Flags of Our Fathers
and Letters From Iwo Jima
. The latter is about Japanese soldiers who defend a tiny Pacific island against an overwhelming American force in a bloody and pivotal World War II battle. The defenders know they are doomed, and 95 percent fight to their deaths while inflicting heavy American casualties. Ken Watanabe portrays the Japanese commanding general. The DVD set contains a making-of, a featurette on the cast and 40 minutes on the film's world premiere in Tokyo.
Helen Mirren gives one of the greatest performances in screen history in The Queen
(2006). The story is an absorbing character study about Elizabeth II (Mirren) dealing with the aftermath of the 1997 auto accident that killed Princess Diana and her lover. Much of the movie is set amid the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands, and the film creates a plausible fictional version of the world of the royal family. The DVD contains two commentary tracks, a very good one with an expert on the British monarchy, and another with the director and the screenwriter. There's also a 20-minute making-of.
Robert De Niro gives a towering performance as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver
(1976), and the scene where the emotionally disturbed Bickle stands in front of a mirror and asks, "You talkin' to me?" has become one of cinema's most famous. Screenwriter Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese made the film an engrossing study of loneliness and alienation. The DVD set supplies a 71-minute making-of and two good commentary tracks, one by Schrader, the other by a scholar. Also, there are interesting featurettes where Schrader, Scorsese and producer Michael Phillips talk about the film.
The 1950s pop song "Mack the Knife" came from the off-Broadway musical The Threepenny Opera
, which was derived from the 1928 Berlin production developed by dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. A screen adaptation of the Berlin stage musical was made into a marvelous 1931 film directed by G.W. Pabst. Actually, Pabst directed two versions of the movie, one in German, the other in French, and the DVD set contains both. Also, the DVDs provide a good, but nerdy, commentary by a pair of university professors and a top-notch documentary tracing the musical from stage to lawsuits to screen.