Below are my suggestions for the Top 15 Home Video Releases. First, I have not watched, nor do I intend to watch, every release this year. While the films themselves are the most important part of all releases there are some times in which the whole package elevates a release beyond what we have become accustomed to receiving. None of these releases are on the top 100 top-selling lists which is why people like me want to talk about them.
2016 World Series Champions: Chicago Cubs (Shout Factory) / 2015-2016 NBA Champions (Team Marketing)
As a Clevelander who has been a Cubs fan for three decades this year has had two releases with an incredibly limited audience. When Kevin Love locked down Steph Curry at the end of game seven my mind flashed back to those Sports Illustrated adverts at the end of Superbowls “sign up now and get a championship video”. This year, in a bizarre twist of fate, I got two. I have these two (together) on this list because I NEVER expected to see either of them. I am very surprised to see that these discs have extra features as well. You will probably discount this entire list because these two are here but these are important releases to me.
(Note: I added these after removing Napoleon as it is not natively available but it is an amazing release and a testament to people’s desire to make old, rotting, films match up with modern film releases. If you have a region-free player, you owe it to yourself to try and find a copy. Or wait because it will probably be here eventually.)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Scream)
True story, until this year I had not watched The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and I now regret that. I loved the film, it looks great, the packaging (although it is the gross blue keep case) is neat with it reversible sleeve and a cardboard slipcase so you can have the new art right next to the old art. But this release is here for the film itself. You could do a heck of a lot worse.
The Manchurian Candidate (Criterion)
I watched The Manchurian Candidate during high school and thought it was pretty good. It was strange to see Jessica Fletcher as a villain. Watching it now, as a politically knowledgeable adult, revealed a whole new appreciation for it. This film, itself, is its own driving factor for my recommendation here. The restoration and presentation is great; the special features are fine but the movie is a masterpiece.
Chimes at Midnight (Criterion)
There are very few people of whom I am aware who could get away with re-writing Shakespeare to create something new in the same style. I suppose this is big budget fan fiction. Anyway, Orson Welles is that person and Falstaff is that character. I was aware of this film before Janus Films announced this theatrical release but the quality of every image I had seen was suspect. When I watched the release trailer I was astonished. Criterion and Janus have done it again mirroring the remarkable work from last year’s Apu Trilogy (and A Brighter Summer Day). This plastic disc holds the marriage between history and modern digital technology to produce something truly astonishing.
Hellraiser: Scarlett Box (Arrow)
2016 has been a banner year for horror film releases with the return of Vestron, some of the best work from Scream Factory and Arrow Video and a restoration of Phantasm but one of the highest points is this new restoration and boxed set of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. Where Jason and Freddie are serial killers Hellraiser is all about lust becoming a justification for murder. I have always been a fan of these movies and when Arrow released this set, region locked, last year in a limited release that sold out too quickly for me I was pretty bummed. Well, they re-released it over here and much to my delight it is just as lovely as I had hoped. They films themselves look great and the special featurettes are worth it but again, packaging matters.
Marx Brothers (Universal)
Occasionally a mainstream studio does their own heavy lifting and this is one of them. The Marx Brothers collection is the easiest way to get these classic films together in one set. Like A Brighter Summer Day this is here for the art of the films alone, and high comedic art it is.
Trilogia de Guillermo del Toro (Criterion)
These are delightful films, Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. This release welcomes Pan’s Labyrinth to the Criterion Collection with a brilliant remaster and is just as perfect as it has always been. The other two films are identical to their previous releases. Where this release excels, however, is in its packaging. I cannot do it justice by trying to explain it here, so, go here and look for yourself.
Female Prisoner Scorpion (Arrow)
These films, by most reasoning, are terrible and that is what makes them perfect. There are questionable edits, sound design, lighting, and that doesn’t consider the “acting”. But this does not matter. They are terribly perfect. These, like the film the follows, are well designed works of art, and, unlike the following, they are exploitation films that would make my mother cry. They star Meiko Kaji who, if you are like me, you have seen kill a LOT of people in Lady Snowblood. The restoration is amazing, they look and sound great. The packaging is remarkable. These discs include something that I really like about Scream/Shout Factory does with reversible sleeves so you can display the new artwork or you can reverse them for some classic film imagery. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
L’Inhumaine (Flicker Alley)
Flicker Alley, as long time readers know, have never let me down. l’Inhumaine is a perfect example of their work. The film is a avant gardeists / art deco wet dream. I want to use this film to as a basis for the interior design of a house I will build when I am a millionaire. I struggle with the content of the story but the presentation is impeccable. There are moments when it appears that they are filming models and you cannot tell when they cut to the real actors, or it is how they filmed it, I don’t know or want to know. This one is magic. This is a wonder of a film. It is not for everyone but I bet there are several people out there who will dig this flick.
1309 minutes of previously rare films restored to their best possible version. This is the sort of release that people like me drool over. Fair warning, this a little over 21 hours of films and I have not watched them all yet but I have been enamored with what I have watched. On top of that beautiful restorations you have scores by the likes of DJ Spooky. If you like silent films or important-to-history films this set is definitely for you. Look out next year to its sister set about Women in Film, I am confident it will be right here on this list. Kino really knocked it out of the park on this project.
Blood and Black Lace (Arrow)
What we have here is a marriage between perfect packaging and a great film that has a perfect restoration. I don’t know if I have ever talked about this here but I have a soft spot for colorful films. By colorful I mean nearly cartoonish color. Blood and Black Lace provides that in spades and it was photographed impeccably. If you like suspense/horror/giallo films you will not be disappointed.
A Brighter Summer Day (Criterion)
Oof, where the next film needs the whole shebang to earn its place on this list A Brighter Summer Day is here on the merit of the film itself. It is long, very long, but I don’t want to go too deeply into why this is here, I want you to watch the movie. Then we can talk about it. Amazing.
Okay, this one is not fair. It is out of print and essentially scrubbed from Plain Archives’ website, you can find it on eBay but you will pay for the experience. This HD remaster of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 Korean film is delightful to look at, crisp and clean with all of the grain that nature intended. First, this is one of the top four best package. A long time ago I was in a Big Box electronics store and trying to decide between three individual discs versus a three-disc box set, the prime difference was a few dollars in cost. A worker told me that “you don’t watch the box.”
He had a point. He is also wrong. This is one of the best looking packages you can get. Inside that package you get a three disk steel book set with 6 commentary tracks and over 11 hours of special featurettes including a brand new documentary. Oh, and you get the amazing film Oldboy.
Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Criterion)
Next to the Dekalog, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams is one of the films that I was most looking forward to receive a restorative treatment. I am not disappointed. I think I watched the van Gogh sketch about four times in a row before moving on. This film is great. The picture is great. The transfer is great. If you want to see what it means to be able to mold your dreams into a motion picture this is the perfect place to do so.
If the Arrow Signature edition of the Krysztof Kieslowski was Region A (or Region Free) it would take the top spot and render the Criterion Edition useless (sorry). But it is not. So, this is a fight. Both appear to be from the same 4k restoration but the Arrow edition is at 25 FPS (frame per second) rather than 24, making it a more faithful representation of the original presentation. Both look fantastic, never better. Where Arrow comes in a little hotter is in the design and supplements. The Arrow edition includes five other short, television, films by Kieslowski.
Now, the Arrow Edition does not include the Short Film versions which keeps these two close. Chances are, though, if you are reading this, the Criterion edition is the one for you due to the region lock. You cannot go wrong with either. This, to me and perhaps many others, is the release of the year.