Films, like diamonds, are forever. Lest any of us forget it, we've now got DVDs to remind us.We've already done our list of Top 10 Films of the Year, but since it's become clear that DVDs are where movies come to live — and what we best remember them by — it seems only right to introduce our first list of the Best DVDs of the Year.
Some of the very best DVDs released in '02 won't appear on this list, but that shouldn't discourage you from seeking them out — if your machine is capable of playing them, that is. In order to simplify things, we've restricted our best-of entries to titles released in the good ol' U.S.A., but I'd be less than honest if I didn't tell you that some of the year's most exciting releases hail from elsewhere. Any movie lover capable of viewing PAL or non-Region 1 should check out the phenomenal UK edition of Straw Dogs, the Italian disc of Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man), or the astonishing box sets from Hideo Teshigahara (Japan) and Hou Hsiou-Hsien (Taiwan). And don't forget that French DVD of Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us, which looks infinitely better than the U.S. release and contains a second disc of extras not available here.
America is still the king of the DVD world, though, and the 20 titles on this survey are only the tip of the gleaming digital iceberg that appeared in 2002. There were far too many runner-ups to mention them all, but we'd be completely remiss if we didn't at least tip a hat to Anchor Bay's groundbreaking Giallo Collection and their very cool Klaus Kinski/Werner Herzog box set, which is the best reissue of the year. And let's not forget Amelie, Wellspring's Fassbinder-ific Merchant of Four Seasons and Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Criterion's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and The Outer Limits: Season One, all fantastic discs to watch again and again.
1. Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition Accept no substitute: New Line's four-disc edition of Peter Jackson's epic fantasy features an even longer and stronger cut of LOTR than the one we saw in theaters and on the standard two-disc set. The meticulously crafted 208-minute version presented here allows the film to breathe and soar in ways that was previously only hinted at. Add state-of-the-art production and two full discs jammed with fascinating extras, and you've got not just the best DVD of the year, but one of the best DVDs ever.
2. Children of Paradise Marcel Carne's epic of 19th century Parisian high life and low lives is often thought of as the Gone With the Wind of France. Frankly, it's an even better film than that. Criterion's exquisite double-disc set features Carne's 1945 masterpiece in a gorgeous high-definition transfer, along with two insightful commentaries, production designs, historical info, an intro by Terry Gilliam, and a slew of other tasty extras.
3. Sunset Boulevard One of the greatest American movies of all time, Billy Wilder's wickedly funny film noir comes to DVD in a meticulously restored transfer and a wealth of supplemental materials including a virtual reconstruction of the controversial and long unseen original opening sequence.
4. True Romance/Pulp Fiction/Jackie Brown Virtually everything that Quentin Tarantino ever breathed life into transformed into lavish DVD editions last year, complete with oodles of deleted and extended scenes, interviews, trivia, behind-the-scenes features, and, of course, stunning picture and sound. It's nice to see all these films put into context, with the Jackie Brown disc serving as a particularly superb shrine to Pam Grier.
5. Rashomon Akira Kurosawa's seminal film gets the deluxe Criterion treatment, and the world is a happier place. The film's superbly composed imagery is immaculately reproduced and complemented by Donald Ritchie's expert commentary, vintage interviews with Kurosawa and the Rashomon cinematographer, an introduction by Robert Altman, and a beautifully produced, 26-page booklet.
6. Mickey Mouse in Color/Mickey Mouse in Black and White Watch the birth and evolution of the world's most famous cartoon character unfold before your eyes in these two double-disc sets containing pretty much every snippet in which Disney's beloved rodent ever appeared. Wonderful extras like original pencil test footage and storyboard sequences make even Leonard Maltin's cloying input bearable.
7. Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon Jacques Tournier's multilayered tale of faith, reason and big, scary demons is one of the undisputed classics of horror cinema. Columbia TriStar's edition presents both the U.S. version and the longer, re-edited U.K. release in lovely transfers that highlight the film's elegantly atmospheric black-and-white camerawork.
8. Contempt An overheated Jack Palance, a nude Brigitte Bardot and a very curious appearance by Fritz Lang are only some of the sublime pleasures found in what is perhaps Jean-Luc Godard's most accessible (and, in its glossy way, most subversive) movie. Criterion's amazing two-disc set features a ravishing, anamorphic widescreen transfer, as well as a solid commentary track and a full disc of rare, vintage material devoted to Godard, Bardot and Lang.
9. Die Nibelungen Speaking of Lang, the great director's monumental silent epic has finally been restored to its full, five-hour glory (nearly 100 minutes longer than any previously seen version!). Besides the sparkling, uncut version of Lang's saga of dragon slayers and blood oaths, Kino's magnificent two-disc set includes the original 1924 score performed by the Munich Radio Orchestra, footage of Lang on the set, stunning production design sketches, essays, photo galleries and much more.
10. Monterey Pop Criterion's lavishly produced 3-disc set transports you right back to 1967 via stunning digital transfers of D.A. Pennebaker's original film, complete sets by Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, and a final disc of two hours of outtake performances. The extras are just as spectacular on this landmark package.
11. Spaghetti Western Collection Four of the more interesting Italian oat-operas all assembled in one incredible box set: the groundbreaking Django (looking much improved over Anchor Bay's previous release), A Man Called Blade, the brutally funny Run, Man, Run!, and the thoroughly surreal Django Kill (If You Live... Shoot!). All of the movies are presented in sharp, colorful widescreen anamorphic transfers with a choice of English or Italian soundtracks, and abundant extras including interviews, documentaries, still galleries and fantastic featurettes on each film.
12. Memento If you can figure it out, the year's most confusing menu is your entry to a splendid looking version of Christopher Nolan's acclaimed neo-noir and an amazing array of extras. Included is the entire shooting script, Nolan's incisive commentary, and the ability to play the entire film in reverse (which is to say, in the order in which events actually occur).
13. Down By Law Jim Jarmusch's droll minimalism has never been so appealing as on this beautifully produced two-disc set. Robbie Muller's rich, silvery, black-and-white imagery fairly leaps off the screen, and Criterion pulls out all the stops with hours of fascinating supplemental material. There are great outtakes, Jarmusch sounding off on everything under the sun, and even a collection of recorded phone calls between the director and stars Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni.
14. Near Dark Kathryn Bigelow's loopy vampire flick gets the respect it deserves on Anchor Bay's spiffy THX-approved edition. Tangerine Dream's score sounds amazing remixed for 5.1 Dolby digital sound, and the excellent making-of documentary more than compensates for Bigelow's somewhat flat commentary.
15. The Adventures of Prince Achmed More than 75 years later, Lotte Reiniger's silhouette animations are as dazzling and distinctive as ever. This Milestone/Image disc presents Reiniger's enchanting take on The Arabian Nights, along with a rare 1921 short and an hour-long homage to this filmmaking legend. Sheer magic.
16. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Milos Forman's best Hollywood movie, Jack Nicholson's breakout role, and one of the best big-screen adaptations ever of an "unadaptable" book. Warner Brothers' elegant Special Edition of this American classic includes a sleek, pristine picture, Forman's remarkable commentary, a good making-0f, and eight deleted scenes.
17. The Devil's Backbone/Blade 2 Two very different but, each in its own way, very good films by director Guillermo Del Toro, both done right by DVD. With a full disc of deleted scenes, interactive documentaries and production notebooks, New Line's Platinum Series DVD of Blade 2 is by far the more extravagant edition, but both titles feature Del Toro's extraordinary commentary tracks — wry, witty and always engaging.
18. Giants and Toys One of the greatest things about DVD is its ability to shed light on films and filmmakers previously unknown to us — and Fantoma's DVD editions of films by Yasuzo Masumura has been nothing short of a revelation. The best of the lot is probably Giants and Toys, a subversive, borderline surreal satire of Japanese consumer culture, in which a candy company spokesmodel with very bad teeth finds love in a kitschy modern world.
19. The Blood Collection Kudos to Image Entertainment for unearthing these wonderfully bizarre, low-budget horror films from the Philippines. The movies in The Blood Collection — Brides of Blood, Mad Doctor of Blood Island and The Blood Drinkers — are sleazy, scary, unhinged, atmospheric, oddly poetic and always addictively entertaining.
20. Metropolis Osamu Tezuka's elaborate anime is an epic of unparalleled visual imagination, and the Columbia TriStar DVD does it full justice. You can watch the film in its original Japanese language version or as an English dub (great for just soaking in the images without the distraction of subtitles). Then there's that cool little mini-disc full of extras, including an animation demo with a choice of no less than nine angles. By the way, don't mistake Tezuka's film with Fritz Lang's landmark sci-fi of the same name; that one's coming out next month, and already looks like a contender for the Best of 2003.