Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Movies is Good: Top 10 Discs of 2020

 by JB

We certainly had enough time to watch ALL THESE DISCS this year, didn’t we?

Bill Hunt put it best on his excellent and essential website The Digital Bits: the major studios searched high and low for new profit centers this year during the pandemic quarantine. The Disney Company launched Disney+ (maybe you’ve heard of it) and quickly found themselves with over 85 million subscribers. At about $10 a pop, that adds up to $850 million a month... in what is essentially found revenue. The studios next looked into, in Hunt’s words, “the low-hanging fruit of physical disc releases.” This is why, at a time when some were predicting the death of DVDs and Blu-rays, 2020 becomes an unexpected Best Year in a long while for sweet, sweet spinners.

What follows is my list of the “Discs of the Year,” not on the basis of movie or plot, but on presentation, picture quality, and bonus materials. These discs played an important role in my life this year, amusing me for a few simple hours and distracting me from the fact that everyone is going to die. Thanks, movies!
10. The Oscar (Kino-Lorber Studio Classics) Who would have thought that this obscure, awful film would ever get a disc release like this? Of course, it looks beautiful, but anything would look beautiful compared to the nine converted YouTube mp4’s I had been watching until this week. This is a film that I have held close to my heart for a very long time. Sometimes when grocery store lines are too long, I will randomly shout, “And you got a glass head, I can see right through it! It's how I know you're stupid!” That’s how much I love love love this film and treasure this new restoration. Not surprisingly, the gorgeous transfer enhances the film’s entertainment value because now there’s an even wider psychic schism between HOW the film looks and WHAT the film is. It’s like a loving 4K transfer of a 1960s Chicago Sewer Workers training film. As Allen Sherman used to say, “Imagine a fancy, purple brocade pillow... and on the pillow sits an ONION.” That’s The Oscar! The new audio commentary featuring Patton Oswalt... that’s the cherry on top of the onion. Here’s my original column, pre-COVID, when I was still capable of getting excited about something.
9. Grace of My Heart (Kino-Lorber Blu-ray) Another film where I despaired of ever getting a decent disc release. The new disc is beautiful with an improved soundtrack to go with it and bonus materials from the film’s original release. If you want your period picture’s hit songs to sound authentic, hire Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello to write them. Has John Turturro ever been better? That is not a rhetorical question, readers.
8. Taza, Son of Cochise (Kino-Lorber/3-D Archive Blu-ray) Talk about a hole in my knowledge base—I never knew that famous soap opera/melodrama director Douglas Sirk made a western... starring Rock Hudson... that was exhibited in 3-D. Watching this film made me feel like a had hit the obscurity trifecta at a movie racetrack in my imagination. The film is wonderful fun and the 3-D is fantastic: not just “flaming arrows in your lap” set-pieces but also a considerable number of scenes framed with objects in the foreground, emphasizing the increased depth of field. Ron Furmanek and the 3-D Archive continue to do admirable and important archival and restoration work on pictures like these. Bravo.
7. Godspell (Sony MOD) For years I watched this on a VHS tape I had recorded from a rare airing on PBS. Unfortunately, they showed it on a “Pledge Night” so the film was constantly interrupted by local celebrities begging for money... just like Jesus would have wanted! The film’s first disc release was little better; it looked like it had been transferred from my VHS tape. Sony’s new Blu-ray disc is a visual revelation and comes with a new commentary track by Lee Gambin that is one of the best of the year. “Pre-ee-ee-pare Ye The Way of This Disc!” Here’s the column I wrote earlier this year when the disc was first released.
6. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (Paramount Blu-ray) We can argue all day about the merits of The Godfather Trilogy’s “red-headed last chapter,” but this new edit and new restoration is astounding. Although I haven’t seen the original enough times to spot all of Coppola’s changes, I did notice that an effort has been made to re-mold the narrative structure to match that of the first two films. Michael’s opening talk with the Bishop here mirrors Don Vito’s conversation with Bonasera in Part One and Michael’s meeting with Senator Geary in Part Two. All three conversations now take place during or directly before large family parties.

Likewise, the death of Joey Zasa here more closely resembles similar scenes with Fanucci in Part One and Frank Pentangeli in Part Two. Obviously, all three films feature extended violent montages that set mob killings against a backdrop of costumed or religious ritual. It seems to me that one of Coppola’s motives in this new presentation was to make the problematic, controversial Part Three conform and seem more of a piece with its more highly respected predecessors. This film has never looked better, the restoration work here is state of the art, and Coda emerges as one of the best-looking discs of the year.

Also, SPOILER ALERT: The final shot of Part Three, one of the worst and most mis-conceived final shots in film history, is gone. Bravo.
5. TIE: Flash Gordon (Arrow Video 4K)
War of the Worlds (Criterion Collection Blu-Ray)

I wrote columns earlier this year about the joys of these new sci-fi disc sets: fun movies, sumptuous transfers, revelatory soundtracks, and bountiful extras. You can read those original columns here:

Flash Gordon 

War of the Worlds 
4. TIE: Brides of Dracula (Scream Factory Blu-ray)
Curse of the Werewolf (Scream Factory Blu-ray)
The Curse of Frankenstein (Warner Archive Blu-ray)

Can we horror fans ever repay our debt of gratitude to Scream Factory for the bounty of riches they have provided in just the last few years? Their ongoing series of Hammer restorations are sights to behold with plenty of interesting bonus features. In fact, Scream Factory and other small disc labels seem to have upped the ante on these archival releases. Warner Archive’s new The Curse of Frankenstein disc, released just last week, seems like it was designed as an answer to these “upstart” small labels’ efforts or at least an attempt to be regarded in the same light. Astounding transfer (it was once thought that the original negative had been over-printed and useless for restoration; Warner got around this inconvenient fact by using the B&W safety color separations instead. Ingenious!) and a cornucopia of extras. I will no longer be able to bitch and moan about there being “no decent looking print of Hammer’s first horror film” anywhere. Thanks, Warner!
3. Mystery of the Wax Museum (Warner Archive Blu-ray) Surely Two-Strip Technicolor is a relic of a bygone era (era), but I am such a fan of Warner’s rescue efforts on behalf of this obscure little gem. The film looks so much better now than the scratchy, splicey, dupey mess that was once this title on disc. For fans of Fay Wray, for fans of ’30s horror, for fans of the more famous remake, House of Wax, this is a must-have disc.

PLEASE NOTE: Although Warner re-released its 3-D House of Wax disc this year as a Warner Archive title, the version of Mystery of the Wax Museum on that disc is the old version, not the new restoration. Boo.
2. The Irishman (Criterion Collection Blu-ray) Disc collectors also owe the Criterion Collection a debt of gratitude for putting out superb editions of “Streaming Studio” titles that might not otherwise receive a disc release. I’m so glad that I can own Roma, Parasite, and now The Irishman on Blu-ray disc in case Netflix or Hulu should ever take them off their streaming services. The image on the new Irishman disc is stunning. This is a film I saw twice in a theater and twice on Netflix, and the image on the new Criterion Blu-ray is better than both. This is the single best-looking disc I saw all year; its picture rivals a few 4K releases I watched this year. Astounding.

BTW: Why on earth would Netflix not allow Scorsese to title his film I Hear You Paint Houses? It’s pretty obvious he wanted to... just saying.

1. Dawn of the Dead (Second Sight 4K Special Edition) This is clearly the disc of the year: it’s the disc I pre-ordered the earliest and waited for the longest, the disc I paid the most for, and the disc that many of my readers WILL NOT EVEN BE ABLE TO WATCH. Although all 4K Blu-rays are region-free, you still need a 4K player to play the movie discs in this set. Second Sight provides three different cuts of the film: Theatrical Cut, “Argento” Cut, and Extended “Cannes” Cut. I’m assuming the three CDs of soundtrack music (by Goblin and the De Wolfe Music Library) will play in any CD player. The included Blu-ray disc of bonus features (or Second Sight’s regular Blu-ray version of the entire boxset) requires a region-free player.

This is one of the best and most important horror films ever made. Thanks to Second Sight, it’s back in print. Don’t you owe the fine folks at Second Sight the courtesy of purchasing a 4K player just so that you can support their excellent work? I thought so.

This is the best I’ve seen the original Dawn of the Dead look since I snuck into an unrated, age-restricted theatrical screening my sophomore year of high school. I was 17. That was Friday, May 25th, 1979: the day I became a man.

7 comments:

  1. I wonder if your Dawn of the Dead transfer is the same as my edition. I have the Koch Media italian edition (it's called Zombi). I also have the multiple cuts of the movie and are Region B. The 4K disc (not HDR) is region free. There's no CDs in it.

    I also paid cheap (about 30$ canadian), because somehow it showed up in a local used dvd store and the clerk asked me multiple times if i played region B discs

    ReplyDelete
  2. I remember when that one came out. You got lucky; I wonder if a frustrated zombie fan sold that set used because he couldn’t play it or return it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have that Zombi region B set and I put it in a box, never to be watched again. I also have the new Second Sight 4k special edition, and it's my favorite disc ever. I also pat myself on the back for having 5 of your "top 10". Until today, I didn't know about the The Godfather Coda, I think I need that!

    Thank you JB for a wonderful year of Movies is Good. Believe it or not, you helped get us through this otherwise crap year.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's nice of you to say, Dave. Right back at ya.

    ReplyDelete
  5. As a European collector, I'd like to highlight the following:
    - Arrow's Hellraiser Trilogy: Arrow released the trilogy earlier, but this year they came out in a steelbook case that both takes less space on your shelf and looks much prettier than the initial release.
    - Eureka's Murders in the Rue Morgue/The Black Cat/The Raven - Eureka put out these three pre-Code Bela Lugosi movies on a two-disc set. An excellent release with lots of extras (including commentaries by Gregory William Mank, worth the price of the set alone), and the movies are amazing and look great.
    - 88 Films' Avenging Force: The Cannon classic in pristine quality, plus an audio commentary and 4 beautiful postcards.
    - Arrow's Crash: I'm still waiting for it in the mail, but Arrow just released a new restoration of David Cronenberg's Crash on 4k Blu-ray. I've never seen the movie, very excited for that.

    Also, a couple of US releases, Vinegar's Tammy and the T-Rex (The Gore Cut) and MVD Visual's Verotika (incl. the soundtrack CD), are both region-free and an essential part of any F-Head's collection.

    --

    I've had my eye on that Dawn of the Dead set for a while, but the scuttlebutt is they're gonna release a cheaper set without the CD's and books next year, so I'm waiting for that.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Don't blame you for waiting. The Eureka set is very much like Scream Factory's Universal Horrors, which is ESSENTIAL.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for posting these JB. Wonderful article as always. I had no idea that the Irishman was even out on Criterion. Definitely going to buy after your glowing review.

    ReplyDelete