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Blu-ray.com Reviewers: The Best of 2012
Posted December 10, 2012 10:40 PM by Webmaster
2012 has seen the release of a variety of must-see, must-have Blu-ray releases, from billion-dollar box office blockbusters like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises to more obscure cinema classics a la A Trip to the Moon and Letter from an Unknown Woman. Once again, the Blu-ray.com reviewers have compiled individual lists of their personal favorite Blu-ray, television, theatrical and 3D releases of the year and, once again, those favorites, new and old, quite literally run the gamut, making 2012 one of the most difficult years thus far the reviewers have had in crafting their Top Ten lists.
Click on any one of the following ten quick-link categories to jump to the corresponding Top Ten list. Keep in mind that reviewers weren't limited to titles they had reviewed, weren't required to consider overall review scores, and weren't asked to focus on mainstream or best-selling titles.
With such an overwhelming number of fantastic releases this year, compiling a definitive, semi-objective Top 10 list is nigh impossible. I mean, I'm already disappointed knowing that I don't have room for Sunset Boulevard, The Turin Horse, Criterion's wonderful David Lean Directs Noel Coward box set, or any of the scores of other titles that I'd be happy gushing over. With that in mind, my rubric here is simple; the following—presented in no particular order—are my gut-reaction favorite Blu-ray releases of 2012, the discs I've enjoyed the most, be it for the films themselves, the remarkable restorations, or the bounty of supplementary content:
1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: It's a rare thing indeed when an American remake/re-adaptation bests the original, but damn if David Fincher's take on Stieg Larsson's thriller—starring Daniel Craig and a terrifyingly gorgeous Rooney Mara—isn't icier, scarier, and sexier than the 2009 Swedish version. Everything about this release goes above and beyond, from the perfect audio/video presentation to the sleek packaging to the enormous collection of behind-the-scenes material.
2. Rosemary's Baby: The Criterion Collection has gotten into a satisfying habit of releasing a Halloween-appropriate title each fall; in 2010 it was House, in 2011 it was Kuroneko, and this past October we got Roman Polanski's classic New York Gothic tale of paranoia and the occult, Rosemary's Baby. If the film itself weren't enough, there's an excellent new retrospective making-of documentary on the disc as well.
3. Jaws: I'm proud to say that Jaws—the original summer blockbuster—is one of my Top 10 favorites of all time. I never get tired of watching of this film. I know Quint's "Indianapolis" monologue by heart. I find myself singing the "Spanish Ladies" sea shanty at the weirdest times. And I always jump in my seat when that decomposing head floats into view. Give me a bowl of popcorn, a beer, and Jaws, and I start smiling like Brody's goofy kid at the dinner table. Also, this restoration has to be seen to be believed.
4. Melancholia: "Life is only on Earth. And not for long." Lars von Trier's Tarkovsky-esque Melancholia—the followup to his disturbing Antichrist—is a beautifully bleak reflection on depression and existential nihilism, a coal-black comedy of manners that turns in the film's second half to utter end-of-the-world dread. Kirstin Dunst has never been better.
5. Drive: Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive is an arthouse action movie, pared down to the essentials—a guy, a girl, a car, a gun. With a minimum of plot and dialogue, Refn's beautifully shot film is pure motion. Killer soundtrack too.
6. Down by Law: Part prison break, part inter-cultural comedy, part Southern Gothic travelogue, Down By Law—starring Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, and John Lurie—is a gritty piece of Americana from director Jim Jarmsuch, with exquisite black and white cinematography of the Louisiana bayou.
7. Prometheus 3D: Riding on an impossibly high wave of hype, it's not surprising that Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe didn't quite meet fans' expectations. Still, the more I see this film—and I think I've watched it four times now—the more I like it. This is smart, high-concept science fiction, and I'd love to see it mark the start of a new trilogy/franchise. If you buy the film on Blu-ray, make sure to get the 3D set, which includes the 2D disc and an exclusive three-and-half-hour making-of documentary.
8. Belle de Jour: The kinky daydreams! The Yves St. Laurant clothes! Whatever the hell is buzzing in that box! Luis Buñuel's psycho-sexual investigation of a housewife-turned-prostitute—starring the elegant Catherine Deneuve—makes for one of Criterion's best Blu-ray upgrades this year.
9. Shame: On a similar note, artist-turned-director Steve McQueen's Shame is an unflinchingly matter-of-fact film about humiliation and desire, starring Michael Fassbender as an uncontrollable sex addict. Explicit but anti-erotic, this is an insightful, multi-layered work that—like McQueen and Fassbender's previous collaboration, Hunger—has a refined aesthetic sense.
10. Lawrence of Arabia: David Lean's epic is finally on Blu-ray, and the wait has certainly been worth it. Setting aside the sweeping story of Arabian peninsula politics, this is one of, if not the most visually stunning experiences to be had in high definition, shot on glorious 70mm and newly remastered with an absolutely pristine image.
Jeffrey Kauffman: Best Blu-ray Releases
2012 may have seen a slight fall off of huge blockbuster catalog releases (with some notable exceptions like Lawrence of Arabia), but that was more than made up for with the veritable glut of lesser known catalog releases coming from the likes of Olive Films and Twilight Time. As I've done in years past, I'm going to forgo the blockbusters for the most part to concentrate on some of the smaller titles I've reviewed this year which I think deserve special mention. These may not be a traditional "Ten Best", but they may give some adventurous gift givers new ideas for appropriate stocking stuffers. I will give honorable mention to the following well known films whose inherent noteworthiness doesn't require any additional comment from me:
And now for a few titles that you may have missed or not considered from my past year of reviewing duties (in no particular order):
1. Grave of the Fireflies: This haunting early Studio Ghibli animated feature is a disturbing look at two children trying to survive the closing days of World War II in Kobe, Japan.
2. Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day: A legendary concert by a legendary band—what more could you ask for? How about a bonus DVD of them rehearsing and 2 CDs featuring the concert?
3. Children Who Chase Lost Voices: This isn't a Studio Ghibli release, but it sure feels like it a lot of the time. Gorgeously animated and evocatively told.
4. Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - George Solti: Without a doubt the best classical release of the year, albeit one that's "only" Blu-ray audio. Handsomely packaged and containing an embarrassment of riches, this is a set that any serious classical music lover must have in their collection.
8. Yellow Submarine: Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when people dropped LSD and went to movies like this.
9. Novecento: Bernardo Bertolucci's flawed masterpiece is a one of a kind film experience.
10. Let the Bullets Fly: This very funny Chinese "western" is like watching Sergio Leone through the prism of Howard Hawks. Stylish and hugely entertaining.
Kenneth Brown: Best Blu-ray Releases
Another year, another Top Ten list compiled under something tantamount to duress. I love putting a good list together, mind you, but I hate leaving so many worthy titles by the side of the road, particularly when so many of my favorite releases of 2012 seem a bit obvious. Some of the releases that had to be wrenched from my grasp this time around: 50/50, Beasts of the Southern Wild, the 2-disc Criterion Collection release of Brazil, Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, Martin Scorsese's Hugo, Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures, Moneyball, Prometheus 3D and the Criterion Collection release of The Royal Tenenbaums, just to name a scant few. Other titles were easier to sacrifice, not because they're any less impressive or deserving, but because my fellow reviewers highlighted them in their lists. But I digress. On to my Top Ten Blu-ray releases of 2012, presented in alphabetical order:
1. 21 Jump Street: No movie made me laugh harder this year than 21 Jump Street, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller's irreverent, R-rated adaptation of the cult '80s TV series of the same name. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill serve and protect to hilarious ends, and the laughs are as sharp as they are side-splitting. Hands down the best comedy of the year.
2. The Amazing Spider-Man: I don't think I'll ever understand the ambivalence and critical dismissiveness that greeted Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man, other than a dutiful but mismanaged affection for Sam Raimi's long-since-outdated webslinger trilogy. The script and visual effects are fantastic; Andrew Garfield delivers an amazing performance and looks the lean, lanky part; Emma Stone kills as Gwen Stacy, and her chemistry with Garfield is electric; supporting actors Rhys Ifans, Sally Field, Martin Sheen and Denis Leary are excellent in their respective roles; and you won't find a funnier Stan Lee cameo anywhere in the Marvel universe. The only thing missing? "With great power..."
3. The Avengers: Grumble about geek-god Joss Whedon all you want. The man knows how to assemble an otherwise daunting ensemble hero piece. His long-awaited Avengers is not only a surprisingly balanced and incredibly effective culmination of everything Marvel has been promising since Iron Man, it's a crowd pleaser of the highest caliber. Sure, the Blu-ray could use more special features, but such trivialities barely put a dent in The Avengers' armor.
4. The Cabin in the Woods: From its wildly unexpected cold open to its madcap closing scene, Whedon's Cabin in the Wood is a horror genre sucker punch. Think you have it all figured out? Think you know what lies beneath the cabin? Think you know where it's going? Guess again. And it only gets better with each successive viewing. The Blu-ray edition is a gory treat too, thanks to a terrificly terrifying AV presentation and a string of extensive and entertaining extras.
5. The Dark Knight Rises: Divisive as Christopher Nolan's final Batman film may have been, it was an ambitious and largely successful trilogy capper that marked yet another outstanding 2012 comicbook adaptation. Building on the back of The Dark Knight (albeit without ever quite surpassing it), Rises borders on overcrowded but doesn't waste a single scene. Thrilling, unpredictable and masterfully crafted... just like Warner's Blu-ray release, which boasts a top-tier AV presentation and a bounty of special features.
6. The Descendants: Moving, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny, writer/director Alexander Payne's marvelously penned, perfectly cast, wonderfully performed dramedy was one of my favorite films of 2011 and stands as one of my favorite Blu-rays of 2012.
7. Drive: The best film of 2011 came to Blu-ray early this year, and only enriched the smoke, sizzle and simmer of Nicolas Winding Refn's slowburn crime drama. Gosling, Cranston, Brooks and Perlman chew up the screen, Newton Thomas Sigel's cinematography and Cliff Martinez's score mingle and create a strange but alluring verve, and the cool confidence Refn exhibits behind the camera only makes the film's sudden descent into brutality that much more unnerving. A commentary or feature-length documentary would have gone a long way, but the Blu-ray edition still leaves a mark.
8. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: E.T. takes me back. To childhood, to a simpler time, to a purer state of movie-going ease... wherever, whenever or whatever it may be, Spielberg's adventure classic takes me back. After all these years -- thirty to be exact -- it's a film that still has a hold on me, and now it has it's hold on my son as well. Universal didn't rush this one to market either. Between a masterful restoration and video transfer, an enthralling DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, a its mix of worthwhile special features old and new, E.T. is one of the year's must-have Blu-ray catalog releases.
9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Fincher does it again, topping even the original Swedish hit that preceded it. The director's command of the story's visual and narrative kick is staggering, Rooney Mara's performance is riveting, and every twist and turn suddenly seems fresh again. Sony's Blu-ray release is just as unrelenting, with magnificent audio and video and a lengthy, revealing supplemental package rivaled only by Prometheus' 4-disc treasure trove.
10. The Muppets: Is The Muppets a muppet of a movie or a very manly Muppet movie? Rest easy, Kermit fans. It's a very manly Muppet movie and it delivers on all fronts, from newcomer Walter to Jason Segel, Amy Adams, the script, the humor, the heartfelt exchanges, the tearful reunions, the songs, the music... the whole package. Moreover, Disney's AV presentation is flawless thanks to a first-class video transfer and an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track. The only downside? The disc's supplemental package disappoints. Ah well. The Muppets are finally back in big-screen business.
Kenneth Brown: Best Television Releases
Whenever our Top Ten lists are compiled, television titles tend to be forgotten. After all, with so many great films to choose from, how is a small-screen contender able to compete? As such, I've added an extra list devoted to the absorbing series and noteworthy TV releases of 2012. Cheating? You caught me. But it gives me an excuse to showcase twenty releases instead of ten. So without further ado, and in alphabetical order:
1. American Horror Story: The Complete First Season: Bizarre, creepy, downright disconcerting. Along with AMC's The Walking Dead, FX's American Horror Story reanimated a crusty genre corpse, namely the horror series, which had been dead and in its broadcast grave for decades.
2. Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season: Boardwalk Empire could have grown stale, lost its way, or taken paths more traveled. Instead, the series' second season surpasses its first, dragging Buscemi, Pitt and the rest of the cast and crew right along with it. This must-own 5-disc Blu-ray release makes a killing of its own with its jaw-dropping video presentation, involving DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and satisfying supplemental package.
3. Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season: The best show on television only gets better with each passing year, and Vince Gilligan's penultimate season is the series' finest to date. (The jury's still out on Season Five, shocking and unforgettable as its first eight episodes have been.) Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul continue to put other TV actors to shame, Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks give them a run for their money, the show's writing and direction are unmatched, its supporting cast is uniformly excellent, and The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray doesn't disappoint in the slightest.
4. Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season: "Winter is coming." So says Eddard Stark, nobleman and ruler, father and husband, warrior and Hand to the king. He says it with a sense of the inevitable, with grief and a heavy heart. And he says it with conviction, something that permeates every aspect of Game of Thrones. HBO doesn't just put its weight behind the series, though, it puts the full force of its might behind its Blu-ray debut. With a stunning video presentation, an enveloping DTS-HD Master Audio track, and hours upon hours of excellent extras, Game of Thrones stands as one of the best releases of 2012. It would take an army of gods and kings to knock it off its throne.
5. Homeland: The Complete First Season: Homeland's first season didn't play by television rules, and it reaped the benefits accordingly. Season Two may have waded into precarious 24-tainted waters, but Season One remains a tightly woven, tightly wound thriller that's far more feasible than its high-concept premise initially suggests. And the Blu-ray? A high-quality steal still available at a tempting pricepoint.
6. Louie: The Complete Second Season: Darkly funny, painfully delightful and dearly demented, Louie is comedian Louie C.K.'s semi-autobiographical ode to sitcoms, and there's simply nothing like it anywhere on television. More than original, though, it's utterly hilarious, even when it makes you wince. If you haven't sampled Louie, you're missing out.
7. Sherlock: Season Two : Unraveling Sherlock is as much fun as unraveling the titular detective's latest case. But God help you if you blink or walk out of the room without pressing pause. Current Doctor Who overmind and fan-favorite scribe Steven Moffat infuses every inch of he and co-creator Mark Gatiss' positively electric BBC series with endless wit and wile, making for a dizzying, at-times exhausting but ever-spellbinding trio of seemingly uncrackable cases that are every bit as good as the duo's first three episodes. Catch Sherlock before Hobbit and Star Trek stars Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are whisked away to Hollywood forever.
8. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Two: Star Trek: The Next Generation establishes itself in Season Two, just as Paramount establishes the series' Blu-ray dominance for the next five season sets to come. Restored and then some, the fan-favorite Trek has never looked or sounded better thanks to a masterclass video presentation, able-bodied DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track and abundance of special features.
9. The Sunset Limited: Don't ask easy questions, don't expect easy answers. The Sunset Limited doesn't deny God or demonize Him. It's a portrait of competing faiths -- faith in a Higher Power and faith in Almighty Reason -- and the debate that ensues when the two sit down and have it out. Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson are magnetic, Cormac McCarthy's dialogue is powerful and poignant, and the script provides a fascinating look at an eternal conversation we're all familiar with. HBO's Blu-ray release is impressive as well, so long as you're willing to forgive its supplemental sins. With a striking video transfer and exacting DTS-HD Master Audio track, there's little to distract viewers from White and Black's debate.
10. The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season: The Walking Dead isn't a hit show, it's a ratings phenom. AMC's zombie series continues to unsettle and entertain as much as it divides its fanbase into the ecstatic and the disgruntled; much in the way Robert Kirkman's ongoing comicbook series manages to do from month to month. I, for one, couldn't pull myself away from Season Two. Some complain, I can't help but scream its praises. From casting to performances, scripting, effects and on down, The Walking Dead has yet to fail me, and its second season Blu-ray release is one of the best around.
Martin Liebman: Best Blu-ray Releases
One unfortunate drawback of being a full-time Blu-ray disc reviewer is that there just aren't enough hours in the day to enjoy all that many releases outside the demanding schedule of the weekly review grind. As such, it's particularly challenging to keep up with the best of the releases handled by Blu-ray.com's entire review team, so with that in mind, the following "Top Ten" list for 2012 consists only of discs I've been privileged to review and spend the proper amount of time with to adequately and, hopefully, correctly judge. Needless to say, there are more than 10 deserving releases, and narrowing the field down from a list of around twenty candidates -- comprised of epic box sets, huge new releases, big catalogue titles, and personal favorites old and seen for the first time on Blu-ray alike -- proved no easy task. The following list, in numerical order, was created based not only on the video and audio qualities of the disc, the amount of extras offered, and the disc's place in Blu-ray history, but also -- and most importantly -- on the quality of the film and any number of personal preferences that make this list unique.
1. Lawrence of Arabia: One of the great all-time epic pictures from one of cinema's all-time great directors. Arguably the best movie released on Blu-ray in 2012, or in any year for that matter. Sony's Collector's Edition Blu-ray features extra bonus materials and a few worthwhile adds in its big LaserDisc-sized box. Easily the year's must-own release.
2. Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures: The definitive all-time great Adventure film in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a fun thrill ride in The Temple of Doom, a third film in The Last Crusade that's arguably all-around better than the first, and a controversial but entertaining fourth installment in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull make for hours of whip-slinging throwback fun, and for the first time on Blu-ray to boot. One of the most anticipated releases ever doesn't disappoint. Great video and audio, plenty of extras, and even an attractive physical presentation make this a collector's dream and a must-own for any film fan.
3. Titanic 3D: The Collector's box set is a disappointment, but the standalone 3D release is a treasure nearly as valuable as the Heart of the Ocean necklace, at least on the conversion-to-Blu-ray scale. James Cameron's epic holds up incredibly well. It's still as moving and exciting as ever, still every bit the spectacle and tearjerker it was in 1997. The 2D video is breathtaking, the 3D conversion amazing, the soundtrack fabulous, and the extras enough to anchor down the ship. It's a shame this has to fall all the way to third place.
4. Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season: Season four might have been the only one to arrive on Blu-ray in 2012, but count this as a big endorsement of the entire series on Blu-ray. Season Four may still be the best of the bunch with an absorbing story line and a blast of an ending. Sony's Blu-ray offers great audio and a ridiculous amount of extra content. The video presentation could have been a little better, but the quality of the program as well as the extra content elevate this release to "elite" status.
5. Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season: Another truly superb TV series and right up there with Breaking Bad in terms of overall excellence. It's compelling long-form arc entertainment with strong characters, fantastic action, and absorbing drama, never mind that it's also the best thing to ever infect the Zombie world outside of George Romero. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray offers wonderful video and audio. Extras aren't quite as thorough as those accompanying Breaking Bad, but they're enough to earn this disc the middle spot along the way to number one.
6. Sunset Boulevard: An all-time classic film earns one of the year's finest Blu-ray releases. One of the most beautiful black-and-white images yet on Blu-ray, stellar sound, and a great array of extras make Billy Wilder's classic always ready for its close-up, even under the scrutiny of high definition.
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: David Fincher's adaptation of the first novel in the immensely popular Stieg Larson trilogy was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Actress for Rooney Mara which she should have arguably won over Meryl Streep. The film was also snubbed a Best Picture nomination, a surprise considering the new (old), expanded nominee roster. Nevertheless, Sony's Blu-ray is of impeccable quality. As is the norm for Sony, the disc features incredible video and audio to go along with plenty of extras.
8. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Seasons One & Two: A few audio issues aside, these Blu-ray presentations are superb, thanks to painstaking restorations that are nothing short of a miracle. Rather bland packaging and the hit-or-miss nature of the first two seasons lowers Trek's place on this year's list, but look for a stronger showing next year when better seasons hit high definition.
9. Wings: When the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar flies onto Blu-ray, cinephiles should take notice. Paramount's breathtaking presentation shows that even the oldest films can look great and still be appreciated in high definition. Oh, and even if there's no dialogue, the re-recorded musical score is a triumph. The package is a bit short on extras, but Wings deserves a spot on the list nonetheless.
10. 50/50: An all-around wonderful film. It's touching, lightly humorous, very well-written, superbly acted, and expertly directed. It's the tearjerker done absolutely right, a movie that's both uplifting and straight from the heart. Summit's Blu-ray comes up a little short on extras but does feature stellar video and audio and makes for a fine end to a great year that was on Blu-ray.
Michael Reuben: Best Blu-ray Releases
Since nearly all the Blu-rays I have time to see are review discs, the following isn't intended as an objective assessment of this year's entire crop. It's a personal top ten, just like anyone's. After all, how many people who complain because their favorite disc is missing from someone else's list can truly claim they've seen everything out there? Of those I saw, these are the ones that stood out. In alphabetical order:
1. Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Early Cases: This year saw the release of the first six series of the definitive adaptations of the exploits of Christie's most popular creation. Later entries in the series have received a mixed reception, but few dispute the quality of these early dramatizations starring the incomparable David Suchet. With an occasional minor deviation, Acorn Media's Blu-ray editions are superb.
2. Bullhead: Director Michaël R. Roskam's Oscar nominee is a modern film noir set in Flemish cattle country, where nothing is predictable and many things are wrong. With an unsettling and intensely physical lead performance by Matthias Schoenaerts, the film finds comedy in a set of tires and doom at a perfume counter.
3. Coriolanus: Ralph Fiennes's directorial debut is also one of the most inventive Shakespearean adaptations in a long time. In collaboration with screenwriter John Logan, Fiennes re-situated Shakespeare's arrogant general in a modern war-torn country somewhere in Europe, where the play's political maneuvering and abrupt changes of loyalty feel right at home. Fiennes, who is no stranger to playing villains, seems to relish a Shakespearean hero who, because he is fundamentally unlikable, has scared off many actors. The Blu-ray features an intriguing commentary by Fiennes and a transfer that captures the film's gritty style.
4. The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series: One of the defining sitcoms of early TV and, for that matter, all time is discovered anew as Image Entertainment takes us back to the original 35mm camera negative and reveals layers of detail that no one outside the original production team ever saw until now. Only a handful of extras have been added, because the original supplements, carried over from Image's DVD sets, were already so thorough.
5. Ed Wood: One of Tim Burton's best films sparkles on Blu-ray, where the depth and detail of Stefan Czapsky's black-and-white images can be fully reproduced. Working with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karazweski, Burton turned the Worst Director in History into a romantically tragic hero. Of course, it helps that he was played by Johnny Depp and surrounded by one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled, including a transcendent Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. If you've never seen this film, you don't know Burton.
6. Frequency: Director Gregory Hoblit's best film to date, Frequency is part science fiction, part detective story, part family drama and part adventure yarn, and all the elements somehow reinforce each other. The Blu-ray sports a superb video transfer, a terrific surround mix and the same expansive array of extras previously featured on DVD.
7. Little Shop of Horrors: One of the best musicals of the last thirty years gets one of the best stage-to-screen translations of the same period. The original ending still doesn't work, but at last it's been restored to its full-color splendor so that the artistry of its creators can be appreciated. The Blu-ray sounds great and the video transfer is accurate.
8. Murdoch Mysteries, Seasons One & Four: This year, Acorn Media released on Blu-ray the first and, at the time, the most recent seasons of the cleverest and most innovative police procedural series on either side of the Atlantic. The Blu-rays are first-rate. Seasons Two and Five are scheduled for 2013, and are a likely bet for my list next year.
9. On the Bowery: The Films of Lionel Rogosin, Vol. 1: Rogosin's groundbreaking documentary has been lustrously restored to bring out every heartbreaking detail of his keenly observed account. Milestone Films has filled out the collection with informative background, an early Rogosin short and the polemical Good Times, Wonderful Times, which is striking if not nearly as impressive.
10. Rags & Riches: The Mary Pickford Collection: Another stunner from Milestone Films. Three films starring "America's Sweetheart" that serve as a powerful reminder that Blu-ray isn't just for modern blockbusters. It can also bring back the past in a way that hasn't been possible for a wide audience until now. Some of the included "educational" materials are clumsy, but they're all optional, and the films themselves are a revelation, especially Sparrows.
Dr. Svet Atanasov: Best North American Blu-ray Releases
There were so many special releases this year. Needless to say, there are more than 10 releases that deserve to be mentioned. So instead of selecting the 10 "best," I am going to list the ones I enjoyed the most throughout the year. (Note there are two lists, the first for North America titles and the second for BDs released internationally).
1. A Trip to the Moon: A miracle. This is the only way I could describe the new restoration and reconstruction of Georges Melies' A Trip to the Moon. This release, which really is in a league of its own because the home video market has never before seen anything quite like it, proves that we live in a time when virtually anything is possible. Kudos to the entire team of restorers that gave A Trip to the Moon a new life, and kudos to Flicker Alley for bringing the restoration to America.
2. Heaven's Gate: Misunderstood and undeservedly dismissed by different people during the years, Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate has also been given a new life by the folks at Criterion. I consider this glorious film a masterpiece of American Cinema.
3. 4:44 Last Day on Earth : No one sees and feels New York City like Abel Ferrara does, and his latest film proves it yet again. 4:44 Last Day on Earth is an extraordinary film from one of America's most unique directors.
4. A Streetcar Named Desire: No other major studio treats classic films like Warner does. The studio's release of Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire, one of my all-time favorite films, is everything I hoped it would be. Can we also have America, America on Blu-ray?
5. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: The films of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan remind about the work of the great Michelangelo Antonioni. The success of his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, at the Cannes Film Festival is well deserved. This is a deeply poetic, magical film directed by a true master. The Cinema Guild, one of my favorite boutique labels, treated it with the respect it deserves.
6. Johnny Guitar: Olive Films' presentation of director Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar is not flawless, but I think that it is a small miracle to see this important film transition to Blu-ray. It is an American classic that deserves to be in every serious collection.
7. Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder's film has never looked this good before. When the folks at Paramount decide to do something right, they always impress.
8. World on a Wire: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's World on a Wire is a glorious sci-fi mind-bender that was clearly well ahead of its time. Recently restored by the Fassbinder Foundation, the film is undoubtedly a masterpiece of German Cinema waiting to be rediscovered. This was one of my favorite releases this year.
9. Letter from an Unknown Woman: Letter from an Unknown Woman is one of a few releases this year that I kept coming back to. Max Ophüls' great film looks beautiful, the best it ever has. A special treat from Olive Films.
10. Letter Never Sent: Mikhail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent reminds a lot about Grigoriy Chukhray's The Forty-first. Both films tell incredible stories about survival and tragic love and boast visuals that are simply impossible to forget. I loved it. Let's hope that 2013 is the year when we finally see the Soviet director's masterpiece, The Cranes Are Flying, transition to Blu-ray.
Dr. Svet Atanasov: Best International Blu-ray Releases
There were so many special releases this year. Needless to say, there are more than 10 releases that deserve to be mentioned. So instead of selecting the 10 "best," I am going to list the ones I enjoyed the most throughout the year. (Note there are two lists, the first for North America titles and the second for BDs released internationally).
1. Melancholia: Pure, thought-provoking and very stylish, Danish director Lars Von Trier's Melancholia is a remarkable achievement. I truly cannot think of another recent film that I could compare it to. Artificial Eye's presentation of Melancholia is also very impressive.
2. La Grande Illusion: Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion, one of European Cinema's great masterpieces, was restored in 4K by StudioCanal (in association with La Cinematheque de Toulouse) and looks simply stunning on Blu-ray. It is one of the year's true must-own releases.
3. Maitresse: Barbet Schroeder's Maitresse was one of my most anticipated releases this year. I am happy to say that it is everything I hoped it would be. As a big admirer of Bulle Ogier, I dream and hope that one day Alain Tanner's The Salamander will get a similar treatment. Can you help, BFI?
4. Cosmopolis: David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis is one of the year's very best films. Very dark, hugely atmospheric and exceptionally well scripted, Cosmopolis will appeal to those who like intelligent films with an attitude.
5. The Night Porter: Italian director Liliana Cavani's controversial film The Night Porter has had some incredibly poor reincarnations on the home video market. I felt that this new Blu-ray release, which uses a new remaster from French distributors Wild Side Video, finally does the film justice. A special treat from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
6. Accattone: Pier Paolo Pasolini's directorial debut, Accattone, about a poor pimp trying to stay afloat in a country in transition is also one of the great Italian director's best films. Let's hope that in 2013 we will also see his Mama Roma transition to Blu-ray.
7. Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy: The wait was definitely worth it. Four years after Sanguepazzo, Marco Tullio Giordana is back with what is easily his most accomplished work to date. Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy is an impeccably researched and tremendously well acted film that will make your blood boil and have your head spinning. Hopefully, a U.S. release will appear in 2013.
8. Puzzle of a Downfall Child: Jerry Schatzberg's Puzzle of a Downfall Child was a tremendous discovery for me. Prior to receiving Carlotta Films' beautiful Blu-ray release, I had never seen it. It is one of my favorite releases this year.
9. Barbara: I just received Christian Petzold's latest film, Barbara, which was selected to represent Germany in the Foreign Language Category of the 85th Academy Awards. It is a flawless film. Again, let's hope that a U.S. release will appear in 2013.
10. Classic Bergman Collection: A wonderful collection of early films by the great Swedish master. I urge you to consider importing it as some of these films are unlikely to appear on Blu-ray in the U.S. Artificial Eye have become one of my favorite foreign distributors.
Brian Orndorf: Best Theatrical Releases - Coming Soon!
Staff reviewer Brian Orndorf thought it best to hold back his Top Ten list until the end of the year, after all theatrical releases and Oscar contenders have made their way to the big screen. Check back for his list in late December.
Blu-ray.com Reviewers: Best 3D Blu-ray Releases
Animated films and family-friendly entertainment aren't the only releases worth owning in 3D; there's something out there for aficionados of all ages. The following is a list of some of the best 3D releases of 2012, as seen by various reviewers. We couldn't squeeze in every notable 3D title, but these are ten of our favorites:
1. The Adventures of Tintin 3D, Martin Liebman: The Adventures of Tintin defines light, family-appropriate cinema action and adventure on the grandest of scales. The movie's photorealistic animation, quality story, and good characters come together with little effort. The Spielberg magic is evident even without a single natural life form to be seen in the end product, and John Williams' score is as rousing, playful, and full of adventurous spirit as always. Paramount's 3D release is fantastic. The movie just seems to gel in 3D, that extra dimension the last little piece of the puzzle to make this almost the perfect watch.
2. The Avengers 3D, Jeffrey Kauffman: The Avengers is a near-perfect "summer blockbuster", a film which weaves together a glut of previously introduced characters and storylines about as effortlessly as possible, while bringing a new face or two into the mix. Rousing without ever seeming manic, and wonderfully funny a lot of the time, it easily establishes Whedon as one of the most formidable writing-directing talents of his generation. This Blu-ray offers excellent 3D video and reference quality audio, as well as an appealing package of supplements.
3. Born to Be Wild 3D, Kenneth Brown: Born to Be Wild isn't going to reduce hard-hearted academics to tears. It favors heart over science, personal stories over detached study, and family-friendly playfulness over tough-it-out-kiddo lethality. Even so, parents and kids of all ages will be entranced and home-brewed conservationists will cheer. Warner's 3D Blu-ray release delivers an outstanding video transfer, a fun and involving 3D experience, and a all-angles lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. It's much better than your average IMAX fare, as well as one of the better family-oriented nature documentaries on the market.
4. Finding Nemo 3D, Kenneth Brown: Finding Nemo is many a Pixar fan's favorite studio film, and rightfully so. I'm not about to declare it perfect or claim it as my Pixar powerhouse of choice, but I certainly see what draws so many people, young and old, deeper and deeper into its underwater adventure. Disney's Blu-ray release boasts a stunning video presentation, a wondrous 3D experience, a first rate Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround track, and a treasure chest of special features, many new to this release.
5. ParaNorman 3D, Kenneth Brown: ParaNorman isn't as original, polished or unforgettable as Coraline, but its Blu-ray release certainly is courtesy of a magnificent video presentation, rousing 3D experience, excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and solid supplemental showing. A few more special features would have been appreciated, especially a fuller behind-the-scenes documentary, but no matter. ParaNorman will still be breathing years from now, if only because its high definition release is so strong.
6. Prometheus 3D, Casey Broadwater: Prometheus was perhaps unfairly saddled with the high hopes of Alien fans, who were looking forward to the be-all-end-all in interstellar terror. What they got instead was a pop-philosophical rumination on human origins, faith, and science, packaged inside a tense sci-fi plot that borrows the Alien universe but isn't necessarily beholden to the storytelling staples of the franchise. This fantastic Blu-ray release features a stellar 3D presentation and the most comprehensive collection of extras I've encountered since the Alien Anthology.
7. Titanic 3D, Martin Liebman: Titanic is as complete as a movie can be, a beautifully crafted epic that dazzles with its pure cinema perfection in every single scene, enough to maybe even move some cinephiles to tears merely at the sight of its splendor. The Blu-ray is positively stunning in every regard, as much a masterpiece as the movie. With great video, including the superbly-constructed 3D image, totally immersive sound, and enough supplements to fill a day or two, Titanic shoots towards the top of the heap of 2012 Blu-ray releases.
8. Underworld: Awakening, Martin Liebman: Underworld: Awakening is a pretty fun, slick, well-made little film. It's entertaining and quite watchable, an achievement for a fourth-in-the-series film, and it's a fun and serviceable little time killer that should satisfy casual and diehard Underworld fans alike. Sony's Blu-ray 3D release of Underworld: Awakening features standout video, classic audio, and a nice collection of extras.
9. Up 3D, Kenneth Brown: Up demonstrates Pixar's grasp of character, story, humor and rich sentiment, and wields each one as effortlessly as its animators wield the tools of their craft. I cannot recommend director Pete Docter's touching tale enough. With this new 5-disc 3D Blu-ray release, Disney pulls out all the stops to deliver a perfect video presentation, a perfect 3D experience and a perfect DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Like the film, I cannot recommend Up's 3D Blu-ray release enough.
10. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Kenneth Brown: Don't wait until December 25th to spend some time with A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas. The 2D version isn't nearly as funny as its 3D partner in crime, but with the 3D edition in your hands, there's no need to settle. Warner's 3D Blu-ray release is no slouch either, arriving with a bountiful video transfer, a dazzling 3D presentation of the film's theatrical cut, a thrilling DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a handful of hilarious extras. This is and will remain one of the best 3D experiences available.
No love for Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D Limited edition? Yeah, it's not the best movie ever, but that's one fine Blu-ray. Snow White and the Hunstman is another one. Great special features and a beautiful presentation.
Here are a few 2012 releases that I am surprised didn't make the list (In no particular order):
1. Traffic (Criterion Version) - While Dr. Svet Atanasov praised the audio, giving it perfect marks, while docking the picture quality to 4.5, I would actually invert these scores, with the PQ receiving a 5.0 and the AQ receiving a 4.5. Truly captures the the gritty cinematography of this gem.
2. The Town Ultimate Collector's Edition/DigiBook (Extended Cut with Alternate Ending): At first, I had only seen the theatrical cut once about 2 years before seeing this alternate ending cut. I went into this, thinking, "Well, I remember the theatrical cut being good, but not great. Let's see if my opinion of this film changes with this version." When the movie was over, I asked myself "Why wasn't this cut the version that was theatrically released?" This is clearly superior to the old cut. So much more poetic and tragic than the former. And the best part is with this release is the alternate ending cut is the sole encode of the movie on that disc, unlike the theatrical cut/1st extended cut, which were separately encoded onto one disc instead of WB utilizing seamless branching for those cuts to share the same encode. So, the alternate ending cut has a superior-looking AVC encoded picture to the former disc. The DTS-HD Master Audio remains the same as the previous versions, but if they got it right the first time, why fix what isn't broken?
3. Brave (2D and 3D): I know PIXAR has been on a bit of a decline since Cars 2 was released last year, but Brave is one of those movies that just gets better and better for me with each viewing. This was also the first feature film to utilize Dolby Atmos, and the good people at Dolby wanted to make sure that experience was successfully replicated for home theater. Their new advanced 96 kHz upsampling tools gave us one of the most emersive, if not *the* most emersive, home theater mixes ever made with their 7.1 Dolby TrueHD 7.1 encode for the Brave Blu-ray release. The brawling between the clans in the throne room will leave you ducking for cover with such incredible pans from front to rear speakers that bring the action to life in your living room/home theater. I still have yet to see it in 3D, but hopefully I can see it someday...
Sorry, Kenneth. I've sampled all I ever need to of "Louie", and it wasn't anything from his show, which I've proudly never seen a minute of. Just some of the most vile, viscious comments I've ever heard come out of a person's mouth in my life.
Anyway, great list. Surpised a certain reviewer's list wasn't filled with early 70's D-movie vampire porn, but interesting nonetheless.
I am afraid these lists demonstrate little beyond the fact that they are useless for anyone other than the one creating them. It does demonstrate, yet again, why movies are such a personal choice since I would not agree with more than 2 choices for any of them and found most downright baffling.
Where's the mention of the remastered release of The Terminator??? In my strict opinion one of the most important sci-fi movies ever made. Absolutely iconic. And now for once with the PQ it deserves! Sure, if I am to be picky, the edition isn't perfect (yet?), but it's totally sufficient for me. I already own 3 other editions of it, expensive ones at that, because I only get the best ones for this movie...
Another thought. Aren't there a few movies that haven't been released yet that may make the list?
And I'm surprised no one mentions Brave on their list. It totally seems "to each their own", which is natural. Not many of the movies listed here are my favorites. But I got the most important ones.
Among those: Titanic, Jaws, Avengers. A bunch of other movies are on my wishlist.
Another movie that wasn't mentioned! TOTAL RECALL (1990)! Seriously. That BD is flawless! Rarely do we see such amazing catalog releases! It's a crime not to even mention it. I ordered my copy before release day even. That's a first, for my BD collection!
Come on, that’s quite astonishing that none of the house reviewers considered Masters of Cinema’s monumental release of Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc worth including. Especially when such a significant release will undoubtedly top the list of scores of top ten 2012 ‘best of’ articles & blogs world wide between now & the end of the month. For a go to website on everything worthwhile in HD, that’s quite an omission.
not one reviewer put Die Nibelungen on their list either.
possibly the best bd release of the year imo.
gotta say I'm kind of stunned at that omission.
and what about The Big Heat? Rear Window? Vertigo? Universal monsters?
I'll second the Terminator call out. What an amazing upgrade!
Box sets have been the big thing this year. The Bond 50 and Indiana Jones sets are dreams come true and the restoration work on Star Trek Next Gen is jaw dropping.
It's been a great year for Fritz Lang fans too with important works like Dr Mabuse, Die Nibelungen and The Big Heat a revelation. Now if we can just have Western Union and the Indian Epic...
Overall solid lists. It's easy to go all Criterion for these lists, but Disney deserves some kudos to their amazing releases like Cinderella, Finding Nemo, and Lady and the Tramp. I wasn't to high on Avengers Blu-ray: some soft scenes and lack of great extras hurt it IMO. Amazing Spider-Man and Troma's Father's Day releases get kudos for pic/audio and extras.
I second Looney Tunes: Mouse Chronicles release as well.
My issue with a lot of these end of year best of lists, I find them to be just a review of the movie. Yes the movie is the main draw of the disk, but image quality, sound quality, packaging and extra content should be factored in for a best disk list. I can find the best movie lists anywhere. When I go to a site such as this which is dedicated to reviewing the whole product, I want to know which movie's blu-ray release was the best taking into account all the factors mentioned. A lot of the titles mentioned above would be hard pressed to make a true best of when taking in the whole product.
IMO, there is no way a list comes out without Bond 50 on it. No matter if you like only a few, none, or all the Bond films, you would be hard pressed to find a release this year that can match it for quality, content, packaging and price.
The review for the Bond 50 on this site is an overall 5 star rating. Goldeneye transfer is mentioned. This is not the only site which rates the set highly. Not trying to posit anything other than the set as a whole was one of the best overall releases of the year.
In the exception of the Dolby Atmos theatrical soundtrack, and 3D presentation, Brave wasn't that great of a movie. Personally, I didn't like it! There are thousand of movies that have tremendous digital soundtracks, but the movie itself is what matters. Pixar / Walt Disney has made much better animated films in the past than Brave.
@yojimbo68: It will indeed be hard to top 2012. These last two years have been BDs best. Sadly its not going to continue. Look at the paucity of top quality movies announced for early 2013. Anyone who isn't blind can see that the days of discs of any kind are numbered. They're getting harder to find especially when it comes to catalogue titles. By this time next year I'm expecting most of the major retailers will only be carrying the latest current movie releases on BD and the studios will be pulling back from spending their resources on packaged media in general. Streaming and downloading thanks to a demographic that doesn't understand quality vs convenience will have won yet another battle in the Home Theatre market (i.e. Beta vs VHS, Laserdisc vs Videotape, CDs vs MP3).
Of course this message will get a lot of thumbs down. That's your privilege but lets make a date for next Dec. 16 when we'll see if 2013 has been much of year for BD. OK? I'll be back here either to gloat (sadly) or admit I was wrong at that time.
Merry Christmas (I've never been politically correct)!
I agree with reidw, this is blu-ray.com not imdb. If I wanted to read a review of the movie itself I would go to imdb or just read the official review on here. A little lazily put together IMO. Could've taken the time to write about the overall packages. Also there are some questionable choices for blu-ray of the year... obviously how good any movie is, is subjective so that's not what I'm talking about. 4:44: The Last day on earth? THAT is a top blu-ray of the year? That got mediocre scores for picture and audio and had basically nothing in the way of special features . I don't even like James Bond at all and I've got to agree with everyone here, Bond 50 should've gotten a spot. Especially with things like THAT on here.
I don't see how a box set where most of the titles were already available separately, with extremely variable PQ (from masters created during the DVD era, no less), really warrants inclusion. I mean, sure, if you don't care about unevenness or the fact that the only reference-quality transfers are the Craig films, I guess so...but that would be YOUR list, not mine, and clearly not the reviewers'. I won't stand by every pick they made, but they're THEIR picks, not mine. And I don't see why the Bond 50 set's inclusion should've been thought of as a foregone conclusion. The exclusion of the Universal Monsters set is more of a mystery to me. But then, I'm not the one compiling the lists.
blackhook: "THE AVENGERS sucked! ...unless you're a 15-year-old boy who grew up playing video games with fakey digital effects ...then you would have loved the movie!"
Just goes to show how different opinions can be. I'm not a 15-year-old boy (I just short of 4 times that age) and I've never played a video game in my life, and I loved THE AVENGERS.
As for the reviewers' lists, I admit I don't have much to say. While I agree on several of them, there are several others where the films simply don't interest me, and so I've never seen them.
The only review I feel perplexed by is Martin Liebman's for TITANIC 3-D. While I haven't seen the 3-D version on blu-ray (I don't have a 3D TV), I did see it in the theater. While there are instances in which the 3-D effects are astonishing, there are some other instances in which the 3-D looks bloody awful, and others in which the 3-D effect is barely noticible.