The DVDs and Blu-rays of 2012 pt 3

28 critics and producers on the releases of the year.

Sight & Sound contributors

Web exclusive

Part 1  |  Part 2

Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters

Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters

Note: Editions are UK Region 2 unless otherwise stated. Initial links are to a publisher’s product page; additional text links are to the film’s entry in the BFI’s database.

Nick Pinkerton
Critic, US

Reporting from the hurricane-wracked Northeastern shores of the New World, Region 1 is my bailiwick, and there’s been plenty to keep me busy this year.

Get a Life: The Complete Series
US 1990-92; Shout! Factory, US

Though he now appears to be enjoying something of a career renaissance, for a long time the cult of Chris Elliott was a tiny, furtive sect, like that of early Christians. California-based Shout! Factory has given us a great tool for proselytising by making both seasons of Elliott’s Dada early 90s sitcom Get a Life fully available for the first time on home video, an event I have anticipated only slightly less than the Second Coming. The celebration is hampered somewhat by the non-participation of Elliott and writer Adam Resnick on the DVD set, apparently due to some unfortunate power-play politicking. (Shout! also deserves kudos for ongoing work in excavating the genius of Ernie Kovacs.)

Bell, Book and Candle
Robert Quine, US 1958; Twilight Time, US

Bonjour Tristesse
Otto Preminger, UK-US 1958; Twilight Time, US

A few words are also due on relative newcomer Twilight Time’s beautiful Blu-rays, released in editions of 3,000, with fine liners by Julie Kirgo. This year’s highlights were Robert Quine’s Bell, Book and Candle and Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse, both wonderfully atmospheric films which create and sustain their own very distinct worlds.

Olive Films 2012 catalogue

Olive Films haven’t sent me a press screener ever since I ragged in print on their releases of R.W. Fassbinder’s Despair and Otto Preminger’s Skidoo – because, well, you know. This causes me no end of heartbreak, for there’s a deluxe The Quiet Man due from them in the year to come, and That Cold Day in the Park as well.

Meanwhile, they’ve been reeling out great stuff all through 2012, including Welles’ Macbeth, Sidney Lumet’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, Don Siegel’s Private Hell 36, Andre de Toth’s Ramrod, and Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis’s collaborations… All of which I have to get from Amazon, like a common pleb! Let me back in, Olive Films!

Tony Rayns
Critic, UK

Many of the most valuable DVDs of the year will never appear in shops because they’re technically illegal. I’m thinking of the fan-subtitled versions of Oshima Nagisa’s major work (Boy, Death By Hanging, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, Ceremonies) which have appeared on ‘rare DVD’ websites, alongside the back catalogues of such Japanese masters as Naruse Mikio, Shimizu Hiroshi and Kinoshita Keisuke. The anonymous fans who rip the Japanese editions and add their own subtitles are doing a wonderful job in compensating for the wilful stupidity of the Japanese majors, who persistently refuse to add subtitle options to their official releases.

I’ve also been grateful for some of the legitimate releases of archival titles from Criterion, Masters of Cinema, Second Run and other specialist labels, including the Korean Film Archive and the Austrian Filmmuseum. The titles I’m happiest to have added to my collection this year include Criterion’s Paul Fejös set (headlined by 1928’s Lonesome but also including two 1929 films, the silent The Last Performance and the musical Broadway); Masters of Cinema’s Island of Lost Souls (with much better extras than the Criterion edition); Frank Vitale’s long-lost Montreal Main (1974), published semi-privately by the Canadian label Sanya Entertainment; and Blue Underground’s new Blu-ray of Sergio Corbucci’s Django, a splendid transfer with entertaining extras.

The biggest surprise was the appearance in Taiwan of Sun Yu’s two-part 1951 movie Wu Xun Zhuan (The Story of Wu Xun), made for one of the small private film companies allowed to go on producing in Shanghai after the communist takeover, and banned when Mao himself published an attack on it. I saw it years ago at the China Film Archive in Beijing, after much arm-twisting; it’s great to have it on disc. Sadly, no English subtitles. But I’m sure the fans will get around to adding them.

Jon Robertson
Producer, the Masters of Cinema

It’s been an avalanche of treats this year. Confirmed classics, uncovered gems and genre favourites have been receiving excellent presentations left, right and centre. Where to begin?

Fist of Fun: Series 1 and 2
UK 1995-96; Go Faster Stripe, DVD

Stewart Lee and Richard Herring’s still-great mid-90s comedy show given a long-overdue release via an intriguing method. In a three-way split with independent comedy label Go Faster Stripe, its makers repurchased the rights from a long-stalling BBC, and released two four-disc DVD sets via the GFS website. On top of all the expected extras is the unprecedented inclusion of the complete surviving rushes from each episode as it was recorded live before an audience (many, many hours’ worth). The moon on a stick, indeed.

Nightbirds (+ The Body Beneath)
Andy Milligan, UK 1970; BFI, Blu-ray and DVD

I still can’t quite believe this is on my shelf. Why would Andy Milligan appear on Blu-ray? For those of us who keep returning to this singular filmmaker’s sour vision, cracked ways with a camera and bile-filled dialogue, it’s a miracle.

Shallow Grave
Danny Boyle, UK 1993; Criterion (US), Blu-ray

A key movie from my wide-eyed days as a young film fan, and it’s great to discover how well it’s aged. In many ways, it’s a blueprint for a finely crafted, home-grown popular cinema that’s been rarely fulfilled since. Beautiful transfer and superb supplements.

The Conformist
Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy-France 1970; Arrow Academy, Dual format

The Conformist

The Conformist

Bertolucci’s masterpiece in a splendid presentation with one of the best commentaries I’ve ever heard (by David Forgacs).

Casa de Lava
Pedro Costa, Portugal 1994; Second Run, DVD

All stages of Costa’s artistic evolution are riveting, and this is no exception. A wonderful film, and a typically lovely release from Second Run.

Jonathan Rosenbaum
Critic, USA

In one way or another, Hollywood lurks in the background of all the selections here, but neither the Oscar-mongering nor the Oscar-ready kind.

Richard Linklater, US 2011; Millennium Entertainment (US), DVD

A good-natured, profound comedy from Linklater’s East Texas that takes the radical steps of essentially defending small towns, murder, and the apotheosis of Jack Black without sentimentalising any of them, meanwhile dissolving several of the distinctions that we commonly make between fiction and non-fiction. The extras are especially delightful.

Driver X 4: The Lost and Found Films of Sara Driver
Sleepwalk, 1986; You Are Not I, 1981; When Pigs Fly, 1993; The Bowery, 1994, all US; Films We Like (Canada), DVD

I interviewed Driver for this two-disc set and wrote one of the essays, but believe me, this singular compendium of enchantment and the witty-creepy would be on my list of favourites even if I hadn’t. As the title suggests, Driver remains one of the best-kept secrets in American independent cinema.

Hitler in Hollywood
Frédéric Sojcher, Belgium 2011; Cinematek (Belgium), DVD

The title of Frédéric Sojcher’s charming adventure-comedy and thoughtful exercise in polemical film history – co-starring Maria de Medeiros and Micheline Presle, and full of exquisite cameos – may be a tease, but you won’t come away from this movie disappointed.

Paul Fejös, 1928, US; Criterion (Region 1 US), Blu-ray or DVD

On the basis of an experimental low-budget feature that no longer exists, the Hungarian-born Paul Fejös received carte blanche from Universal to make a late silent/early talkie about love in the big city. The results can be placed alongside Sunrise and The Crowd, and Criterion gives this masterpiece the full treatment on Blu-ray and DVD it deserves.

La Porte du diable (Devil’s Doorway)
Anthony Mann, US 1950; Wild Side Video (France), DVD

I discovered Anthony Mann’s neglected black-and-white western from 1949, both antiracist and proto-feminist, thanks to this lovely edition, which includes La terre promise – a richly illustrated critical/historical monograph in French by Bernard Eisenschitz that seems a model of its kind.

Sukhdev Sandhu
Critic, UK/US

Under the Cranes
Emma-Louise Williams, UK 2012

A polyphonic meditation on time and urban space, a cinematic version of one of Charles Parker’s ‘Radio Ballads’, this Michael Rosen-scripted evocation of the borough of Hackney is a joyous wonder, an instant addition to the modern canon of filmic London. Super-8 streetscapes and archival alleyways rub up against Al Bowlly tunes and Malian kora music, the testimonies of contemporary Congolese immigrants is heard alongside proud retellings of how anti-fascist Jews purged the neighbourhood of Mosley’s henchmen in the 1940s, and child rhymes hang beautifully over a much maligned and increasingly gentrification-threatened area.

Serious Drugs
Jim Burns, US 2012

Fronted by Duglas Stewart, their honeyed melodies, emotional directness and inclusive spirit once led Kurt Cobain to claim: “If I could be in any other band, it would be BMX Bandits.” This documentary, a labour of love for first-time director Burns, is an intimate and supremely touching portrait of the idiosyncratic world Stewart, often in the face of personal depression, has created. Co-conspirators line up to champion the restorative luminescence his music radiates.

What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day
Paul Kelly and Saint Etienne, UK; Heavenly Recordings, DVD

A follow-up to Finisterre, Kelly’s collaboration (co-directed by Kieron Evans) with Saint Etienne, this is a magical, dreamy time capsule of a film capturing the lower Lea Valley in 2005 just before the announcement that London’s Olympic bid had been successful set about a tsunami of speculation and cartographic upheaval.

Mundane History
Anocha Suwichakornpong, Thailand 2009; Second Run, DVD

Thank goodness for Second Run which has been forward thinking enough to release this 2009 film, at once cryptic and meditative, nominally about the relationship of a male nurse and a paralysed young man, that swells and swells, becoming a sly, sometimes fissile exploration of patriarchy, class politics and Thai history.

Kate Stables
Critic, UK

Trouble In Paradise
Ernst Lubitsch, 1932, US; Eureka Masters of Cinema, DVD

A Simple Life

Ann Hui, Hong Kong 2011; Arrow Films, Blu-ray or DVD

Outcast of the Islands

Carol Reed, UK 1951; StudioCanal, DVD

Gate of Hell
Kinugasa Teinosuke, Japan 1953; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Dual format

The Rafi Pitts Collection

Sanam, 2000; It’s Winter, 2006; The Hunter, 2010, all Iran; Artificial Eye, DVD

Gary Tooze

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection
Dracula, 1931; Frankenstein, 1931; The Mummy, 1932; The Invisible Man, 1933; Bride of Frankenstein, 1935; The Wolf Man, 1941; The Phantom of the Opera, 1943; The Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1954; all US; Universal (region-free), Blu-ray

A timeless package, worthy of any collection.

Late Spring
Ozu Yasujiro, 1949; Criterion (US), Blu-ray or DVD

Criterion seem to have digitally restored some of the most visible damage marks. A miraculous film.

The Passion of Joan of Arc
Carl Theodor Dreyer, France 1928; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and/or DVD

An incredible home theatre experience.

La promesse
Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium-France-Lux-Tunisia 1996; Criterion (US), Blu-ray or DVD

This Blu-ray has taken giant leaps over past DVDs.

Mighty Aphrodite
Woody Allen, US 1995; Miramax Japan, Blu-ray

Simply my favorite comedy. Great to see it get a 1080P treatment.

James White
Film restoration supervisor/consultant, UK

The Passion of Joan of Arc
Carl Theodor Dreyer, France 1928; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and/or DVD

Zombie Flesh Eaters
Lucio Fulci, Italy 1979; Arrow Video, Blu-ray (or DVD)

It may look like an odd pairing, but these two films involved my attentions more than any other this year, as I was entrusted with the job of restoring them both (for Eureka/MOC and Arrow, respectively). Though these two films presented many different technical challenges, I approached both with the same basic principle of working to achieve the closest approximation possible of what their original cinema release would have looked like, refraining from any overzealous image processing that would have compromised film grain or detail. So it’s been particularly satisfying to see our efforts in this regard being greeted with such appreciation.

Letter Never Sent
Mikhail Kalatozov, USSR 1959; Criterion, Blu-ray or DVD

Letter Never Sent

Letter Never Sent

A film I’d simply wanted to see for years in any available version was, as if by magic, blessed with a lovely restoration and release by Criterion. I was particularly pleased to discover this long-unavailable film by the director of The Cranes are Flying and Soy Cuba was as great as I always hoped it would be.

Rosemary’s Baby
Roman Polanski, US 1968; Criterion (US)

Polanski’s masterpiece finally gets the release it deserves, with a beautiful director-approved transfer fully demonstrating the artistry and imagination behind every shot.

The Devils
Ken Russell, UK 1971; BFI DVD

Not the complete original director’s cut we were all hoping for, and sadly not in 1080P, but a great achievement nonetheless. Russell’s infamous classic was lovingly presented by the BFI on DVD with a glorious transfer and fantastic extras. Likely to remain the definitive release as long as Warners continues to hold this amazing film hostage.

Le Quai des Brumes
Marcel Carné, France 1938; StudioCanal, Blu-ray (also DVD)

It didn’t garner quite the same attention as another particular Carné restoration this year (or the controversy surrounding it), but this classic was a profound re-discovery for me and this presentation was one of StudioCanal’s best efforts.

S&S requested we keep our lists to just five titles, but there were a handful of releases that deserve equal mention: Heaven’s Gate, Quadrophenia, Purple Noon, Summer Interlude (Criterion), Double Indemnity, Lifeboat, Die Nibelungen (Eureka/Moc), Les Vampires, Jean Rollin titles (Kino), Mon Oncle, A Woman under the Influence (BFI), early Bergman and Mizoguchi sets (Artificial Eye), It Always Rains on Sunday, La Grande Illusion (StudioCanal), This is Cinerama (Flicker Alley), On the Bowery (Milestone), Jaws, Universal’s Monsters Collection, Polish Cinema Classics (Second Run)…

Sam Wigley
BFI News

Fairy Tales: Early Colour Stencil Films from Pathé
France 1901-22; BFI, DVD

A collection to treasure: enchanting bedtime-story films from the early cinema of attractions, accompanied by new music from the Touch label. The ballet dancers shimmying through a spectral, Belle Époque performance of Les Sylphides; the young girl’s face appearing as if by magic on a conjuror’s wall of bricks – the strange spell of these moments has only intensified with the passing of a century.

The Mizoguchi Collection
Mizoguchi Kenji, Japan 1936-46; Artificial Eye, Blu-ray or DVD

Great to see Artificial Eye take a gamble on a four-film collection of lesser-known early Mizoguchi films. With Masters of Cinema’s two double-bill Mizoguchi releases, 2012 proved a bumper year for fans of the Japanese master.

Repo Man
Alex Cox, US 1983; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

Another great year for Masters of Cinema found them (among other things) updating their reach into modern American cult classics, with titles like Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Rumble Fish (1983) added to the collection. Alex Cox’s inspired low-budget gem Repo Man (1984), accompanied with its famous overdubbed TV version, thereby finds itself sharing shelves with the best of Fritz Lang and Carl Dreyer.

Tuesday, After Christmas
Radu Muntean, Romania 2010; Second Run, DVD

Second Run did fantastic work this year to release worthwhile recent films which were never distributed in the UK. Muntean’s gripping portrait of the damage that an affair does to a marriage just edges out Anocha Suwichakornpong’s boldly original Mundane History as my favourite. The final scene at the Christmas party is crushing in its sadness and ambiguity.

A Woman under the Influence
John Cassavetes, US 1974; BFI, Blu-ray and DVD

Grainy New American cinema from the 1970s looks wonderful on Blu-ray, and Cassavetes’ scalding account of one woman’s mental breakdown has surely never been so devastating or intense in the comfort of one’s own home.

Nick Wrigley

The time of year where I pinch myself again and try not to take any of these blistering releases for granted. Flicking through some 1990s editions of S&S recently and there’s hardly any sign of a home video industry. We really do have it good right now! My two very favourite Blu-rays that I saw in 2012, were released in 2011 – so they don’t count – but they’re two of my favourite films: La Belle et la bête and Lola Montès (both Criterion, US). These discs are bottled magic, extraordinary film art captured on Blu-ray.

My standout releases (from a shortlist of over 50):

William Wellman, 1927; Paramount (US), Blu-ray

Phenomenal for many reasons, most memorably perhaps for the real aerial footage. I would love to see more silent cinema on Blu-ray.

Mon Oncle
Jacques Tati, France-Italy 1958; BFI, Blu-ray

The way this film has been carefully brought to Blu-ray, the way the film grain resolves, is a great example of a filmic Blu-ray encode. Sticks in my mind as the most handsome colour Blu-ray I saw all year.

The Mizoguchi Collection
Mizoguchi Kenji, Japan 1936-46; Artificial Eye, Blu-ray or DVD

Classic Bergman
Ingmar Bergman, Sweden 1946-58; Artificial Eye, Blu-ray or DVD

As a discerning Blu-ray nut, always keen for more risky releases, I was disappointed to see a lot of brave releases get short shrift in reviews. The Blu-ray editions of these two box sets were great and need support.

Letter Never Sent
Mikhail Kalatozov, USSR 1959; Criterion, Blu-ray or DVD

One of the best looking, most visually stunning black & white films I’ve ever seen. Remarkably rendered on this ridiculously good Criterion Blu-ray.

Fairy Tales: Early Colour Stencil Films from Pathé
France 1901-22; BFI, DVD

Mind-splittingly beautiful films from over 100 years ago. Caught me by surprise. Intelligent, radical soundtrack accompaniments which respect the source material and let it breathe in new ways. I’ll be watching these again on Christmas Day.

I also enjoyed very much: Casque d’Or (Becker, StudioCanal UK Blu-ray) – a flawless Blu-ray of a beautiful film; pre-code nutsness The Most Dangerous Game (Flicker Alley Blu-ray); It Always Rains on Sunday (StudioCanal UK Blu-ray) an incredible Ealing film; Les Visiteurs du Soir (Marcel Carné, Criterion Blu-ray); Criterion’s Jean Grémillon Eclipse set; the BFI’s John Cassavetes Blu-rays which I’m just getting to; Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, Blu-ray); Frankenstein (Whale, Blu-ray); Sunset Blvd (Paramount Blu-ray); Criterion continually on fire with tent-pole releases such as Heaven’s Gate, Rosemary’s Baby, and the completely wonderful Purple Noon; two incredible high quality 2012 restorations with tremendous Blu-ray results: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Lawrence of Arabia, and finally, Strangers on a Train (1951, Hitchcock, Warners Blu) and My Son John (Leo McCarey, Olive Films Blu-ray) the last two films of actor Robert Walker make for a very unusual and rewarding double bill. There are loads more, it’s been a great year.

Yet another golden, rewarding, and enjoyable year for beautiful Blu-ray releases. An enormous treat.

It’s worrying however that everyone might not be seeing the same thing because of how their TV is set-up. I hope everyone has turned off MotionFlow/PureMotion frame interpolation, reduced the ‘sharpness’, turned off ambient light adjustment, and turned off all other gimmicks in the TV menus in order to make these Blu-rays look as they should!

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