I wasn’t quite sure at first how to tackle a list of the Best DVDs of the Year… by definition, aren’t the best dvds the ones containing the best movies? (Yes, they are.) We don’t want this to be a list of the year’s best movies though, so instead we’re looking at the best collections, box sets, and special editions. Obviously the quality of the movies or shows within still matter, but they’re just one aspect of a truly great dvd release. The other two most important things in a quality dvd are the extras and the packaging. The best dvds of the year should ideally have all three traits… awesome feature, awesome extras, awesome packaging. (At the very least they should have two out of three.)
So here we go. These are the Best DVDs of 2009!
This may be considered cinematic heresy but I’ve only seen three of Akira Kurosawa’s many movies. Forgive me. Happily the fine folks at Criterion have long been supporters of the director, and this year they released the most comprehensive dvd set ever seen for any director. AK100 celebrates what would have been Kurosawa’s 100th birthday and includes 25 of his movies from a career that lasted half a century. It includes the ones I’ve seen (Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Yojimbo) and several others including a few that have never even had an official dvd release. The films each come in their own case, and the set also comes with a beautiful book covering all 25 movies. It’s not a cheap box set, but if you love Kurosawa and/or Criterion’s treatment of films then you can’t go wrong with this collection.
No, this is not a mistake. As you can tell by the rest of this list I’m a fan of TV box sets that include the entire series (as opposed to a single season), and this smartly packaged set from Shout Factory is no different… even if the entire series only lasted six episodes. That’s actually what makes this collection so impressive. Shout Factory has included commentaries, interviews, and featurettes with star Andy Richter and co-creator Conan O’Brien as well as several other members of the cast and crew. And there’s a very funny outtakes reel which includes sweet, mild-tempered Richter dropping more f-bombs than you’d find in a Martin Scorsese movie. Hilarious show, hilarious extras, and some solid packaging make this a fantastic dvd release.
This set hits all three “best dvd” criteria dead on… it includes the complete series for one of the best shows to ever grace the small screen; each of the 25 discs is packed with extras including commentaries, deleted scenes and more; and it comes packaged in a fucking frakkin’ Cylon head. Now, the head/box is a bit big to fit on your usual DVD shelf, the extras are all exactly what you’ll find in the stand-alone season sets, and the discs are loose-sleeved instead of more sturdily stored… but I’d argue that the overall package combined with the complete series and extras make it a winner.
This show lacked the “popularity” of BSG, but it still has more than few rabid followers. Should it have come packaged in a box shaped liked Chiana’s head? Yes, but instead we get a more traditional square package. But it’s what you’ll find inside that matters, and here the set truly steps up… 26 discs, all 88 episodes, and over 15 hours of commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, and more. Each of the four seasons is housed in it’s own snap-case with a fifth case containing a wealth of additional bonus materials. I had never seen the show before receiving this set, and now I’m buried deep in a weird and wild world partially created by Jim Henson’s fantastic creature shop.
I’m a firm believer that you can never have too many (or too much) head sets. This is actually a perfect companion for the BSG set above as both come housed in decapitated robot heads, although to be fair this show is a lot funnier than BSG. (I actually find Futurama to be funnier than The Simpsons too…) The possible downside to this set is that the 18 discs don’t come individually packaged but instead are slotted securely directly into Bender’s cranium. I’m okay with that though because they’re safe and most importantly they’re filled to the rims with hilarious shows and entertaining extras. Commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, featurettes, hidden surprises, and the four feature-length Futurama movies… pair this on your shelf proudly beside the BSG skull and you’re ready to satisfy any sci-fi whim you may discover.
Practicality be damned, this is yet another very cool case holding an entire series… Shout Factory may have missed an opportunity by not packaging the show in a busty Scarlett or Lady Jaye bust, but a military-themed foot locker is pretty sweet too. All 95 episodes of the show are included along with old-school PSA’s, Hasbro toy commercials, additional featurettes, a book documenting the series, a dog tag flash drive, and more. Any one of these episodes is at least as entertaining as the recent big budget movie, and the two-part ‘Dusty is a traitor’ story arc is some of the most dramatic TV ever made (not really, but I remember being moved by his predicament while watching this as a child so that’s still pretty impressive).
Attention all studios, this is how you make a special edition dvd for a worthwhile movie. (This is how you make two of them in fact…) Warner Bros has started releasing Ultimate Editions of the Harry Potter films starting with Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. The goal is to release the entire series of movies leading up to the two-part conclusion next year with Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. These editions are fantastic as stand-alone releases… they each feature four discs and include the theatrical cut, the extended cut, multiple featurettes, a beautiful little hardcover book filled with behind the scenes photos and production drawings, and two collectible character cards. The 4th disc of each set includes additional extras with the highlight being a brand new hour-long documentary, Creating the World of Harry Potter. When all of the segments are eventually completed and combined they’ll form an impressive eight hour doc on one of the best film franchises in history. Lastly, and this is a small detail but one that impresses someone like myself, the cases for these Ultimate Editions are designed to look like hardcover books beneath the outer graphic sleeve. Like I said, a small detail, but one that shows the kind of care and concern WB put into the design.
This one may be a head-scratcher for some… if you’re wondering what the hell it is the odds are you never played Halo on the Xbox. If you did play and enjoy Halo but haven’t seen this hilarious series of shorts made with Halo’s in-game engine, then browse your ass over to redvsblue.com and start watching the first season. (And if you haven’t played any of the Halo games then the show and the jokes will mean absolutely nothing to you, so just move on down the list buddy.) The episodes take place inside the world of multiplayer Halo with opposing “players” represented by the different armor colors. But it’s not about combat… it’s about the personalities of these heretofore unnamed soldiers, their curiosity about what they’re fighting for and where exactly they are, and the sexual preferences of the soldier in pink. Very funny stuff here and the set includes five seasons of the show as well as numerous extras on the making-of, deleted scenes, outtakes, and more. A fantastic and fun collection for you or the gamer in your life.
And now for my second bit of heresy in this post… I’m not a huge fan of The Sopranos. Before you suggest I get whacked you should know that I’m a casual fan who wishes he had more time to catch up on the trials and tribulations of the lovably rotund mobster and his family and friends. But I don’t. So let’s move on to the set itself… this is actually the second “Complete Series” release for the show and comes roughly a year after the first. So why is it on this year’s list? It includes everything that initial set had except for two things: cds with the show’s music, and a $400 price tag. HBO has changed up the packaging and removed the soundtrack cds, and the entire show plus all the original extras can now be yours for $120 on Amazon. That’s a great deal for six seasons of what many people consider to be one of the greatest shows ever… and while it’s no “Andy Barker P.I.”, it’s still a pretty good show that you’ll be proud to own and display on your dvd shelf.
Yup, I admit it. I’m a sneaky bastard with no respect for the rules… even rules that I myself created. The Inglourious Basterds two-disc dvd only has a handful of special features, the packaging is straight-forward, and I would wager that a legitimate special edition of the movie will see release sometime in the next few years with some truly cool extras. So why is it on my list this year? Because it’s my favorite movie of the year and therefore my favorite dvd of the year. Bam said the lady!
Honorable Mentions: Black Adder: Remastered, Justice League: The Complete Series, Monty Python: Almost the Truth, North By Northwest: 50th Anniversary Edition, The Sopranos: The Complete Series, The State: The Complete Series, The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Special Edition
What was your favorite DVD release this year?
Read More: Year in Review