[Editor's Note: You can meet Mark Altman (along with Bits editor Bill Hunt and contributing editor Dr. Adam Jahnke) this weekend at WonderCon in Anaheim where he will be moderating several panels and autographing at the Femme Fatales booth with cast and crew from the hit Cinemax TV series.]
Another year, another column...
Sorry I've been away so long, but I'm thrilled to be back compiling the bits to render judgment on another year of home entertainment. Unfortunately, the biggest takeaway from 2011 and the flaming out of the home video juggernaut that kept the studios awash in big bucks for decades is the fact that the studio's just aren't spending the money to create new bonus features for their discs. The days of being awed by hours of in-depth and eye-opening supplements are clearly over and even the best of this year's Blu-ray featured largely re-purposed content from previous editions. Even when Universal would re-cycle their old laserdisc docs on DVD, it wasn't totally disappointing because the bonus features on those old CAV laser sets were incredible. Jaws, anyone?
Hey, sorry I've been on hiatus for so long, but given all the love letters, it's nice to know I've been missed. All I can say is I've been busy and I'll tell you more about that later this year. First though, let me say, I'm going to change the format a little bit to free me up to discuss whatever I want, whenever I want, which will make it more fun for me and, hopefully for you. Secondly, I'm going to skip over a lot of discs because I refuse to review anything that I'm not sent for free. It doesn't mean I don't own them, it just means I'm not doing the studios any favors for cheeping out. You really don't need some other putz pontificating about bitrate and artifacting anyway. The only artifact I care about is the lost ark on Blu-ray, anyway. That said, before resuming this column already in progress, let's take this return from hiatus to do a quick Top 10 of 2010 before charging into 2011, the year after the year we make contact.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (Sony) 91% (Blu-ray), 78% (Film)
It's obscene to me that this third-rate remake of the original classic 70s nail-biter is on Blu-ray, but the Robert Shaw/Walter Matthau is MIA. Regrettably, the remake of Pelham seemed on paper to be a great idea. Tony Scott, a stylish and reliable director with a strong commercial sensibility, directing Denzel Washington and John Travolta seemed like a can't-miss notion. But unfortunately, like a poor marksmen, he keeps on missing the target. The new film is as bad as the original is good. The only thing it has going for it is the tech credits for the new BD are all excellent with near demo quality video and audio and the supplements are terrific, including a nice package on filming in the New York Subway System. But where the first film is a tight, clever, pressure-cooker with a memorable David Shire score, the remake is just big and dumb adding a ludicrous new twist to Travolta's caper that is absolutely absurd along with an over-the-top performance from the former Barbarino that is the opposite of the seething, silent menace of Robert Shaw in the original.
The Aughts are Over! Can I hear a chorus of halleluiah! And while few may miss the passing of this somewhat disdained decade, it's hard for fans of home entertainment to quibble that it was the best ten years yet for the medium. So here's a final look at back at the triumphs in the audio/video world from way back in January 2000 to the end of 2009. These are not necessarily the best movies of the decade, in fact, few of them actually are from the recent decade past, but they are the best of the formats from the dying days of laserdisc to the decade of DVD to the short-lived HD-DVD to the dawn of Blu-ray. If your library doesn't include any of these titles, run, don't walk to pick them up today (or, in this wired age, surf your way to Amazon) to add these to your sadly deficient collection. And while the list is top-heavy with genre titles, it's only because these films lend themselves to the video and audio strengths of the format and have tended to receive the most tender loving care from the studios due to their strong commercial appeal.
With all the talk about digital downloading and the implosion of home video sales, it's easy to lose of the sight of the fact that 2009 was another fantastic year for home entertainment. Blu-ray took another quantum leap forward as it penetrated further into the mainstream, although I could do with a little less bells and whistles as the tub thumping of BD-Live turned out to be much ado about nothing and I continue to loathe easter eggs. And DVD proved that while it was down, it definitely wasn't out. And most of the studios began amping up their release of vintage catalog titles on Blu-ray with Warner Bros leading the way with the great (The Wizard of Oz) to the good (Gone With the Wind) to the kitschy (Logan's Run). It was exceptionally hard to narrow down my favorite titles of the year to only ten (and, all of my Top 10 are Blu-ray titles with a few standard def DVD titles singled out among my runner-up's), but after many bleary eyed hours of re-sampling the candidates, here is my list of The Best Discs of 2009. Let the kvetching begin.