Best of 2010


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Links to Amazon

Top Ten Blu-ray Releases

1. Apocalypse Now (Francis Coppola, 1979) LionsGate (“Full Disclosure”); Region-A

2. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954) Criterion; Region-A.

3. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010) Disney; Region-All.

4. Downton Abbey (Julian Fellowes, 2010); Universal International; Region-All.

5. Deadwood (Created by David Milch, 2004-06); HBO; Region-All.

6. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948) Criterion; Region-A.

7. The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) Fox; Region-All.

  1. 8.Metropolis 2010 Restoration (Fritz Lang, 1927) Masters of Cinema; Region-B. **

  2. 9.The Magician (Ingmar Bergman, 1958) Criterion; Region-A.

  3. 10.Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001) Optimum/Studio Canal; Region-B. **

A note about Region coding:

Region-A discs are coded to play in North America, China, Korea and Japan; Region-B are coded to play in Europe. Region-All discs are coded to play in any Blyu-ray player.  Therefore, Region-B discs can be played only on a player so designated (made in Europe typically) or one that has been modified to play all regions.  Likewise, if you have a European player, it cannot play Region-A discs unless so modified.  Players made in North America can play “Region-All” or Region-A discs.  It doesn’t matter where you purchase the disc, only how it is coded and what player you play it in.


2010 was the year that Blu-ray came into its own, as evidenced by the dramatic  increase in classic and silent films to appear in the format.  While Internet streaming seems poised to wipe hard copies off the map, we BR collectors continue to enjoy the best of the best: image, sound, features.  (If only they had cases to match.)  Several of my most desired titles made their appearance in 2010 and four of those are on my list in outstanding transfers.

The titles that make my Top Ten List score high marks in most every category - but also have that extra something: a charisma that charms, seduces, astonishes.  In this, Apocalypse Now takes pride of place.  It’s a transfer in image and sound that brings back the emotional memory when I first saw it in its opening week.  Likewise for The Red Shoes, which I saw it in a nitrate print some 20 years ago: the ballet portion of is amazing on many levels, and my preferred demo piece as well.  The Criterion transfer needs no apologies.

Toy Story 3 was, to just about everyone’s surprise, the best of Pixar’s trilogy, and it looks and sounds sensational on Blu-ray.  Deadwood - all three seasons - is now available in high def looking and sounding as good as can be, and housed in a single clever box that takes less space than a single DVD season.  Neither of these titles nor Criterion’s Seven Samurai need further comment to recomend them.

If you’ve a fondness for British Upstairs Downstairs settings, then you won’t want to miss  Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey with a huge cast of English regulars including Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Penelope Wilton, Brendan Coyle and, let’s see, someone named Maggie Smith, and an American, Elizabeth McGovern. Fellowes wrote Gosford Park, by the way, and Downton Abbey feels very much its natural extension into a TV series.  The present Blu-ray does the first season proud: wardrobe, lighting, locations: jaws will drop, mouths will water.  As for fidelity to period and depth of the play, think Downton Abbey and Mad Men - and leave it at that.

Mulholland Drive, the best movie from 2001 and the most fascinating,  gets a solid, uncensored high definition transfer by Studio Canal.  Naomi Watts is astonishing as two characters in the same person.  Far more sophisticated than a straightforward multiple personality story, Mulholland Drive is David Lynch’s most absorbing essay to date about consciousness, dreams, desire and murder.

If The Sound of Music can look this good, I can’t wait for The King and I, whose source print is, I believe, in even better shape.  I thought the black levels a trifle high, so what I found here was a new and different and altogether staisfying home theatre experience.  Finally, there’s Masters of Cinema’s Metropolis 2010 Restoration, perhaps not the most persuasive of “silent” film images thus far on Blu-ray (City Girl, perhaps, or Modern Times), but it is, along with Sunrise, the most important.  Strange as it is, Bergman’s The Magician on Criterion is too tangible and luminous not to find a place on the list.

Curious Omissions:

Why not 8½? - simply because I can’t deal with the audio disconnect.  There is no attempt to reconcile the spoken dialogue with the actors.  The laziness begins with Cinecitta and Fellini himself, but Criterion could have pushed or pulled a little here and there - or maybe it’s a lost cause.  Anyhow, all too many films from that studio are difficult for me for this reason. It’s my loss, I know.  I weep.

Avatar isn’t a complete lost cause as a drama, but it just doesn’t work for me on that level.  Perhaps it’s just the people I hang out with, but I know only one person who thinks that Avatar is a good film in the same way as we think that  Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings or the first Star Wars movie are good films. Not that there aren’t things to be critical about in those movies, but there is enough compelling narrative substance to make their respective cases.  And while both in their day had visuals that captured the imagination, story and character ruled the day.  The same cannot be said for Avatar, which hasn’t got all that much going for it once we get past the visuals. I might add that without the newly added opening, the movie lacks sufficient sympathy or understanding for the protagonist.  Nor am I taken in by the visuals in 2D as I was in IMAX Experience 3D: On the ground, it’s just another sci-fi movie with great looking cyber-sets.  Once up in the air, there’s too much visual disconnect.

Caveat Emptor

I don’t usually make Worst of the Year lists but there are two titles that demand special mention:

Last year my top-rated Blu-ray was Chamagodo, the Korean documentary about the ancient trade routes from China to its far western frontiers.  This year I had a similar hopes for Tears of the Amazon, another Korean made-for televsion documentary that advertised an intimate look at the indigenous people of that remarkable forest.  In their infinite wisdom, the producers decided to blur out every below the waist genital.  And there are a lot of them, let me assure you, often several in the same frame.  That’s a lot of blurring.  And where do you suppose the eye goes in such circumstaces.  That’s right - every time.  Not that genitals are the point of a documentary, but why go there in the first place if you’re only going to censor your movie.  It’s a Documentary for god’s sakes!

In 1973 the BBC aired some 23 hours of World War footage and interviews with surviving participants on both sides 25+ years after the surrender, including Albert Speer and Traudl Junge, Hitler’s personal secretary, Lord Montbattan and General James Doolittle, among many others, civilians, victims, soldiers.  The World at War remains the definitive visual essay on that war.  Fremantle, a British company that secured the rights to the Blu-ray edition promptly decided to pander to those potential buyers who they believed would not purchase it if the 4x3 image didn’t fill their 16x9 screens, thus cropping some 25% of the image - selectively, I might add, as if that excuses such idiocy.

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

December 26, 2010