The Wizard of Oz three-disc collector's edition (MGM, 1939)
Classic Hollywood musical fantasy features Judy Garland's finest moment - her first rendition of Over The Rainbow, a simple, stark, unaffected and deeply moving performance. Gravity-defying dance by Scarecrow Ray Bolger and wonky comic timing from Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr are still fresh and fun. Two discs of extras give fans everything we could possibly want, including tech talk about the restoration job that gives us a clearer Oz than ever. Best of all are four silent Oz movies, three directed by Oz creator L. Frank Baum.
Warner Gangsters Collection: Little Caesar (1931); The Public Enemy (1931); The Petrified Forest (1936); Angels With Dirty Faces (1938); The Roaring Twenties (1939); White Heat (1949)
These pictures, gritty and fast-paced, filled with snappy dialogue and visual style, defined a genre, and their stars defined the Hollywood tough guy. James Cagney's performances are as powerful as any acting you'll see today. Michael Curtiz's direction on Angels With Dirty Faces is no less polished than it would be on Casablanca four years later. The movies alone are ideal for genre or period fans, but the cartoons, newsreels and live-action shorts on each disc, plus the scholarly commentaries and the making-of and meaning-of docs kick the whole package into greatness.
The Evil Dead/Evil Dead II Special Edition (Anchor Bay, 1983, 87)
The most creative, most gruesome and altogether wildest horror movies ever made. Soul-sucking demons take over the dead in a cabin in the woods, and only one lone idiot can stop them. Numbered limited edition of these cult classics comes with well-made replicas of the ghoulish book featured in the plot, along with lots of nifty extras, hilarious commentary featuring director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell. Either of these is perfect for the serious fright fan. Together, they're cult classic heaven.
Two For The Road (MGM 1967)
Audrey Hepburn's best performance and one of the best looks at married life ever put on film. Structured as a series of road trips, it takes Hepburn and Albert Finney through 10 years of a loving but conflicted marriage. There's an effortless flow back and forth among the trips, which are linked by witty thematic transitions and an elegantly gliding camera. At the same time, the tone moves between drama and inventive, unforced humour, and Henry Mancini's feather-light score holds it all together perfectly.
The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus (A&E, 1969-74)
The groundbreaking BBC series that changed the face of comedy is complete on 14 discs. That's over 24 hours, including The Parrot Sketch, The Lumberjack Song and dozens of other gems you've likely forgotten. Python humour, smart, brutal and British, isn't topical, so it doesn't date, making it rewatchable and accessible to all ages. A bonus disc features the famous Hollywood Bowl and Aspen concerts. A second bonus disc features a Steve Martin-hosted best-of show and a true rarity - a 45-minute show the Pythons produced, performed and shot in Germany, in German, for German TV, all subtitled.
Hanzo The Razor Boxed Set: Sword of Justice (HVE/Morningstar, 1972); The Snare (HVE/Morningstar, 1973); Who's Got The Gold? (HVE/Morningstar, 1974)
Anyone into action, swordplay, samurai films, manga or gonzo trash will welcome this three-film series that gets more outrageous as it goes along. Shintaro Katsu, known to fans for his Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman series, seems to be having the time of his life as Hanzo. He's a hardboiled, downright brutal, semi-crooked cop battling a corrupt samurai class in feudal Japan, and he's got a secret weapon: his immense, hardened member. He trains it (painful), uses it to interrogate samurai wives (painful in a different way) and refrains from climaxing until they talk. In between, there's much berserk violence, presented with the formal elegance and good acting that characterize most Japanese films of the period. Liner notes by Japanese cinema scholars provide some social and artistic background.
Trailer Park Boys Xmas Special (Alliance Atlantis, 2004)
The 45-minute prequel to the hit series sees criminal lunatics Ricky, Julian and Bubbles attempting to deal with the holiday season, with predictable beer-soaked results. Smart low-brow fun is perfect for the Anti Claus on your list, and the bonus Conky finger puppet will provide hours of annoying fun once you get a little beer-soaked yourself.
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (Alliance-Atlantis, 2005); Sin City Recut Extended (Alliance Atlantis, 2005); Robert Rodriguez Mexico Trilogy (Sony): El Mariachi (1992), Desperado (1995) and Once Upon A Time in Mexico (2003)
Three-D is the greatest cheesy gimmick ever to grace the cinema screen, and The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl is one of its highest examples. Rodriguez loses no opportunity to fling things into your eyes, and setting his tale in a dreamscape adds an extra thematic dimension to the 3-D. As if it needed it. The story comes from Rodriguez's six-year-old son, which adds to its charm. Kids will love it and, in the extras, parents will find interest and delight in the way Rodriguez fuses his role as father with his creativity and his work as a filmmaker. He's a first-rate commentator on his own work and one of the few commercial filmmakers around who view cinema as a personal art form. Flesh the package out with Sin City Recut Extended and the Robert Rodriguez Mexico Trilogy and you'll have a quintet of fun movies and a great portrait, in the extras, of a highly creative and evolving artist.
Monster (Columbia, 2004)
Charlize Theron's Aileen Wournos, a highway hooker who killed her johns, is one of the great performances and one of the great roles of contemporary cinema. By itself, it's enough to make Monster a great movie. But the rest of the film matches it at every turn. In the commentary and making-of doc, Theron and writer/director Patty Jenkins say they're after "truth." For them, that means viewing a fully humanized Wournos from her own perspective: no exploitation shocks, noble-loser weepies or pre-digested psychology. They discuss in detail how they did it, and mostly they talk about emotion, how to achieve it and what it does to you when you do, a subject that's seldom explored very deeply in the realm of DVD extras.
Beaches Special Edition (Disney, 1988)
This is the film that started the female friendship genre, and it's as fresh as the day it was released. The unlikely friendship of Bette Midler's extrovert entertainer and Barbara Hershey's repressed lawyer is developed with perfect plausibility. Midler and Hershey play together like old friends. The teary sentimentalism of the end might ruin a lesser film, but here it's undercut by a final sequence that celebrates the enduring changes brought by friendship. Highly rewatchable.
BARBRA STREISAND: THE TELEVISION SPECIALS (Warner)
Streisand's first TV show, My Name Is Barbra (1965), conceived and shot while she was still performing Funny Girl on Broadway, revolutionized TV variety. It was the first special without guest appearances, and it gave, for the first time, full control to its star. It also established Streisand as a dominant force on the entertainment scene; she may first have burst out as a singer, but she plays a five-year-old in a sequence here that shows her as an irresistable comic. With Color Me Barbra (1966), the second of these five offerings and CBS's first-ever colour program, the mega-ego -- and questionable taste -- had already begun to sabotage the talent. In the first indulgent segment, Streisand puts herself into paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art while singing mostly in voice-over, which robs her performance of its live force. The Minute Waltz, though, does give us another good piece of shtick.
The third, vaudeville-driven, special (1967) and the fifth, the multi-cultural Barbra Streisand... And Other Musical Instruments (1973) -- People done as Middle Eastern belly dance? -- are simultaneously bloated and inconsequential.
And slim extras or what? Except for Streisand's brief introductions, previously recorded to accompany the release of the videos in the late 80s, there are none
But make no mistake. Moments of the live special A Happening In Central Park (1968) and the concert segments of the first two shows, also shot live off the floor, are sensational. This is an actor in a gifted singer's body, who moves like a toned athlete, giving ample proof that in her young prime -- she was only 23 when she made My Name Is Barbra -- Barbra Streisand was, by far, the greatest star.
- Susan G. Cole