Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd slashed his way to the top of the DVD pile.
The criterion here is astonishment. I like to be surprised - and movies can do that in so many different ways. I've skipped the obvious classics like the Coppola restoration of The Godfather Trilogy. Feel free to disagree.
1 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (DreamWorks, 2007)
Tim Burton's gothic visuals meet the horror and black humour of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical about a mad barber in Victorian London. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter have a ball. Best of the lavish extras are the historical docs on the story and its context.
Taxi To The Dark Side drives home its points effectively.
2 Taxi To The Dark Side (Seville, 2007)
Alex Gibney's comprehensive inquiry into American state-sponsored torture spirals outward from the murder of an Afghan taxi driver by his American captors to torture's methods and effects, its status as policy, its dissemination through the system and origin with vice-president Dick Cheney. Classic journalism, with even more details in the commentary.
3 Dark City: Director's Cut (Alliance, 1998)
Director Alex Proyas cuts the explain-all voice-over and lifts Dark City to Blade Runner level. Now we're as clueless as the amnesiac on the run through a film-noir city. The payoff is astounding. Postmodernism and architecture feature heavily in the five appreciation docs. Roger Ebert's thoughtful commentary reveals much about his own working methods.
Casino Royale package gives solace to Daniel Craig fans.
4 Casino Royale: Collector's Edition (MGM, 2006)
One of the two best Bonds in the series. Star Daniel Craig struts his acting chops between spectacular action scenes while battling a terrorist financier and romancing an enigmatic treasury official. Smart editing makes the crew commentary a standout. Four docs interweave Ian Fleming's life, the novel and the Bahamas for a fascinating account of some odd characters.
A pre-meltdown Russell Crowe helped make L.A. Confidential a crime classic.
5 L.A. Confidential (WB, 1997)
This belongs among the crime film greats. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce burn as L.A. cops involved with mass murder and systemic corruption. Loads of new extras include the series pilot, a stellar lesson in doing it wrong.
6 Cocaine Cowboys (Mongrel, 2006, 2008)
Money, murder and drugs as told by the smugglers and hired guns who turned 1970s Miami into the kill capital of America. The thugs are open and articulate, notably Jorge "Rivi" Ayala, enforcer for brutal Griselda Blanco. Director Billy Corben keeps it moving with archival footage and gruesome crime scene photos.
7 Brand Upon The Brain! (Criterion, 2006)
Guy Maddin at his finest, with a mutant silent-movie approach to masochistic psychosexual horror played as lurid melodrama involving teenage twin detectives, a mad scientist, orphans and memory. Seven narration tracks by the likes of Isabella Rossellini, Laurie Anderson and Madden himself add more twisted fun.
8 Diary Of The Dead (Alliance, 2007)
George Romero's best movie since Night Of The Living Dead and one of the all-time great zombie flicks for its inventive gore, plausible characters, fluid technique and well-developed theme. Along with the extensive and informative making-of material, there's a fun selection of contest-winner zombie shorts, including one by NFN Teller of Penn & Teller.
9 The Mindscape Of Alan Moore (Disinformation/Koch, 2003)
Alan Moore wrote Watchmen, the graphic novel behind next year's much-hyped superhero movie. It's a complex, morally ambiguous, character-driven entertainment for adults. Moore delivers stimulating ideas about his work, art as magic, movies, erotica and human transformation, while atmospheric images enhance ideas and mood. Illustrator interviews provide more fascinating insight into creative minds.
10 The Fall (Sony, 2006)
Fiction bleeds into reality as an injured stuntman and a little girl concoct a fairy tale. It's a parade of gorgeous locations including a butterfly-shaped island and an M.C. Escher-style well. There's also a swimming elephant. How one-name director Tarsem spent over four years shooting this makes a remarkable story in itself.
The greatest gimmick since talking pictures is unreliable on DVD. Without the glasses on, there's not much fun in having things heaved into your face. Viewed flat, Beowulf, Journey To The Center Of The Earth and Fly Me To The Moon are at best reminders of what you're missing. At worst, they're object lessons in what movie moguls keep forgetting: all the technical splash in the world can't replace a good story.
BIG TITLES, SMALL MOVIE
What's hidden under the great big sensory wash in the theatre becomes woefully obvious on the home screen. Mainstream movie stories are getting weaker and weaker. Iron Man and Sex And The City, to pick just two, don't have enough story to fill a half-hour sitcom, and what's there falls apart at first glance.