These are not the 10 best movies released on video this year, but the 10 DVDs that take fullest advantage of the medium -- a good movie, a superb transfer, great sound and hours of extras that weren't excerpted from the electronic press kit or produced as promotionals for E! I'm taking into account new interviews, interesting commentaries, bonus documentaries. Also, original to DVD -- issues of pre-existing laser discs are not included.
1. the loRD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING -- EXTENDED DVD EDITION (New Line Platinum/Alliance Atlantis)
Crystalline transfer, four worthwhile commentary tracks, six-plus hours of documentary material, goodies like the interactive Middle Earth map. If there's anything anyone needs to know about this film, it's here. Not just a great movie, but a doctoral seminar on a great film. The gold standard.
2. the complete monterey pop festival (Criterion Collection/ Morningstar)
This is how you do a historical issue. The package includes all three of the films that emerged from Monterey (Monterey Pop, Jimi At Monterey and Shake! Otis At Monterey), new filmmaker and critical commentaries, new interviews and a bonus disc that includes two hours of performance footage that hasn't been seen officially in the last 30 years -- literally every complete performance filmed by D.A. Pennebaker and his team.
3. traffic (Criterion Collection/ Alliance Atlantis)
Superb transfer, two commentaries, 25 deleted scenes, expanded scenes, trailers, cinematography and editing features, as in "Why is Mexico yellow?" and "Why does the picture jump around like this?" One of those DVDs that shows how the journey can be just as interesting as the destination.
4. amelie (UGC/Alliance Atlantis)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Alien Resurrection and Delicatessen, went to charm school before coming up with this elaborate piece of Gallic whimsy, and Miramax was smart enough to import the French two-disc edition, subtitle it and get Jeunet to add an English-language commentary. Screen tests, outtakes, making-of and a featurette on the film's design. It's a DVD designed in the spirit of the movie it surrounds.
5. jackie brown (Miramax/Alliance Atlantis)
In the end-of-summer flood of Quentin Tarantino Special Editions, Pulp Fiction was the best movie (but the DVD was two-thirds from the old LD), True Romance had the best commentary, but Jackie Brown was the prize. An exquisite character comedy in the guise of a thriller (Tarantino is Elmore Leonard's artistic son), it has a package of extras that pay full tribute to the film's stars, blaxploitation legend Pam Grier and 70s indie icon Robert Forster.
6. beckett on film (Ambrose Video)
It's light on extras, but the package, the complete plays of Samuel Beckett, directed by people like Atom Egoyan, Anthony Minghella and Neil Jordan, with stars like John Hurt, Alan Rickman and Julianne Moore, is such a unique undertaking and brought off so successfully that it's impossible to keep this four-disc box off the list.
7. the bitter tears of petra von kant (Wellspring)
The early gem of Wellspring's ongoing Rainer Werner Fassbinder series, Petra Von Kant, in addition to the elegant transfer, offers a half-hour interview with Fassbinder from 1977, an excellent critical commentary and, rarity of rarities, Fassbinder's early short films, Der Stadtstreicher and Das Kleine Chaos.
8. brotherhood of the wolf (TVA/Lions Gate)
Christophe Gans's epic monster kung fun period action horror picture is profoundly silly but astonishingly made. The three-disc set comes with two-plus hours of making-ofs, an interview with the historian whose research on the beast of Gévaudan is the source for the first half of the film and two entertaining commentaries. This is a loaded three-disc set and only on sale in Canada (and France) -- Universal's American release was a movie-only single disc. This would place higher had it bothered to include English subtitles for the two excellent French commentary tracks.
9. donnie darko (20th Century Fox)
An impossible-to-synopsize dark fantasy that fell by the theatrical wayside post-9/11, Donnie Darko isn't quite a direct-to-video, but it's close. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a teen who wakes up to find an airplane engine has fallen into his bedroom, only no one knows where it came from -- theories suggest it may have something to do with time travel and giant rabbits. Two commentaries and clever artifacts of the film's world, like the infomercials for Patrick Swayze's cultish inspirational speaker.
10. dagon (Lions Gate)
Stuart Gordon has a deserved cult reputation for his adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft, The Re-Animator and From Beyond, and this is his third. It's actually an adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth rather than Dagon, transplanted to Spain, but it is convincing, though without the campy frisson of The Re-Animator. A good film and two excellent commentaries, one with Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli, the other with Gordon and star Ezra Godden.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy