In this list, I take as a starting point that these are good movies, well presented, restored where necessary and in the proper aspect ratio. This knocks out VSC's pan-and-scan special edition of Hardcore Logo. What puts a DVD on the list is the quality of the extras, with points for originality, obsessive absorption and relative rarity.
1 Fassbinder's BRD TRILOGY (Criterion) This deluxe historical four-disc set -- the three late films about the history of post-war Germany: The Marriage Of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss and Lola -- capped a year of terrific Fassbinder issues. It includes commentaries, new half-hour interviews with the three stars, a feature-length biographical documentary on the director, excellent booklet essays and, of course, superb transfers in the proper and slightly eccentric aspect ratios.
2 THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS: EXTENDED EDITION (New Line Platinum Edition) Even more than The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers gains from the newly integrated footage, which gives greater emotional room to the characters, fills in the narrative line and, peculiarly, makes its 220 minutes seem to move faster than the 180-minute theatrical cut. Four complete commentaries and six hours' worth of documentary material are geek heaven -- you suddenly realize you're watching a 25-minute documentary on the sound mix, and it's fascinating.
3 METROPOLIS (Kino) A stunning restoration of the 1927 Fritz Lang silent film that has been admired yet simulaneously abused almost since its first release. Anyone remember the early 80s issue with a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack? Working from the best extant prints, camera-original material and recently recovered footage, the Murnau Institute found the longest available cut of the film (which means the characters now have motivations) and added a newly recorded 5.1 version of the score. Extras include documentaries on the restoration of the image and slightly academic but useful commentary.
4 THREE COLORS: blue, white and red, THE EXCLUSIVE COLLECTION (Miramax/M2K) Foreign films rarely get this kind of deluxe treatment from mainstream distributors. Miramax has picked up and enhanced M2K's magisterial French editions of these films, complete with scholarly commentary by listener-friendly Annette Insdorf, four of director Krzysztof Kieslowski's student films, on-site coverage of Red at Cannes and interviews with stars Juliette Binoche (Blue), Julie Delpy (White) and Irene Jacob (Red), among others.
5 LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION (Warner Home Video) Four DVDs; 56 classic Warner Brothers cartoons, from Hare Trouble to Duck Dodgers In The 24 1/2th Century and Foghorn Leghorn; loaded with little goodies like excerpts from the 50s black-and-white TV show, war time cartoons done for the Department of Defense, comments from Chuck Jones, Mel Blanc Jr., Leonard Maltin in his animation historian mode -- this is just a great collection. The remarkable thing is that these cartoons are 50 and 60 years old. We've been watching them all our lives and they're still just flat-out funny.
6 FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (Criterion) This tremendously faithful adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo road novel may be what the French call un film maudit, but it finds redemption in this two-disc SE with commentaries by director Terry Gilliam, stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, producer Laila Nabulsi and Thompson himself. Depp reads his correspondence with Thompson on camera, Gilliam explains why he burned his Writers Guild card, and a BBC documentary covers Thompson and illustrator Ralph Steadman. This is almost a devotional object -- it's easy to get people together to do great DVDs for hits, but it's an achievement to get them to ante up for a flop.
6 THE WHO THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (BMG Video) One of the greatest rock and roll documentaries ever, beautifully restored by director Jeff Stein, The Kids Are Alright is a priceless collection of classic Who television clips from the 60s, interviews and tremendous new (1978) live performances of Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again. The second disc, oddly dedicated to the task of restoring a film that had been butchered in various television releases and ruined in its VHS transfers, gives us a look at the practicality of film restoration for the new medium.
7 BLACK HAWK DOWN: DELUXE EDITION (Columbia/TriStar) Ridley Scott's drama about the Battle of Mogadishu loses some big-screen impact on all but the most humongous home theatre systems. But this three-disc SE, including a pair of documentaries from PBS and the History Channel, provides the historical context the film lacks, and the commentaries are excellent, particularly the one by four participants in the battle. It would be ranked higher if the making-of didn't run longer than the movie and didn't include so many clips of the actors paying tribute to the soldiers who fought the battle.
8 THE ALIEN QUADRILOGY (Fox Home Video) A great fat doorstopper -- nine discs, multiple cuts of each film, commentaries, making-ofs, huge artwork galleries -- the Alien/s/3/Resurrection box would rate higher if it weren't so annoyingly packaged and if I could dump my Alien 20th Anniversary DVD, but I can't because the new set doesn't have the alternate soundtracks from that disc. Still, it's great to have the theatrical cut of Aliens on DVD.
9 IN A LONELY PLACE (Columbia/TriStar) There were superb Humphrey Bogart issues this year, including Casablanca and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre in great two-disc editions from Warner, but I'll take Nicholas Ray's In A Lonely Place for restoring Bogart's darkest performance and Burnett Guffey's glittering noir cinematography to the catalogue, along with an odd bonus, an appreciation of the film's vision of L.A .by Curtis Hanson, writer/director of L.A. Confidential.
10 THE SINGING DETECTIVE (BBC Video) Dennis Potter's epic seven-hour musical fantasy mystery mini-series has a commentary from director Jon Amiel and never-seen-in-North-America documentary material with Potter. This may be the greatest mini-series ever, if Potter's Pennies From Heaven isn't, and these DVDs save us from having to comb the darker reaches of the cable guide on the off chance of finding a rerun.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb