Citizen Kane (Warner, 1941)
You can't get away from Citizen Kane, and Warner's package is tremendous: excellent documentary and supporting material, a very good Roger Ebert commentary, and only one real problem. The transfer is very clean and bright, but the grey scale is wrong; there isn't a true black anywhere, which betrays Gregg Toland's cinematography and gives away things that are supposed to be kept in the shadows, like Joseph Cotten's silhouetted appearance in the March Of Time screening room sequence.
Sunrise (Fox Studio Classics, 1927)
Winner of the "best artistic production" Oscar back in the first year of the awards, F. W. Murnau's film is one of the last great triumphs of silent cinema and an example of the impact the German Expressionist filmmakers had on Hollywood. Fox's transfer is flawless, and this most beautifully photographed of movies comes with an intriguing bonus, a commentary by modern cinematographer John Bailey.
Metropolis (Kino, 1927)
A great restoration of one of the most influential films of all time. Metropolis was a model for all the science fiction cities of dystopic futurism, from Things To Come to Blade Runner and Dark City. The Murnau Foundation didn't just restore what existed; it added lost footage and re-recorded the original score - all the things restorers are supposed to do. Seeing Metropolis in this form, half an hour longer than any other version, you suddenly understand its reputation.
Treasures From The American Film Archives (Image)
Of the numerous (mostly) silent film anthologies, this is the most intriguing and essential. From the J. Stuart Blackton's 1909 short The Smoke Fairy, an eye-popping display of then-state-of-the-art special effects, to William Hart's dark western Hell's Hinges to John Huston's great wartime documentary The Battle Of San Pietro, these are films that mostly fell outside the mainstream of American film production but have survived thanks to the various American film preservation organizations, often in astonishingly good prints. And where else can you see Joseph Cornell's 1936 out-of-print avant-garde classic Rose Hobart?
The Adventures Of Antoine Doinel (Criterion, 1959-1972)
François Truffaut remains the most beloved of the nouvelle vague directors, and his autobiographical debut, The 400 Blows, is one of the best-loved French films ever. Truffaut returned to the character of Doinel four more times - in Antoine And Colette, Stolen Kisses, Love On The Run and Bed And Board - which lets us watch star Jean-Pierre Léaud grow into a lean, furtive young man, always brushing his hair off his face. Aside from the films themselves, Stolen Kisses the strongest of them, Criterion has loaded this five-disc set with extras, including the early short Les Mistons, Truffaut interviews, commentaries and French TV docs.
The Kubrick Collection (Warner, 1962-1986)
It's complete, from Lolita to Full Metal Jacket (the pre-Lolita films are held by other companies), and there's something strangely apt about the mating of cold technocrat Kubrick with these shiny silver discs. They're light on extras but offer pristine transfers of some of the most intriguing, infamous and controversial films of the past four decades - and Barry Lyndon is tolerable if one plays it at 2X speed. The nine-disc set also includes the feature-length bio Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.
Once Upon A Time In China: Special Edition (Columbia TriStar, 1991)
One of the 10 greatest action movies ever and director Tsui Hark's masterpiece, this sprawling historical picture is set at the dawn of the Boxer Rebellion, with Jet Li as martial arts master Wong Fei-hung. There are several DVD editions, but this one has the longest cut available (134 minutes) and the best transfer, which strengthens the narrative line and brings out the film's visual grandeur. The fight in the rain is one of the high points of Jet Li's career. Also includes a chatty commentary by HK film expert Ric Meyers.
Once Upon A Time In The West (Paramount, 1968)
The culmination of Sergio Leone's obsession with the mythological landscape of the American West, shot in Monument Valley and starring Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale in a film that's as visually operatic as Lawrence Of Arabia. Magnificent wide-screen anamorphic transfer.
The Red Shoes (Criterion, 1948)
For a while, one could be forgiven for thinking that the digital video media had been invented to restore Michael Powell's phantasmagoric colour films to the world's cinematic consciousness. Criterion's The Red Shoes has Jeremy Irons reading the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, interviews with stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, scholarly commentary, original production sketches and a tour of Martin Scorsese's collection of Red Shoes memorabilia.