Top 20 DVD and Blu-ray Releases of 2013
By Bobby Morgan
When it came time to write my best movies of 2013 list I realized that I had not been to the movies enough this year to compose such a list. But I had watched many films on DVD and Blu-ray as a reviewer for EuroCultAV to come up with a rather sizable selection of the best that the world of home entertainment had to offer over the past twelve months. With that in mind I present to you my twenty favorite Blu-rays from around the world that were released in 2013.
An American Hippie in Israel
After spending the past few years off the radar while other companies rushed in to steal their thunder, Grindhouse Releasing - the Criterion Collection of psychotronic cinema - came roaring back into the arena, ripped off their shirt, held up the first pressed Blu-ray copy of An American Hippie in Israel, and bellowed loud enough to make the gods on Mount Olympus soil their adult diapers, “This is Sage and Bob’s house, bitches!” Seriously. The movie Grindhouse had been threatening to release for more than half a decade became the first of three stellar Blu-rays the company released in the final months of the year. A whacked-out cult oddity with spacey freaks, mimes armed to the teeth, fake ass sharks, entrancing music, and a completely bonkers third act, American Hippie makes no sense and appears to have been written and directed in a haze of bong smoke with dialogue being updated on cocktail napkins on an hourly basis. But in the end it all coalesces into something unexpectedly profound. Trust me. Grindhouse’s Blu-ray presents the movie in a beautifully upgraded HD transfer with tons of new and archival bonus features. This is one of the genuine home video surprises of the year, and one of the most memorable.
Badlands: Criterion Collection
My first viewing of Terrence Malick’s esoteric, career-making masterpiece about two young lovers (Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek) attempting to stay one step ahead of the law while on a carefree crime spree came courtesy of Criterion’s amazing Blu-ray. The 4K digital transfer is absolutely flawless and a wonderment for the eyes, and the bonus features include a new documentary about the film’s making and contemporary with the stars and several members of the production team.
The Big Gundown
Lee Van Cleef takes the lead in Sergio Sollima’s long-sought-after spaghetti western masterpiece about a bounty hunter whose latest mission to bring in Tomas Milian’s roguish outlaw becomes more complicated as the chase goes on. Grindhouse Releasing’s third Blu-ray of 2013 is one of the company’s finest offerings, with a clean and sparkling 2K digital transfer and a raft of exciting bonus features including a commentary with two western experts, fresh interviews with Sollima and Milian, vintage trailers from around the world, and best of all two separate cuts of the film - the shortened American release version and the 110-minute director’s cut (in Italian, with English subtitles).
Big Trouble in Little China (Arrow Video)
The most flat-out fun movie John Carpenter ever made gets a Region B Blu-ray from the outstanding Arrow Video that trumps the U.S. disc by including over seventy minutes of newly-produced interviews with Carpenter, star Kurt Russell, cinematographer Dean Cundey, and more. Every extra from the Fox BR has been ported over to this disc, as well as the shimmering video transfer and audio tracks that really shake the pillars of Heaven at the right volume.
Creepshow (Second Sight)
My personal favorite horror anthology has never looked or sounded better than it does on Second Sight’s U.K. release. Plus it has all of the bonus features of the previous Region 2 DVD special edition along with a few new surprises, and in total we have a pair of commentaries, a feature-length documentary, deleted scenes, still galleries, and much more.
Day of the Dead
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray isn’t a huge improvement over previous efforts released by Anchor Bay and Arrow Video, but it does have the added benefits of a healthy A/V upgrade and a brand new feature-length retrospective documentary. The gore effects look absolutely meaty. What more could you ask for from a George Romero BR?
Walter Hill’s minimalist crime classic starring Ryan O’Neal as the best getaway driver in the business and Bruce Dern as the cop determined to bring him to justice looks and sounds its best since it first hit theater screens on Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray. Extras are limited to the same alternate opening sequence and trailer from Fox’s earlier Region 1 DVD, but with a clean and vibrant picture and soundtrack so detailed you can feel the squealing tires in your bones this is a recommended purchase for any fans of muscular 70’s genre cinema.
Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition
Possibly the most re-released movie in the history of home entertainment, John Carpenter’s original (and still best of the series) Halloween has been seen so many different VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray releases in the past that fans would naturally be skeptical about the reasoning for yet another edition. What gives the 35th Anniversary Edition the advantage over all past releases is the presence of an immaculate new digital video transfer personally supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey, an immersive Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack, and some new supplements including a fresh audio commentary with Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis and a documentary focusing on Curtis’ first and only trip to a horror convention. If you are going to own Halloween on Blu-ray this is the edition you need to get.
Maniac Cop 2
I liked the first Maniac Cop for what it was, an efficient melding of action and horror with some good casting and a memorable central villain. But it never stuck with me over the years and the desire to see it again has not come across me. On the other hand, Maniac Cop 2 is not only everything I had hoped the original would be, but it is also a spectacularly exciting sequel that ups the ante in every category and delivers a full-force gut punch of B-movie entertainment. Blue Underground sprang for a gorgeous 4K digital restoration that captures the bloody action and grimy urban New York City locations in all of their mad splendor. New extras include a comprehensive retrospective documentary and an audio commentary where director William Lustig sits down to discuss the making of his minor masterwork with an enthusiastic fan, which is none other than filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives). Maniac Cop 3 is also available on Blu-ray from the same company.
The Manson Family
James VanBebber’s haunting and violent true crime classic that dissects the infamous cult of drugged-out psychopaths lead by Charles Manson and the horrific acts of carnage that made them unlikely pop culture icons is given a first-rate transfer and some brand new extras to go along with previously issued ones on Severin Films’ absolutely essential BR release. Supplements include a new director’s commentary, a pair of feature-length documentaries about the film’s troubled production history and its reception on the film festival circuit, deleted scenes, an interview with musician and composer Phil Anselmo, and VanBebber’s recent short film “Gator Green” that he is working on expanding into a feature film.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
Though it wasn’t all it could have been, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie staved off massive studio interference to become an interesting and highly comical entry in the show’s priceless canon. It’s also the only MST3K-related feature that will likely ever be released on Blu-ray, and with improved video and audio a host of fan-pleasing bonus features including deleted scenes and a pair of documentaries that explore the making of the movie and the movie-within-the-movie This Island Earth this is a disc any true MST-ie must have in their collection.
Nashville: Criterion Collection
I’ve had the opportunity to view Robert Altman’s sprawling 1975 masterpiece of music, politics, and humanity several times in the past, but it wasn’t until the film made its Blu-ray debut from Criterion that I decided to see if the nearly four decades’ worth of hype actually amounted to something, even though I consider Altman one of my favorite directors. Watching Nashville I was absorbed into the multiple storylines intricately weaved into a coherent tapestry of the lunacy of modern Americana and moved in ways that are difficult to describe, but I am all the more thankful I finally took the ride. The picture and sound have been given a rewarding upgrade by Criterion and their typical bounty of informative supplements include a new documentary about the film featuring interviews with the cast and crew and vintage audio commentary and interviews with the late Altman.
Possibly my favorite movie of the summer, Pacific Rim heralded the long-awaited return to the big screen of visionary filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro for a rousing sci-fi adventure that pays homage to Japanese comics and animation, speculative science fiction, the visual marvels created by the late Ray Harryhausen, and the monstrous creature features of the 50’s and 60’s. It is that rarest of modern summer blockbusters, a big-budget tent pole thrill ride with both imagination and soul. This will be a geek film favorite for years to come and Warner Bros.’ Blu-ray presentation, with stellar A/V quality and a raft of informative bonus features that include a typically exuberant commentary from Del Toro and several short documentaries and interactive features, will help that cause a great deal.
Quest for Fire (Second Sight)
A movie about prehistoric humans on a dangerous journey through unpredictable lands, with actors in heavy make-up, shot in a specially created language and presented without subtitles. Jean-Jacques Annaud’s astounding adventure is a unique achievement in cinema and proves that it is still possible for great stories to be told through evocative imagery and performances that rely more on movement than discernible dialects. The film looks and sounds fantastic on Second Sight’s Region B Blu-ray and the extras include a pair of enlightening commentary tracks, a vintage promotional documentary, a new interview with director Annaud, and a host of video still galleries.
Repo Man: Criterion Collection
One of my all-time favorite movies on Blu-ray. From Criterion no less. There was absolutely no way this wasn’t making the list. Alex Cox’s insane punk rock sci-fi action comedy is more culturally and politically relevant than ever, but most importantly it’s one wild apocalyptic ride through a fever dream of underground comics, film noir, and 1950’s B-movies. Alongside the expected upgrade in video and sound this disc features a combination of new and archival supplements including a director and cast audio commentary, multiple documentaries and interviews, deleted scenes, and the rate alternate cut of the film prepared for television broadcast.
Runaway Train (Arrow Video)
It goes without saying that Andrei Konchalovsky’s riveting 1985 suspense thriller about two convicts who escape from a brutal Alaskan prison only to find themselves on an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards certain doom is the finest film ever released by Cannon, next to Death Wish obviously. With a screenplay co-written by the great Akira Kurosawa, career best performances from Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca DeMornay, and expertly-filmed action sequences that will pin you to your seat, Runaway Train is one of the finest action films ever made, one that values character development over spectacular stunt work (though it has plenty of both). Arrow Video’s Region B Blu-ray features a beautifully restored print of this masterpiece and ninety minutes of brand new retrospective interviews.
Slacker: Criterion Collection
Richard Linklater eschewed a traditional narrative for his breakthrough feature film and instead gave us an overlapping series of seemingly unconnected stories focusing on a fascinating collection of souls adrift in the city of Austin, Texas on one particularly sweltering summer day. One of the cornerstones of independent filmmaking, Slacker comes to Blu-ray with most of the voluminous bonus features from Criterion’s 2004 DVD, including three commentaries with the director and his cast and crew, an earlier film made by Linklater, interviews, short documentaries, screen test footage, and rare deleted and extended scenes.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Arrow Video)
The original ‘Saw may be king, but Tobe Hooper’s belated 1986 sequel is one loopy, gory ride with inspired production design, committed performances from a wild cast headed by the late Dennis Hopper, and some moments of genuine terror and tension. Previously released on Blu-ray in the U.S. by MGM/Fox, Arrow Video’s Region B box set outclasses the competition by porting over all the great supplements from earlier domestic releases of this tripped-out horror gem and including a few cool bonuses of their own. All in all we get two audio commentaries, a feature-length retrospective documentary, deleted scenes, newly-produced interviews, and a bonus disc featuring two early short films made by Hooper as well as his long-lost 1969 directorial debut Eggshells, all fully restored and available for the first time on home video. The limited edition set comes in a slipcase with bloody brilliant new cover art and a 100-page collector’s book with new essays about the film and its director.
Two-Lane Blacktop: Criterion Collection
It may not have set the box office aflame or help usher in a new era of revolutionary filmmaking, but I will take Monte Hellman’s poetic road film classic over the overrated Easy Rider any day of the week. Criterion released Two-Lane Blacktop on DVD back in late 2007 and for the film’s Blu-ray premiere they have included all of the previously available bonus features along with upgraded picture and sound, including two audio commentaries with the director and screenwriter Rudolph Wurlitzer, new interviews and documentaries about the making of Two-Lane, screen tests, and a gallery of production photos and promotional stills.
The World’s End
If I could pick a film that represents the best in cinema for the year 2013 it would be the climatic chapter of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, a sci-fi comedy with three-dimensional characters, heartfelt performances, flawless scripting and direction, and timely social commentary. I watched this Blu-ray once a night the first week I owned and then showed it to a group of friends on Thanksgiving, and they loved it too. Given that this is an Edgar Wright film the BR comes stuffed with supplements, including multiple commentary tracks, documentaries, featurettes, screen tests, outtakes, and so much more.
Now that I’ve shared with you my picks for the best Blu-rays of 2013 I am now looking forward to seeing what these companies and their competitors have in store for us film buffs and home video connoisseurs in the coming months. One thing’s for sure, you can find the best reviews for these titles here at EuroCultAV.