The Year In Home Video. 2014 Edition.
The end of a year is here, and with it comes the perfect opportunity to take a look back at the year in film. First up, here’s our extensive evaluation of the year in home video.
We look forward to few annual traditions more than our round-up in home video, with the physical media industry entering what is arguably it’s most interesting era, as more and more of the major studio affording greater freedom to boutique and independent labels willing to pick up the slack in an area where mainstream interest is rapidly being lost to streaming and downloading based alternatives. As such, a number of great titles are being licensed to companies such as Eureka Entertainment and Criterion, who in turn put substantial amounts of effort in to titles that otherwise may have only had barebones releases had they been rushed out in the hopes of a quick buck.
So, without ado, here are this year’s highlights in home video.
Artificial Eye’s Francois Truffaut Selection. Artificial Eye have done an incredible job this year, taking the grand total of UK Truffaut Blu-rays from zero to twelve in less than six months. While the bigger titles might be lacking in the extras department next to their US counterparts, such complaints seem unfair given the size of the task undertaken. Special mention to the Shoot The Pianist disc, which features a landmark commentary from Raoul Coutard. The discs were later released as two box-sets, one concerned solely with the five Antoine Doinel-orientated movies and another focusing on the rest. Truffaut’s filmography was previously notable for the poor treatment given to it in the UK market, so it’s wonderful to see this rectified in the 30th anniversary year of the filmmakers death.
Coffret Jean Epstein. The lone DVD-only release on this list, and while it may not be proof that the medium is thriving it does remind us that there’s still some life yet in the humble DVD. Paris’ Potemkine bring 16 hours worth of content to disc, with a range of work from across the filmmakers career. While French is the only language available on the supplements, the included 160 page book is so lavishly illustrated that it’s easily enjoyed by all.
Alain Robbe-Grillet: Six Films, 1963–1974. The BFI look to Alain Resnais’ Last Year At Marienbad collaborator for their most interesting release of the year, with a box-set collecting the director’s very strong run which began as the New Wave began to splinter. Trans-Europ-Express is the highlight, but none of the six films are without merit.
A Pair Of Later Godard Films. The Cohen Film Collection is becoming a prominent force in home video, with their catalogue opening up to include films by Claude Chabrol and Fritz Lang this year. Their greatest hour came in January though, with the release of a pair of later-period Godard films. Hail Mary, a film so controversial upon release that 8000 people protested it’s New York Film Festival premiere, is presented alongside it’s companion piece, Anne-Marie Mieville’s The Book Of Mary, an excellent film in it’s own right, while For Ever Mozart, is surrounded by invaluable contextualising material from the likes of James Quandt, with the resulting disc one of the strongest to date for Godard watchers.
The Criterion Collection. Sundays And Cybele reminded of how valuable Criterion are for when it comes to introducing one to filmmakers they’ve never heard of before and was our favourite blind-viewing of the year. If Sundays And Cybele reminded of Criterion’s curatorial knack, then their edition of Georges Franju’s Judex reminds of their ability beyond that, which is pure “film-school-in-a-box” material. Nary a corner is unturned between the extensive supplements and lengthy notes. Other highlights from Criterion this year include a bumper upgrade for L’Avventura, which would be a contender for best of the year in any other year, Michael Mann’s Thief (which is belatedly coming to the UK next year), Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. It’s interesting that, the Antonioni aside, each of these highlights are films that are new to the collection, putting a halt to any chat that Criterion may be running out of stone-cold classics to turn to.
Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery. While only technically “The Entire Mystery” for a couple of weeks thanks to Lynch and Frost’s wonderful announcement, is as good as television on Blu-ray gets.
Snowpiercer. It’s rare that a contemporary release makes our year-end home video round-up these days, as studios continue to put as little effort as possible in to their self-distributed home video releases, but Snowpiercer proved to be the exception to the rule. Which is kind of ironic given how shoddily the film was treated by the same distributors during the film’s infamous theatrical run. The U.S. disc release of the film is the definitive one, with a second Blu-ray disc of extra material including an hour-long documentary and an audio commentary featuring a roster comprised of the US fanboy gossip website contingent of fandom. How much one appreciates such fare depends entirely on one’s stomach that side of the film culture, but it’s refreshing to see a release granted such treatment.
Masters Of Cinema. Eureka Entertainment and their Masters Of Cinema imprint have once again been doing a fantastic job in the UK. The second half of their year, in which the team focussed their attention mainly on silent and early cinema was unequalled in that area. A personal highlight from this run includes Fritz Lang’s often-underrated Spione, and Madame DuBarry, which marked a UK debut for Ernst Lubitsch in HD.
Earlier in 2014 the emphasis was mainly on American cinema, with quality releases of Elia Kazan’s Boomerang!, Sam Fuller’s White Dog and Robert Altman’s Nashville, amongst others. Nestled in amongst this All-American celebration was a modest edition of Fellini’s Roma, a film full of life which is elevated even further by the capabilities of the Blu-ray medium. Like L’Avventura, in any other year this could have been the best of them all. Which neatly leads us on to…
Best Single Disc Of The Year (Region B).
The undisputed highlight of Region B in Blu-ray was another Masters Of Cinema release; their lavish 2-disc edition of Raymond Bernard’s 1934 adaptation of Les Misérables. File this one next to their release of Jean Epstein’s Coeur Fidele in the section marked “they released what?!” part of your collection. That it’s available on Blu-ray and in such a handsome edition is a miracle in itself. It gets better too, with director Raymond Bernard’s follow-up Wooden Crosses coming to disc next year.
Best Single Disc Release Of The Year (Region A).
For my money Pickpocket is the greatest film of all time, so to see it upgraded and to such a high standard was pretty much my highlight of the year. It’s a straight upgrade of the Criterion DVD from 2005, with supplements including Babette Mangolte’s The Models Of Pickpocket, an excellent film in itself. It was also nice to see the first Bresson Blu-ray released in the UK in 2014, in the shape of the (excellent) Mouchette, even if it was nigh-on two years late! Hopefully the long-promised Au Hasard Balthazar will finally be released in 2015.
Best Cult Release Of The Year.
The highlight in cult was the easiest award of all to call, with Scream Factory’s miraculous 3-disc edition of Nightbreed head and shoulders above the competition. I caught the infamous Cabal Cut during it’s festival tour a few years ago and it was in pretty bad shape, with sections sourced from VHS and all manner of places. I never dared dream that it would ever look so good. The supplementary material, headlined by a newly-produced hour-long documentary makes it clear how much of a labour of love this project was for those involved, while the presence of the Warner-licensed theatrical cut in HD on a third disc pleases the completist (honourable mention to 88 Films’ Trancers, which looks to be a Region B repressing of the US release from Full Moon Features).
Best Release Of The Year (Biased Edition).
We featured the French Carlotta release of Richard Fleischer’s Violent Saturday in last year’s home video round-up, but the UK disc bests it on account of the supplementary material being subtitled. An excellent disc in and of itself, raised even higher by the presence of Hope Lies in the liner notes.
Overall Best Release Of 2015.
The Essential Jacques Demy and The Complete Jacques Tati share the top honours this year. It’s a two Jacques situation. We couldnt call it so went for both.
There’s something neat and, well, complete about The Complete Tati, but the Demy is elevated by the fact that so much of this was previously unavailable in quality English language editions (unbelievably this marked Demy’s entry in to the Criterion Collection). Both sets are filled with countless hours of extra material, with the Agnes Varda-driven pieces on Demy a particular highlight. Speaking of which, fingers crossed that Criterion do for Varda what they did for these guys next year.
It’s been an incredibly strong year for Criterion. We’re lucky if we get one box-set that’s the calibre of The Complete Jacques Tati or The Essential Jacques Demy in a year, but to be offered two, well…