Our Top Picks for 2004 DVD Releases

Originally Published: February 25, 2005

The DVD has become in some ways more important to film studios than a film’s theatrical run. Even if a film fails at the box office, it can have a second life on disc. Here is our list for the tops of last year, and some gems you may have missed. All of the DVD’s in this list can be purchased by clicking on the film’s title.

New Releases:
1. City of God – A searing portrait of boys with guns in Rio De Janeiro’s narcotics gangs, accompanied by a compelling documentary on the city’s murderous drug wars.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – This has to rank high, for sheer scope of background materials in its two-disc theatrical and four-disc extended cuts.

3. In America – Jim Sheridan’s exquisite semi-autobiographical account of an Irish family transplanted to New York is augmented by a lovely collection of deleted footage.

4. Mystic River – Sean Penn and Tim Robbins won Academy Awards for Clint Eastwood’s portrait of childhood pals reunited by a murder. The three-disc set with commentary and the soundtrack is the one to own.

5. American Splendor – The strange journey of cult comic writer Harvey Pekar grows more splendorous with commentary from him and the filmmakers, plus Pekar’s comic book chronicling the movie’s history.

6. The Triplets of Belleville – One of the best advertisements for DVD over VHS: Videotape would never survive the repeated viewings Sylvain Chomet’s intoxicating animated flick command.

7. The Barbarian Invasions – Come for the bawdy banter of intellectual snobs, stay for the charming DVD dinner chat among cast members.

8. The Station Agent – Chummy commentary with stars Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale and filmmaker Tom McCarthy is like an evening with old friends.

9. Super Size Me – Morgan Spurlock stuffs in Big Macs. His DVD stuffs in funny extras. The recipes from Spurlock’s vegan-chef girlfriend are an especially nice touch.

10. Love Actually – Richard Curtis’ big, sloppy ensemble affair in praise of romance has one of the most polished batch of deleted scenes ever issued on a DVD.

Reissued Films:
1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – The quintessential spaghetti Western from Sergio Leone is even better with 18 minutes of restored footage.

2. The Commitments – Alan Parker’s raucous soul-music saga finally gets proper DVD treatment.

3. Schindler’s List – Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust masterpiece is cinema’s greatest testament to survival.

4. Ikiru – With sublime compassion, Akira Kurosawa traces the story of a common man looking for meaning in his meager life as death nears.

5. The Rules of the Game – Jean Renoir’s comic drama remains the ultimate satire of master-and-servant relations.

6. La Dolce Vita – Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece of show-business decadence, beautifully restored.

7. THX 1138 – The documentaries accompanying George Lucas’ dystopian satire are a must for all serious film buffs.

8. Ed Wood – Tim Burton spins one of the great flicks about an artistic nobody.

9. My Fair Lady – For its 40th birthday, George Cukor’s grand musical gets a sumptuous DVD makeover.

10. Short Cuts – Nice touch, packaging Robert Altman’s ensemble tale with a paperback of Raymond Carver stories that inspired it.

Boxed Sets:
1. Star Wars Trilogy – George Lucas gives a few final visual tweaks to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in a comprehensive four-disc package.

2. The Yakuza Papers – This sprawling five-film saga from the 1970s, presented in a six-disc set, was Japan’s answer to The Godfather, chronicling a three-decade power struggle among Hiroshima mobsters.

3. Alfred Hitchcock: The Signature Collection – Nine of the suspense master’s finest ’40s and ’50s flicks are gathered in a 10-disc set, including Strangers on a Train and Foreign Correspondent.

4. John Cassavetes: Five Films – An eight-disc set bears key works of the progenitor of American independent film, including Faces and A Woman Under the Influence.

5. Saving Private Ryan – Steven Spielberg’s World War II saga returned in a four-disc set accompanied by two full-length war documentaries, Price for Peace and Shooting War.

6. Fanny and Alexander – A great year for Ingmar Bergman releases was capped by this glorious five-disc package with both the theatrical release and miniseries versions of his autobiographical family saga.

7. The Chaplin Collection, Volume 2 – Twelve discs devoted to Charles Chaplin at his lightest and darkest, from the sweetly-sad City Lights to the scathing Monsieur Verdoux.

8. Gone With the Wind – Rhett and Scarlett and Melanie and Ashley live on in grand style with this four-disc set chronicling the legacy of Hollywood’s epic of epics.

9. The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection – It was a big year for the zany siblings with this six-disc set packing Duck Soup and four other classics (a second Marx Brothers set highlighted by A Night at the Opera was a 2004 runnerup).

10. More Treasures From American Film Archives, 1894-1931 – Three discs and a 208-page book offer a loving look at cinema’s first four decades.

Overlooked Treasures:
1. Bubba Ho-Tep – Don Coscarelli’s instant cult flick features the geriatric Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and JFK (Ossie Davis) battling an Egyptian mummy feeding on the souls of old folk at their nursing home.

2. In This World – Michael Winterbottom’s engrossing drama follows an Afghan boy and his cousin’s perilous journey toward a new life in London.

3. Painting With Fire – This powerhouse documentary tells the remarkable story of one of the greatest fantasy art painters of all time, Frank Frazetta.

4. Japanese Story – Toni Collette stars in a richly textured culture-clash tale about an Australian geologist and a visitor from Japan who surprise themselves by finding common ground.

5. The Snow Walker – Charles Martin Smith’s riveting tale of survival and cross-cultural kinship in the Canadian wilderness was so overlooked it never got a U.S. release. You can get it from www.amazon.ca.

6. The Saddest Music in the World – Beer, melancholy music and disorienting black-and-white visuals power Guy Maddin’s absurdist fantasy about a search for the planet’s saddest tunes.

7. Pieces of April – Katie Holmes and Patricia Clarkson star in a Thanksgiving reunion tale that reminds us why we like that dysfunctional gang called family.

8. My Life Without Me – A young wife and mother (Sarah Polley) conceals her terminal illness and sets about putting her loved one’s lives in order in this quietly moving drama.

9. Stone Reader – Filmmaker Mark Moskowitz leads viewers through a literary detective story about novelist Dow Mossman, who dropped out of sight for 30 years after a wildly acclaimed first novel.

10. Kitchen Stories – This little gem about a research study of 1950s Norwegian bachelors’ cooking habits is a delightful tale of friendship and the importance of participating in life, rather than just observing.

Explore More...