Year in Review: Noel Murray’s best DVDs of 2014
Here is Noel Murray’s look at the best of 2014 in DVDs.
1. “The Complete Jacques Tati” (Criterion, DVD & Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection was responsible for multiple essential box sets in 2014, including collections of Jacques Demy’s French New Wave musicals and Les Blank’s offbeat ethnographic documentaries. But it’s hard to top Criterion’s “The Complete Jacques Tati.” The French comedian’s films are masterpieces that stand up to being watched over and over, and this set comes with hours of bonus shorts and documentaries that help explain why his work matters.
2. “Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery” (Paramount, Blu-ray)
David Lynch’s bizarre, groundbreaking 1990-91 ABC TV series has been released on home video before but never on Blu-ray, and never in an edition this complete, which includes the 1992 prequel/wrap-up movie “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.” For Lynch fans, the real find here is more than 90 minutes of riveting “Fire Walk With Me” outtakes, which are like a completely new, avant-garde Lynch feature film.
3. “Herzog: The Collection” (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Though not a comprehensive Werner Herzog set, Shout! Factory’s “Herzog: The Collection” contains most of the German director’s 1970s masterpieces and a fair number of his later documentaries, which together tell the story of how Herzog has blurred the lines between fiction and nonfiction throughout his career. These 16 films present images, character and ideas unlike any other in cinema.
4. “WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series” (Shout! Factory)
Previously one of the great “if only’s” of the TV-on-DVD era, the cult-favorite sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” has been held up for years because of the expense of clearing the show’s many, many rock songs. Shout! Factory’s set doesn’t have all of the original music, but the company was able to acquire a significant enough percentage that a landmark television series has now been (mostly) preserved.
5. “Los Angeles Plays Itself” (Cinema Guild, DVD & Blu-ray)
A must for cinema scholars, “Los Angeles Plays Itself” uses clips from old movies to analyze how Hollywood’s home city has been documented, exploited and misinterpreted by filmmakers for decades. Because of complicated rights issues, Thom Andersen’s 2003 docu-essay has long been seen only on the repertory circuit and bootleg market, but this year, for the first time, Cinema Guild made the film widely and legally available.
6. “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” (PBS, DVD & Blu-ray)
Ken Burns is often the butt of jokes because of the earnest style and excessive length of his PBS miniseries, but few documentarians are as deft at turning dusty historical archives into compelling drama. This seven-part look at the lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt doubles as a study of the evolution of class, politics and gender roles in America.
7. “The Mack Sennett Collection Vol. One” (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray)
The subtitle of this three-disc set of silent-era classics is “50 Digitally Restored Classic Films,” but that doesn’t even begin to describe what “The Mack Sennett Collection” has to offer. The real value is in the commentary tracks by scholars and archivists who talk about how one of Hollywood’s all-time greats gathered and nurtured a phenomenal collection of comic talent.
8. “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (Kino Classics, DVD & Blu-ray)
The most popular example of German expressionism and silent horror cinema has never looked as good as it does in the new 4K restoration on this Kino edition, which adds an insightful hourlong documentary about how the various early 20th century German artist and cultural movements culminated in “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”
9. “The Rolling Stones: From The Vault” (Eagle Rock, DVD)
The world doesn’t lack for official Rolling Stones concert films, but the new “From The Vault” series digs up some rawer Stones recordings, shot for broadcast or for archival purposes. The first two concerts released come from different eras — a 1975 show at the L.A. Forum and a 1981 gig in Hampton, Va. — which capture one of the world’s greatest rock bands at the peak of its powers and popularity.
10. “The Nutty Professor: 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition” (Paramount, Blu-ray)
Jerry Lewis’ particular brand of comic genius — broad, loopy and unafraid to come across as obnoxious — is an acquired taste, which this loaded box set makes a little easier to acquire. Beyond the movie itself, one of Lewis’ most accessible, “The Nutty Professor” 50th-anniversary collection throws in the equally inspired “Cinderfella” and “The Errand Boy” as well as documentaries and commentaries that reveal the extensive thought and preparation that went into Lewis’ wackiness.
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