Let the Best of 2009 lists continue! I hope you all enjoyed my list of the Top 10 TV Episodes of 2009.
Now let’s dive into my list of the Top 10 DVDs (or Blu-Rays) released in 2009!
First, I’d like to give Honorable Mentions to the complete series sets of three amazing TV shows that I had just about given up all hope of ever seeing on DVD: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Andy Barker, P.I. So why aren’t these shows on my list? Because I can’t put anything on this list that I haven’t actually watched, and I’ve been way, way too busy to get through any of these sets. Of the three, the only one I own is Andy Richter Controls the Universe. (That one came out first, and I’m not going to purchase the other two sets until I actually have time to watch them.) But I take great delight in knowing that these three DVD sets exist here on planet Earth, and I know that I’ll get to them all in good time.
10. Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (Blu-ray) — I’ve seen Watchmen quite a few times since it was released early in 2009, and while the film certainly has some weaknesses, I remain overwhelmed by the enormity of its successes. It’s hard to believe that Zach Snyder brought this seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, which long had been considered unadaptable, to life. It thrills me to see such a faithful take on the material and that the filmmakers had the confidence to craft a super-hero film that was aimed squarely at adults. The Ultimate Cut of the film is Zach Snyder’s longest version, stitching together his Director’s Cut with the animated Tales of the Black Freighter sequences. It’s pretty astounding. This Blu-Ray set would be much higher on this list were it not for the paltry special features. Not only are the special features lame (this is a movie that cries out for a full-fledged making-of documentary), but this set just reproduces the special features that were already released on the Director’s Cut set. (I guess I’ve been spoiled by the amazing extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films, which came not just with phenomenal extended versions of the films but with extraordinarily elaborate making-of documentaries that didn’t duplicate the special features on the theatrical version DVDs.) (Read my review of the theatrical version of Watchmen here, and of the Director’s Cut here.)
9. Contact (Blu-Ray) — A beautiful film that manages to combine a serious, cerebral sci-fi tale with an effecting story of the personal journey of scientist Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster). This is director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) working at the top of his game. The special effects are elaborate but never come close to overwhelming the story. It’s a terrific special edition, chock full of special features, and the film looks positively STUNNING on Blu-Ray. (Read my full review here.)
8. Homicide: The Criterion Collection — Another film that I have been waiting a long, long time to be released on DVD. David Mamet’s 1991 film follows detective Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna) and his investigation of the murder of an elderly Jewish shop owner. What follows is a great, twisty Mamet tale, filled with tough guys and double-crosses. But what gives the film its weight is the way the investigation story-line is wrapped in a deeper story of Bobby’s struggles with his Jewish identity. The fine folks at Criterion hit another one out of the park with this beautiful new edition. (My full review of Homicide is coming soon, but click here for my thoughts on a variety of other films by David Mamet.)
7. Eddie Izzard: Live From Wembley — It’s been a long, long wait since Eddie Izzard’s last stand-up DVD. (That would be Circle, released back in 2002). Live From Wembley isn’t exactly the freshest material — the footage is from Eddie’s Sexie tour, from several years back. And the camera-work is surprisingly amateurish in places (quite a few shots are rather blurry, and there are several instances where Eddie isn’t properly framed on-screen). But forget all that — it’s new Eddie Izzard stand-up material, and the performance (while not reaching the heights of Dress to Kill), is superb and very, very funny. There’s also a terrific special feature on the disc: 40 minutes of Eddie’s stand-up from long before Live From Wembley, in which we can see him beginning to work out some of the material that would eventually be included in his Sexie show. It’s a funny performance, and a neat look into his process.
6. Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder – The fourth and final installment in the series of Futurama direct-to-DVD films. In this one, Fry gets inducted into a secret organization of telepaths (that have been popping up in the background of the show since its very beginning). The film’s wide-reaching story also deals with Leela’s involvement with a group of eco-terrorists, Bender’s affair with the wife of a robot mobster, and a lot of other zaniness. At the time, it looked like this was the end of Futurama, and the film’s final scene provided a wonderful capstone to the series’ run. Luckily, the show has once again risen from the grave, and new episodes are being produced to air on Cartoon Network. Hooray! (Read my full review here.)
5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray) — Star Trek comes to Blu-Ray with this fabulous set containing nicely spruced-up editions of the first six Star Trek films. The films themselves have never looked or sounded better, and there have been a number of new featurettes created for each film. (The set also includes almost all of the special features from the previous DVD releases.) I still wish that the featurettes had been edited together into a longer, more comprehensive documentary for each film, but I can live without that. Extra props to the makers of this set for choosing to use the original theatrical versions of Star Trek II and Star Trek VI on these discs. (The previous Special Edition DVDs of those two films used slightly re-edited versions, which I found to be rather inferior to the original versions.) For a die-hard Trek fan like myself, this set is a treasure. (Click here for my full review of the Blu-Ray release of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.)
4. Will Ferrell: You’re Welcome, America — A recording of Will Ferrell’s stage show featuring him as Geroge W. Bush, looking back on his eight years as President. I was a bit dubious, at first, as to whether Ferrell’s Bush impersonation could really sustain my interest for 90 minutes, but it unquestionably did. The show is well-crafted — while the focus is on Ferrell’s monologues on Bush, there is also good fun to be had with short appearances by other characters, which keeps things interesting. But all that would be moot if Ferrell’s Bush wasn’t so relentlessly entertaining. My favorite moments of the show are when he dives fully into total insanity, such as his elaborate and manic story about being trapped in a mine shaft with his father. We’re lucky that this live show has been captured for us all to enjoy.
3. Battlestar Galactica: The Plan — Ron Moore’s reinvention of Battlestar Galactica takes its final bow in this tour-de-force direct-to-DVD film. Diving deep into the show’s mythology, The Plan winds the clock back to just before the events of the original Battlestar Galactica mini-series, and then shows us the events of the show’s first two seasons from the point of view of the Cylons. Cleverly weaving in-and-around the events that we saw, The Plan connects events and characters into a complex and fascinating tapestry, bringing a whole new light to the show’s beginnings. A terrific lead performance by Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap) and mind-blowing special effects combine to give the show a far superior farewell than the actual finale episode. I wish there were more of these direct-to-DVD BSG films being made!! (Read my full review here.)
2. Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut) — This six-hour documentary traces the full history of Monty Python, from the group’s beginnings to their work on feature films The Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life. Told almost entirely through interviews with all five surviving Pythons as well as an enormous number of their key collaborators, this documentary is endlessly interesting and also quite a riot. It’s also filled with elaborate little touches that elevate it beyond the usual sort of behind-the-scenes documentaries, such as the creation of new songs introducing each of the six episodes, sung by the same woman who sung the classic Life of Brian introductory tune. With a third disc containing clips from their best sketches, extended interviews, and lots of other fun stuff, this set is a winner through-and-through.
1. Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II — I loved the first Robot Chicken Star Wars Special, but things are taken to a whole new level in this second go-round. Focusing on The Empire Strikes Back (with lots of screen time for Vader, The Emperor, Boba Fett, and the other bounty hunters), this special has more laughs-per-second than anything else I saw all year. Hard-core Star Wars fans like myself will be bowled over by the attention to detail in the recreation of key scenes and the references to obscure characters and moments in the saga, while there is also plenty of silliness for a more casual fan to enjoy. (Who wouldn’t laugh at the image of an Imperial officer putting a styrofoam cup over the little Vader hologram on his console?) Just having the special on DVD would have been enough for me, but not only is this set absolutely overflowing with special features (commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and so much more), but it also contains a newly extended (almost twice-as-long) version of the original special filled with a ton of new sketches. Phenomenal. I can’t wait for Episode III. (Read my full review here.)
Coming on Monday: My list of the 10 Best Movies of 2009! See you there!