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The Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011!

Click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three, and here for my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one, and part two.

Now let’s dig into my list of the Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011!

10.  The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One As a huge fan of Arrested Development, this six-episode IFC series that reunited Will Arnett (Gob Bluth) and David Cross (Tobias Funke) was something of a disappointment.  More agonizingly awkward than actually funny, it’s on this list because that fact that this weird, short little series exists at all on DVD is one of the reasons that I love this format!  I had missed this series when it aired on IFC, so I was so pleased that it was released on DVD.  The show isn’t without merit, but it’s nowhere near the genius of the late, great (and now possible resurrected!) Arrested Development.

9.  Marvel’s super-hero movie blu-rays: Thor, Captain America: The First Adventure, and X-Men: First Class I praised these three Marvel super-hero movies in my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2011, and I was equally taken by their blu-ray releases.  Not only do all three films look absolutely gorgeous on blu-ray, but all three are accompanied by some fairly in-depth featurettes exploring all aspects of the films’ production.  None of these are super-elaborate special editions, and I do wish that, for all of these films, the featurettes had been edited together into one longer, comprehensive making-of documentary.  But these are very, very solid releases, with a lot for fans of these films to dig into.  Extra props for the wonderful “Marvel One-Shot” shorts included on the Thor and Captain America discs, that further connect the Marvel films leading up to The Avengers.

8.  Louie: Season 1 I’d been reading about this show for a while, and having now finally watched the season one set I can say that this show deserves all the praise it’s been getting, and more.  In it’s structure, the show resembles Seinfeld: clips of Louie C. K. performing stand-up are intercut with vignettes of his life.  But in other respects the show is the exact opposite of Seinfeld.  Whereas on Seinfeld all of the story-lines would wind up beautifully dovetailing by the end, on Louie the individual scenes on the show often have little or nothing to do with one another.  We’ll watch a seven-minute sequence of Louie and his buddies playing poker, and then after some more stand-up we’ll shift to an entirely different scene that has absolutely nothing to do with the poker scene and doesn’t connect to it at all.  The result is a wonderfully idiosyncratic look at the life of this divorced stand-up comedian.  Unique, biting, weird, and very, very funny, this series is dynamite.  I’ll have a full review up soon.

7.  Universal’s comedy blu-rays: Bridesmaids, Paul, and Your Highness Universal released some dynamite comedies this year, and their blu-ray releases of those comedies were even more noteworthy.  Bridesmaids was a huge hit, while Paul and Your Highness were relatively ignored, but all three films were given wonderfully rich, packed-to-the-gills special-edition releases.  All three films have some great making-of featurettes, but more enjoyable is that all three are jammed with fun deleted and extended scenes, gag reels, alternate takes, and more hysterically fun tomfoolery.  With blu-rays like these, it’s just as much fun to dive into the special features as it is to watch the films themselves.  Major praise to Universal for putting together such terrific home-video packages.

6.  Kevin Smith: Too Fat for FortyThe latest in Kevin Smith’s wonderful “An Evening with Kevin Smith” series, this multi-hour Q & A session was held on his fortieth birthday.  Mr. Smith is an amazing story-teller — one could argue he’s a far better story-teller than he is a movie-maker — and his lengthy yarns are so funny, profane, and engaging that I always thrill to the latest release of this Q & A series.  I don’t have any plans to ever see the movie Cop Out, but I can happily watch, over and over again, Mr. Smith’s hour-long series of stories about the making of that film and his clashes with Bruce Willis.  (Mr. Smith told many of these same stories when I saw him live in Boston last year.  It’s super-cool to now have a DVD of this material that I can re-watch in the future.)  This DVD would be even higher on this list if the Q & A session had been presented in its complete, unedited form.  Instead, many of the shorter questions and answers have been edited out, and presented as a special feature on the 2nd disc.  Annoying.

5.  Batman: Year One The latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray DC Universe animated film adapts one of the most famous, and very best, Batman stories ever: Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One. Much of this material was borrowed by previous Batman films, most notably Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Begins. But it’s phenomenal to finally see a direct adaptation of this brilliant series.  Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston is absolute perfection as the voice of James Gordon, a young Lieutenant struggling to survive in corrupt Gotham City.  (The genius of Mr. Miller’s story is that Year One is really more the story of Jim Gordon than it is of Bruce Wayne.)  The animation, while not quite at the level I wish these DC Animated DVDs would some-day attain, is very, very good.  This adaptation is a real winner, one of the strongest DC Animated projects to date.  (Click here for my full review!)

4.  Futurama: Season 6 I still haven’t gotten over my delight that Futurama has been rescued from cancellation.  Each new blu-ray set is a gift.  The show hasn’t lost a step over the years — it’s as wonderfully zany as ever, switching from extremely literate jokes about math, science or history to toilet humor or physical comedy on a dime.  The main characters are all wonderful, the huge supporting cast is delightful, the stories are crazy, the references to obscure bits of sci-fi come fast and furious, the animation is especially gorgeous on blu-ray… I couldn’t possibly ask for more.  (When is the next season coming out, again??)

3.  Louis C. K.: Live at the Beacon TheaterThis year I have fallen deep into the cult of comedian Louis C. K.  I firmly believe he’s one of the best working stand-up comedians out there.  I’m in love with his show, and I’ve been devouring his stand-up CDs/DVDs like mad.  This year’s stand-up special, Live at the Beacon Theater, is uproariously funny and eminently re-watchable.  But even more worthy of praise and admiration is the way in which Mr. C. K. has found away to avoid dealing with any studios or big corporations in the release of this special.  Instead, he paid for all the costs himself, and released the whole thing for download (click here) for just $5.00.  That’s right, five dollars!!  You can watch it on your computer or, like me, burn it to DVD and watch it on your TV.  The image looks great on a TV, and you can even download DVD label and package artwork, so you can print that out and create a professional-looking DVD to sit on your shelf.  Louis C.K. made a million dollars in just twelve days selling this special, which is jaw-dropping.  I strongly urge you to support this brilliant comedian and this exciting new method of distribution by clicking here to download the special yourself.  It is so funny, I promise you!!

2.  Mimic: Director’s Cut Here is yet another example of the magic of DVD/blu-ray.  Mimic has long been seen by many as the weakest link in director Guillermo del Toro’s filmography.  This isn’t a huge surprise, as the behind-the-scenes story of the making of this film is one in which Mr. del Toro was constantly at war with the studio over the direction of the project, and ultimately final cut was taken away from him and significant second-unit footage, shot by someone else, was added into the film.  I’d only seen Mimic once, in theatres back when it was released, and I remembered thinking it was interesting but not particularly memorable.  For this Director’s Cut release, Mr. del Toro has been allowed to completely re-edit the film, removing all of the material he didn’t shoot, and bringing the story more in line with his original vision.  A true director’s cut is impossible, as many of the battles Mr. del Toro lost he lost on-set, rather than in the editing room.  For this re-edit, he could only work with the footage that was actually shot (rather than the footage he WANTED to shoot or WISHES he was able to shoot).  But the result is very strong.  Mimic still isn’t a GREAT film, but in its re-edited form it is a very GOOD film, with great atmosphere and some really creepy effects.  The behind-the-scenes material detailing the story behind the film is also very interesting, and Mr. del Toro’s commentary track is superb.

1.  Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition I’m cheating a little bit by including this here, because I have only just started exploring the wealth of material on this blu-ray set.  I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say about this set in the coming weeks, once I get to finish watching everything.  But even after having just begun to taste it, it is clear to me that this 70th anniversary edition is magnificent, and a clear choice for the top of my Best of 2011 list.  The film itself looks staggeringly beautiful, and the supplements are extraordinary: the complete “The Battle Over Citizen Kane” documentary, HBO’s RKO 281, a live-action film chronicling the troubled production of Citizen Kane, multiple commentaries, and lots lots more.  The set I purchased through Amazon even contained an additional bonus DVD of Orson Welles’ film The Magnificent Ambersons! I have no doubt that I’ll be spending a LOT of time, in the coming weeks/months, exploring all of the material in this set.  Not to mention the fact that the film at the center of all this special material remains one of — if not the — very finest motion pictures ever made.

I have one last Best of 2011 list to share: c’mon back soon for my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011!!

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