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Top 10 Hollywood Mainstream Movies on DVD in 2005 - Serenity is #1

Aaron Beierle

Tuesday 27 December 2005, by Webmaster

While there were certainly some bright spots during 2005 in terms of feature film releases and DVD special editions, both have a way to go to recover from some of the problems that are evident. As for DVD, 2005 saw less of the kind of in-depth releases than 2004 ("Panic Room"’s outstanding 3-DVD special edition, "The Ultimate Matrix Collection" as examples of 2004’s best) and years prior and more "unrated", "extended", "deluxe", "director’s cut", "the latest one since the last one" ("...and the one before that one", in some cases) and "ultimate" editions than ever before. Yet, with some notable exceptions, these editions often felt a bit less special than the incredibly detailed DVD Special Editions of years past, where you practically had to put a day aside to get through everything.

That said, I’ve tried to round up something of a variety of releases for my top 10 mainstream DVD list this year. The list offers a mix of genres and finds welcome space for a trio of documentaries that were sadly overlooked by most audiences this year. There’s also a few re-releases that I thought offered both compelling films and enough additional features to be worthwhile upgrades.

1. Serenity Although there were several bright spots in 2005, I still remain a little disappointed in the overall mainstream film output of the year. I sat down to watch "Serenity" a few days before writing this list, and despite not being familiar with the backstory (shown in the cancelled TV series "Firefly"), I was bowled over by the film, which seemed more fresh and exciting than the majority of mainstream offerings in recent memory. Despite being done on a budget of $40m (fairly small in this age of $150-200m films), the film looks great and provides a wonderful balance of story, character, humor and thrills. It’s a prime example of how, on a tight budget, filmmakers can still make a film with satisfactory effects used to back up a good story instead of the other way around. The DVD provides superb video quality, a punchy, dynamic Dolby Digital soundtrack and a nice collection of supplements that, while not quite as in-depth as I’d like, is still enjoyable to browse through. I can’t wait to pick up "Firefly" and go back to the beginning with these characters.

2. Sin City: Recut, Extended, Unrated A breathtaking piece of work from director Robert Rodriguez, "Sin City" is a brutal, dark noir drama that uses digital effects (similar to "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow") to throw viewers into its comic book world. The film’s main performance from Bruce Willis is one of the actor’s best in years, but Clive Owen also offers a tremendous performance in his short, one of four that make up the film. The film’s Special Edition release offered recut, slightly extended editions of the four shorts, but the real highlights of the set remain the two marvelous commentaries and group of entertaining featurettes. The addition of one of comic artist Frank Miller’s novels ("The Hard Goodbye") is also a sweet addition to an already fine set.

3. Cinderella Man Star Russell Crowe’s dismaying incident in a NYC hotel got in the way of the film’s release, and it’s unfortunate that Crowe’s actions overshadowed what was a very strong performance as boxer Jim Braddock, who rises up the ranks during the Great Depression. While I wasn’t thrilled with director Ron Howard’s previous film ("The Missing"), "Cinderella Man" rests on the shoulders of Crowe, and he carries the film impressively as a man who fights both inside the ring and outside the ring, where he struggles to keep his family together and provide for them. Paul Giamatti provides a wonderful supporting effort. Universal’s DVD edition offers very good audio/video quality, and a fine selection of supplemental features, including three commentaries and, on the Collector’s Edition, a video diary of Crowe’s preparation for the film.

4. Star Wars - Episode III - Revenge of the Sith A flawed, but mostly satisfying way to end off the new trilogy, "Revenge of the Sith" offers a much darker tale than the prior two films, and more compelling drama and conflict. In some cases the performances still aren’t up to par, but they are mostly improved. The film’s DVD edition provides sleek video quality, thunderous audio and in-depth extras, including the facsinating "Within a Minute", an 80-minute documentary looking at all it took to create one fairly short scene.

5. Titanic - Collector’s Edition The long (long) awaited Special Edition of director James Cameron’s blockbuster wasn’t as extensive as many hoped (or as extensive as some of the major Special Editions of 2004 or years past), but still offered a wealth of featurettes, along with three interesting commentaries that viewed the film from different perspectives (historians, director and actor/producers). The remastered audio/video quality were also improvements over the original release.

6. Batman Begins After being run into the ground by director Joel Schumacher, the "Batman" franchise got a strong re-start with this dark thriller from "Memento" director Christopher Nolan. Enjoyably more character-driven than most Summer blockbusters, "Batman Begins" is a strong, fast-paced blockbuster that offers a grand mixture of rich drama and action. The film is availble in two DVD editions: a bare-bones edition and one with a series of featurettes, but unfortunately, no audio commentary. Both offer the viewer superior audio/video quality.

7. The Incredibles Pixar’s latest smash hit played well for me theatrically, but even better while watching the DVD edition, which offers dazzling audio/video quality, and the massive list of supplements one expects from a Pixar release.

8. Frighteners - Special Edition Peter Jackson’s underrated dark comedy/horror feature plays a bit better with this new extended director’s cut DVD. However, the release’s major gem is the inclusion of the nearly four-hour "making of" documentary that was included on the laserdisc edition. Fans who were never able to get a look at the LD edition should go out and pick up this wonderful release, which not only includes the lengthy look at the production, but a commentary for Jackson and a storyboards featurette. Fans of Jackson’s "Lord of the Rings" films and "King Kong" that are looking to check out the director’s earlier work should start with this feature and Jackson’s "Heavenly Creatures".

9. Overnight, Murderball and Tell Them Who You Are While including them in a list of mainstream films is admittedly stretching it, documentaries continued to provide terrific entertainment in 2005, and these deserved a wider audience. "Overnight" is a riveting look at Troy Duffy, the director behind the cult action film "The Boondock Saints". "Overnight" shows the incredibly arrogant Duffy managing to get an incredible, groundbreaking (he even got the bar he worked in) deal with Miramax pictures, only to ruin it wholly and completely within record time, thanks to an ego, temper and attitude no one’s willing to deal with. The DVD offers adequate audio/video quality and a couple of minor extras, but the film itself is one of those experiences that’s troubling (see a painful scene where Duffy verbally tears apart his own brother for no real reason), yet hard to turn away from.

"Tell Them Who You Are" focuses on the father/son duo of Haskell and Mark Wexler, and their attempts to try and come to an understanding of one another. You know you’re in for something fascinating with the first scene, where legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler leads the viewer around his equipment room. Off-camera, his son Mark asks him to explain where they are and what they’re looking at. Previously calm in discussing a piece of equipment in his hands, the elder Wexler turns around and verbally snaps his son’s head off, explaining how not to do a documentary. The film operates as both a fascinating look at the elder Wexler’s career and as a look at a son trying to make his way into his famous father’s industry while being under his shadow. The DVD edition includes a feature that has Mark showing Haskell the movie for the first time, and his heartbreaking, touching reaction.

Finally, "Murderball" takes a look at handicapped (quadriplegic) athletes who play "quad rugby" or, as the game was known before sponsors thought it was too hard a sell, "Murderball". Focusing on intense star Mark Zupan and his teammates, the inspirational, unsentimental documentary shows a group of guys who have gone through incredible hardship and absolutely don’t let it limit them at all - not only are they still doing things for themselves, but they’re being absolutely badass while doing it. The DVD offers two commentaries (one from the players, one from the filmmakers), interviews and more.

10. Sideways I’ll go against popular opinion and say that "Sideways" was merely a good little movie. Should Paul Giamatti have been nominated for Best Actor? Certainly. Best Picture? Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far (although there weren’t too many other options in 2004.) Still, Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church are terrific together in this buddy comedy/drama, and while I’m still not as appreciative of the film as most, the film offers an enjoyable look at two flawed characters who are still flawed by the end of the film, but maybe a little wiser and a with a little more hope for a better tomorrow. The DVD edition offers a fun and funny commentary with Church and Giamatti.