What are your favorite DVDS? Those with commentary or unique features encouraged!
September 27, 2004 11:07 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite DVDs? Much more inside.


1) I'm one of thoese people who watches all the extras and listens to the commentaries of every disc I buy or rent (even if I don't like the movie) because there is often much to learn (even if I don't like the movie).

I'm curious what discs the film freaks on MeFi would recommend specifically (though I supposed not *just*) for the commentaries/extras.

2) In addition, I've been working my way through the Criterion Collection and have been very impressed by the films they've released that I had never seen before or (in some cases) even heard of--particularly, Salvatore Giuliano, 3 Women, Ballad of a Soldier, Under the Roofs of Paris, I Fidanzati, and the fantastic Le Trou.

Though eventually I hope to see all the Criterions, I have bought a number blindly that have less than impressed me (Umberto D., Le Cercle Rouge, Trouble in Paradise) which has made me weary of buying ones I've never seen/heard of. Which of their lesser-known releases would you recommend are worth a watch?

3) What are your fave releases of films/shorts/whatever that would not necessarily be known because they didn't get theatricals or are straight to DVD or docus from TV or whatever? I'm thinking of the things that labels like Blue Underground, Plexi, Shout!, and other boutique labels put out.

Note: I'm region-free so feel free to recommend from anywhere.
posted by dobbs to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Blue Underground? Definitely "Alien Contamination."
posted by inksyndicate at 11:28 PM on September 27, 2004

My favourite DVD which would come within your third criterion would definitely be Man With A Movie Camera. It's probably the only movie I'll deliberately set out to show my grandchildren (when that happens in a million years). Man With A Movie Camera was a movie shot in 1929 as a documentary of life in the Soviet Union. The director was about fifty years ahead of his time though, and managed to create all sorts of amazing effects and filming styles that MTV only started using in the '80s! Effectively it's a Koyaanisqatsi (similarly, a great DVD/movie) for the '20s.

Since it was shot as a silent movie, it's available in multiple forms with different people providing different soundtracks. Michael Nyman's is quite popular, but the best by far, IMHO, is the version by the Cinematic Orchestra, a modern day jazz band. It's pretty hard to get a hold of, but I managed to buy a copy direct from the Orchestra's record company, Ninjatune.
posted by wackybrit at 12:16 AM on September 28, 2004

The Criterion of Insomnia (the original Norwegian one) is a gorgeous transfer of a fabulous film, and well worth having in a collection, even if there aren't any extras worth mentioning.

The Criterion special edition of the Tarkovsky Solaris is wonderful, if you like the movie.

The Soderbergh remake of Solaris (which is one of my favourite films, and I've probably watched this DVD more than any other I own) is also out in a decent package, with a really good commentary by Soderbergh and James Cameron.

The Criterion of The Royal Tenenbaums has good Wes Anderson commentary, documentary, interviews, etc. etc. A really nice package of extras.

I recently saw Cure (AKA Kyua), which is a lovely little gem by Kiyoshi Kurosawa which I'll be buying asap. It's a low-key Japanese horror film, beautifully filmed and edited and very creepy and subtle. Aside from an interview with Kurosawa, there's not much on the DVD, but the film is gorgeous.

Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone is also worth a look. I like the film a lot, and the extras are very worthwhile.

The Roger Ebert commentary on Dark City is completely fascinating, one of the best I've heard, I want him to do commentaries for every DVD released from now on. I'd love to see a whole "Roger Ebert's The Great Movies" series of special releases of all his favourites, with commentaries from him.

Most/all Ridley Scott commentaries are really good. Usually very technical (which I like) and enriched with his very dry wit. I especially like the commentary on Alien.

The new Alien 3 release (the one in the 9-disc set, which is well worth buying, especially if you like good extras packages) is extremely interesting, the extras really flesh out the film a lot and give you some insights into what Fincher was actually trying to do. Obviously avoid it if you hate the film (I like it, personally). The DVD is good enough to be reference-quality both in terms of picture and sound, in my opinion.

Clearly no DVD collection would be complete without at least one schlocky DVD with a highly amusing John Carpenter/Kurt Russell drunken/stoned, laughing/joking commentary. The Big Trouble In Little China special edition is great, but The Thing runs a close second.
posted by biscotti at 12:35 AM on September 28, 2004

The extras on Capturing the Friedmens are fantasticly thorough and nicely put together.
posted by meech at 3:32 AM on September 28, 2004

La Notte's Italian transfer is excellent

Zebraman's premium box rocks my world

JSA Special Edition

I suggest the little-known Christopher Doyle's Kujaku

Old Boy Ultimate Edition
in handmande copper box

coming soon: Tae Guk Gi 3-dvd-package looks awesome

Bad Guy

Center Stage's Director Cut, 20 more minutes of beauty in the French edition
posted by matteo at 4:18 AM on September 28, 2004

ps dobbs, how can a man of your taste not like Umberto D???
posted by matteo at 4:21 AM on September 28, 2004

Dobbs, with your encyclopaedic knowledge of movies, I'd rather hear YOUR recommendations for best DVDs! (not just the ones that surprised you, though thanks for that.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:06 AM on September 28, 2004

Damn - bsicotti got both of the two I would have recommended right off the bat: the Roger Ebert commentary on Dark City (it's like an entire seminar on a disk) and the Jim Cameron / Steve Soderbergh commentary on Solaris...

If you are at all an admirer of J.R.R. Tolkein, the Extended Edition versions of Peter Jackson's filmed trilogy are a gold mine - not just for the additional footage, but for the immense amount of background material on the making of the films. (The final details about the Return of the King release were made public recently; I understand it will be available sometime in November). Jackson's passions for both Tolkein and moviemaking are abundantly displayed.

I'm not sure which DVD version it's on (as I believe there are at least two...), but the commentary by Roger Ebert and Peter Bagdonovich for Citizen Kane taught me enough about the film to cause me to admire a film I've always been somewhat less than thrilled by.
posted by JollyWanker at 6:15 AM on September 28, 2004

The Criterion of Lang's Last Testament of Dr. Mabuse is terrific: as complete a german print as can be found; the French version that was shot in parallel; and tons of great extras including a rare long interview with Lang done for German television, and a neat little featurette comparing the German, French, and American versions/cuts of the film.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:52 AM on September 28, 2004

Paul Thomas Anderson's commentary on Boogie Nights is great. It's a great ensemble movie, and he loves moviemaking and the actors he works with like few others in Hollywood today. The extras are all worth watching, too.
posted by mkultra at 8:18 AM on September 28, 2004

It's not a movie, but I've been going through the Futurama DVD collection recently, and loving it. A full commentary track on every bleeding episode. Whoopee!
posted by jammer at 8:28 AM on September 28, 2004

Fight club is a nice DVD set (at least the double disc).

For a sense of the progression of DVD extras, watch Criterion's Brazil or Robocop before throwing in the Tenenbaums (or Rushmore).

Coppola's The Conversation got some well-deserved attention on its DVD but not nearly enough... check it out, though.

The superspecial Memento release with the paperclip and mock tests is quite an experience, as well.

A&E's collection of the Prisoner show is quite good, if not in the right order as some might say.

Pixar crams an awful lot of good stuff on their discs.
posted by codger at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2004

The "Mystery Science Theater" episodes are great on their own, but now former host Mike Nelson is doing "MST3K" like commentaries on various movies, including "Reefer Madness." Self-link alert: I wrote about the Nelson commentaries in my Test Pattern Weblog.

I also got a huge kick out of the Educational Archives DVDs, which collect the goofy old mental hygiene shorts (driver's ed films, anti-drug films, etc).
posted by GaelFC at 10:31 AM on September 28, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks to all so far.

Inksyndicate... BU doesn't have that movie listed on their site. You sure it's them?

Wackybrit, seen the film but not with the soundtrack you're referring to. Will check it out.

Biscotti, seen or have (most) all those and mostly agree (haven't seen Cure yet though).

meech, yup, got that one and agree. Thanks!

matteo, excellent suggestions, thanks, as I only have Old Boy. Will check out the others! (And I didn't not like Umberto D., I just wasn't "impressed" with it. :) I simply expected more from De Sica, I guess.)

Jollywanker/biscotti, I don't like the film Dark City (at all). Is the commentary itself worth renting the disc for? JW, yes, I have that Kane set and both commentaries are worth a listen. Not a Tolkien fan, really.

PST, Mabuse is on my list (I'm a big eBayer so what I get usually has more to do with deals on there than seeing stuff in a partic order).

mkultra, I'll have to check that out. I'm not a super big fan of the movie (though admitedly I saw a rough cut of it and have not seen it since). I love PTA's other movies and the discs are top-notch.

jammer, I'll have to check that out. Waiting for my local shop to carry it for rental as I've never seen even 10 seconds of the show and the price is too high to shell out until I'm convinced I'd like it. I am curious about it, though.

codger, seen most of those and mostly agree.*

GaelFC, thanks. I love MST3K but don't have any on DVD yet. Never heard of those Educational sets. Thanks!

CunningLinguist, thanks for the props... my favorite commentary of all time is the Criterion Laserdisc of The Graduate (commentary by Howard Suber) though they have no plan to release it to DVD. (I am considering transfering it to MP3 for friends, though.) Next favorite would problem be their Laserdisc release of Naked which is rumoured to be coming out on DVD next year.

Other fave commentaries/extras (that are actually available) would be Criterion's L'Aventura, Spartacus, Straw Dogs, Silence of the Lambs, Sullivan's Travels (for the documentary), the Wes Anderson films, Rules of the Game, Down by Law, Rashomon (not a super huge fan of the film but the commentary was illuminating), Lord of the Flies, Notorious, and Traffic (I actually dislike the film but the commentary was interesting).

Non-Crits that I like the commentary on are the Limey and Out of Sight (actually, most of Soderbergh's are worth a listen), Requiem for a Dream, Seabiscuit, hurlyburly, French Connection, Exorcist (the out of print "special edition"), most of the titles in the recent Scorsese set, The Train, the Fight Club and Se7en special editions.

Fave discs for non-commentary extras: Three Colors, Criterion's Truffaut box set and BRD Trilogy set, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (2 disc set), Taxi Driver CE, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, By Brakhage (the whole thing feels like extras. heh.).

Fave discs not released in America (though not necessarily for extras): Maelstrom (Canada-only; fantastic film), Altomedia's Herzog set (R3 though advertised as R0)--these guys make some of the nices packaged dvds I've ever seen, Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (R3), Electra Glide in Blue, The Hairdresser's Husband (w/s, R2/4), the HHH set, the R4 (uncensored) Eyes Wide Shut, and the R2 Mulholland Drive for the simple reason that it has chapter stops.

Eager to get my hands on Haneke's Time of the Wolf (R2), and WB Poland's Dekalog.

*Most hated menu system: Memento ltd. edition. It's evil and I hope the people that made it got canned.
posted by dobbs at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2004

In the highly entertaining, though not necessarily technically informative category, I must wholeheartedly recommend all of Kevin Smith's movies. Of particular note would be the commentaries on Mallrats and Chasing Amy, which are basically just a group of actors/crew who clearly like each other a lot sitting around and bullshitting. I've probably watched Mallrats with the commentary on almost as many times as I've watched the actual movie (both very high numbers), it's that funny. Also, I can't recommend the new Clerks X tenth anniversary set enough. Original version of the film with a new commentary, restored theatrical release with old commentary, new 90 minute documentary, and a million other things that just make it one of the greatest DVD sets I've ever bought.

I've heard that the new version of Goodfellas with commentary from the real Henry Hill is quite good too, but I haven't watched it yet. The special edition of The Usual Suspects is awesome. Another recommendation for Brazil, mostly just because it's such a kickass movie. hmmm, i guess that's all for now.
posted by rorycberger at 10:40 AM on September 28, 2004

Here are my favorite DVDs of 2003, fwiw.
posted by muckster at 11:35 AM on September 28, 2004

I don't like the film Dark City (at all). Is the commentary itself worth renting the disc for?

Definitely. As JollyWanker said, it's like a mini Roger Ebert seminar. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it until I listened to it and was just sucked right in within the first few minutes. He talks a lot about the nuances of editing and how they affect the way we feel about a given scene, and about symbolism, both specific to Dark City and in general. He also compares aspects of the film to other films (lots of Fritz Lang references). Just about everything in the commentary is valuable in a general film sense (love him or hate him, Roger Ebert is a remarkably knowledgeable and intelligent man with a lot of film-centric life experience to draw on).

I also loved the recent Bertolucci film The Dreamers, which has a commentary by Bertolucci and the writer. That's a film in need of an Ebert commentary for sure.
posted by biscotti at 11:40 AM on September 28, 2004

I love the Criterion version of George Washington for the interview with the young actors a year or so after the film was released. I'm saving up my money to purchase it (35 dollars is a hella lot.)
posted by lychee at 12:05 PM on September 28, 2004

If it's hilarious commentary you're after, you can't beat the Steven Soderbergh track on the Criterion release of Schizopolis. He spends the entire duration talking about what a brilliant masterpiece the film is. Very funny.
posted by muckster at 12:28 PM on September 28, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, all! The question is about to vanish off the front page but I'll keep checking back.

posted by dobbs at 2:44 PM on September 28, 2004

Re: Man With A Movie Camera

Wackybrit, seen the film but not with the soundtrack you're referring to. Will check it out.

The soundtrack is significantly easier to get on CD than in the DVD video form. You might rather check out the audio, as the DVD will not be cheap to get (cost me about $40, though it was worth it).

I enjoy the soundtrack on its own, although it certainly matches up spookily well with the movie. Has a ton of 'extras' on the DVD too. You need to like jazz though..
posted by wackybrit at 10:00 PM on September 28, 2004

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