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The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

 

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The embarrassment of home-video riches made available to cinephiles this year proves once again that the rumors about the death of physical media have been greatly exaggerated. Most of the major studios continue to dump titles on the market in anemic, practically barebones editions, believing (rightly or wrongly) that Redbox and ever-proliferating streaming platforms will account for the lion's share of their “ancillary revenue.” Nonetheless, those redoubtable boutique labels like the Criterion Collection and Arrow Video are still fighting the good fight: dedicated to rescuing the oddball and the obscure, treating them to rejuvenating digital brush-ups, and leavening them with contextual supplements worthy of any film-school curriculum.

Slant's list of this year's best home-video releases offers a little something for every taste, from the Criterion Collection's commanding presentation of Krzysztof Kieślowski's epic anthology Dekalog to Arrow Video's tantalizing 14-course Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast. So, while we may lack the divinatory acumen of a Magic 8-Ball to limn the shape of things to come, we can take a quantum of solace from continuing to expand our cinematic horizons. To quote Kurt Russell in one of our top 20 selections, “Why don't we just…wait here for a little while…see what happens?” Budd Wilkins
 

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

20

Blue Sunshine, Filmcentrix

Blue Sunshine remains an unjustly neglected genre nugget that delivers a helter-skelter fusion of horror-movie tropes, trenchant social satire, and unhinged cult-film weirdness. Ten years after tripping balls on the titular batch of LSD, a group of '60s-era college types succumb to “chromosomal damage,” shed all their hair, and devolve into homicidal lunatics. Cheekily accepting at face value the government's demotivational horror stories about LSD usage, writer-director Jeff Lieberman effectively interrogates the counterculture's mythic appraisal of its own legacy, while at the same time sticking it to middle-class conformism, suburban anomie, and political opportunism. FilmCentrix's 4K scan gives the film a whole new lease on life: The image is far sharper and more vibrant than earlier SD editions, and the uncompressed surround mix really pops. Stacked extras include two commentaries, interviews with cast and crew, festival Q&As, some nifty miniature prop reproductions, a reel of classroom LSD scare films, and a CD of the soundtrack. Wilkins

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

19

Carnival of Souls, The Criterion Collection

The vastly influential Carnival of Souls has been accorded the robust and exacting Criterion treatment that it deserves. Image detail is greatly improved from prior home-video editions of the film, remarkably offering a variety of new facial and landscape textures, from the foreground to the background. Blacks are rich and well varied, and whites are soft and delicately balanced. Clarity is revelatory, particularly in the famous overhead image of a vast, looming church organ. Shadows have a new sense of invasive agency, and the swishy, hokey fade-ins and –outs that are used to convey a sensation of water moving over the image are beautifully translucent, as is footage of actual water. A variety of eclectic extras contextualize the film's homegrown inception, including a select-scene audio commentary with director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford, and an appreciation by critic and filmmaker David Cairns, who memorably describes the film as concerning someone who drops below the “threshold of human perception.” Chuck Bowen

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

18

L’Inhumaine, Flicker Alley

Flicker Alley is likely the most underrated North American label in film restoration. Whereas Criterion has focused their efforts on filling out the filmographies of Federico Fellini and Jean Renoir, Flicker Alley has been exclusively dedicated to bringing previously unavailable silent masterworks back into full view. Their Blu-rays of titles from the silent-film era continue to challenge perceptions of what the era's films actually looked like and no release of theirs from 2016 was more jaw-dropping than L'Inhumaine, which features a scorching transfer of Marcel L'Herbier's 1924 avant-garde epic. Though maligned by critics upon its initial release, the film was championed by Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who said after leaving a screening that he had “witnessed the birth of a new art.” L'Herbier famously said the film is a “miscellany of modern art,” which is contextualized in a 15-minute featurette on the disc's extras. For students of the silent era, each new Flicker Alley release is a must-own. Clayton Dillard

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

17

Blood Simple, The Criterion Collection

If anyone ever writes a cinematography manual on the use neon colors in American cinema, Blood Simple will surely constitute a chapter of its own alongside Crimes of Passion and Blade Runner. Criterion's 4K restoration brightens the film's neon palette to an extent that far exceeds MGM's 2008 DVD and even the 2011 Blu-ray, which was an improvement, but nothing like the leap made here. While audio commentaries have been a marker of excellence on home-disc releases for decades, this Blu-ray raises the bar. The supplement of exceptional note is a 70-minute session between writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, in which the trio not only talk through their decisions on the film in a nearly scene-by-scene manner, but are also equipped with a Telestrator that allows them to mark on, and pause, the film for further elaboration. Criterion's disc should prove to be a landmark release for progressing home-video distribution/filmmaker collaborations. Dillard

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

16

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew and Associates, The Criterion Collection

Criterion's The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates deals almost exclusively in a formal myth-busting on par with narrative filmmakers from any of the New Waves throughout the '60s. Long unavailable on home video, every film in this indispensable collection is given a makeover, with clear image and sound throughout all four films. The supplements rank among Criterion's best work from 2016, including two different cuts of Primary, an audio commentary, a standalone documentary, and an extended conversation with D.A. Pennebaker. Cinephiles and historians should be thankful that these films are still in viewable condition at all, let alone the pristine presentations found in the Criterion's miraculous Blu-ray restorations. Dillard

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