The Criterion Collection

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

 

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In 2005, Netflix looked like a cinephile’s best friend. Not only did they stock nearly every in-print, Region 1 DVD, but their delivery methods were flawless, with a one-business-day turnaround for each disc shipped. Fast-forward to a decade later and things are quite the opposite: Not only do they no longer have an interest in stocking boutique releases, but Saturday deliveries are now a method of the past, not to mention the two-business-day minimum in either direction for a mailed disc. With talk of the inevitable end to tangible media looming in the not-so-distant future, one might think companies would be folding left and right. But that’s not the case at all, as home-video distributors like Arrow Video, the Criterion Collection, Flicker Alley, Kino Lorber, Twilight Time, and Shout! Factory continue to release Blu-rays with top-shelf A/V transfers and engaging, indispensible supplements at an impressive, even increased, clip. As our list shows, titles thought forever lost or damaged arrived in high definition or 4K to prove quite the opposite. So long as you know where to look or can swing the asking price, here are 20 essential releases you’ll want to have on your shelves by year’s end. Clayton Dillard

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

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Dressed to Kill, The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection may have famously mucked up its first print of Brian De Palma’s cheeky erotic-horror masterpiece, but the second printing is one of the company’s finest and most transformative releases of the year. For young nerds raised on this film via VHS, the shock resides not in the painterly rapture of the images, which is apparent no matter how abused the transfer in question may be, but in their pristine clarity. Dressed to Kill really is one of De Palma’s most hyper-tactile works, which is saying something, and which contrasts brilliantly with the figurative, intensely frightening, sometimes nearly slapstick-y shenanigans that comprise much of the narrative’s second half. The sound mix offers a diegetic symphony that’s counterpointed by the lush, purplish pathos of one of Pino Donaggio’s finest scores. The extras generously balance the expected with the eccentric. De Palma elegantly discusses his technique with super-fan and forthcoming De Palma co-director Noah Baumbach, but room is also allowed for Victoria Lynn Johnson, Angie Dickinson’s stunt double in the opening shower sequence, and Stephen Sayadian, the art director of the film’s one sheet. A smorgasbord of other goodies collectively examine the film’s extraordinary balance of the intellectual with the carnal. Chuck Bowen

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

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Hard to Be a God, Kino Lorber

For a film of such revolting tactility, anything less than the eye-popping high-definition work provided here by Kino Lorber would be unsatisfactory. Sweat glistens off foreheads, snowflakes pop out from overcast skies, and pools of mud emanate a rich, gurgling darkness. Sound is equally sharp and meticulous: Without a musical score to balance, Kino Lorber focuses attention on the diverse sonic minutiae of Hard to Be a God’s universe, drawing out fidelity from something as seemingly marginal as a throat-clearing grunt heard off screen. Unfortunately, the disc takes a hit in the extras department, despite boasting two supplements that sound, on the surface, like promising avenues for deeper immersion into the film: a 44-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that’s really more of a crudely cut stream-of-consciousness interview with Aleksei German in some dingy prop closet, and a tediously translated half-hour introduction by German’s wife and co-screenwriter, Svetlana Karmalita. In any case, a massive, decades-in-the-making cinematic achievement has received the comprehensive home-video treatment and that would be something to celebrate even if Kino Lorber hadn’t risen so faithfully to the occasion. Carson Lund

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

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The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, The Criterion Collection

Supervised by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, this disc offers a stunning transfer of a Rainer Werner Fassbinder debauch that would prove pivotal in his evolution as a purveyor of bold class-conscious tragedies. Colors are rich and intoxicating, particularly the reds, blues, and various cream colors. The sound mix, which is important for a film that’s aurally symbolic as well as visually, is dense and percussive when it needs to be, as well as soft and subtle, which is evident in the delicate orchestrations of the noises that accompany small human movements or the clinking of everyday objects. New interviews with Ballhaus and actors Margit Carstensen, Eva Mattes, Katrin Schaake, and Hanna Schygulla emphasize familiar components of working with Fassbinder—namely, that he was an empathetic control freak given to playing mind games with his beloved cast for the sake of emboldening the film in question. A variety of other extras dissect The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant’s themes and Fassbinder’s general concerns, while wrestling with whether or not his work can be read as feminist or even as queer progressive, despite the director’s obsession with gender politics, socially forbidden relationships, and women in general. Bowen

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

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Miracle Mile, Kino Lorber

Steve De Jarnatt’s unclassifiable curio Miracle Mile isn’t the kind of film that screams “lost classic,” yet this apocalyptic romance is ripe for rediscovery in a time of renewed jingoism and dire atmosphere. Or maybe it doesn’t need parallel context. The highly chromatic, slick frames may scream “1980s,” but despite the decade-specific fears of impending mutually assured destruction, there’s something timeless about this story of a man discovering his strength, as well as his darkness, in his quest to protect those he care about. The greatest virtue of the Blu-ray isn’t the technical presentation, but the extras, which don’t break down the film so much as passionately champion it. Front and center are the contributions of Walter Chaw, who wrote a monograph on the film and who leads a commentary track with De Jarnatt that balances the critic’s excitement with filmmaker’s professionalism, creating an easygoing but intelligent atmosphere that never fails to get relaxed and thoughtful answers from the director. Few releases, of this or any year, better argue for the potential of intelligent, advocating fandom. Jake Cole

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

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Stray Dogs, Cinema Guild

No stranger to the public service of releasing the best new releases, Cinema Guild didn’t exactly turn heads by picking up Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs, but its Blu-ray is nonetheless superb. Detail is paramount to fully appreciate a film of agonizingly long close-ups, and the high-def transfer rises to the task with video that leaves every line and pore of its actors’ faces visible even on the small screen. Vibrant colors and deep black levels handle the surprising variety of the film’s color palettes and lighting setups, while the surround-sound mix spotlights the Bressonian physicality of the sound design. Extras stress quality over quantity, but a lengthy master class with Tsai counts for a dozen featurettes. Best of all is the inclusion of Journey to the West, Tsai’s contemporaneous short and possibly the superior of the feature it accompanies. Cole

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