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The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

 

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In 2017, keeping up with all of the notable Blu-ray and DVD premieres became a full-time job. The Criterion Collection capped one of their most exciting and prolific years to date with the release of 100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912-2012, a box set for the ages that spans 53 films and 41 editions of the Olympic Games. Arrow Video officially cemented its status as a titan of home-video restoration and distribution with a wide array of discs—many released under their Arrow Academy label—devoted to bringing genre works to greater prominence. And elsewhere, smaller distributors like Kino Lorber, Olive Films, Flicker Alley, Twilight Time, Cohen Media Group, and Blue Underground, when not giving a necessary makeover to classics already in their impressive libraries, brought under-heralded films by our greatest auteurs and criminally unseen works by cinema’s pioneers to home video for the first time. (Our only regret before compiling our list of the year’s best Blu-ray and DVD releases is that we didn’t get a chance to check out Synapse Films’s new 4K restoration and steelbook Blu-ray of Suspiria, which sold out mere days after it became available for preorders online.) If the booming industry of boutique home-video distribution trends in the same upward direction in 2018, we’ll all need personal assistants just to keep track. Clayton Dillard

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912-2012, The Criterion Collection

Criterion’s output has come to be known over the years as “film school in a box” by fans and filmmakers alike. With 100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912-2012, the distributor achieves a new milestone with what we might call the “film archive in a box.” That’s essentially what this outrageously comprehensive set of 53 films across 32 Blu-ray discs offers to cinephiles and fans of the Olympic Games alike. Some of the titles, like parts one and two of Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 ode to German athletic excellence, are as essential to film history as they are to charting the history of the competition itself. Other lesser known works, such as 1928’s The White Stadium, are marvels of late-silent era filmmaking, employing elliptical editing rather than the newsreel style more common to several of the earlier compilation films in this collection. The set also has 4K scans of Kon Ichikawa 1966 classic Tokyo Olympiad, previously released on DVD by Criterion, and 1972’s Visions of Eight, an omnibus documentary of moments and footage shot by eight different directors, including Milos Forman and Arthur Penn. There’s also Marathon by the great Carlos Saura from 1993, and nine features directed by Bud Greenspan from 1986 to 2006. The collection abounds in not only samples of what peak athleticism was thought to look like over the course of a century, but in displays of various conceptions of bodies in motion and coming into being as compelling subjects for the moving image. These films are no mere travelogues; they reveal filmmakers from over a dozen countries grappling with matters of will, endurance, and mortality. One wonders just how Criterion will ever top this set. In terms more familiar to the Olympiad, let’s call it their record time. Dillard

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

Barry Lyndon, The Criterion Collection

Really, for fans of Barry Lyndon, the only thing that matters in the entire history of home video is that Criterion’s presentation of the most visually stunning film ever committed to celluloid is also among the most jaw-dropping transfers ever encoded onto Blu-ray. In short, it is. Of course, the famed candle-lit card games are impressive showpieces, with an astonishing luminosity amid inky darks. But even more impressive are the exteriors, where the shadows of clouds slicing across the countryside are flawlessly represented. There isn’t a shot from this 4K scan that doesn’t sing in some way or another, be it the pallid visage of Lady Lyndon as her insular suitor begins his downward spiral, or the play of light through the window slits in the final duel sequence. Normally, we’d dock a point any time a Criterion set doesn’t include a commentary track, but it seems clear here that a conscious decision was made to ensure the disc containing the main feature had as little else on it as possible, to devote every available byte to presenting the film’s images alone. Ergo, a pass. There’s more than enough “commentary” on the film from the second disc’s trove of documentaries, featurettes, and interview segments. Kubrick fanatics will probably be the most gladdened at the participation of critic and Kubrick: The Definitive Edition author Michel Ciment, who goes full-tilt film studies in his 20-minute conversation, picking Barry Lyndon apart like a mechanic dismantling an engine to show how it works, and its place of importance within the director’s body of work. Eric Henderson

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

The Before Trilogy, The Criterion Collection

“O let not Time deceive you,” advises the poet W. H. Auden in “As I Walked Out One Evening,” “you cannot conquer time.” These lines, invoked with youthful diffidence in Before Sunrise, could stand as fitting epigraph to Richard Linklater’s entire Before trilogy. Linklater’s preoccupation with temporality intensifies with each subsequent film in the trilogy, so that time itself becomes both message and medium, the principal subject matter of the films as well as the basic building blocks of their construction. The nine-year gap between films allows Linklater and his leads, with whom he collaborates closely on the scripts, to zero in on crucial milestones in the lives of Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke): the first flush of true connection in Before Sunrise, reunion after long separation in Before Sunset, the vicissitudes of aging and domestic discord in Before Midnight. Criterion presents Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in newly restored 2K transfers. Before Sunrise benefits the most from the overhaul, with major improvements to clarity and visibility evident in its key nighttime sequences. Across the board, colors are vivid and fine details register strongly. The scores, always sparingly and subtly employed, sound excellent. Criterion loads their three-disc set with a comprehensive combination of new and archival materials. What’s remarkable about this assemblage is that—though many of the extras feature Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy talking about one or all of the films—there’s very little in the way of exasperating repetition. Budd Wilkins

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Arrow Video

The image provides a sexual marriage of observational intellectualism and fevered neuroses. Colors run either neon hot, like the yellows, reds, and blues, or cool and soft, such as the browns that dominate the hero’s apartment, which is, until the third act, a safe spot away from the killer’s machinations. There’s an element of grain in the image, though it’s appealing to the eye and truthful to the nature of the film, which, like many gialli, derives its beauty in part from the opposition between lighting that appears to be found and that which is clearly and expressionistically contrived. The soundtracks are similarly detailed, informing Ennio Morricone’s eerie score with a notably new lushness. Meanwhile, the supplements collection recalls that of Arrow Video’s superb edition of Blood and Black Lace from last year. As in that package, these featurettes collectively elaborate on the giallo at large and on The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’s specific place in the genre. There’s plenty of overlapping information, though even this tendency reveals how certain events can be colored by the perspective of a given individual. The new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films, serves as an efficient one-stop shop for fans looking to brush up on the history of the film’s genesis. Chuck Bowen

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

Daughters of the Dust, Cohen Media Group

This is a rapturously beautiful and important restoration, complemented by a complex soundtrack that delicately and coherently balances the noises of the film’s island setting with the on-screen dialogue with two voiceover narrations with John Barnes’s score, which is, itself, an intricate tapestry of the musical heritages of many cultures. And throughout the new interviews and audio commentary that were recorded in celebration of Daughters of the Dust’s 25th anniversary, director Julie Dash asserts and reasserts her aim to “reimagine history,” broadening our conception of American slavery to accommodate images that aren’t of chains, whippings, and so forth. Across the supplements, Dash discusses the details she chose for her film, which were uncovered from considerable research and are often unacknowledged by pop culture. These supplements are valuable as an orienting primer for viewers who’re barely acquainted with the Gullah community of the narrative, and there’s no weak link among the featurettes. Dash is passionate and erudite throughout, while cinematographer Arthur Jafa offers technical context of the film’s production, as well as thoughts on its thematic resonance and cultural importance. Bowen

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