The Best DVDs of 2011


1. "Citizen Kane - 70th Anniversary Edition" (Blu-ray)

Carrying the weight of "best film ever made" must not be easy, but this 70-year-old has never looked better than in this pristine HD transfer. Orson Welles' masterpiece about the rise and fall of a newspaper mogul, explores themes that resonate with audiences seven decades after its release and still remains an aesthetic and technical landmark (did you know that you can turn off the images and the film works as a radio play?). The movie itself should be the main attraction, but Warner has made sure to stack this edition with enough extras to make it the most important historical home video release of 2011. Bonus features include the award-winning documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane" as well as the made-for-TV "RKO 281" that dramatized the behind-the-scenes chaos that underlay "Kane's" production. Best of all - and as of now only exclusive to Amazon - was the inclusion of Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons," a butchered masterpiece that still remains an impressive artistic achievement. - Jose Solis Mayen

2. "Three Colors Trilogy - The Criterion Collection" (Blu-ray)

Those brilliant cinephiles of The Criterion Collection outdid themselves with the stunning release of Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors Trilogy." The Blu-ray boxset contains the three seminal films in breathtakingly beautiful high definition (the cinematography in "Blue" is particularly mesmerizing) and might be the most complete Kieslowski set released in the Western hemisphere. The films themselves should be enough to make this appealing, but the supplements and bonus features make it a must-have in every serious film lover's collection. There are behind-the-scenes TV shows, interviews with Julie Delpy, Irene Jacob and Zbigniew Zamachowski, scene commentary with Juliette Binoche, three Kieslowski short films (you have to see "The Face") and cinema lessons given by the late director himself. This is film school in a box. - Jose Sois Mayen

3. "Blue Velvet"

Divisive at the time (Siskel loved it, while Ebert called it an abomination), "Blue Velvet" has come to be regarded as David Lynch's first legitimate masterpiece, a work of wild imagination and even greater professional skill. From the opening music that mimicked Hitchcock to an ending, which offered both finality and a fairytale, it would become the benchmark by which all other efforts in the auteur's oeuvre would be gauged. Currently getting the glorified HD treatment thanks to Blu-ray, one can re-experience the magic and the menace of this amazing film all over again. Indeed, for those of us who are students of the experience, there are certain beats, individual moments and concepts that create the work of art Lynch intended. - Bill Gibron

4. "Videodrome - The Criterion Collection" (Blu-ray)

David Cronenberg's classic bit of uncategorizable prescience stands up amazingly well today, almost 30 years later. A grotesque, bloody, but always cerebral fantasy about the curious ways media are affecting our experience of reality, "Videodrome" hit the film community like a cannon shot back in 1983. Following a series of increasingly assured (but always singular and "difficult") films, this Canadian wunderkind had finally scored a full-spectrum triumph. As clever as it was entertaining, as sexy as it was revolting, and at all times unrelentingly imaginative, Videodrome set the standard for what has developed into a bit of a subgenre: the "transnational media as enemy" film. - Stuart Henderson

5. "Jackie Brown" (Blu-ray)

Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch," this movie offers an intriguing mix of the author's voice and Tarantino's unique style of dialogue. What's surprising is how much remains from the original book in this film. It pays tribute to the source material while providing a new spin from the young director. The big change was in the lead character, which was changed from the white, blond-haired Jackie Burke to the African-American Jackie Brown (Pam Grier). This shift adjusts the movie's tone, but it also gives Grier the chance to deliver a stunning performance. She originally rose to prominence in "blaxploitation" films like "Foxy Brown" and "Coffy" during the mid-'70s. Although she continued to work throughout the '80s, this movie brought her back into the public consciousness. The attention was well deserved, and it's nearly impossible to envision another actress playing this role. - Dan Heaton

6. "Platoon: 25th Anniversary Edition"

Oliver Stone fashioned a monument alive with the horror of history with this film, and shaped it out of the terrors of his personal and America's collective angst. "Platoon" is a tale of the pity of war combined with a soul-wrenching look at the choices, lies, false hopes and spoiled innocence of another era. An era that sometimes looks too much like our own. The 25th anniversary Blu-ray edition contains a wealth of extras focused on placing the film in context and attempting to explain how it mediated the memory of the Vietnam War. The primary theme of these features tends to be Stone and technical advisor Dale Dye discussing their respective experiences in Vietnam and how those experiences influenced the film. Even if you have seen this five times, it makes all the difference to hear Stone describe how Charlie Sheen's Chris Taylor is in many ways the embodiment of a young Stone, an idealistic but deeply torn soldier. - W. Scott Poole

7. "Modern Times - The Criterion Collection" (Blu-ray)

Charlie Chaplin's first significant dalliance with sound - made at the zenith of his popularity - stands proud in a career of almost incomparable brilliance, and represents one of his finest achievements. It features incisive social commentary, a charming relationship of equals, some of his most iconic slapstick and - though predominantly rooted in the concerns of its time - it looks ahead with playful speculation and scintillating savvy to the future. - Emma Simmonds

8. "The Battle of Algiers - The Criterion" Collection (Blu-ray)

You probably know that "The Battle of Algiers" is both a beautiful film and a close examination of the nature of violence. You likely even know that director Gillo Pontecorvo drew heavy inspiration from Franz Fanon's 1961 book, "The Wretched of the Earth." The Criterion collection's new Blu-ray transfer of "The Battle of Algiers" shows us all the grit and grime of embattled streets where children kill colonial police, informers and collaborators are machine-gunned without mercy, and the occupying French brutally torture suspected members of the National Liberation Front (FLN). Capturing a calamitous year in the struggle against French colonialism, the film succeeds in that most difficult of tasks: it's both high art and one of the 20th century's most important political statements.  - W. Scott Poole

9. "Late Mizoguchi - Eight Films" (1951-1956)

Released all the way back in January, Masters of Cinema's "Late Mizoguchi" collection instantly set the bar at an exceedingly high level for any successive DVD released this past year. And in terms of breadth, quality and contextual materials, it couldn't and wouldn't be touched. Collecting eight films the Japanese master would make over just a five-year period in the twilight of his career, "Late Mizoguchi" represents that rarest of box sets that's essential for both die-hards and neophytes alike. Despite being anchored by two of the greatest films to ever come from the East, 1953's "Ugetsu" and 1954's "Sansho the Bailiff," the set ultimately serves its most vital function as an outlet for six other rare Mizoguchi gems, including 1951's "Miss Oyu," 1953's "Gion Festival Music," and 1954's "The Crucified Lovers." - Jordan Cronk

10. "If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise"

In the politically timid artistic climate of contemporary Hollywood, it's no surprise that Spike Lee, once derided and celebrated as the prototypical Angry Black Man, would be forced to mount projects such as this at HBO, a sort of de facto African-American studio, when one considers the number of black-themed programs they've aired in the past two decades. Lee has proven himself adept at juggling vast amounts of information and points of view in his two documentaries about Hurricane Katrina's wake in New Orleans and its Gulfside neighbors. Of course, a la Michael Moore, he slams the powers-that-be with a vengeance, but he also clearly gives voice to a wide stratum of opinion here, something even his fiercest critics would have to concede. - Terrence Butcher


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