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My favourite Blu-ray and DVD releases of 2016

by December 31, 2016 General

DECEMBER 31 ― Despite being pronounced dead about three to four years back, film releases on physical formats kept on coming, albeit targeted at a more niche and hardcore market.

Loving films is just like loving music, which means you’d still want to keep a physical copy of something you love for some reason you can’t really explain.

How else can you explain statistics like vinyl outselling digital downloads for the first time in the UK in 2016, or the completely unexpected and unfathomable comeback of cassettes?

Because physical is increasingly targeted at a more niche and hardcore fanbase, some of 2016’s most amazing and mouthwatering releases have remained out of my grasp purely because of their price (and the ever-weakening ringgit), like Arrow Video’s jumbo package The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast boxset or BFI’s Dissent & Disruption: Alan Clarke At The BBC limited edition boxset, both with retail prices north of RM700, if not more.

Still, a film nerd is a film nerd so I still did manage to get my hands on a fair few magnificent home video releases this year, and here are some of my favourites.

Susan Slept Here (Blu-ray), Warner Archive

Sometimes all it takes is just for a film to be released on the best possible format yet without any frills, and my heart would miss a beat at its discovery. Warner Archive’s surprise Blu-ray edition of my favourite Frank Tashlin film Susan Slept Here is one such release.

First released on a mere DVD-R in 2010 (which I bought, of course), such an insulting fate for an official home video release definitely did not prepare fans like me for such a magnificent resurrection of such a minor and almost forgotten film in glorious high definition, and in the form of a factory pressed Blu-ray to boot!

Horse Money (Blu-ray), Second Run

With the great Abbas Kiarostami suddenly gone this year, Portuguese genius Pedro Costa is probably my favourite filmmaker alive today, and this Blu-ray release of his latest film Horse Money is a stunning showcase of how incredible he is when it comes to playing with light and shadow.

Containing some of the most beautiful photography/cinematography of black skin in dark surroundings ever seen in the history of cinema, the film’s high definition transfer and 5.1 DTS-HD audio will make you swoon with delight as you take in the sensual pleasures, rough but always beautiful, of Costa’s filmmaking.

The Princess Of France (DVD), Cinema Guild

Even in the age of Blu-ray, and with UHD slowly testing the market this year, there’s still room on any list for a great DVD release, if it’s handled with enough care and curated with enough taste.

Cinema Guild’s release of Argentine wunderkind Matias Pineiro’s 2014 film The Princess Of France is touched by both. The film itself, a dizzying adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost (albeit a very loose one) rewards multiple viewings, courtesy of Pineiro’s playful way with plotting, but what makes this release even more enchanting are the extra features, like the ingenious short film In The Museum, which is both a sort of behind-the-scenes featurette and a proper short film. This is one DVD that’s ripe for endless repeat viewings.

Raising Cain (Blu-ray), Scream Factory

Fan edits of films are no longer much of a novelty these days, with fan cuts of trailers especially easy to find on YouTube. But back in 2012 when Brian De Palma superfan Peet Gelderblom made a fan edit of Raising Cain, re-ordering the scenes according to De Palma’s original script and intention, and posting the results online, fan edits weren’t that common yet.

Of course all us De Palma geeks went nuts after either watching it online or just reading about it. So imagine the collective sighs (or screams) of pleasure now when De Palma insisted that the aforementioned fan cut, which he’s been calling the film’s true Director’s Cut all these years, is included in this new Blu-ray release of Raising Cain. Need I say more?

John Wick ― Filmarena Maniacs Collector’s Boxset (Blu-ray), Filmarena Collection

Although I am a pretty hardcore DVD and Blu-ray collector, I’ve always been a film fan first and collector second, which means that I buy them because I love the films, not because of their packaging, their rarity or things like that.

This limited and numbered boxset of John Wick however, released by Czech outfit Filmarena Collection, is the kind of madness that made me forget all that. The Blu-ray has the same content as the ones released anywhere else in the world, but the real clincher here is the absolutely premium packaging and physical presentation of the box’s contents.

You get goodies like a John Wick T-shirt, mug, notepad, poster and a replica of the coin used as currency in the movie, and two different steelbook packaging, complete with two different full slip covers and even more goodies like lenticular magnets, character cards, booklets and more. Absolute madness!

The Emigrants & The New Land (Blu-ray), The Criterion Collection

As usual, there’s never a shortage of great Criterion releases every year, and 2016 is no different. I was going for either their release of Edward Yang’s masterwork A Brighter Summer Day or this double package of Jan Troell’s absolutely essential 1970s classics The Emigrants and The New Land.

Both are very hard to watch and possess almost mythical status, and both are epic in their own different ways. But for some reason I’m leaning more towards Troell’s two towering achievements, which totals almost 393 minutes, and are probably some of the greatest films you’ll ever see about the settling of America.

Joshua Oppenheimer Early Works (DVD), Second Run

Before Joshua Oppenheimer’s breakthrough double whammy of The Art Of Killing and its follow-up The Look Of Silence, there was The Globalisation Tapes and The Entire History Of The Louisiana Purchase, not to mention other, shorter, documentaries he made like These Places We’ve Learned To Call Home and The Challenge Of Manufacturing.

With this absolutely essential DVD release by the ever reliable UK outfit Second Run, we can now see Oppenheimer’s early works, 12 films to be exact, and that’s already more than reason enough to rejoice and celebrate this wonderful DVD release.

Court (DVD), Reliance Entertainment

I first saw Court about two years ago at the 2014 edition of the Singapore International Film Festival, where it won one of the 28 international awards it has managed to amass so far. But such is the commercial prospect of an Indian arthouse film on its home soil that only after its surprise Best Feature Film win at India’s National Film Awards in 2015 that a wider theatrical run was made possible in India.

And finally, after almost two years, I can finally see this excellent film again on home video with this DVD release. Forget what you think you know about Indian cinema (even if you’re already familiar with names like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Adoor Gopalakrishnan) because Court announces a fresh new voice in Indian cinema, one that can be as formally rigorous as Robert Bresson and Mani Kaul, but with that humorous Jacques Tati touch.

Matinee (Blu-ray), Arrow Video

Joe Dante has made a lot of beloved classics like the Gremlins movies, Piranha, Small Soldiers, The Howling, The ‘Burbs, and of course Matinee, a particular favourite among most hardcore Dante fans.

So to even have this movie on Blu-ray is already a wonderful thing for us Dante fans, but what makes this one even more special is the fact that this superb fan-friendly edition by the folks at Arrow Video includes the full-length version of Mant!, the film-within-a-film that fans of Matinee will no doubt have longed to see in full ever since they first saw bits and pieces of that monster movie in Matinee. Now you can!

Underground (Blu-ray), BFI Video

There was a time in the 90s where budgets were big enough to enable arthouse films to go crazy with ambition, and where a large scale arthouse film was possible. Emir Kusturica’s Palme D’Or winning Underground is probably the best example of that kind of big, ambitious, wild and even slightly bonkers filmmaking.

This new 3-disc Blu-ray release by the British Film Institute does full justice to the film as it is similarly epic in scope by also including Once Upon A Time There Was A Country, the six-part TV version of Underground that was shown on Serbian TV in 1995 which almost doubles the original film’s running time of 170 minutes with a total runtime of 315 minutes. Finally, after more than 20 years, we can see both versions and decide for ourselves which one we like better.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.