I was interested in gathering a list of the best DVDs and Blu-Rays for myself, to get leads on good films and the best ways to experience them. It also helps me keep track of this stuff if there’s a sale, and to find some good material from Netflix or my local library system. However, it’s surprisingly complicated to compile a list of DVD/ blu-ray recommendations. The format is updated so often that some of the earlier lists get a bit redundant. The best of the year lists now tend to be a mix of recent releases, new reissues of well-known classics, and new issues of obscure older films (which get increasingly obscure when we’re getting to material that is only now being released 20+ years into the format.) Some years don’t have readily available Best Ofs for whatever reason (perhaps streaming video was seen as dominant in 2014.) The rest often leaves you to the esoteric tastes of one person, or a weird group, which can still result in some interesting leads. Differences in copyright and regions also means that some commentary from other parts of the world isn’t that relevant in the US, or may result in difficult purchases.
The website DVD Beaver has a Top 100 in alphabetical order from 8 1/2 to Woman on the Run. That seems to be a starting point, albeit with a bias towards the high-brow.
The Criterion collection is the gold standard, and the website Taste of Cinema has a Top 25. There’s less information available on the other prestige release outlets (IE- Kino Lorber, Flicker Alley, Eureka’s Masters of Cinema.)
C-Net has an updated list of top 40 Blu-rays. It highlights a slight issue I have with best blu ray lists now, as there’s an emphasis on technical specs that isn’t as relevant to me as the quality of the film or the extras. DVD Journal had a Top 25.
Beyond that is an assortment of the various year-end roundups.
Slant Magazine had a Top 20 for 2016, with only seven Criterion films. DVD Beaver’s survey splits the DVD and Blu-Ray categories. One effect is that the DVDs tend to be more obscure; the material that hasn’t been collected by now isn’t as well-known. This year the top DVD results were the tenth volume of Warners Brothers’ Forbidden Hollywood box-set, followed closely by two films of Czech New Wave director Vera Chytilová, and the debut film of Romanian director Cristi Puiu. Their favorite Blu Rays were new releases of the acclaimed mini-series Dekalog and the meticulously restored silent classic Napoleon. Indiewire had a selection of the Top 10 Criterion releases of the year, with their release of Dekalog in first place.
2014 had a year-end roundup by Nerdist, with unranked choices for their favorite Blu-Rays. DVD Beaver’s lists were topped by Warners’ The Lusty Men and BFI’s Werner Herzog collection. Techradar has a top ten, dominated by box sets (Miyazaki and Kubrick) and recent films, including a recent Transformers, an indication to take their advice with a grain of salt.
PopMatters had a ranking of the 25 best dvds/ blu rays of 2013, topped by Kino Lorber’s Nosferatu restoration. There was also the standard DVD Beaver list, topped by criterion collections for the Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi and the Roberto Rosselli/ Ingrid Bergman collaborations.
PopMatters had a 40 best blu-rays and DVDs of 2012 list with Trilogy of Life in first place. And there was the DVD Beaver list topped by French director Jean Gremillon ‘s occupation films, and the Masters of Cinema release of The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Pop Matters had a 40 best dvds of 2011 list with the 70th Anniversary collection of Citizen Kane in first place. Touch of Evil was DVD Beaver’s Top Blu ray of the year, suggesting a good year for Orson Welles aficionados.
In 2010, Pop Matters had a roundup topped by Criterion’s BBS Productions Box Set. DVD Beaver’s list was topped by a collection of silent films by Sternberg and a Criterion release of Night of the Hunter.
In 2009, Pop Matters’ list was topped by a collection of the British TV series Life on Mars. DVD Beaver’s was topped by a collection of Fritz Lang’s Mabuse films, and a Blu Ray release of Murnau’s Sunrise.
In 2008, the AV Club had a list topped by a collection of the films of Budd Boetticher, who I hadn’t heard of until I saw the article. DVD Beaver’s list was topped by Fox’s collection of the works of Murnau and Borzange, another guy I’m not familiar with. Their favorite Blu Ray was the Copolla restoration of The Godfather trilogy, a reminder that Blu-Ray was a new enough format that there would be some very well-known releases.
In 2007, the AV Club list was unranked. Pop Matters’ Top 30 was topped by a release of Killer of Sheep. DVD Beaver’s top choice was a John Ford at Fox box set. There was no Blu Ray ranking since the Blu Ray/ HD DVD fight hadn’t been settled yet (although there were some early recommendations.)
In 2005, Popmatters‘ list was only a top ten, with the DVD release of the then-recent Pixar film The Incredibles in first place. The AV Club had an unranked roundup of recent releases, classics and box sets. DVD Beaver‘s top choice was the Criterion release of Ugetsu.
For earlier years, the main thing I have to go on is a website called DVD Movie Guide. Their favorite collection of 2004 was the extended cut of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Their choice in 2003 was Lord of the same version of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Their top release in 2002 was the extended version of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (you may be sensing a pattern here). And in 2001, it was a release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, barely beating out Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Having the worst Star Wars movie ever in second place serves as its own kind of cultural time capsule.
There doesn’t seem to be much point in going back further, since DVD was so new that many of those versions have been rereleased, in versions that likely made one of the other lists.
One interesting detail is how often silent films top the lists. Some of the films required restoration work, so it took some time to release it. I’d imagine there was more interest in the French New Wave or the Golden Age of Hollywood, so that some of the silent classics were released in years where these wouldn’t be overshadowed.
- Update- Since I made this entry in 2016, there have been some more annual best of lists.
DVD Beaver’s 2020 list was dominated by a Criterion Fellini box-set and Ultra HD blu-rays. The Nerdist list for the year was topped by Arrow’s Gamera collection. Pop Matters had a top ten devoted to classic films. Slant had a top twenty for the decade.