Please note, this is NOT my Best Movies of 2005 List. I promise, that list is coming...There are only a handful of films left for me to see before I can declare a winner. In fact, I'll be producing two different lists this year - 1 list for all the foreign films, documentaries and other movies from the last few years (2001-2004) that I only caught up with in 2005, but which still deserve some kind of Year-End Wrap-Up mention, and another list for my actual favorite movies that came out in the year 2005 proper.
In addition to those two, I thought I'd go over some of the best DVD packages released this year. It's unofficial - I may very well forget stuff - and it's not ranked, because that would be a bit nebbishy even for me.
F for Fake Criterion Collection
If I were ranking DVD's released initially in 2005, this would probably win first prize. Not only because it's a gorgeous transfer of an amazing late Orson Welles masterpiece, but because the documentary on Disc Two - about all of Welles' never-completed films - is truly amazing. Orson Welles: One Man Band is an 88 minute, full-length film about the peculiarities of fate and personality that prevented Welles from completing many film projects and finding a mass audience. It includes a startling amount of rare footage of some of Welles incomplete film work, and is a must-see for fans.
The movie F for Fake itself is a wonderful "film essay" by Welles on forgery, and trickery in general. I think it's one of his best films, and really shows off his idiosyncratic personality, odd sense of humor and sublime talent for editing and directing cinema.
I Heart Huckabees 2-Disc Collector's Edition
First off, if you're late to the game on David O. Russell's terrific 2004 metaphysical farce, rent it immediately. Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert and Lily Tomlin are all stellar, there's a great Jon Brion score, and Russell's just an incredibly sharp and funny writer. This is one of those films I like more and more each time I go through it.
And the extra features, particularly the lengthy and highly amusing behind-the-scenes documentary on Disc 2, directed by Spike Jonze, are really expansive and fun considering that this was basically an overlooked film. I also highly recommend the commentary on Disc 1 featuring a large portion of the film's cast.
Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith 2-Disc Edition
Okay, by now, you all know where I stand. Sith is the reason the Star Wars prequels exist. It's a fantastic achievement for Lucas and Company, an adventure movie of the highest caliber that actually rises to the near-impossible chance of holding up agains the original Star Wars trilogy.
And this DVD is a bounty of riches. One feature in particular, that takes you through all the steps and proceeses needed to create one full minute of the feature Revenge of the Sith is startling in its level of detail and exploration. It's a fascinating feature, one of the most interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes I've seen. (To be honest, I tend to find technical explanations of special effects really boring.)
Criterion's Rebel Samurai Box Set
Four terrific, and very diverse, 60's Japanese samurai films in one fantastic box set. I still have yet to see Samurai Rebellion, which stars Toshiro Mifune, but have seen all 3 of the other titles in here. They're all great. Kill! stands out as my favorite, a play on spaghetti westerns by the director of Sword of Doom, it features a large cast of talented performers, including the always-engaging Tetsuyo Nakadai and a couple of terrific and surprisingly bloody fight sequences. Hideo Gosha's Sword of the Beast displays the director's standard mastery of setting and sound design, and is probably the most straight-forward, satisfying genre film of the bunch. And Samurai Spy is a really visionary historical adventure film with a unique look and lots of outstanding fight scenes and swordplay, but an intensely confusing plot if, like me, you're not particularly well-versed in the history of 17th Century Japan. Occasional lack of coherence aside, we're incredibly fortunate that the sudden surge of interest in samurai films is bringing a lot of these classic and heretofore unseen films to America with such great transfers.
Warner Bros. Controversial Classics Box Set
Not sure exactly what the theme is supposed to imply - some of these films aren't really so controversial, although I guess they are all social message pictures in some way. Anyway, the 5 of 7 I've seen are all terrific films, and as usual, Warners has done a great job with the transfers and the discs. They all have commentaries by historians and experts, and I like how they do the "Warner Night at the Movies" option, which lets you watch a cartoon and newsreel before the film, just like in the olden days.
To my mind, I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is the stand-out film here. One of the best films I watched in any format at any time this year, hands down. But Bad Day at Black Rock, as solid an action-thriller as Hollywood is likely to turn out, featuring tremendous work from Spencer Tracy, is no slouch either. And A Face in the Crowd, featuring inspired work from Andy Griffith, is a nice addition to any collection.
Le Samourai Criterion Collection
Melville's masterful, intensely controlled French thriller might be one of the sharpest, most precise films ever made. Alain Delon's outstandingly subtle work and Melville's wonderfully intuitive sense of aesthetics and color combine to create a film that's as beautiful as it is aloof. Criterion's disc has some nice extras, but with a movie this good and a transfer this pristine, it wouldn't really matter if there was nothing else in the entire package.
King Kong (1933) Collector's Edition
The massive, in-depth feature that accompanies the original King Kong on DVD may be the single best special feature on any DVD all year. It's incredibly comprehensive, going so far as to include a recreation of special effects wizard Willis O'Brien's never-completed film Creation. Also included is Peter Jackson's now-infamous recreation of the Spider Pit sequence, which looks eerily close to the original film (except, for whatever reason, the Kong effects aren't quite as polished...go figure...)
And the original movie has retained its magic and wonder 70+ years on. Sure, some of the scenes include blatant racism, and a lot of the performers simply don't resonate. But Cooper's original is and always will be the definitive monster movie. Jackson's remake, while it has some nice effects and a decidedly kick-ass closing hour, never really stood a chance.
"The Simpsons" Season 6 and 7 Box Sets
"The Simpsons," as we all realize by now, is the greatest TV show in history. And Seasons 6 and 7 represent the show at its very very zenith. I've long been a proponent of the theory that Seaons 5-7 really constitutes the show's most brilliant, inspired period. Almost all of my favorite episodes come from these years.
And in addition to the uncut original episodes, you get tons of interesting, funny commentaries and other little hidden surprises. Even the menus on these sets rock. They really do a great job with these "Simpsons" collections (dumb, cartoon-head packaging decisions aside). I always resist the idea of spending $35-$40 on the new "Simpsons" box set, and then I wind up doing it anyway.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Special Edition
I'm including this mainly to highlight this late, great Peckinpah masterpiece which is often overlooked by action movie fans. It does include a fairly interest commentary from some Peckinpah scholars, but the main appeal here is the stunning, crisp transfer of this classic darkly comic tale of violent revenge and madness.
And finally, the single most incredible, awe-inspiring DVD I watched in 2005...
Trapped in the Closet, Chapters 1-12
Maybe you saw R. Kelly act out his bizarre narrative song "Trapped int he Closet" live, by himself, on this year's Video Music Awards. Or maybe you watched the first few chapters on Kells' website earlier this year. You haven't seen anything until you've watched the first 12 chapters on the new DVD.
For the unitiated, "Trapped in the Closet" is a sing-songy R&B tune that has extended over the past several R. Kelly albums. The main character, Sylvester (played by R. Kelly in the movie) has just had a one-night stand with a beautiful woman named Cathy, cheating on his wife Gwen. When Cathy's husband comes home, Sylvester hides in the closet, but is soon discovered. This sets off an increasingly bizarre and improbably series of cliffhangers and reveals, in which, as Kelly is fond of saying, "anything can happen."
This "anything" comes to include recent parolees being shot, revelations of homosexuality, midgets crapping their pants and obese rednecks pulling shotguns on their husbands. Is Kelly serious with this thing, or is the entire enterprise a tongue-in-cheek joke at all of our expense? Who knows? It doesn't matter...anything that's this funny deserves our respect and admiration, regardless of the motives or intentions behind it.
But the fun doesn't stop with this 40 minute music video thing...R. Kelly has recorded a commentary track to go along with the movie. Oh, man, this thing is unspeakably fantastic. It's not an audio commentary track. You actually see a screen with Trapped in the Closet playing on it while R. Kelly reclines in an armchair superimposed in front of the screen. He smokes a stogie and watches the film with you, turning around in his chair occasionally to address the camera in a casual manner.
Kells doesn't so much explain the film or talk about hsi experiences in making it, as he does watch the movie excitedly and explain the action to you as if you were a retarded person. A woman will walk in to a room and say "What are you doing with my man?," and then R. Kelly will turn around and say, "See, she's mad that someone has been sleeping with her man." And it goes on like this for 45 minutes!
Sometimes, he gets really engrossed in his own movie and forgets to talk for a while. Other times, he apparently forgets what happens in the film, despite the fact that he directed it and it's all based on a song that he wrote. Every once in a while, he smiles or grunts approval for the action on screen. Oh, and even though he's pretending to smoke a cigar while he watches, it's clearly CG smoke coming out, inserted in post-production.
I can't describe to you how much enjoyment friends and I received from watching this DVD the other night. THE MOST HILARIOUS DVD RELEASE OF 2005, I PROMISE YOU.