The best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

2015 was a sad year for the home-cinema community, with the deaths of Eureka founder Ron Benson, Janus/Criterion owner William Becker and critics Philip French and Mike Sutton – but a fecund one too for collectors and connoisseurs of great and surprising films from every quarter. Below, 26 critics and connoisseurs recommend their five best home-cinema releases of the past year.

Sight & Sound contributors
Updated:

Web exclusive

Chris Barwick

Producer, Second Run, UK

Thundercrack! Synapse Films

The Carl Theodor Dreyer Collection BFI

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Warner Home Video

Medium Cool Eureka Masters of Cinema

Hard to Be a God Arrow

It would be easy enough to dedicate the entire selection to releases from Arrow, BFI and Masters of Cinema alone – labels whose outputs reach new, envious heights of spectacularness year-on-year; but that would also decry and detract from other great releases from the UK and around the world.

Thundercrack! has been a long, long time coming, but finally Synapse brings my ‘most wanted’ to home video in all its perverse glory. This looks about as good as this film ever should. Great extras too, including Jennifer M. Kroots’ feature-length doc It Came from Kuchar and McDowell short films.

Dreyer’s cinema is rightly revered, his influence is everywhere, but many of his films have been hard to see in decent editions – until now. BFI’s box set rights that wrong in spectacular fashion.

I’ve always loved The Hunchback of Notre Dame, its beauty and horror, and Laughton’s wonderful, heartbreaking performance. And now I can also see fully the brilliance of Joseph H. August’s images and Van Nest Polglase’s designs.

Medium Cool is one of the best debut features ever, Wexler’s still incendiary, political, counter-culture conspiracy thriller acts like a documentary. You can believe it.

Aleksei German’s nutzoid sci-fi epic Hard to Be a God is the most potently realised feature in recent memory – truly, horribly unique.

Honourable mentions to: The Duke of Burgundy (Artificial Eye), The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (Arrow), Letter to Three Wives (Masters of Cinema), The Voices (Arrow), The Otto Preminger Collection (BFI), Last Embrace (Signal One), Ms. 45 (Drafthouse), The Honeymoon Killers (Arrow), Night and the City (BFI), The Reflecting Skin (Soda), Bloodstained Shadow (88 Films), River’s Edge (Signal One), Around the World with Orson Welles (BFI), Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Le Chat qui Fume), Thief (Arrow), Edgar Allen Poe’s Black Cats Box (Arrow), The Offence (Masters of Cinema), Tales of Hoffman (Studio Canal), Videodrome (Arrow)…

 

Anne Billson

Critic and author, UK

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne Arrow

Dragon Inn Eureka Masters of Cinema

Brussel Bruxelles Brussels Cinematek/Royal Film Archive of Belgium

Blackhat Universal

iZombie: Season 1 Warner Home Video

Increasingly I find myself drawn to distributors rather than titles. You can always rely on Arrow and Eureka to obtain the best possible transfers, release them in dual format and then add a bunch of juicy extras. Arrow gives Borowczyk’s perverse erotic nightmare the exquisite presentation it so richly deserves, while Eureka are to be applauded for rereleasing King Hu’s wuxia classic, an influence on Tsui Hark, Wong Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao-Hsien – but more fun than any of them.

For some years now, Brussels Cinematek has been releasing selections from its archives, including classic features by directors such as André Delvaux and Harry Kümel. This collection of documentary clips provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of one of Europe’s strangest and most beguiling cities.

After a tepid reception elsewhere, Mann’s techno-thriller failed to get a release in my local cinemas so I was obliged to catch up with it on Blu-ray – and liked it enough to regret not having had the chance to see it on a big screen. Needless to say, extras are minimal.

My favourite TV shows this year have been Fargo, Hannibal, Better Call Saul – and this police procedural set in Seattle, where the undead heroine helps solve murders by feeding on the dead victims’ brains. iZombie is so much more sophisticated than it sounds, for this is from the creative team that brought you Veronica Mars, and its skilful tonal shifts and blend of wit, intrigue, thrills and brain-eating make it one of TV’s most reliable treats.

 

Michael Blyth

Programmer, BFI Southbank / London Film Festival, UK

Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Limited Edition Trilogy Arrow Films

Ghoulies/Ghoulies II Shout! Factory

The Brood Criterion

The Fan Mondo Macabro

The Beyond Grindhouse Releasing

I could easily have complied this list based solely on 2015 releases from Arrow, who have once again gone above and beyond when it comes to home video horror. I didn’t think anything could top their staggering reissue of Brian Yuzna’s gloopy body-horror classic Society, but they managed to up themselves with Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Limited Edition Trilogy. In addition to lovely 2K restorations of the first three films, the set featured enough extras to keep you busy for weeks. A collection so impressive it even makes Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth look good.

Similarly, Scream Factory’s 2015 slate was another embarrassment of riches, including glorious HD releases of beloved (and occasionally unloved) horror pics like the overlooked holiday slasher New Year’s Evil, Sam Raimi’s fan fave Army of Darkness and the much-maligned, but infinitely enjoyable Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf. However, there was one release that inexplicably had me more excited than any other; the double bill of Ghoulies and Ghoulies II. I never dreamed I’d get to see those little toilet dwellers with such crystal clarity.

In addition to boasting one of their most beautiful cover designs (and that is no small compliment), Criterion’s release of Cronenberg’s The Brood did ample justice to one of the director’s most consistently fascinating films. When one of the extras is a 4K digital transfer of Crimes of the Future, you know you’re in safe hands.

Previously appearing on VHS in the UK under the title Trance, Eckhart Schmidt’s Krautrock-inspired The Fan looks better than ever thanks to Mondo Macabro. A dreamy and perverse exploration of celebrity expression, it is great to see this underrated shocker finally getting the love it deserves.

And last but not least, Grindhouse Releasing did Fulci proud with their stellar release of The Beyond. The transfer itself is every bit as good as Arrow’s handsome offering from 2013, but it is the extras, which include over 10 hours (!) of interviews, commentaries, trailers and TV/radio spots, that really set this one apart.

 

Michael Brooke

Critic, film historian and DVD/Blu-ray producer at Arrow, UK

All My Good Countrymen Second Run

How to Be Eccentric: The Films of Richard Massingham BFI

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism Arrow

On the Beach Signal One

Wooden Crosses Eureka Masters of Cinema

Various Cassandras have been foretelling the death of physical media for some time now, but you’d never know it from yet another astonishingly varied year. The BFI had a particularly fine run, with their Rossellini and Dreyer box sets receiving the most widespread acclaim, although my personal preference was for their championship of one of the great pioneers of the public information film.

Arrow and Eureka helped disinter long-ignored masterpieces by Kiju Yoshida and Raymond Bernard, Second Run kept up their usual sky-high standard of curation and ever-striking cover artwork, and brand new label Signal One made a considerable splash with a fine initial batch of releases sporting excellent presentation and extras.

But the end of 2015 was sadly overshadowed by the death of Mike Sutton, one of Britain’s wittiest online DVD/Blu-ray reviewers since 1999 and more recently a prolific and authoritative booklet essayist for both Arrow and Eureka.

 

Philip Concannon

Critic, UK

Shoah and 4 Films After Shoah Eureka Masters of Cinema

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism Arrow

The Apu Trilogy Criterion

Agnès Varda in California Criterion Eclipse

A New Leaf Eureka Masters of Cinema

Eureka’s Shoah set is a magnificent achievement, containing not just Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 film but the four subsequent features that offer different perspectives and fresh insights on the Holocaust. Each film is illuminating, challenging, moving and essential viewing.

It’s thrilling to see Arrow lavishing such attention on a relatively unknown filmmaker like Kijū Yoshida, whose visually stunning and narratively adventurous explorations of sex and politics deserve to be rediscovered, while Criterion’s release of The Apu Trilogy shows off the incredible restoration work that has made these films feel more intimate and alive than ever.

Finally, I’d like to highlight overlooked works by two great female directors. The films Agnès Varda made in the United States are a fascinating document of a particular time and place, distinguished by her inimitable spirit and curiosity; one can only hope that the long overdue release of Elaine May’s hilarious A New Leaf will lead to the rest of her woefully under-seen films getting the same treatment.

Read Ryan Gilbey on A New Leaf

 

Jordan Cronk

Critic, USA

Nicolás Pereda: 6 Films Gartenberg Media

Every Man for Himself Criterion

Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970 Flicker Alley

Cruel Story of Youth Eureka Masters of Cinema

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism Arrow

Though yet to be widely recognised, Mexican director Nicolás Pereda has been tilling the divide between narrative and observational cinema as expertly as any contemporary filmmaker. Indeed, his two latest films, the enthralling metaphysical ghost story Los ausentes (2014) and the narcoleptic spatial study Minotaur (2015), are worthy of such contemporaries as Tsai and Apichatpong. Gartenberg Media’s recently released box set, gathering Pereda’s first six features, including the Orizzonti-winning Summer of Goliath (2010) and the meta-textual domestic diorama Greatest Hits (2012), offers a perfect opportunity to catch up with this consistently shape-shifting young artist.

Save for the lovely Apu Trilogy box set, Criterion’s 2015 release schedule was uncharacteristically short on big ticket packages. Instead, they spread the wealth with a pair of essential Eclipse sets (Agnès Varda in California, Julien Duvivier in the Thirties) and a handful of previously elusive auteur titles such as Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country (1936), Robert Montgomery’s Ride the Pink Horse (1947), and the R.W. Fassbinder favourites The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971) and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972). Most pleasing, however, was their resurrection of Jean-Luc Godard’s Every Man for Himself (1980), the wayward director’s “second first film”, as well as an excoriating work of socially engaged, self-reflexive cinema.

I wrote at length about Flicker Alley’s Masterworks of American Avant-Garde set in the January 2016 issue of Sight & Sound, so rather than reiterate the particulars, allow me to praise two films that I didn’t mention in the review, as well as recommend a supplemental release for those so inclined. First, Francis Lee’s brief yet bracing film 1941, which pairs images of burning lightbulbs and fluorescent pigments with the contrapuntal rhythms of Igor Stravinsky, is amongst the most visceral political films I know; and second, In the Street (1948), directed by Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb and one James Agee, a small-scale work capturing the feeling and faces of midcentury Manhattan as vividly as any of the era’s more self-consciously ambitious city symphonies. And for those intrigued by the set’s 13-minute excerpt from Jonas Mekas’s Walden (1969), Kino Lorber recently released the entirety of the original three-hour work alongside the director’s equally lengthy diary film Lost Lost Lost (1976) in a comprehensive 2-disc Blu-ray package.

And finally, a pair of essential releases dedicated to two of Japan’s most provocative filmmakers. Making its long-overdue digital debut courtesy of Masters of Cinema was Oshima Nagisa’s influential sophomore feature, Cruel Story of Youth (1960), while Arrow Academy’s impressive, limited edition DVD/Blu-ray box set of three films by Oshima contemporary Yoshida Yoshishige (aka Yoshida Kiju) brought together two different cuts of his seminal Eros + Massacre (1969), along with its little-seen successors Heroic Purgatory (1970) and Coup d’Etat (1973). Together these four films – each beautiful, violent, and perversely watchable – encompass much of what made the Japanese New Wave so aesthetically and politically stimulating.

 

Sam Dunn

BFI DVD, UK

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne Arrow

Catch My Soul Etiquette Pictures

Seconds Eureka Masters of Cinema

Fruit of Paradise Second Run

Cherry 2000 Signal One Entertainment

With so many great releases this year, I’ve decided to cheat a little and vote for labels instead (though the choices above were among the exemplary releases from each).

Arrow has been responsible for so many great releases this year that it’s tempting to give them all five slots and be done with it. Their commitment to producing high-quality editions with bountiful extra has never been more in evidence than in 2015, and there’s no sign that they’ll be stopping in their mission any time soon (thank goodness!). In terms of identifying the best releases this year, it’s an extremely difficult task, but personal favourites (not to say holy grails) for me this year included Borowczyk’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange?, Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate and Dassin’s Thieves’ Highway.

Vinegar Syndrome’s sister label Etiquette Pictures is in its infancy, but its dedication to bringing superior quality presentations of rare and forgotten films to Blu-ray already makes it one of the most exciting labels in the world. For me, their lavish release of McGoohan’s extraordinary rock opera Catch My Soul is an undisputed highlight of the year.

In the year when Eureka boss Ron Benson sadly passed away, it’s a fitting tribute to him that the Masters of Cinema label continues to set a standard for other labels to aspire to. As with Arrow, releases were plentiful and exquisitely presented, but personal highlights included Lumet’s The Offence and Frankenhiemer’s Seconds.

During its tenth anniversary year, Second Run continued to surprise and delight us with their daring and exciting choices. For me, the surreal charms of Chytilová Fruits of Paradise easily gets my vote – I can’t get enough of this one.

A newcomer on the scene, Signal One Entertainment appears to be a label that’s dedicated to producing quality releases. Early signs are extremely encouraging, and their extras-packed Blu-ray editions of Kramer’s On the Beach, Hunter’s River’s Edge and De Jarnett’s Cherry 2000 have all proved most welcome.

 

Gareth Evans

Critic, producer and programmer, Whitechapel Arts Gallery, UK

Transport from Paradise Second Run

Dummy Jim Hulse / Jukebox Kino

The Look of Silence Dogwoof

The Simpsons series box sets

Bill Morrison: Selected Works 1996-2014 BFI

I have singularly failed to keep up with theatrical releases this year, and this lack extends even more profoundly to DVD. That said, in their 10th anniversary year, Second Run continues to amaze and inspire. Transport from Paradise is one revelation. Matt Hulse’s moving and celebratory adaptation of a wonderful lost travelogue is a delight, a collaborative ballad to makers and the made. The Look of Silence is a necessary masterpiece and confirms the remarkable importance of Oppenheimer’s project, revealing its vast and profound solidarity. I have been working through the many missed Simpsons episodes with great pleasure. Bill Morrison is one of contemporary cinema’s finest makers, the pilgrim poet of archive deep retrieval.

Most encouraging DVD incident of the year: the transformation of London’s Close Up Film Centre into a boutique cinema to run alongside its unrivalled DVD lending library, now the only one in London and one of literally a handful in the UK. Most unlikely DVD encounter: finding a copy of German’s epic Hard to Be a God for £2 in a charity shop in Whitstable, before release. Will 2016 see the issue of the 1989 version, starring Werner Herzog?

 

Pamela Hutchinson

Critic, Silentlondon.co.uk, UK

Lumière! Le cinématographe 1895-1900 France Télévisions Distribution/Institut Lumière

Natan Lobster Films

Charlie Chaplin: The Mutual Comedies 1916-1917 BFI

Intolerance Eureka Masters of Cinema

The Birth of a Nation BFI

To begin at the beginning, Lumière! collects more than 100 of the earliest films ever made, in 4K digital restorations. The surprise here is not just the way that these films by Auguste and Louis Lumière shimmer in high-definition, but the vast range of their subjects – 50-foot snippets of the world in action, from footballers in London to ice-climbers in the Alps.

The haunting documentary film Natan pays tribute to another giant of French cinema, but one forgotten by film history, and then maligned by it. Bernard Natan was a Romanian immigrant to Paris, who rose to become the head of the Pathé studio before being jailed for fraud, sent to his death in Auschwitz and then defamed as a pornographer.

A great filmmaker not in danger of being forgotten any time soon, Charlie Chaplin made many of his finest short films at the Mutual studio. In this covetable box set they are presented with multiple soundtracks and commentaries, and gorgeously restored.

Two spectacular presentations of D.W. Griffith’s famous epics finish the list. The features themselves, Intolerance and The Birth of a Nation, are presented in context, with the less epic films that were folded into or spun out of them alongside. Some films are too vast to be taken in during a single viewing, which means that this lavish mode of presentation is useful as well as beautiful.

 

Trevor Johnston

Critic, UK

Seconds Eureka Masters of Cinema

Dragon Inn Eureka Masters of Cinema

The Fallen Idol StudioCanal

Blind Chance Criterion

The Shohei Imamura Masterpiece Collection Eureka Masters of Cinema

Sometimes the films you’ve been waiting most of your life to see can fall short of overwhelming expectations, but that’s not the case with King Hu’s 1967 Dragon Inn – a touchstone for everyone from Tsui Hark and Tsai Ming-liang to Ang Lee – revealed on disc as a swordplay drama of effortless formal panache and narrative substance.

If that’s a film whose influence has turned it into something archetypal, John Frankenheimer’s existential nightmare Seconds remains close-on unique, MoC’s solicitous transfer preserving James Wong Howe’s dazzlingly disorienting b&w camerawork to brain-searing effect.

Another marvellous lensman, Georges Périnal, gets his due in the gorgeous restoration of Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol, a fable of innocence and experience where he turns post-war Belgravia into an urban landscape of the imagination. Shaped with a jeweller’s precision by Reed, this is right up there with The Third Man.

Meanwhile, from Criterion a major addition to the Kieslowski catalogue with his early what-if saga Blind Chance, here given a choice extra with the version trimmed by the Polish authorities at the time. Taken together with the integral cut familiar in the West, we get a telling insight into the context of nervy authoritarianism which spawned Kieslowski’s wily worldview.

Finally, nothing new in the bumper box The Shohei Imamura Masterpiece Collection, but what bounty within from this most trenchant, obstreperous and gruffly loveable Japanese master. If your shelf doesn’t have a space for this, then you need new shelves.

 

Philip Kemp

Critic, UK

Wooden Crosses Eureka Masters of Cinema

The Reflecting Skin Soda

The Long Good Friday + Mona Lisa limited edition Arrow

Black Girl BFI

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection Arrow

I’ve already enthused about Bernard’s devastating WWI drama in my Films of the Year slot.

Ridley’s insidious, deeply disquieting delve into American rural mythology made a welcome return, Blu-ray giving full value to Dick Pope’s luminous photography.

The Friday/Lisa set enshrined the late, much-missed Bob Hoskins’s two finest performances – Mona Lisa in particular.

Sembène would reach greater heights later on, but his debut feature La noire de… (coupled with his early short, Borom sarret) burns with all his anger and compassion, in prints more pristine than most of us have ever been privileged to see.

And with the five-movie (plus shorts) Borowczyk box, Arrow reminded us of a once-feted, now unduly neglected provocateur of European cinema.

 

Tim Lucas

Video Watchdog, USA

In no particular order:

Quatermass Network

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne Arrow

Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans Visage) BFI

Blood and Black Lace Arrow

Tie:

Videodrome Arrow

X the Man with X-Ray Eyes Kino Lorber

I can think of no other case where the restoration of a film has been quite so revelatory as Network’s Quatermass release. All previous presentations, including the original broadcast masters, were unbearably ugly and prevented this project from being seen as the capstone to Kneale’s career that it was. This set not only refurbished the original four-hour miniseries but the feature-length condensation, presented for the first time in 1.78:1, which can now better be appreciated as an expert edit; I only wish the entire miniseries could have been opened up to the same extent.

With The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, after literally decades of living with Japanese bootlegs with digitised nudity and Canadian bootlegs with some scenes cut, we finally have one of the most wicked, delirious and darkly funny horror films as it was meant to be seen. It’s electrifying, a vital addition to Arrow’s Camera Obscura box of Walerian Borowczyk’s films from last year, and a tremendous feat of what must have been meticulous restoration, considering that the cinematography is empowered by its antique haziness.

I should mention that I provided audio commentaries for the other releases I have selected, but I am mostly singling these out for the tremendous beauty of their presentations and preservation, and the bounty of meaningful extras provided with them. The inclusion of Georges Franju’s rarely-seen short La Prémière Nuit on the Eyes set is my favourite extra of the year.

And I’d like to give honourable Mentions to House of Bamboo (Twilight Time), In Cold Blood (Criterion), Two for the Seesaw (Kino Lorber), Je T’aime, Je T’aime (Kino Lorber) and Legacy of Satan/Blood (Code Red). In Cold Blood may have the most fascinating assortment of extras included with any new release this year, but it’s an epic presentation with a stunning 5.1 track. House of Bamboo (a 4K restoration in 2.55:1!) and Two for the Seesaw are magnificent eye candy. Je T’aime is a long-awaited and much-cherished release, and the Code Red Blu-ray adds a considerable amount of previously unseen footage to a rare piece of Andy Milligan delirium.

 

Neil McGlone

Film researcher and advisor, UK

Mulholland Dr.  Criterion

Shirley Clarke Vols. 1-3 Milestone Films

Frederick Wiseman 1967-1979 Blaq Out

The Reflecting Skin Soda

Julien Duvivier in the Thirties Criterion Eclipse

Why Mulholland Drive at number 1? Three words; Criterion David Lynch!

Whilst the Shirley Clarke discs from Milestone are individual releases I have clumped them together as one. Dennis Doros from Milestone has done an incredible job (and continues to do so!) in preserving the work of this important filmmaker.

Released only a few days ago, Blaq Out’s remarkable set contains the first 13 films of Frederick Wiseman’s career for just €65: an essential purchase!

I’ve long been an admirer of Philip Ridley’s disturbing film, The Reflecting Skin, and until now the only DVD I owned of it was a very poor Region 1 disc with awful picture quality. Soda’s remastered disc is like experiencing the film for the first time all over again.

I’ve been banging the drum for Julien Duvivier for the past 10 years or so to film friends and via Twitter, so was delighted when Criterion decided to release four of his films from arguably the best decade of his career and ask me to be involved in a small way with its release.

Honourable mentions must also go to Arrow for their continued success in bringing cult titles in beautiful packages to our attention plus their forthcoming gargantuan Rivette box set – and continuous heartfelt recognition to all at Second Run for their outstanding work in releasing oft forgotten foreign gems of world cinema.

 

Mehelli Modi

Roberto Rossellini. The War Trilogy DVD packshot

Producer, Second Run, UK

In strictly alphabetical order:

Roberto Rossellini – The War Trilogy BFI

Some Call It Loving Etiquette Pictures

Thundercrack! Synapse Films

Wild River Eureka Masters of Cinema

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism Arrow

Undoubtedly the year of the box set and a dream year for films from my own personal wish list. A huge amount of work goes into making these films available again, and so I am very grateful to the publishers and labels who go much beyond the call of duty to present us with great films in wonderful versions.

 

Kim Newman

Critic, UK

Quatermass/The Quatermass Conclusion Network

Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans Visage) BFI

The Hound of the Baskervilles Arrow

Crow Hollow/Castle Sinister Simply Media

Eskimo Nell 88 Films

This year I want to highlight the valuable work being done by British labels with backlist genre titles – often presenting very familiar films in sparkling new Blu-ray editions or taking care and attention with marginal obscurities. All of my chosen releases look so great that they should prompt reappraisal of their contents.

Piers Haggard’s Quatermass (1979), the last of Nigel Kneale’s series about the alien-fighting boffin, presents an admittedly work that has consistently been undervalued and dismissed. Now, perhaps, we can appreciate its real strengths and lasting eeriness.

Georges Franju’s surgical-poetical Grand Guignol Les Yeux sans Visage (1959) is a lasting classic, but the BFI’s Blu-ray presentation shines darkly and allows you to slip into its depths.

Terence Fisher’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1958), Hammer’s Sherlock Holmes entry, is a rare film which benefits from deviating from its source story (even changing the murderer) – the Conan Doyle has been done so often that alterations (some inspired) which fit the story into Hammer’s gothic horror mode, exemplified by Peter Cushing’s incisive ghost-buster sleuth, add fresh surprises to the tale.

Crow Hollow (1952) and Castle Sinister (1948), one slick and one rough, are black-and-white British cursed old house stories that even genre completists might have found hard to track down before they showed up on a double-bill disc; Crow Hollow, a house beset by sinister aunts, is fine melodrama and Castle Sinister, with a skull-faced monk spectre and Nazi spies, is shoddy yet captivating.

Martin Campbell’s Eskimo Nell (1974), an inside story about the shambolic production of a sex film starring Katy Manning and Christopher Biggins, is pretty much a hoot, but also one of the most authentic films about the British film industry in the 70s.

 

Anthony Nield

Producer, Arrow Films and Video, UK

Dragon’s Return Second Run

The Fan Mondo Macabro

The Halas & Batchelor Short Film Collection Network Releasing

How to Be Eccentric: The Films of Richard Massingham BFI

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst HBO

In order, my two discoveries of the year, animation release of the year, documentary release of the year and TV series of the year (The Jinx only had a DVD release in the UK, so go for the region-free US Blu-ray instead).

 

Nick Pinkerton

Critic, USA

Battles Without Honour and Humanity Arrow

Out 1 Kino Lorber

The Decline of Western Civilization Collection Shout! Factory

McHale’s Navy: The Complete Series Shout! Factory

Some Call It Loving Etiquette Pictures

Considerations in selecting the above include previous rarity of the work featured, overall presentation and the immediate proximity of the finished product to the author at the time of writing. It was an especial pleasure to finally put hands on the Decline box, as the first film in the trilogy has been hard to find for literally my entire adult life, and now I can enjoy Darby Crash’s “Gimme a bee-ah!” any time that I want.

Aside from the heftier sets represented above, I should say a word for the less monumental workaday product from some of the usual suspects: Olive Films (Mandingo, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, Woman They Almost Lynched), Kino (the new Jonas Mekas twofer, Welcome to L.A., Hester Street, an alarming number of Burt Reynolds vehicles), Twilight Time (Emperor of the North, The Purple Rose of Cairo) and Criterion’s Eclipse label, who knocked it out of the park with their Julian Duvivier in the Thirties set, and need to get cracking on putting some Hasse Ekman films out there next. Physical media is dead; long live physical media!

 

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Critic, USA

Age is… Re:Voir Video

Army Criterion Eclipse

Jauja Cinema Guild

Letter from Siberia (Blu-ray included in the Chris Marker Collection) Soda Film + Art 

Moana with Sound Kino Lorber

Despite (or is it because of?) the disorderly quirks of commerce, ideology, and opportunity, we all occupy disparate time frames, so I’ve unapologetically cited, in alphabetical order, five imperishable films that I happened to encounter for the first time in 2015, all of them in digital editions worthy of their achievements.

Dwoskin’s last film – a satisfying conclusion to a remarkable career – comes from the same label that afforded me my first look at Marcel Hanoun’s remarkable 1966 L’authentique procés de Carl-Emmanuel Jung with English subtitles.

Army is a wartime propaganda feature subverted into a pacifist lament, Jauja a haunting medieval western (or southern) time-bent into a luscious advance in Alonso’s art.

Letter from Siberia, even without the benefit of the French version promised on its jacket, is a delightful early essay film showing its author’s wit, literary gifts, and photojournalistic richness in optimal form, enhanced by a superb Roger Tailleur essay.

And Moana with sound is a seemingly unpromising but beautifully realised re-edition and further enrichment of the Flahertys’ early masterpiece, launched by their daughter Monica and restored by their great-grandson Sami van Ingen and Bruce Posner. The latter, even without English subtitles for the meticulously post-synced Samoan dialogue and songs (which might have unduly complicated the results), allows the splendour of the original to shine through.

 

Neil Sinyard

Critic, UK

Fedora Carlotta

Our Mother’s House Warner Archive

The Roots of Heaven Simply Media

Seconds Eureka Masters of Cinema

The Uncle Network

Seconds has been released before, but a new release is still a cause for celebration: Frankenheimer in his considerable prime; Wong Howe and Jerry Goldsmith at their very best; the poignant performance of Rock Hudson, as if glumly staring into his divided self; and the equally poignant casting in supporting roles of those wonderful actors John Randolph, Jeff Corey and Will Geer, all blacklist victims now (appropriately) being given a second chance.

Our Mother’s House and The Uncle: two remarkably sensitive and beautifully crafted films about children prematurely thrown into an adult world and painfully and gamely struggling to survive. A reminder of how well our national cinema has always dealt with the subject of childhood on film. (A reserve choice along these lines would have been the welcome release of Lionel Jeffries’ very moving study of a maladjusted adolescent, Baxter!, which is worth collecting for the trailer: quite the most fascinatingly maladroit you’ll ever see.)

And two classics from old masters:

The Roots of Heaven: always be wary of taking John Huston at his own evaluation (check out the excellent We were Strangers sometime). He thought this a failure. Flawed, certainly: but its ecological theme is more relevant than ever; its perceptions on African nationalism prophetic; its dramatic clash between morality and materialism timeless.

Fedora: Billy Wilder’s swansong to classical Hollywood movie-making: just majestic and mesmerising storytelling, with a script that detonates one priceless aphorism after another.

And an unbidden postscript:

DVD/Blu-ray review of the year: Graham Fuller’s superb reappraisal of Shane [in the January 2016 issue of Sight & Sound], daring to imply it might be a more completely achieved masterpiece than The Searchers: at last!

 

David Thompson

Critic and filmmaker, UK

Diary of a Lost Girl Eureka Masters of Cinema

Tales of Hoffmann StudioCanal

Spring in a Small Town BFI

Fruit of Paradise Second Run

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne Arrow

Still the discs keep appearing, with earlier excellent DVD editions constantly being supplanted by new transfers and ever more fascinating extras. And once again the same adventurous companies are producing the goods – Criterion, Masters of Cinema, Second Run, Arrow, Olive, Carlotta and of course the BFI. Responsible in 2015 for fine editions of films by Dreyer, Rossellini, Massingham and Sembene, the BFI have also finally given us a restored copy of a great Chinese film, which has to be my selection.

From Masters of Cinema, I cannot resist picking out Louise Brooks’s extraordinary second film with Pabst, and from Second Run, the stunning new transfer of Chytilova’s colour fantasy.

Fabulous colour is also the big plus of the new restoration of The Tales of Hoffmann. Finally, Arrow crowned last year’s glorious Borowczyk collection with a superb edition of the director’s long-lost late masterpiece derived from Stevenson’s horror tale.

 

Gary Tooze

The Dreyer Collection DVD

DVDBeaver.com, USA

The Carl Theodor Dreyer Collection BFI

Dziga Vertov: The Man with the Movie Camera and Other Newly-Restored Works Flicker Alley

The Apu Trilogy Criterion

Tales of Hoffmann StudioCanal

Battles Without Honour and Humanity Arrow

Truly, cinephiles are in a great place. One of the hardest tasks was choosing only five as this was another exceptional year with so many labels going the extra mile with their release packages. I could have easily replaced these selections with five other and still been justified in my choices. The first four get by with the iconic directors and impressive transfers – Arrow’s Kinji Fukasaku is the sheer volume and breadth of the supplements. Just consider we have these films by Dreyer, Satyajit Ray, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Dziga Vertov and Fukasaku in glorious film-like 1080P. It’s beyond our recent hopes and dreams from only a few short years ago – in a word, ‘miraculous’.

 

James White

Producer, Arrow DVD

The Apu Trilogy Criterion

The Third Man StudioCanal

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin Mondo Macarbo

Thundercrack! Synapse Films

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne Arrow

It’s been a difficult task to narrow my choices down to a meagre five titles this year, and in the interest of fairness I’ve only afforded one title per label. This has unfortunately left a few labels out that certainly deserved to be included. Both BFI and Eureka/Masters of Cinema have had brilliant years, with the former releasing vital Dreyer and Preminger collections and Eureka/MOC releasing terrific editions of Paper Moon, Shane, Cruel Story of Youth, The Offence and my personal favourite, A Letter to Three Wives. A special mention should also be given to the lovely team at Second Run, who continue to release important works of world cinema that are more often than not completely new to me.

Studio Canal’s 4K restoration of The Third Man finally gave Carol Reed’s masterpiece the presentation that it always deserved. Likewise, the team at Mondo Macarbo has given A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, my favourite of Lucio Fulci’s films, a truly definitive edition on Blu-ray. 

Thundercrack!, Curt McDowell & George Kuchar’s mad porn epic (based very loosely on James Whale’s The Old Dark House) has finally been granted a full restoration, and seeing this positively insane work of cinema on Blu-ray is something I truly never expected. 

From Criterion I could have easily picked either of their long-awaited Costa-Gravas releases The Confession and State of Siege, or Robert Montgomery’s little-known noir gem Ride the Pink Horse. But I decided it had to be The Apu Trilogy, which I first saw a couple decades ago at The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA in positively battered prints. Given the challenges the technicians faced restoring this material, these new presentations of Ray’s humanist masterpiece is nothing short of a miracle. 

And from my own work at Arrow, there’s a number of projects that I might have chosen as my favourite, but I decided to select The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, Borowczyk’s last masterpiece, an absolute gonzo fever dream of a film, and a reminder of how tame most cinema seems now. 

 

Sam Wigley

BFI News Editor and critic, UK

3 Women Arrow

A New Leaf Eureka Masters of Cinema

The Carl Theodor Dreyer Collection BFI

Black Girl BFI

Day of the Outlaw Eureka Masters of Cinema

 

Craig Williams

Critic and programmer, UK

The Quiet Man Eureka Masters of Cinema

Don’t Look Back Criterion

Forty Guns Eureka Masters of Cinema

Thief Arrow

Starry Eyes Metrodome

Hiraeth’ is a Welsh word for which there is no direct English translation. It refers roughly to a type of longing for a home that’s no longer there. John Ford’s The Quiet Man – a beautiful, rose-tinted vision of Ireland as a rustic idyll – is a film defined by hiraeth. The picture builds to one of the strangest showdowns in Ford’s filmography; one which serves to unify the community, rather than rupture it, like in the darker, more fatalistic masterpieces that defined the later part of his career. Like How Green Was My Valley, I have always felt a deep attachment to its pursuit of a Celtic Arcadia, tinged with both hopefulness and regret.

Starry Eyes is the only new film on my list. With the art houses all but ignoring horror cinema and the multiplexes screening only the dregs, the best of the genre is now found almost exclusively at festivals and on home video. Starry Eyes – a sharp, cine-literate Faustian tale – was one of the best films to screen at FrightFest in 2014. Featuring a commanding central performance from Alex Essoe, it captures the creative anxieties of the new generation of Hollywood hopefuls, while maintaining a sense of theatrical panache.

 

Nick Wrigley

Founder, Masters of Cinema, UK

Pictures of the Old World Second Run

Hard to Be a God Arrow

Black Girl BFI

Ride the Pink Horse Criterion

The Offence Eureka Masters of Cinema

We’ve had it really great for years, but 2015 has been a particularly golden one. In 2014, many commentators were rightly worried about the demise of physical formats – but there’s been yet another ridiculously wonderful stream of Blu-ray and DVD discoveries for the adventurous armchair viewer. The future looks very bright for limited editions and Kickstarter/Indiegogo funded projects by the handful of labels with the nous and skills to pull it off properly – the audience is there – and these objects will always be desirable, even if it’s only because they hold their value. The immediate 100per cent depreciation of a stream/rental or download feels like a complete swizz in comparison.

My five picks were all new to me and were films I will continue to think about for a long time. In addition, I had electrifying, goose-bump viewings of Fuller’s Pickup on South St and Forty Guns (MoC Blu-rays), Dassin’s Night and the City (BFI Blu-ray), De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (Criterion Blu-ray), Mann’s Thief (Arrow Blu-ray), Boorman’s Zardoz (Arrow Blu-ray), Polanski’s Macbeth (Criterion Blu-ray), Bill Morrison: Selected Films 1996–2014 (BFI Blu-ray), Dumont’s P’tit Quinquin (Kino Blu-ray), Capra’s It Happened One Night (Criterion Blu-ray), Perry’s The Swimmer (Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray), Roeg & Cammell’s Performance (Warners Blu) and the heavenly Carl Theodor Dreyer Collection (BFI Blu-ray).

As usual, there are a number of mouth-watering releases I haven’t managed to watch yet, but can’t wait to see:

Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970 (Flicker Alley Blu-ray, USA), Julien Duvivier in the Thirties (Eclipse Dvd, USA), Visions of Change Vol 1: BBC 1951-67 (BFI DVD, UK), Make More Noise: Suffragettes in Silent Film (BFI DVD, UK), Rossellini: the War Trilogy (BFI Blu-ray, UK), Closely Observed Trains (Arrow Blu-ray, UK), the Firemen’s Ball (Arrow Blu-ray, UK), Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism (Arrow Blu-ray, UK), Tales of Hoffmann (StudioCanal Blu-ray, UK) and many more…

RIP Ron Benson (Eureka), William Becker (Janus/Criterion), Mike Sutton and Philip French.

 

John Wyver

Critic, UK

Lumière! Le cinématographe 1895-1900 France Télévisions Distribution/Institut Lumière

The House of Mystery Flicker Alley

Murder in the Cathedral BFI

Mr Denning Drives North Network

Visions of Change Volume 1 BFI

Immaculate restorations from specialist distributors continue to enrich in a thousand ways our understanding of moving image history. It’s thrilling finally to have a strong selection of the Lumière catalogue available in stunning new prints, and The House of Mystery is an extraordinary silent serial from a slightly later moment of French cinema. Mr Denning Drives North is here partly because it’s a delightful but little-known British thriller and also to pay tribute to Network’s releases of obscure elements of our national cinema. And the BFI shows renewed commitment to the DVD form by releasing George Hoellering’s eccentric version of T.S. Eliot’s verse drama (as well as several of Hoellering’s shorts) and a wonderful collection of BBC documentaries from the 1950s and 60s.

  • 2015 in review

    2015 in review

    Our roundups and overviews of the year’s highlights in cinema, covering new features and DVDs, documentary and animation.

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