The best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

Three blockbuster revivals – the BFI’s formidable exhumations of Abel Gance’s Napoleon and Alan Clarke’s oeuvre, and Arrow’s Jacques Rivette Collection – dominate our survey of this year’s best home cinema, as picked out by 32 critics and curators.

☞ The best films of 2016
☞ The best documentaries of 2016
☞ The best indie animation of 2016

Updated:

Web exclusive

 

Michael Atkinson

Critic, USA

A Brighter Summer Day Criterion

The Complete Buster Keaton Short Films 1917-1923 Kino Lorber

Paris Belongs to Us Criterion

L’Inhumaine Flicker Alley

Gold Kino Lorber

Lists won’t do justice to the fusillade of noirs that appeared this year, several out of the blue: Byron Haskin’s Too Late for Tears (Flicker Alley), Arthur Ripley’s The Chase (Kino), Norman Foster’s Woman on the Run (Flicker Alley), Roy Rowland’s Witness to Murder (Kino), Cy Endfield’s Try and Get Me! (Olive Films), Cornel Wilde’s Storm Fear (Kino), John Berry’s He Ran All the Way (Kino), etc. Any serious noiriste should be kvelling in his/her socks.

 

Upekha Bandaranayake

DVD & Blu-ray producer, UK

Pioneers of African-American Cinema Kino Lorber

Colour Box: 19 Films by Len Lye The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Len Lye Foundation and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Losing Ground Milestone

Adventure Time – Stakes! Miniseries Cartoon Network

Johnny Guitar (Signature Edition) Olive Films

 

Adam Batty

Critic, UK

La Chienne Criterion

The Jacques Rivette Collection Arrow

One-Eyed Jacks Criterion

The Man from Laramie Masters of Cinema

Body Double Indicator

A plethora of French cinema heads up my list of the finest home video releases of 2016. Criterion’s La Chienne is as definitive a package as one could hope for for a movie of this ilk. Jean Renoir’s first sound feature, On purge bébé, is included as a supplement, as is the Jacques Rivette documentary Jean Renoir le patron: “Michel Simon”. Notes from Ginette Vincendeau and art from French comic-book legend Blutch make it the most satisfying single-disc release of the year.

Jacques Rivette’s death in January came just days after the release of Arrow’s excellent box-set covering much of the director’s famed mid-period. Out 1 remains an exhilarating piece of work, and just to see that reach home video in such a comprehensive fashion is little short of a miracle. That it’s accompanied by a number of other Rivette features, and that each of those is treated with the utmost of respect is, well, beyond a miracle.

It has also been a strong year for the western on home video. I had a tough time deciding between Criterion’s long-awaited edition of Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller and its release of Marlon Brando’s One Eyed Jacks. In the end I opted for the latter, based solely on the power of the truly staggering restoration that carries the Brando film. This disc has the potential to be legacy-salvaging, with the film having unfairly languished in public-domain limbo for the past couple of decades. Coincidentally my favourite Masters Of Cinema disc was also a western, its release of Anthony Mann’s The Man from Laramie, presented via a 4K restoration and with a number of handsome extras.

Rounding out my top five is Brian De Palma’s Body Double, on Powerhouse Films’ new Indicator imprint. The label runs just six titles deep at the moment, but they’re as lavish as any I’ve ever seen. Quality supplements, pitch-perfect transfers and fantastic artwork and booklets make it the company to keep an eye on in 2017.

 

Michael Blyth, BFI

Programmer, UK

The Hills Have Eyes Arrow Video

Cat in the Brain Grindhouse Releasing

Blue Sunshine FilmCentrix

Horror House on Highway Five Vinegar Syndrome

Return of the Living Dead III Vestron Video

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that Arrow is without doubt the master of home video horror in the UK, and it’s quite possible 2016 has been its best year yet. With releases ranging from the respected hits of Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Takeshi Miike to overlooked genre gems such as Bride of Re-Animator or The Initiation, and of course a healthy dose of out-and-out trash like Microwave Massacre and Satan’s Blade (both of which are well worth checking out), it is hard to settle on one standout offering. But if push comes to shove, it is the 4K collector’s edition of the late Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes which should probably scoop the top title. You can really feel the love that went into this release, which teems with extras. Well done Arrow, you did Wes proud.

Meanwhile, Grindhouse Releasing hit us with a couple of top-notch Blus this year – Juan Piquer Simón’s delightfully inept giallo-inspired slasher Pieces and Lucio Fulci’s meta-mindbender Cat In The Brain. Either could have made my final list, although it was the glow-in-the-dark skull on the cover of the latter that ultimately saw it steal victory.

Jeff Lieberman’s LSD-infused conspiracy chiller Blue Sunshine received the 4K treatment courtesy of FilmCentrix, and the results are quite something. The crisp and classy sleeve design probably stands out as the best of the year. A trip well worth taking.

The fact that Richard Casey’s bargain-basement shocker Horror House On Highway Five has made it to Blu-ray at all is enough to warrant a best of the year inclusion. Shot on nights and weekends over a number of years, this indie oddity was one of many no-budget DIY horrors made during the slasher boom. But while rough around the edges, it does boast the occasional flash of genius, not least in the inspired soundtrack and unnerving surrealist touches. Hats off to Vinegar Syndrome for bringing this one to our attention. Long may your fine work continue.

And lastly, my teenage self leapt for joy at the blu-ray debut of Brian Yuzna’s romantic splatter-fest Return Of The living Dead III, an oft-forgotten treat from the consistently underrated filmmaker, brought to us courtesy of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series. With other recent releases from the fledgling label including the VHS-era classics Chopping Mall and Blood Diner, I’m excited to see what they have in store for 2017.

 

Michel Ciment

Critic, France

Sweet Smell of Success Wild Side

L’effrontée, La Petite Voleuse, Garde à Vue, Mortelle Randonnée TF1 vidéo

Four Films of Roy Andersson Potemkine

Frederick Wiseman – Integrale Vol.2 – Vol.3 Blaq Out

Little Big Man Carlotta

The films of Alexander Mackendrick and Arthur Penn are accompanied by books of 200 pages. We can discover three interviews, four commercials and five shorts by Roy Andersson. TF1 Vidéo is starting to issue the complete works of Claude Miller, one of of the best French directors of the post new wave.

 

Philip Concannon

Critic, UK

Napoleon BFI

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

The Emigrants / The New Land Criterion

The New World Criterion

The Hired Hand Arrow

How strange it is to have films that for many years were almost impossible to see now sitting on our shelves, available to watch any time the mood takes us. Following the release of Out 1 last year, the undisputed main event of 2016 was the restoration and re-release of Napoleon, with Abel Gance’s masterpiece overwhelming audiences at a number of cinemas across the country before being released by the BFI in a superbly produced set, complete with a full commentary by the indefatigable Paul Cuff.

The BFI also revived one overlooked director’s entire body of work this year with their Dissent & Disruption set reaffirming Alan Clarke’s status as one of the key British filmmakers of the past 50 years.

My favourite two Criterion releases of 2016 shared a number of similarities; Jan Troell’s twin epics The Emigrants and The New Land and Terrence Malick’s The New World are gorgeously realised visions of America’s past, and films so rich and tactile it’s easy to get lost in them. It was also a joy to see Peter Fonda’s haunting western The Hired Hand getting the long overdue Blu-ray release it deserves, and one hopes it will lead to more people discovering one of the most undervalued films of 70s American cinema.

 

Jordan Cronk

Critic and programmer, USA

The Jacques Rivette Collection Arrow

Hou Hsiao-hsien: Early Works Cinematek

Muriel, or The Time of Return Criterion

A Brighter Summer Day Criterion

Something Different Second Run

The year in home video peaked early with the January release of The Jacques Rivette Collection, a massive 16-disc box set that brings together a quartet of the French master’s most difficult-to-see films, including Duelle (1976), Noroît (1976), Merry-Go-Round (1983) and both versions of the legendarily elusive Out 1 (1971/72). In fact, it set the bar so high that the long-awaited release of Rivette’s debut, Paris Belongs to Us (1961), from the Criterion Collection, as well as the Stateside edition of Out 1, courtesy of Carlotta Films, seemed somehow anti-climactic by comparison.

Elsewhere, a box set of early Hou Hsiao-hsien films from the small Belgium company Cinematek shed some much-needed light on the Taiwanese master’s formative work, while Hou’s New Taiwan contemporary Edward Yang finally had his masterwork A Brighter Summer Day (1991) resurrected by Criterion.

Speaking of Criterion, it was another typically impressive year for the New York-based distributor, who also gave the late Alain Resnais’s little-seen yet revered Muriel, or the Time of a Return (1963) a proper digital showcase.

And finally, Second Run continued its heroic commitment to the work of Czech filmmaker Vera Chytilová; its single-disc release of her early films A Bagful of Fleas (1962) and Something Different (1963) reiterate the adventurous touch of an artist whose legacy deserves to extend further than her most well-known work, Daisies (1966).

 

Michael Ewins

Critic, UK

A Brighter Summer Day Criterion

Frederick Wiseman – Integrale Vol.2 – Vol.3 Blaq Out

Napoleon BFI

The Jacques Rivette Collection Arrow

Edvard Munch Masters of Cinema

As a film student, following my first pass through the canon and volumes of associated literature, I made a list of the lost or unattainable classics that I would most like to see. Yang, Wiseman, Gance and Rivette’s films were near the top of that list, and I’m glad to have been able to erase them. Masters of Cinema released Watkins’ film on DVD long ago, and I somehow overlooked it, but my foolishness paid off wonderfully. The Blu-ray is immaculate in its detail, and the accompanying booklet invaluable in context. This would be one of 2016’s standout releases even if the film had been a disappointment, but it is, as everyone who has seen it knows, one of the high masterworks of cinema.

 

The Ferroni Brigade (Olaf Möller, Christoph Huber, Barbara Wurm)

Critics, Austria/Germany

Hidden Gold The Film Detective

Margot Dias: Filmes Etnográficos, 1958-1961 Cinemateca Portuguesa & Museu Nacional de Etnologia

Outlaw: Gangster VIP Collection Arrow Films

Der Prozess Absolut Medien

Talvisota & Taistelun tie / suunnitellut Risto Orko; ja Finnland im Kampf / ohjaus E.O. Stauffer KAVI/VLMedia

And two that got away from 2015:

Boevoye Kinosborniki Gosfil’mofond Rossia

When this mind-blowing collection of all War Almanacs made between 1941 and 1942/3 (with English subtitles!) got published, it wasn’t even mentioned on the website of Gosfil’mofond Rossia – in fact, we had heard about it only due to friends who work there. Arguably the most outstanding DVD-release so far from Gosfil’mofond who otherwise prefers to unleash nicely packaged canon-fodder on the undemanding masses who deem themselves cinephiles instead of re-writing film history in a hands-on fashion – which they certainly do here.

Schriftfilme – Schrift als Film in Bewegung / Typemotion – Type as Image in Motion ZKM digital arts edition

This extravaganza containing 14 DVDs plus a 200-plus-page book was made only for institutional use and cannot be ordered by mere citizens interested in the subject of cinema and Latin type. Still, we heard that also universities, museums, archives etc subscribe to Sight & Sound, and therefore hope that some curious souls in those kinds of places will be happy to know that something as monumental as this box set exists. We guess that something so extraordinary while difficult to get is still worth being mentioned and supported one year later…

 

Robert Hanks

Critic, UK

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

Culloden/The War Game BFI

The Organization: the Complete Series Network

The Friends of Eddie Coyle Masters of Cinema

Ken Russell: The Great Composers BFI

The BFI’s box set of Alan Clarke’s BBC TV plays was easily the most important release of 2016: a thrilling document of one of the most important careers in British film, and a reminder of how much broadcasters have done to nurture brilliance (not to mention how much of that brilliance remains buried in the vaults). Peter Watkins provides a counter-example – a talent that the BBC could not cope with, and vice versa – but after 50 years Culloden and The War Game still seem modern and startling, and Blu-ray did justice to his grim grey palette.

On the subject of mavericks at the BBC: it’s been a good year for Ken Russell fans (I’m often puzzled to realise that I am one): the pick of the reissues was the BFI disc of The Great Composers, containing BBC films on Elgar, Delius and Debussy.

The commercial model for TV on DVD seems fragile now, and a lot of content is pumped out on the cheap, without extras and sometimes without much regard for quality; but there are still rediscoveries to be made: I was taken by surprise by ITV’s The Organization, a witty, brilliantly acted corporate drama from the early 70s.

Outside TV, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a superb early 70s neo-noir, with Robert Mitchum touching greatness as the hopeless Eddie, beautifully presented on a Eureka Masters of Cinema Blu-ray.

 

Pamela Hutchinson

Critic, UK

Pioneers of African-American Cinema Kino Lorber

Napoleon BFI

The Complete Buster Keaton Short Films 1917-1923 Masters of Cinema

Sherlock Holmes Flicker Alley

In a Lonely Place Criterion

A mix of films that have never been seen before, others that are very familiar and one towering epic that many had given up hope of seeing on home video. The crowdfunded Pioneers of African-American Cinema set is a trove of fascinating material – hours and hours of unsung or unseen films – which is an excellent thing in itself and also bodes well for Kino’s Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers set, coming next year. We are seeing more and more crowdfunded silent film releases, though very few as lavish as these.

BFI, Masters of Cinema, Flicker Alley and Criterion UK all showed us what established imprints can do with a classic film release this year – commentaries, excellent scores for the silents and relevant, valuable supporting material. Napoleon was the most heavily awaited release of the year and was worth the patience required; Sherlock Holmes was a surprise find from the archives but no less welcome for that and presented immaculately on this disc. And who could deny that the faces of Buster Keaton and Humphrey Bogart deserve to be seen on Blu-ray?

 

Trevor Johnston

Critic, UK

The Emigrants / The New Land Criterion

Fassbinder: The Early Works Arrow Academy

Napoleon BFI

The Shop on the High Street Second Run

The Small World of Sammy Lee Studiocanal

Criterion’s arrival in the UK marketplace was arguably the most significant development of the year in disc, and though but a sliver of their US wares are available, it was still a revelation to see Jan Troell’s magnificent, intimate epic of Scandinavian migration in its integral form at long last. Working through the rest of the top five in alphabetical order, another strong showing for Arrow, both in its cult-friendly main label and the archive-ploughing Arrow Academy subsidiary, where a fantastically atmospheric Blu-ray edition of Fassbinder’s first features complemented a string of worthwhile releases upgrading previous RWF DVD discs.

Meanwhile, the BFI’s own operation rightly won widespread plaudits for its covetable Alan Clarke box set, but perhaps even more kudos is warranted for the magnificent effort of bringing Gance’s visionary silent spectacular Napoleon back into circulation in a triple-pronged theatrical, disc and online release – bravo!

On a slightly smaller scale, but scarcely less welcome, Second Run’s tireless efforts on behalf of Eastern European cinema past and present pulled out another plum in Kadár and Klos’s still-vivid, still-relevant Holocaust vignette from 1965 in a top-class Blu-ray transfer, and British cinema aficionados will doubtless have been cheered by Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics line looking outside the usual ‘prestige’ suspects with Ken Hughes’ cherishable Sixties Soho underworld flick.

Special mentions also for Eureka/Masters of Cinema in flying the Robert Aldrich flag with their splendid Blu-rays of Flight of the Phoenix and Twilight’s Last Gleaming, and for Second Sight too – whose excellent 40th Anniversary Assault on Precinct 13 Blu-ray coupled a much-loved title with genuinely surprising extras. In toto, another fabulous year of home viewing.

 

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Critic and curator, UK

Napoleon BFI

Shield for Murder Kino Lorber

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates Criterion

Lumière! L’invenzione del cinematografo Cineteca Bologna

Let There Be Light: John Huston’s Wartime Documentaries Olive Films

Other favourite releases: Hitler’s Madman (Douglas Sirk, 1943) [Warner Archive Collection], Something Different (Věra Chytilová, 1962) [Second Run], L’Inhumaine (Marcel L’Herbier, 1924) [Flicker Alley], Falstaff – Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965) [Criterion], Moana with Sound (Robert Flaherty, Frances Hubbard Flaherty, 1926/1980) [Kino Lorber], Five American Experimental Films (Various, 1952-57) [Flicker Alley].

 

Tim Lucas

Critic, USA

The Defenders: Season 1 Shout! Factory

The Ken Russell Collection: The Great Composers & The Great Passions BFI

Beat Girl BFI

The Trip Signal One Entertainment

Blood Bath Arrow

Released only to DVD owing to the erratic condition of the surviving masters, The Defenders: Season 1 gives us 32 hours of engrossing, conscientious courtroom drama. Created by Reginald Rose (12 Angry Men), it’s less interested in whodunnit than in addressing the most distressing vagaries of the law. Most of the important, young, up-and-coming American acting talent of the early 1960s is assembled here, some even giving possible career-best performances, under the direction of Franklin J. Schaffner, Buzz Kulik and others, in stories about deliberately uncomfortable subjects such as ‘mercy killing’, campus fascism, abortion, and how society should deal with returning soldiers conditioned to kill in self-defense. It’s a crime this release was so overlooked. Everyone needs to buy this so we can guarantee the by-no-means-assured release of the remaining three seasons.

This was a great year for Ken Russell on Blu-ray (encompassing also Women in Love and Valentino), but if I must pick one, I’ll settle on these two. To preserve Russell’s Monitor films (and, I would argue, all of his BBC work that can be found) is essential because, as the very substance of these collections show, his programmes were cinema, only television incidentally. There’s nothing here that isn’t revelatory.

With Beat Girl, BFI has included three versions of what can be too easily dismissed as a cult novelty; I find it of much greater interest as an imaginary prequel to Losey’s The Damned, in which siblings King and Joan (Oliver Reed and Shirley Ann Field) brace themselves for the worst in the oncoming nuclear age by banding together with friends to dance on the edge of oblivion. Cross-Roads (1955), a supplementary early short featuring Christopher Lee and Ferdy Mayne that somehow inadvertently predicted their screen personas, may be the most extraordinary bonus item of the year.

This year, a reconstructed Director’s Cut of Roger Corman’s 1966 LSD opus The Trip made its home video debut both here and in America. Unlike the bare-bones US release from Olive Films, Signal One includes a Corman commentary and essential behind-the-scenes documentation to enrich the package. While the original ending is provided as an extra, one wishes the set – so close to being definitive – hadn’t fallen short of including the original cut in its complete form as the differences hardly end there.

I can’t help but be partial to a box set inspired by an article I wrote back in the 1990s, or which features my own feature-length ‘visual essay’, but the four films included in Blood Bath – Rados Novakovic’s Yugoslavian thriller Operacija Ticijan and the three films that Roger Corman, Jack Hill and Stephanie Rothman made from them (Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire) – by themselves teach us something about film as malleable commercial property that is literally to be found nowhere else, and essential to understanding the business of making films.

 

Roger Luckhurst

Critic, UK

Pioneers of African-American Cinema Kino Lorber

The Ox-Bow Incident Arrow Academy

Man of the West Masters of Cinema

In a Lonely Place Criterion

Cemetery of Splendour Pyramide

The key act of recovery alongside Napoleon this year was surely the amazing crowd-funded five-disc set from Kino Lorber, released by BFI in the UK. Another fine instance of the contemporary dialectic of immediate-access bland streaming versus the difficult work of funding proper film history.

I’m still trying to fill in my woeful ignorance of the western, so the restoration of The Ox-Bow Incident in particular and Gary Cooper’s restive, neurotic performance in Anthony Mann’s Man of the West were revelations. I’m better on noir, but the extra docs and commentaries for Ray’s In a Lonely Place were still wonderful. And it’s great to own a copy of Cemetery of Splendour, because as it seems to be a film actively designed to send you to sleep, or at least into a weirdly forgetful trance state, I think I’ve now seen it all the way through after two spooked, surreal, slumbrous attempts at the cinema!

 

Ian Mantgani

Filmmaker and writer, UK

Four Nights of a Dreamer Etantje

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

The Jacques Rivette Collection Arrow

The Complete Buster Keaton Short Films 1917-1923 Kino Lorber

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates Criterion

Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer is one of those Holy Grail movies that’s been notoriously difficult to release for years due to rights restrictions. However, it was quietly released as a Japanese Blu-ray in May 2016 by Etantje, who I believe also rereleased the film on a new 35mm print in Japan in 2012.

 

Sophie Mayer

Critic, UK

Losing Ground Milestone

The Magic Box Milestone

Heart of a Dog Criterion

Cameraperson Criterion [2017 release]

Planet Earth II BBC

I’ve given Criterion a hard time over the last year via social media about its pale stale male canon, so it’s good to see the addition of two of the most remarkable recent documentaries, meaning there are now (finally) more solo-directed films by American female filmmakers on their list than there are films by Michael Bay.

But Criterion still has a long way to go to equal the superb catalogue and production values of Milestone: as well as its ongoing Project Shirley, restoring the films and significance of one of the great American independents, their release of Losing Ground has redefined the history of African-American, women’s, indie, New York and art cinema. Their archival work and tireless advocacy are unmatched.

Planet Earth II is the ultimate version of Joni Mitchell’s tree museum, and possibly the last gasp of the BBC as well. One to re-watch as the planet burns.

 

Neil McGlone

Film advisor and researcher, UK

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

Napoleon BFI

The Jacques Rivette Collection Arrow

Dekalog Criterion

Frederick Wiseman – Integrale Vol.2 Blaq Out

The decision for best DVD release of 2016 was very simple this year; nothing was going to top the BFI’s long awaited and definitive release of Alan Clarke’s work at the BBC, little-seen since its first broadcast. The content within is phenomenal and everything that still exists in the BBC Archive is there, as well as a few of his Half Hour Story episodes made for Rediffusion in the late 60s. There are numerous commentary tracks, various newly filmed introductions to episodes and a brand new almost-five-hour documentary! For me, the most important release of the year.

A home release of Gance’s Napoleon has been even longer in the waiting and, due to various legal wrangles, was looking very unlikely to ever see the light of day outside of a few select theatrical screenings every few years. Thankfully, agreements were made and we now have a splendid release from the BFI on Bluray spread over three discs and with a very comprehensive 60-page booklet. A must-have for any serious film collector.

Limited to just 3,000 copies, Arrow’s release of The Jacques Rivette Collection was a revelation and the label continues to go from strength to strength. Not only do we get the full 13-hour version of Out 1, but there is also the shorter Out 1: Spectre version too. As if that were not enough, also included are Rivette’s films Duelle and Noroit, plus a wealth of extra features and a book featuring new writing on Rivette’s films. Stunning new 2K restorations of the films.

The Criterion Collection’s release of Kieslowski’s 1988 television series Dekalog is an essential addition to any cinephile’s film library. The box set not only includes all ten episodes of the series, but also the two film-length versions of A Short Film About Love and A Short Film About Killing. The set also includes many archive interviews with Kieslowski himself as well as those that worked with him, plus some newly filmed interviews made especially for the release.

Finally, I have included the second box set from Blaq Out in its continuing series of Frederick Wiseman documentaries (Volume 3 also just released). This second set covers the years 1980 to 1994 and features 13 of his documentaries spread over 14 DVDs, which include Blind, Dead, Adjustment and Work, Central Park, Zoo and High School 2 to name just a few. The only slight niggle is the inability to remove the French subtitles, but considering its €60 for 14 discs, it’s a small price to pay.

 

Henry K. Miller

Film historian, UK

Body Double Indicator

To Live and Die in LA Arrow

In a Lonely Place Criterion

The Last Command Masters of Cinema

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

I can’t keep up, and, no, I haven’t even finished all of these.

 

Kim Morgan

Writer and programmer, USA

One-Eyed Jacks Criterion

Napoleon BFI

The Hired Hand Arrow

Johnny Guitar (Signature Edition) Olive Films

Punch-Drunk Love Criterion

Viewed so long in subpar quality for a movie so gorgeously shot, underrated but admired by many, and with a fascinating, tangled backstory to its production, Marlon Brando’s beautifully acted, moody and unique as hell One-Eyed Jacks finally got the respect and restoration it deserved, complete with loving tribute from Martin Scorsese.

The exciting release of Abel Gance’s innovative masterpiece Napoleon – all five and half hours of it – and its decades-long restorative work via Kevin Brownlow came in this extras-packed edition, a Blu-ray to project large in your living room, and to make a week of.

Peter Fonda’s elegiac underseen western, The Hired Hand (full disclosure: I wrote the essay accompanying the disc), starring Fonda and a brilliant Warren Oates received a second life through Arrow with, among other features, a fascinating documentary and Fonda’s reflective commentary.

The 4K treatment for Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar never looked more red-lipped, gender-bending lovelier and is packed with interesting supplements.

Criterion singled out one (of now many) Paul Thomas Anderson masterpieces by releasing (with plenty of fascinating extras) the beautiful, dissonant, anxious, painfully romantic, painfully human, Punch-Drunk Love and you should see it, or see it again, had you ever doubted it.

 

Kim Newman

Writer, UK

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

Softly Softly: Task Force Season Two Simply Media

Beat Girl BFI

Wicked, Wicked Warner Archive

Cat People Criterion

All retrospective stuff this year. I found myself alternating selections from the BFI’s Alan Clarke Blu-ray box set, probably the most comprehensive and valuable collection any TV creator has ever had on any home-video format, with episodes from the 1970 season of the BBC’s Z-Cars spin-off cop show Softly Softly Task Force and was surprised at the crossover of personnel. The little-known actor Tony Calvin, outstanding as a compulsive liar in Clarke’s The Hallelujah Handshake, almost reprised his role when cast as a suspected murderer grilled in The Lie Direct, which aired on Softly Softly Task Force not three weeks later in December 1970.

My other picks are longtime favourites Cat People, available in a lovely Blu-ray from Criterion UK, and Beat Girl, a welcome Flipside release from the BFI, which both feature heavy-lidded, not unsympathetic kittenish female psychopaths (Simone Simon, Gillian Hills) and a wealth of extras… and the far less famous, but riotously odd Wicked, Wicked (actually a 2015 Warner Archive no-frills DVD release but I got round to watching it this year). A gimmick thriller shot entirely in DuoVision (split screen), this blends the approaches of Altman (random observations of folks doing business in a rambling old hotel) and De Palma (a mad slasher selecting victims from the transient population) and boasts a splendid title song performed in the hotel nightclub by 70s face (and hairdo) Tiffany Bolling. ”Wicked, wicked… that’s the ticket…”

 

Jon Robertson

Filmmaker, UK

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

Napoleon BFI

Dekalog and Other Television Works Arrow

The Shop on the High Street Second Run

Woman on the Run Arrow

With the BFI’s Alan Clarke set, the extraordinary scope and development of a crucial British artist is finally revealed, whose startling power, courage and consistency is no longer a mere rumour or something to be taken on hope. From feature-length masterworks like Penda’s Fen and Diane to devastating shorter portraits like Under The Age and Christine, this release is not so much a home-video release as a major cultural force for good, and a tonic for anyone with a passing interest in film. If there was ever a BFI remit for home video, this is it. An incredible job by all concerned, especially its producer Sam Dunn.

The Napoleon release is another miracle. One of the cinema’s few truly legendary works about a legendary figure is here on home video, stunningly restored by Kevin Brownlow, its biggest champion and saviour. The thoroughness of the package is invigorating; not only the final triptych sequence presented with scholarly intelligence and integrity, not only a fascinating discussion with Carl Davis about his Herculean score, not only a very fine commentary for the whole film (!), but also a wonderful 1968 BBC documentary with Gance himself.

Arrow’s set is an extraordinary survey of Kieslowski’s TV work. The centrepiece looks absolutely exceptional, but the inclusion of the other television projects solves a major missing piece of this filmmaker’s extraordinary vision, and the extras add up to a wonderful portrait of the man himself.

It was wonderful to re-encounter The Shop on the High Street, a very great work, beautifully restored and contextualised.

Woman on the Run is a sizzlingly compact and quick-witted noir that sees a witness-on-the-run saga reignite a spiralling marriage. A blissful rediscovery, and an incredible rescue job of a nearly vanished independent classic.

Whatever else happened in 2016, the great releases have been overflowing from all quarters. The home video market feels less like a commercial enterprise and more like an ongoing film festival of non-stop restorations, critical discussions and filmmaker masterclasses. Releases that would have been at the head of the below list a few years prior are now relegated to number seven, or 23, or 45.

Lest we forget: the glorious resurrection of Flipside, with Beat Girl, Expresso Bongo, Symptoms and Psychomania (BFI); The Swinging Cheerleaders (Arrow); 10 Rillington Place (Powerhouse); Ken Russell: The Great Composers / The Great Passions (BFI); The Jacques Rivette Collection (Arrow); The Reflecting Skin (Soda); Three Films by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Arrow); Culloden / The War Game (BFI); The Human Condition (Arrow); Odds Against Tomorrow (BFI); Blood Bath (Arrow); Women in Love (BFI); Three Brothers (Arrow); Body Double (Powerhouse); Bande a part (BFI); Mysterious Object at Noon (Second Run); Underground (BFI)

 

Nick Roddick

Critic, UK

The Jacques Rivette Collection Arrow

Kore-Eda Hirokazu Collection Matchbox Films

Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy Criterion

Early Bergman: Eclipse Series One Criterion

Brewster McCloud Warner Archive

As must be obvious, I tend to use DVDs to put together my own retrospectives. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I went impulse shopping for a DVD (not that you really can any more). Amazing what you can find online (legally).

Out in front by a mile is Rivette’s 12-hour jeu d’esprit Out 1, unavailable for so long it hurts. Same for Brewster McCloud, Altman’s oddest early movie unavailable for almost half a century.

As for Wenders, full disclosure: I wrote the accompanying essay on Kings of the Road for Criterion – partly so I could justify watching the film twice in one sitting. Robby Müller’s glowing mono cinematography, I now realise, is inspired by the B&W prints struck at the old DEFA lab in East Berlin.

Kore-Eda: I loved Our Little Sister so much it sent me back to some of the earlier films, especially Airdoll. Isn’t that what DVDs are for?

 

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Critic, USA

Nico Papatakis Box Set Gaumont Vidéo

I Want to Live! Twilight Time

Electra, My Love Second Run

Early Murnau: Five Films, 1921-1925 Masters of Cinema

Marcel Hanoun: Les Saisons Re:Voir

Five exemplary releases condemned to obscurity by their resistance to being summarised in sound bites: a comprehensive portrait of a singular filmmaker from Ethiopia and Greece (not simply a Greek, any more than Barack Obama is simply black), with excellent extras subtitled in English; a powerful piece of melodramatic filmmaking from Robert Wise that justifies its opening endorsement by Albert Camus; the first Miklós Jancsó Blu-Ray accorded to an exhilarating, colorful Hungarian musical pageant than unfolds in just a dozen shots; an essential package of five beautiful silent German features with many clarifying extras; and a neglected cycle of films by a major French independent.

 

Neil R. Sinyard

Critic, UK

Twilight’s Last Gleaming Masters of Cinema

Cuba Kino Lorber

The Last Command Masters of Cinema

Queen of Earth Masters of Cinema

Time Out of Mind Altitude

In order, we have: two dazzlingly cinematic, politically prescient 1970s thrillers from two criminally underrated directors ahead of their time and at the top of their game; a mighty last gasp of silent cinema grandeur, with Emil Jannings in peak form as he lurches incomparably between extremes of grandeur and humiliation; and two harrowing yet courageous and compassionate studies of humanity in the depths of depression on the one hand and deprivation on the other, directed by two of the most promising talents of current American independent cinema.

Favourite (bad) line of the year: from Geoffrey Rush’s demi-god in Gods of Egypt as he rejects a humble petition with the brutally dismissive comment: “It’s not worth the papyrus it’s written on.”

 

Matthew Taylor

Critic, UK

Dekalog and Other Television Works Arrow

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

Ken Russell: The Great Composers BFI

Edvard Munch Masters of Cinema

Woman on the Run Arrow

 

David Thompson

Critic and filmmaker, UK

Thundercrack! Synapse

The Jacques Rivette Collection Arrow

A Brighter Summer Day Criterion

Something Different Second Run

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

Somehow the same companies never fail to come up with the goods each year, suggesting cinephilia is alive and well on small shiny discs for a while yet. Synapse spent years tracking down acceptable materials for its release of the full-length version of one of the craziest and most entertaining of underground porn movies. Criterion finally gave us the director’s cut of Edward Yang’s masterpiece, courtesy of the Film Foundation. Arrow produced another sterling box set with its Jacques Rivette collection, trumping previous releases from Europe. Second Run (which has now broken into Blu-ray) continues to delve into the long-hidden classics of Eastern Europe, helping to assert Vera Chytilova’s status among the greats. But first prize must go to the BFI’s Alan Clarke box, which manages to trump even the fine sets of Ken Russell’s BBC films from the same source by its completeness and superb restorations. Vive le cinema, and vive la television!

 

George Watson

Filmmaker, UK

Psychomania BFI

Blood Bath Arrow

The Hired Hand Arrow

Lone Wolf and Cub collection Criterion

Twilight’s Last Gleaming Masters of Cinema

My favourite releases of 2016 highlight the wonderful potential of DVD/Blu-ray as a format to contextualise, rescue and restore. Here’s a chance to experience pristine presentations of relative obscurities (Psychomania and Twilight’s Last Gleaming), a beautiful looking director’s cut (The Hired Hand), seven blood-drenched chanbara restored and collected in a single release (Lone Wolf and Cub), and the opportunity to see how Roger Corman transformed a Yugoslavian crime thriller into a beatnik vampire film padded out with surreal dream imagery and superfluous dance sequences (Bloodbath).

 

James White

Head of restoration, Arrow Films, UK

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

I Drink Your Blood Grindhouse Releasing

Private Vices, Public Virtues Mondo Macabro

Private Property Cinelicious

McCabe & Mrs Miller Criterion

The Alan Clarke set is hands down the release of the year for me. As I had only seen Clarke’s best-known works, this set was, and continues to be, a revelation. There’s so much here to devour and treasure, I can only imagine the challenges involved in securing the films, assembling all the materials and producing such a definitive collection. Hats off to everyone involved in this amazing release, which is going to keep me busy well into 2017.

Notorious zombie classic I Drink Your Blood gets a truly definitive release by Grindhouse, packaged with new transfers of its double-bill partner I Eat Your Skin (1964) and Durston-directed softcore psychedelic uber-obscurity The Blue Sextet (1969). It also includes a new hour-long documentary on Durston and numerous extras, making this release one of the finest go-to sources for anyone wanting to learn more about the innards and entrails of early 1970s zero-budget grindhouse/drive-in cinema. Which really should mean everyone.

I’d seen Jansco’s The Round-Up and The Red and the White (thanks Second Run!), but I was completely unprepared for Private Vices, Public Virtues, a kind of political allegory/gonzo fever dream of nonstop naked flesh and carnality that at times feels a cross between Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales and Makavejek’s Sweet Movie. It’s lovingly presented by Mondo Macabro, and includes an absolutely necessary interview by my old friend Michael Brooke, who places the film within the context of Jansco’s filmography and the socio-political issues that led to its creation. It goes without saying that they don’t make films like this any more, but what’s amazing is that they ever did.

Private Property is known mainly for being Warren Oates’ debut film, so I wasn’t really expecting anything more than an odd, cheaply made curio, something in line with the lesser Corman efforts made around that  the time, but the film proved to be so much more than that. A melancholy, suspenseful and at times unsettling story about broken people heading towards disaster, this was one of the great discoveries for me this year.

Altman’s (arguably) greatest film, McCabe & Mrs Miller, gets the banner treatment from Criterion with a new 4K restoration from the original negative and at long last, Vilmos Zsigmond’s revolutionary cinematography can breathe anew. I’ve never seen the film looking and sounding so beautiful. It also seems sadly appropriate that Leonard Cohen’s wistful soundtrack is all the more timeless now.

And a shameless plug… I also felt very fortunate to have contributed to so many wonderful Arrow releases this year, with special mention going to the following: Shock and Gore: The HG Lewis Collection, Suture, To Live and Die in LA, Donnie Darko, Driller Killer and Blood Bath.

 

Craig Williams

Critic and programmer, UK

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

The Jacques Rivette Collection Arrow

The Hired Hand Arrow

Napoleon BFI

The Man from Laramie Masters of Cinema

My two favourite releases of the year had been at the top of my most-wanted list for a long time.

The BFI’s Alan Clarke set, along with the accompanying season at the BFI Southbank, was a revelation. The breadth of themes covered in the work is impressive, but, taken as a whole, it represents a singular, uncompromising vision of the British psyche.

Though I was familiar with all the films in Arrow’s Jacques Rivette set, it was wonderful to see masterpieces such as Out 1, Duelle and Noroît finally get the releases they deserved. Hopefully others will follow in the coming years.

 

Nick Wrigley

Producer/designer, UK

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

The Small World of Sammy Lee Studiocanal

Electra, My Love Second Run

Napoleon BFI

McCabe & Mrs Miller Criterion / One-Eyed Jacks Criterion / The Hired Hand Arrow Academy

Dekalog and Other Television Works Arrow

I had to pick the Alan Clarke set – I find it jaw-dropping that this exists and it’s so complete. A marvel.

I was blown away by The Small World of Sammy Lee. Needs to be up there with the very finest British films of the decade.

Electra, My Love is formally astonishing – a uniquely strange and inspirational filmmaker. Dynamite and unforgettable.

Never thought Napoleon would see the light of day due to the seemingly interminable legal wrangles. A great achievement by everyone behind the scenes.

Three gorgeous and unusual westerns all dropped in the same month: McCabe & Mrs Miller, One-Eyed Jacks and The Hired Hand. I’d waited all my life to see One-Eyed Jacks properly and it was worth the wait.

Arrow’s Dekalog set is grade-A, full-bore, hugely important release – and technically better than the Polish or American releases. Phenomenal.

I’m genuinely grateful that physical media continue to thrive in the face of popular but less satisfying and less tangible alternatives (legal streaming and illegal downloading). The ‘beautifully put together physical item’ has proven to have the magical longevity and desirability of beautifully made books and LPs.

In 2016, I’ve been lucky enough to help out with a number of releases I’ve been dreaming about for years, most notably: the BFI Alan Clarke box sets and Arrow’s Dekalog. To see editions such as these reach the marketplace completely uncompromised, knowing they’re the result of many passionate people’s dreams, makes me tremendously happy – and I have to shamelessly include them in my list.

I’ve ended the year working on Body Double, Fat City and The Last Detail for pH’s new Indicator label, titles I almost released with Masters of Cinema, so it’s been a real treat to work on those. I’ve been so busy I haven’t watched as much as I normally do.

 

John Wyver

Critic, UK

Early Murnau: Five Films, 1921-1925 Masters of Cinema

Johnny Guitar (Signature Edition) Olive Films

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates Criterion

Dissent & Disruption: The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC BFI

A Brighter Summer Day Criterion

As many others have recognised, thanks to the exceptional efforts of specialist DVD and Blu-ray publishers, we continue to enjoy ever greater access to the histories of cinema and television, and – as in each of these releases – often in the form of immaculate prints accompanied by insightful extras.

My choice from a rich year is a masterpiece from Hollywood and another from Taiwan, both newly available in breathtakingly fine 4K restorations; an astonishing and immaculately presented quintet of silents from Weimar Germany; a revelatory group of profoundly influential American documentaries; and (first amongst equals) the comprehensive collection of the work of one of British television’s most significant auteurs.

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