The best Blu-rays (and DVDs) of 2017

Thirty-nine critics and curators nominate their home-cinema releases of the year, from Baron Munchausen to Vampir Cuadecuc.

Sight & Sound contributors
Updated:

Web exclusive

 

Geoff Andrew

Critic and Programmer-at-Large, BFI, UK

The Knick, Series 2 HBO

Lubitsch in Berlin: Six Films 1918-1921 Eureka/Masters of Cinema

In a Lonely Place Criterion (USA + UK)

The Salvation Hunters, The Case of Lena Smith Austrian Filmmuseum

The Love of a Woman Arrow

Though I saw fewer new releases this year than I should have liked, there were still some regrettable omissions: Arrow’s boxed noir thriller set including The Big Combo (for which I contributed an introduction) was an obvious contender, ineligible due to my own input; Fat City and Mickey One were also very pleasing, welcome and beautifully presented releases from Powerhouse. I should add that for me the film itself is everything, the extras relatively unimportant.

 

Sergio Angelini

Critic, UK

The Breaking Point Criterion (USA only)

The Wages of Fear BFI

Touchez pas au grisbi StudioCanal

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Second Run

Raising Cain Arrow

2017 was definitely the year of the bijou Blu-ray label for me, with some stunning release from the likes of 101 Films, Arrow, Eureka (Masters of Cinema), Second Run and Signal One, with the very welcome appearance of new player on the block Indicator.

It’s been an especially good year for fans of the great Michael Curtiz: Criterion released special editions of Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Breaking Point (1950), his sublime adaptation of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, while Warners have offered a near-perfect rendition of the uncut version of The Sea Wolf (1941), available complete for the first time in 70 years.

The BFI release of The Wages of Fear, Clouzot’s hardboiled masterpiece, seems finally to be available in HD in a definitive edition in both its length and its look (the oil has never looked quite so monstrous in its amorphous inky black shininess). The late Jeanne Moreau gets a great early role in Jacques Becker’s tale of Parisian gangsters in Touchez pas au grisbi, a great film that was admittedly a little light on extras. On the other hand, Karel Zeman’s enchanting take on the tall tales of Baron Munchausen got an appropriately fabulous Blu-ray from Second Run, stuffed with tons of value-added content.

The extras for Arrow’s release of De Palma’s Raising Cain include a radical re-shaping of the film via a fan edit that reconstructed the narrative as the director intended in the original draft of the screenplay. That De Palma endorsed this version and had it made available with his theatrical cut makes for a fascinating example of director-audience synergy that pays tremendous dividends, opening up even further a playful film that already seemed brimming with interpretative possibilities.

 

Michael Atkinson

Critic, USA

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism Arrow

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 2 Criterion (USA only)

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Second Run

Varieté Kino

Fritz Lang: The Silent Films Kino

 

Upekha Bandaranayake

DVD/Blu-ray producer, BFI, UK

Daughters of the Dust Cohen Media Group

Desert Hearts Criterion (USA & UK)

Liquid Sky Vinegar Syndrome

Daughter of the Nile Eureka/Masters of Cinema

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Second Run

Honourable mentions to Untamed (Arrow UK); Dawson City: Frozen Time (Kino Lorber); The Reckoning (Powerhouse/Indicator).

Despite the usual doom and gloom about physical media it’s been another great year for the boutique labels on both sides of the Atlantic – there have been so many exceptional releases this year it was a struggle to limit myself to just five. Major kudos to Cohen Media Group for their stunning restoration of Daughters of the Dust and the excellent commentary they put together – easily my favourite release of the year. Special mention too to new kids Powerhouse and their Indicator strand for delivering a wonderful mixture of classics and forgotten gems with some gorgeously-designed packaging – my label of the year.

 

Chris Barwick

Second Run, UK

Drunken Master Eureka/Masters of Cinema

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Kino Lorber

Ludwig Arrow

Private Vices, Public Virtues Mondo Macabro

Raising Cain Arrow

Honourable mentions to: Story of Sin (Arrow Academy UK); Barry Lyndon (Criterion USA); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Arrow UK); The 4 Marx Brothers at Paramount 1929–1933 (Arrow Academy UK); The Handmaiden (Curzon/Artificial Eye UK); The Thing (Arrow UK); The Wages of Fear (BFI UK); Cat O’ Nine Tails (Arrow UK); Phenomena (Arrow UK); Multiple Maniacs (Criterion USA); The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (Shameless UK); Hell or High Water (StudioCanal UK); Four Film Noir Classics Box Set (Arrow Academy UK); Performance (Warner Home Video UK); Lair of The White Worm (Vestron USA)… too many!!

 

Adam Batty

Critic, UK

Buster Keaton: Sherlock, Jr., The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr. Eureka/Masters Of Cinema

Death in the Garden Eureka/Masters of Cinema

L’argent Criterion

(USA only)

The Marseille Trilogy: Marius, Fanny, Cesar Criterion (USA only)

Mickey One Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Last year I predicted that Powerhouse Films’ Indicator Series, the new boutique UK-based Blu-ray label from former Sony employees, would be force to be reckoned with going in to 2017, and I’m ecstatic to say that that ran true. They more than earned their keep with gems like Bill Forsyth’s Housekeeping and definitive editions of Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat. That a film such as Arthur Penn’s Mickey One would be on the receiving end of so lavish an edition is a dream come true.

I would like to give an ‘honourable mention’ to fellow British upstarts Signal One, who this year released the 1966 Stagecoach, a film which seems to have dated worse than the John Ford original, but which remains a fascinating curio nonetheless, and an exciting title to see released on Blu-ray at all.

Criterion have once again had a typically strong year, with there being a number of particular highlights in their releases of classic French cinema. Fans had been crying out for years for a quality Blu-ray release of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le samouraï, following a number of botched discs in France, with the eventual Criterion release being exemplary. Marcel Pagnol’s The Marseille Trilogy has flown a little under the radar, perhaps due to the subtle nature of the films, but it might just be my favourite all-round release.

 

Michael Blyth

Programmer, BFI London Film Festival/BFI Flare, UK

Beyond the Darkness Severin Films

The Lift Blue Underground

Shock Treatment Arrow

Summer of Fear Doppelgänger Releasing

A Woman’s Torment Vinegar Syndrome

Severin Films spoiled us with numerous home cinema treats this year, including gratefully received Blu-rays of Lucio Fulci’s little seen erotic thriller The Devil’s Honey, Mariano Baino’s nunsploitation stunner Dark Waters, Franco E. Prosperi’s nasty eco-horror Wild Beasts and an almost too good to be true HD release of infamously bad Canadian TV shocker Cathy’s Curse (which very nearly made my top five). But my personal pick from a bumper 2017 crop is Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness (aka Buio Omega), the sorry tale of a wealthy taxidermist who exhumes the body of his deceased lover, gives it a good clean and brings it home to live with him. Rivalling Buttgereit’s Nekromantik in terms of pure gross-out audacity, this might be the sickest romance ever committed to celluloid. Thank you Severin.

Dick Maas’s cult classic The Lift looked better than ever this year, thanks to some great work from our friends at Blue Underground. Far from the campy lolfest one might expect from a film about a killer lift, Maas atmospheric oddity plays things unexpectedly straight, with his striking set design and impressionistic lighting truly shining in glorious HD. Take the stairs, take the stairs. For God’s sake, take the stairs!!!

Continuing the leave all other labels in the dust when it comes to home video horror, Arrow had another stellar year – Brain Damage, Madhouse, The Slayer, releases from Bava, Carpenter, Fulci and Romero, a nifty House box set… I could’ve complied a top five consisting solely of their fine work. But I’ll allow myself only one, and the honour goes to Jim Sharman’s infinitely underrated quasi-Rocky Horror sequel Shock Treatment. Overlooked upon initial release, this portentous tale of a reality-TV-obsessed world feels more prescient than ever, and Arrow’s glowing Blu boasts an embarrassment of extras, including novelty cards, poster, and soundtrack CD. Pure nerd heaven.

Produced in the wilderness years between The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare On Elm Street, Wes Craven’s long-forgotten television adaptation of YA potboiler Summer of Fear was one of 2017’s most welcome arrivals. As for the Blu-ray itself, Doppelgänger have done a decent enough job – sure the extras are pretty standard and transfer is a bit on the grainy side, but who cares? The real star of the show is the film itself – a deliciously bonkers tale of suburban teen terror, which is far better than it has any right to be.

And finally, a big shout out to Vinegar Syndrome for bringing three of feminist exploitation pioneer Roberta Findlay’s films into our living rooms. Her later-career horror efforts Prime Evil and The Lurkers are both well worth your time, but the real star of the show is A Woman’s Torment, Findlay’s curious mix of Repulsion-esque paranoia and hardcore pornography, which the director (somewhat alarmingly) claims to be ‘the story of my life’. It’s great to see Findlay’s idiosyncratic vision given the love it deserves, and Vinegar Syndrome have outdone themselves with a glorious 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative.

 

Michel Ciment

Editor, Positif, France

Clouzot L’essentiel Studio Canal

Feuillade – Les sérials noirs Gaumont

J’accuse – coffret prestige Gaumont

Alfred Hitchcock – Les années Selznick Carlotta

Preston Sturges Six Classics Wild Side

These are five excellent boxes characterised by a new trend in French digital editions: the associations of restored versions with a book written by the best specialists (Marc Cerisuelo for Sturges, Laurent Very for Gance), plus a wealth of original bonuses.

 

Philip Concannon

Critic and programmer (Badlands Collective), UK

Fat City Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-71 Arrow

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 2 Criterion (USA only)

One-Eyed Jacks Arrow

Tout Va Bien Arrow

An intriguing new addition to the UK market towards the end of 2016, Indicator established itself as a major player this year with a series of impressive releases. Their success has been built on an eclectic mixture of American classics and more obscure cult titles, presented with carefully curated packages that add valuable history and context, often improving on previous Blu-ray versions. For example, consider their Fat City disc, which includes the informative commentary track from Twilight Time’s 2015 release while adding a brand new documentary, John Huston’s 1972 NFT lecture and some excellent new writing on the film. With films such as Charley Varrick and Blue Collar scheduled for early 2018, this label is going from strength to strength.

Arrow has done vital work this year by shining a light on Jean-Luc Godard’s fascinating post-1967 period, with their collection of works by the Dziga Vertov Group and a release of his masterpiece Tout Va Bien (which includes the superb accompanying film Letter to Jane: An Investigation About a Still). They also produced a great package for Marlon Brando’s idiosyncratic western One-Eyed Jacks, finally available in a handsome new restoration after years of being seen only in shoddy versions.

 

David Cox

Film4, UK

The Marseille Trilogy: Marius, Fanny, Cesar Criterion (USA only)

The Devil’s Honey Severin Films

Spotlight on a Murderer Arrow

The Saga of Anatahan Eureka/Masters of Cinema

Just Before Dawn and The House on Sorority Row 88 Films

It’s hard to believe just how many surprises the DVD/Blu-ray market continues to unearth – films I either didn’t know of before buying them (the Franju and the Fulci) or haven’t thought about for years (everything that 88 Films puts out). I wish I could resist, but I still get the same excitement from a wall of titles and alluring box-art that I did when I was renting Betamax tapes from my local video shop in the early 1980s.

Indicator have proved to be an exciting new name (thanks to, amongst others, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, Housekeeping, Torture Garden and The New Centurions) but as usual it’s Arrow that have provided the greatest temptations with their sets devoted to Godard/Gorin, Romero, Phantasm, House and Suzuki Seijun, the Sonny Chiba duo Wolf Guy and Doberman Cop, re-releases of The Thing and Carrie and their ridiculously ‘deluxe’ release of Pieces.

I would have voted for the just-released Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series boxset, but I’m staying well away from that controversy.

 

Jordan Cronk

Critic, USA

Othello Criterion (USA only)

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 2 Criterion (USA only)

La Chinoise & Le Gai Savoir Kino Lorber

Eight Films by Jean Rouch Icarus Films

Vampir Cuadecuc Second Run

In another sign of times for the increasingly niche DVD/Blu-ray market, a number of the year’s most significant home video releases were tucked away on a pair of Criterion releases: Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 2 boxed set and the Blu-ray edition of Orson Welles’s Othello.

The former’s dual-format presentation collects six recent Film Foundation restorations, at least three of which – Lino Brocka’s Insiang, Ermek Shinarbaev’s Revenge and Edward Yang’s Taipei Story – are significant enough to stand alongside any of the label’s individual releases. (The other three are merely great films that I’m happy to see resurrected, no matter the context.)

The latter, which finally brings Welles’s troubled and transcendent Shakespeare adaptation to high-definition, features an even more crucial work amongst its supplements – namely, Welles’s final completed work, the 1979 essay-documentary Filming Othello, long a holy grail for cinephiles.

Looking elsewhere, Kino Lorber took admirable care in presenting two of Jean-Luc Godard’s most provocative and neglected films, La Chinoise and Le Gai Savoir, appending them with a murderer’s row of extras by Richard Hell, Amy Taubin, James Quandt, Adrian Martin, Fabrice Aragno and Adam Nayman; Second Run valiantly rescued Pere Portabella’s 1971 masterpiece Vampir Cuadecuc from home video purgatory; and Icarus Films managed to outdo themselves with a boxed set of their own, collecting eight groundbreaking films by ethnographic cinema pioneer Jean Rouch, including The Mad Masters; Moi, un noir; Jaguar; and The Human Pyramid.

 

Gareth Evans

Film Curator, Whitechapel Gallery, London

A Ghost Story Lionsgate

The Farthest Screenbound

The Tree of Wooden Clogs Arrow

The Legend of the Holy Drinker Arrow

Olmi is a giant and now finally we can properly view two of his greatest works.

I loved A Ghost Story in the cinema, amazed by its reach (as I was of course for similar reasons by The Farthest) and need to see it again to find out whether it’s a masterpiece (or not…).

However, my major discoveries this year came in belated viewing of past releases. In Time (Fox) is a truly insightful visionary political allegory. I’m amazed it isn’t hailed in our precarious, increasingly anti-capitalist world. Similarly Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry (ILC) offers a properly complex, challenging but profoundly ‘true’ exploration of the nature of violence, sadly ever more relevant. Pictures of the Old World (Second Run), meanwhile, just confirms how far ahead of the game the East and Central Europeans of the 1960s and 70s were.

Wish list for 2018: Alain Tanner’s films to be much more (properly) available. Also, please can somebody release I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Dick Fontaine’s stunning 1982 improvisatory journey through US African-American experience with James Baldwin. This is outstanding work, as an act of witness, as an act of prophecy, as thinking in action. It is moving, brilliantly made and entirely necessary.

 

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

Critics, Germany/Austria

100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912–2012 Criterion (USA only)

Trésors du cinéma Yiddish Lobster

The Iron Collar (Der eiserne Kragen) Kochmedia

Ulmer Dramaturgien – Film an der Hochschule für Gestaltung absolutmedien

Suomen Filmiteollisuus – Täydellinen Kokoelma (232-disc) VLMedia

The Iron Collar is an old Audie Murphy western directed by R.G. Springsteen. An honourable mention for VLMedia’s Fennada – Täydellinen Kokoelma (63-disc) box-set from 2016, which we somehow managed to miss last year [tsk – Ed.].

Testifilmi’s Limited Edition Tectonic Plate (Mannerlaatta) Blu-ray release could just as well be considered one of 2017’s top five poetry volumes. And as this is the year of Finland’s centennial, a final word of praise for Kavi’s Tuntematon sotilas Blu-ray and Mannerheim – Suomen marsalkka on DVD.

 

Pamela Hutchinson

Critic, UK

Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology Flicker Alley

His Girl Friday (The Front Page) Criterion (USA & UK)

Westfront 1918 & Kameradschaft: Two Films by G.W Pabst Eureka/Masters of Cinema

Buster Keaton: Sherlock Jr., The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr Eureka/Masters of Cinema

The Four Marx Brothers at Paramount 1929–1933 Arrow

The Flicker Alley set, soon to be joined by a similar project from Kino Lorber, is proof not just that women were doing important work in the film industry in the silent era but also that we have much more great, unsung silent cinema to discover and champion. A real joy too, to see The Front Page and His Girl Friday reunited thanks to Criterion. I’ve also listed some lovingly packaged classic comedy and the welcome opportunity to enjoy the work of a neglected director, G.W. Pabst.

There were plenty of first-class silent films out on DVD this year, but needless controversies over scores rumble on. The UK release of one title was eagerly awaited purely because it offered alternative to a roundly loathed new soundtrack that was the only option on the US release – while another disc from the same imprint marred an otherwise excellent package with a tired organ score. So many talented silent film accompanists out there – please hire them!

 

David Jenkins

Editor, Little White Lies, UK

Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day Arrow

Carnival of Souls Criterion (UK & USA)

Housekeeping Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Daughter of the Nile Eureka/Masters of Cinema

Street Trash 88 Films

It feels like we’re deep into a new age of physical home media boom, and it’s a premium age for sure. Increasingly, Blu-ray and DVD distributors seem like they’re operating as record labels. They’re not punching out releases as a matter of course – as part of a movie’s inevitable lifespan, to end covered in child vomit, on the utilisation steel-shelving units of some high-street secondhand outlet or charity shop. These companies now use each as an opportunity to create something beautiful.

As for the five titles I’ve selected, these are intended as a little survey of the labels as much as the films themselves. Were I to be given just three more slots, you can bet that Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness (Anime, ltd), John Ford’s Two Rode Together (Eureka/Masters of Cinema) and Karel Zeman’s The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Second Run) would have made the list.

 

Tara Judah

Critic, UK

The Eric Rohmer Collection Arrow

Two Films by Andrea Luka Zimmerman Second Run

Point Blank Warner Bros

Daughters of the Dust BFI

My Life as a Dog Arrow

Though I spend more time in cinemas than watching films at home, I am always delighted when a classic finally makes its way to DVD or Blu-ray – like Point Blank, which was previously unavailable on anything other than VHS in this country – and when films I’ve seen in a gallery or small screening context, like Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s work, make their way to a more easily sharable format. Reading great essays like the one that accompanies My Life is a Dog gives old work new context and the restoration done on Julie Dash’s remarkable film, Daughters of the Dust, elevates the quality of home entertainment and helps us build a better and more diverse film cannon.

I was thrilled to have been asked to contribute an essay to The Eric Rohmer Collection, and I can’t wait to discover the many other thoughtful pieces in this beautiful box set. Arrow are taking on really fascinating and diverse titles, and I look forward to what they, BFI and Second Run have in store for 2018.

 

Philip Kemp

Critic, UK

Pioneers of African-American Cinema BFI

Films from the Hungarian Digital Film Archive

The Goddess BFI

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project Vol 2 Criterion (USA only)

Vampir Cuadecuc Second Run

As all five of these releases show, we movie buffs are spoilt these days; even back in the much-regretted era when BBC2 and Channel 4 fairly frequently screened rarities of world cinema, the chances of catching most of these (often undeservedly) obscure films would have been vanishingly small. And the net seems to be steadily widening. Rejoice!

 

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Critic/Programmer, UK/Iran

Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology Flicker Alley

The Saga of Anatahan Eureka/Masters of Cinema

The Informer BFI

Hell on Frisco Bay Warner Archive

Jeunesse perdue Forgotten Film Entertainment

And ‘honourable mentions’ for the following: L’argent (Robert Bresson, Criterion USA); Beggars of Life (William A. Wellman, Kino Lorber); Justin de Marseille (Maurice Tourneur, Pathe); Erik the Conqueror (Mario Bava, Arrow); La caza (Carlos Saura, Divisa); I colori ritrovati. Kinemacolor e altre magie (1905-1922, Cineteca di Bologna)

 

Tim Lucas

Editor, Video Watchdog, USA

Fritz Lang: The Silent Films Kino Lorber

The Lost World Flicker Alley

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Second Sight

The Old Dark House Cohen Media

Story of Sin Arrow

Kino Lorber’s mammoth Fritz Lang set beats everything else this year, hands down – the Blu-ray debut of several of his earliest silents, including the miraculous appearance of his rarely-seen Poe adaptation The Plague of Florence (1919).

KL has released an extraordinary amount of product this year, so much that it’s easy to overlook such essential titles as their wonderfully supported issues of Pollack’s They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, Fleischer’s Compulsion (CinemaScope and black-and-white – I’m in Heaven), the Coens’ Barton Fink, Mulligan’s Love with a Proper Stranger, Selznick’s Since You Went Away (what a movie!), De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile, Republic’s The Adventures of Captain Marvel (with ten audio commentators!), and Blu-ray’s first watchable presentation of Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Flicker Alley’s The Lost World is the year’s finest and most important restoration, adding more than 30 minutes to the previously available version.

Second Sight’s Karel Zeman release was the year’s most visually thrilling release for me, and it’s beautifully supported by its extras; I hope to see more Zeman from them.

While it doesn’t add any new material, Cohen Media’s The Old Dark House is the revitalisation of James Whale’s black comedy that its fans have always dreamed of seeing; I had the pleasure of seeing it in a theatre and it’s breathtaking now, as well as acidly funny.

Though it didn’t ultimately make my list, partly because I feel it unseemly to favour titles featuring my audio commentaries, Arrow’s Caltiki the Immortal Monster is arguably the more startling restoration and just as important a release; copies previously circulated gave no hint of how beautifully shot and meticulously created it is. And extra kudos to Arrow for including as a bonus the unmatted version which exposes considerably more frame content during the special effects sequences and provides valuable clues as to how this two-fathered film was made.

Arrow’s release of Borowczyk’s Story of Sin features superb work from my favourite commentators of the year, Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan – and they likewise had a stellar year, with other Arrow favourites from this past year including Carpenter’s The Thing (4K), Jean Grémillon’s The Love of a Woman, the ultimate Re-Animator (including an integral cut combining the theatrical and home video editions), Bava’s eye-popping Erik the Conqueror, Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (with an Easter Egg audio commentary by me) and Fukasaku’s extraordinary New Battles without Honour and Humanity trilogy.

Honourable mention to Indicator, this year’s breakthrough label, who again couldn’t break the constraints of my list but might well have done if I’d had time to watch and digest the mammoth Hammer set that arrived in today’s mail. Their Harryhausen sets and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T are luscious and bring back childhood in full force. I also feel it necessary to commend Film Media for their commitment to restoring and releasing the work of Joe Sarno (their All the Sins of Sodom and Vibrations double feature is a must for audacious viewers), and to Vinegar Syndrome for locating the original camera negative of one of Sarno’s eeriest and poetic films, Red Roses of Passion.

 

Ian Mantgani

Critic, filmmaker and programmer (Badlands Collective), UK

The Legend of the Holy Drinker Arrow

Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day Arrow

Napoleon BFI

Barry Lyndon Criterion (USA only)

One-Eyed Jacks Arrow

Holy Drinker was the most profound and beguiling movie I saw all year; previously all but forgotten, it can now be seen in a transfer befitting Dante Spinotti’s delicate, ethereal cinematography.

Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day is one of Fassbinder’s very best, plucked from obscurity and packaged in a handsome boxset.

The Napoleon release stands as a glorious legacy monument to a lifetime of restoration work by Kevin Brownlow.

One-Eyed Jacks, previously only available in blurry panned-and-scanned VHS and DVD-import dupes, is now clear to see as the eye-popping VistaVision work of Hollywood at a crossroads that it really always should have been.

Barry Lyndon’s only previous hi-def release replaced the vibrant Saul Bass Warner Bros. logo with a static modern one. Now, Bass is restored, as part of a new 4K scan – hallelujah!

 

Neil McGlone

Researcher, Criterion, UK

The Thing Arrow

The Wages of Fear BFI

My Journey through French Cinema Cohen Media

5000 Fingers of Dr. T Indicator/Powerhouse Films

100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912-2012 Criterion (USA only)

It’s been another incredible year for Arrow and as the company itself expands, so do the releases both here and in their new US home. The Thing was exquisitely restored by in-house restorer James White, and it is nothing short of breathtaking; the mammoth selection of extra features are the cherry on top. With limited edition releases of Carrie, The Apartment and an Eric Rohmer box-set still to come in the next couple of months, Arrow remain a force to be reckoned with.

The BFI’s release of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear has the edge over the eight-year-old Criterion release in a few areas, but most notably the fact it is a slightly longer cut of the film and there’s a more film-like feel to the presentation. The extras and booklet are also improved upon.

I saw Tavernier’s film at Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2016 with the great man present, and as a fervent admirer of early French Cinema, his personal journey through some of the greatest French films ever made was pure heaven to watch, so I could barely wait for a home release. The Cohen Media release is the only version available on Blu-ray with English subtitles. Tavernier has promised a second part to his documentary. (Another very noteworthy release from Cohen is their new restoration of James Whale’s The Old Dark House, well worth seeking out.)I could happily have picked any number of the releases from new kids on the block Indicator, who are fast becoming the

label to watch. The time and effort that goes into their releases is impeccable and whilst I have a soft spot for Dr. T, I could quite easily have picked Bunny Lake is Missing, The Last Detail or The Lady from Shanghai from their catalogue.

Last but by no means least is this phenomenal weighty box-set from Criterion containing 53 newly-restored films from 41 editions of the Olympic Games across either 43 DVDs or 32 Blu-rays. There are 4K restorations of important titles such as Olympia and Tokyo Olympiad, plus a beautifully illustrated 216-page hardcover book. The subject matter may not be for everyone, but there is no doubting the love and attention that has gone into producing this lavish and important historical release.

The gradual increase in 4K UHD releases as the cost of 4K televisions start to come down in price is a glimmer of hope for 2018. Sadly not all the labels are yet on board with 4K UHD releases, but I feel sure as time moves on this will happen as more and more companies are releasing new 4K restorations.

New US label ClassicFlix also deserve a mention for their very impressive Blu-ray releases of newly restored film noirs, in particular of He Walked by Night.

 

Henry K. Miller

Critic, UK

The Big Heat Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Every Picture Tells a Story: The Art Films of James Scott BFI

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Second Run

Ronin Arrow

Sorcerer Entertainment One

 

Neil Mitchell

Critic, UK

Miracle Mile Arrow

George Romero: Between Night and Dawn Arrow

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival Criterion (USA & UK)

Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series Network

The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen Vol 1 & 2 Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Indicator and Network came up trumps in terms of nostalgia this year with the releases of, respectively, The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen and Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series. Beautiful HD, 2K and 4K restorations of six films featuring the legendary Harryhausen’s pioneering special effects work are backed up by a treasure trove of extra features, while Network’s Blu-ray release presents all 13 episodes of Hammer’s TV anthology series in HD, offering a crystal-clear, nightmare-fuelled trip down memory lane.

Arrow continue to deliver, with both Steve De Jarnatt’s criminally under-appreciated Miracle Mile and three non-zombie offerings by the late George A. Romero floating my particular boat.

Finally, Criterion’s The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, directed by D.A. Pennebaker and featuring Joplin, Hendrix and The Who, among others, is a must for music and film lovers alike.

 

Mehelli Modi

Founder, Second Run (UK)

A Brighter Summer Day Criterion (USA & UK)

Bring Me the Head of Alfred Garcia Arrow

Buster Keaton: Sherlock, Jr., The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr. Eureka/Masters of Cinema

El Sur BFI

Housekeeping Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Looked at overall, the UK is now arguably the most exciting territory in the world for the quality of our home video releases, particularly when prepared by the amazing collection of Independent labels which we are lucky to have. Restricted to just five choices, my selections therefore pay tribute to five of the labels and I have chosen a film from each which I’d always wanted to release on Second Run but which I’m very happy they released so wonderfully.

 

Kim Morgan

Critic, USA

Barry Lyndon Criterion (USA only)

Something Wild (1961) Criterion (USA only)

The Last Laugh Kino Lorber

The Breaking Point Criterion (USA only)

Fritz Lang: The Silent Films Kino Lorber

 

Kim Newman

Critic, UK

Four Film Noir Classics: The Big Combo, The Dark Mirror, Force of Evil, Secret Beyond the Door Arrow

Hammer Volume One: Fear Warning!: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, Fanatic, The Gorgon, Maniac Indicator/Powerhouse Films

George A Romero Between Night and Dawn Arrow

Shoestring: The Complete Series Network

Coronet Blue: The Complete Series CBS DVD

In archive film releases, the action is in box-sets – with examples here by genre, studio and creator, with plenty of contextual material to support clutches of titles which (literally, in the case of the Romero box) fill in gaps. Also, these are films which once were staples of TV programming or cult repertory but have in recent years become scarcer – the likes of The Big Combo, The Gorgon and The Crazies feel like old friends, and emerge on Blu-ray looking better than ever, while odd efforts like The Dark Mirror, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and Jack’s Wife (aka Season of the Witch) seem lush and provocative in a new light.

On the TV front, I’ve picked Shoestring, an edge-of-cult British detective show which I recall liking on first broadcast and which holds up well decades on, and Coronet Blue, a long-unavailable, never-much-seen (indeed, cancelled before its mystery could be solved) weird American amnesia drama created by Larry Cohen which shows an interesting, neurotic take on the changing 60s (it might be a gene-splicing of The Prisoner and The Fugitive, which is a tantalising paradox in itself) and offers pre-stardom coups like an episode assembling Candice Bergen, Jon Voigt and David Carradine as campus radicals.

 

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Critic, USA

L’argent Criterion (USA only)

The Salvation Hunter/The Case of Lena Smith Filmmuseum

Eight Films by Jean Rouch Icarus Films

Le plaisir Arrow

The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Criterion’s release of Bresson’s L’argent I chose above all for two precious extras: Bresson’s succinct trailer (the best ‘new’ film I saw in 2017) and James Quandt’s superb audiovisual essay about the film. Filmmuseum’s DVD of Sternberg’s The Salvation Hunter has a Janet Bergstrom documentary and a dazzling surviving fragment of The Case of Lena Smith.

 

Neil Sinyard

Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, University of Hull, UK

The Day of the Jackal Arrow

Housekeeping Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Two Rode Together Eureka/Masters of Cinema

The Shop on the High Street Second Run

The Human Condition Arrow

A welcome re-acquaintance with movies I had not seen for years and which still had the capacity to delight, disturb and surprise. Forsyth in America, Zinnemann in nihilist mode, John Ford pretending to be Billy Wilder: three great directors way out of their comfort zone and yet relishing the unfamiliar terrain.

I’d remembered the Kadar and Klos as just a good solid anti-war piece, but it’s not; it’s subtle virtuoso cinema that rises inexorably to overwhelming tragedy.

The Kobayashi release brought back two indelible memories: first seeing it on three consecutive Saturday nights on BBC2’s World Cinema series in the 1980s (those were the days); and a fond remembrance of my good friend and great film historian, David Shipman, who, in his classic tome The Story of Cinema, pronounced it, in his characteristically fearless way, as “unequivocally the greatest film ever made”. Discuss.

 

Kate Stables

Critic, UK

German Concentration Camps Factual Survey BFI

The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS

The Four Marx Brothers at Paramount 1929–1933 Arrow

Le plaisir Arrow

Some Day My Prince Will Come/Philip and His Seven Wives: Two Films By Marc Isaacs Second Run

 

James Rocarols

BFIPlayer, BFI, UK

Bunny Lake Is Missing Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Daughter of the Nile Eureka/Masters of Cinema

L’Innocente Cult Films

Vampir Cuadecuc Second Run

The Wages of Fear BFI

 

Imogen Sara Smith

Critic, USA

The Breaking Point Criterion (USA only)

Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology Flicker Alley

Fritz Lang: The Silent Films Kino Lorber

Beggars of Life Kino Lorber

The Old Dark House Cohen Media

For me the home cinema event of the year was Criterion’s release of a long-overlooked film noir masterpiece, The Breaking Point, a film that was nearly buried on its release because of star John Garfield’s investigation by the House Un-American Affairs Committee, and has never received the attention it deserves for its superlative performances, screenplay, direction and cinematography – as well as one of the boldest and most unforgettable closing shots of the Hollywood studio era.

It was also a good year for early film, with box-sets drawing attention to women film pioneers and pioneers of African-American cinema, as well as the silent ouevre of Fritz Lang and Louise Brooks’s best American film, Beggars of Life (from Kino Lorber). The restoration of James Whale’s The Old Dark House, long seen in murky, scratchy prints, is revelatory and a pure delight.

 

Ben Stoddart

Video Publishing Business and Operations Manager, BFI, UK

The Wages of Fear BFI

The Thing Arrow

The Philadelphia Story Criterion (USA & UK)

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Second Run

The New Centurions Indicator/Powerhouse Films

As has been the case in recent years, 2017 was memorable for that combination of definitive editions and new discoveries. Three of my choices fall into the first category and they did not disappoint.

Having personally been involved with the release of The Wages of Fear, and having seen it move back and back on the release schedule, I almost had to pinch myself when it finally hit shelves. It was however well worth the wait, looking and sounding fantastic, representing the longest cut to be released in the UK and packed with extras.

Arrow Video yet again delivered with their spectacular release of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and as someone who has now bought the film six times over the years, I hope that there won’t now need to be a seventh!The Philadelphia Story doesn’t need any introduction, but weirdly has until now not had a decent home entertainment release. Thankfully Criterion have rectified that with another stunning addition to their catalogue both here and in the US.

Of my two new discoveries for 2017, Second Run’s really did justice to Karl Zeman’s brilliant The Fabulous Baron Munchausen by packing it with an excellent array of additionality and releasing it on Blu-ray as well as DVD.

Last but not least is The New Centurions, a film that I was intrigued by because of the cast (George C Scott and Stacey Keach) but was so different in tone to what I expected – I urge people to check it out. In an obviously shrinking market it’s great to see a new label like Indicator/Powerhouse releasing such great films in such great editions. Here’s to 2018…

 

David Thompson

Critic and filmmaker, UK

Napoleon BFI

Story of Sin Arrow

The Marseille Trilogy: Marius, Fanny, Cesar Criterion (USA only)

The Saga of Anatahan Eureka/Masters of Cinema

Six Plays By Alan Bennett Network

Another year in which once impossible dreams have come true – discs boasting beautiful transfers in HD of Gance’s epic, Borowczyk’s Polish masterpieces, Von Sternberg’s final testament, and so on. Plus a chance to reassess the great figure of Pagnol, whose films have been shamefully neglected in the UK.

And the television archives bring further riches, like these extraordinary ‘plays’ from a more enlightened era of ITV. I would also like to heap praise on Pathe in France for the exquisite restorations of classic films by Becker, Duvivier, Carne and others, all on disc with excellent English subtitles. Oh for more free time actually to enjoy the exquisite past alongside the frantic present… 

 

James White

Head of Restoration, Arrow, UK

The Old Dark House Cohen Media Group

Witchhammer Second Run

Funeral Parade of Roses Cinelicious Pics

Stalker Criterion (USA only)

Suspiria Synapse

There’s been some fantastic work from both sides of the Atlantic this year, with definitive treatments for some lesser-known but important titles by a selection of smaller but truly dedicated labels. In addition to the list above, Criterion gave us lovely new editions of Barry Lyndon, Multiple Maniacs and L’argent (1983), the BFI presented us with their new restoration of The Informer (1929) and what appears to be the final word on The Wages of Fear, Powerhouse/Indicator had a great run with their wonderful Ray Harryhausen and Hammer sets and Vinegar Syndrome ended the year with what looks like an amazing restoration for Liquid Sky.

As for my own work for Arrow, I felt extremely privileged to oversee new restorations of The Apartment, The Thing (1982), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Phenomena, Legend of the Holy Drinker, Ronin, A Fish Called Wanda and the early features of George Romero, who sadly left us earlier this year.

 

Sam Wigley

News and Features Editor, bfi.org.uk, UK

Death in the Garden Eureka/Masters of Cinema

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Second Run

Peppermint Soda BFI

See No Evil Indicator/Powerhouse Films

The Sinbad Trilogy Indicator/Powerhouse Films

My jaw was on the floor throughout The Fabulous Baron Munchausen – a film I assumed I’d probably never see (and certainly not as pristinely as this), but which felt like being washed ashore on a new cinematic continent.

Amazing to see so much love lavished on Sinbad’s fabulist adventures too, part of Indicator’s ongoing Harryhausen series.

The same label’s See No Evil introduced me to a terrifically nasty thriller from the pen of Brian Clemens, while the BFI’s reissue of Diane Kurys’s Peppermint Soda disrupted the canon of childhood cinema.

Here’s hoping that Masters of Cinema’s Death in the Garden heralds a load more reissues from Buñuel’s wild Mexican years – I’d be first in line for El or The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz.

 

Craig Williams

Critic and programmer (Badlands Collective), UK

Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series Universal

One-Eyed Jacks Arrow

Tout Va Bien Arrow

George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn Arrow

Housekeeping Indicator/Powerhouse Films

I have included Twin Peaks here rather than my film list. For me, it is undoubtedly a television programme and, indeed, one of the best I’ve seen. Lynch may have said it was a film (many directors and showrunners have said the same about their own TV shows) and a number of cinephiles have been keen to claim it as such, but the way in which I and many others watched it recalled the way we watched television before the age of streaming. We didn’t binge or gorge, we watched together, week-by-week, spending the time between episodes discussing the one that had just aired. My partner and I even went to comical lengths to catch the latest episodes when we were holidaying in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of New Hampshire – it was the first time in my life that I’ve ever not wanted to miss an episode of a television show while on holiday. The anticipation, the unfolding, the payoff – it’s an experience I will never forget, and I look forward to rewatching the DVD for years to come.

Arrow’s Blu-Ray of Godard’s Tout Va Bien is an essential release for the UK. Along with the forthcoming Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films 1968–1971 set, it’s a crucial release in understanding the shift between the nouvelle vague

and Godard’s later work. These films are scrappy, vital documents of cinema’s greatest artist at a creative, personal and political crossroads.

I have also included Arrow’s George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn set largely for the inclusion of the true anomaly in Romero’s filmography – the strange, underseen ‘romcom’ There’s Always Vanilla. It’s great to finally have a decent version of it.

 

Jason Wood

Artistic Director: Film at HOME, Manchester, UK

The Andrei Tarkovsky Deluxe Collection Curzon Artificial Eye

Le Samouraï Criterion (USA only)

Fat City Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Sorcerer Entertainment One

Buster Keaton: Sherlock, Jr., The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr. Eureka/Masters of Cinema

As always, it was difficult to restrict myself to five choices but all of the above in some way represent the synergy between the theatrical cinema experience and the home cinema experience and the notion of increased access to cinema.

Curzon did a fantastic theatrical Tarkovsky restoration program and now present these masterworks in pristine transfers.

2017 saw full Melville retrospectives across UK screens and its always a pleasure to revisit (and then revisit again) what for me stands as Melville’s most perfect and melancholic work.

Powerhouse are relatively new to the market and it was a close shave between Penn’s underrated The Chase and Huston’s Fat City. I regard the latter, presented in a 4K restoration, as perhaps the greatest film about boxing ever made.

Friedkin’s Sorcerer was rescued from its Star Wars-induced abyss and on small screen or large weaves a beguiling spell.

Finally, memories of Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato and their packed public square screenings filled with adults and children alike abound with Eureka’s Sherlock Jr, Steamboat Bill and The General package. This comes hot on the heels of their Complete Short Films Buster Keaton set.

One final thought. With Curzon, BFI and Mubi acknowledging that online and physical cinema spaces complement each other, it’s disappointing to see Netflix still refusing to cater for audiences thirsting for the communal experience to enjoy this year’s works by Noah Baumbach and Dee Rees.

 

Nick Wrigley

Freelance designer and Blu-ray producer, UK

Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series Universal

Celine and Julie Go Boating BFI

Housekeeping Indicator/Powerhouse Films

Dawson City: Frozen Time Kino Lorber

Spotlight on a Murderer Arrow

I feel sad for anyone stuck with a small screen and the DVD format. This is the age of Blu-ray and I enjoyed these upgrades enormously: Barry Lyndon, L’argent, Meantime, Fire Walk with Me, Mildred Pierce, The Breaking Point and Stalker from Criterion; The Wages of Fear (BFI Blu-ray); The Cremator (Second Run Blu-ray, UK); and Four Film Noir Classics from Arrow, among them.

Some incredible rediscoveries from Indicator: Jack Gold’s The Reckoning (1970) and Peter Medak’s A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972); and Fassbinder’s Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (Arrow) was a revelation. Yet another glorious year of Blu-rays; there are tons I’ve forgotten and not yet seen. It’s been heavenly.

I’m looking forward to a boutique label releasing a 4K UHD disc in 2018!

 

John Wyver

Writer/producer, Illuminations, UK

J’Accuse BFI

Othello Criterion (USA only)

Film / Not Film BFI

Blow-up Criterion (USA only)

Power to the People: British Music Videos 1966-2016 Thunderbird Releasing

Criterion continues to be the DVD and Blu-ray gold standard, with glorious prints and exceptional extras, and these titles from Welles and Antonioni are up there with the label’s best.

But BFI also continues to release a great list, including the kind of rarities of which my two choices are terrific examples. I had previously only seen Alan Schneider’s version of Samuel Beckett’s lone film script some 40 years ago, projected from a battered 16mm print onto a sheet pinned up in a student bed-sit. Revisiting it was revelatory.

And I’m recommending Power to the People just ahead of its release date because it’s an astonishing compilation of material with unbelievably complex music and other rights. Looking to the future, in 2017 for the first time I viewed more titles from specialist streaming sites, and especially BFIplayer, Curzon at Home and mubi.com, than from DVDs and Blu-rays.

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