Much commentary this year has focused on how the shuttering of cinemas led to an ever-steeper upsurge in subscriptions to the streaming giants. But less has been said about the enduring place of physical media. Rumours of the death of Blu-ray and DVD have been greatly exaggerated, and we should be continually grateful for the sector’s boutique labels, through whose efforts long-untrodden byways of film and TV history continue to be unearthed, and masterpieces preserved.

They’re also the surer bet for access in the long term. A recent US legal case saw Amazon argue that when a user downloads a film or TV show from their service the user isn’t actually purchasing the content. Instead, they’re buying a limited license for “on-demand viewing over an indefinite period of time”. It’s a thought that should serve as a cautionary reminder to anyone who argues that ‘everything’ is now available online.

So all hail those at labels such as Arrow, Indicator, Second Run, 101 Films, BFI, Kino Lorber, Milestone, Criterion, Second Sight, Flicker Alley and more, whose work continues to expand and preserve our understanding of – and access to – the deeper story of cinema and TV history.

We polled a range of contributors and industry experts asking for their five Blu-ray releases of the year. The full list of their responses is below, following our breakdowns of the poll.

— James Bell

See much more of our review of the year in our Winter 2020-21 double issue

Our biggest-ever issue takes stock of 2020 with our annual polls of the best films and television of the year and surveys of the state of different regions and genres.

Find out more and get a copy

The top UK Blu-rays

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Play for Today Volume One on Blu-ray

1. Play for Today Volume One

BFI (UK), Blu-ray Region B

It was the 50th anniversary of the BBC’s strand of single dramas this year, and the BFI’s fine volume of some of the long-sought after, lesser-known entries marked the occasion.

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Walkabout on Blu-ray

2. Walkabout

Second Sight (UK), Blu-ray Region B

Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 lost-in-the-Outback film boasts some of the most beautiful cinematography imaginable, and the 4K restoration on Second Sight’s disc is astounding in its richness and detail.  

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The Woman in Black on Blu-ray

3. The Woman in Black

Network (UK), Blu-ray Region B / DVD Region 2

After being unavailable and long-sought after for years, ITV’s brilliant, chilling 1989 adaptation of Susan Hill’s gothic novel at last came out on Blu-ray this year, in a fine set.

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Eve on Blu-ray

4. Eve

Indicator (UK), Blu-ray Region B

An immaculately produced set presenting Joseph Losey’s Jeanne Moreau-starring 1962 film maudit for the first time on Blu-ray and in its longest known version ( 126 minutes), with alternate versions and more.

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Czechmate: In Search of Jirí Menzel on Blu-ray

5. Czechmate: In Search of Jirí Menzel

Second Run (UK), Blu-ray all regions

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s exhaustive overview of the Czechoslovak New Wave and one of its greatest directors – Jirí Menzel.

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Beau Travail on Blu-ray

6. Beau Travail

Criterion (US/UK), Blu-ray Region A / Blu-ray Region B / DVD Region 1

Criterion’s presentation of the beautiful new 4K restoration of Claire Denis’s 1999 film was impeccable. Extras include an interview with Denis by Moonlight director (and Denis fan) Barry Jenkins.

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Hiroshima on Blu-ray

7. Hiroshima

Arrow (UK), Blu-ray Region B

Hideo Sekigawa’s little-seen 1953 film about the fallout from the bomb was descibed by Trevor Johnston in our September issue as “a searingly powerful howl of anguish at the sufferings of ordinary citizens”.

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How You Live Your Story: Selected Works of Kevin Jerome Everson on Blu-ray

8. How You Live Your Story: Selected Works by Kevin Jerome Everson

Second Run (UK), Blu-ray all regions

A superb selection of four features and 17 short films from the American artist Kevin Jerome Everson, whose work focuses on working-class Black Americans and people of African descent.

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Kwaidan on Blu-ray

9. Kwaidan (limited edition)

Eureka Masters of Cinema (UK), Blu-ray Region B

Masaki Kobayashi’s breathtakingly beautiful anthology of ghost stories is presented in its complete 183-minute original Japanese cut on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

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The Fu Manchu Cycle on Blu-ray

10. The Fu Manchu Cycle (limited edition)

Indicator, Blu-ray Region B

Wonderfully enjoyable box-set collection of the five Christopher Lee-starring Fu-Manchu films made between 1965-69, with a huge range of contextualising extras.

The top non-UK Blu-rays

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The Complete Films of Agnès Varda on Blu-ray

1. The Complete Films of Agnès Varda

Criterion (US), Blu-ray Region A

A worthy monument to one of cinema’s great artists, Criterion’s collection of Varda’s work has the label’s usual high production values, but what sets it apart is the way it puts her film work in the context of her photography and multimedia work, and offers the first home-video presentations of features Les créatures, Jacquot de Nantes and the television series Agnès de ci de là Varda.

As Adam Batty writes below: “The Varda set is in a league of its own. It stands as one of the best and most comprehensive home video releases of all time.”

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The Maya Deren Collection on Blu-ray

2. The Maya Deren Collection

Kino Lorber (US) / Re-Voir (France), Blu-ray / DVD all regions

An eight-film retrospective of the films of one of the avant garde’s greatest figures, presented in new 2K restorations, with new commentaries, introductions and essays.

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Beau Travail on Blu-ray

3. Beau Travail

Criterion (US/UK), Blu-ray Region A / Blu-ray Region B / DVD Region 1

Criterion’s presentation of the beautiful new 4K restoration of Claire Denis’s 1999 film was impeccable. Extras include an interview with Denis by Moonlight director (and Denis fan) Barry Jenkins.

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The Bolshevik Trilogy: Three Films by Vsevolod Pudovkin on Blu-ray

4. The Bolshevik Trilogy – Three Films by Vsevolod Pudovkin

Flicker Alley (US), Blu-ray all regions

Three key films about revolution by the Soviet director and theorist. Includes the Maxim Gorky adaptation that pays tribute to the 1905 revolution, Mother (1926); The End of St. Petersburg (1927), commissioned to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the October revolution; and 1928’s epic Storm over Asia. Bonus features include Chess Fever, commentaries, video essays and archive films of St Petersburg.

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The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Trilogy Collection on Blu-ray

5. The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection

Severin, Blu-ray Region A/free (mixed)

A must-have for fans of classic Italian genre cinema, this six-disc Blu-ray set collects the classic gialli directed by the Italian director Umberto Lenzi and starring American Carroll Baker, whose curious and often fraught partnerships nevertheless led to a string of fascinating, stylish and daring films. Severin’s release also comes with commentaries and two audio CDs: the complete score to Orgasmo and music from the other three films.

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Alice Guy-Blaché Volume 2: The Solax Years on Blu-ray

6. Alice Guy-Blaché Vol 2: The Solax Years

Kino Lorber (US), Blu-ray / DVD all regions

A fascinating set that collects the work Alice Guy-Blaché made after she moved to the United States and co-founded the Solax Company. Ranging from dramas such as Making an American Citizen to playful melodramas and ribald cross-dressing comedies comedies, this essential collection is truly an international endeavour – 2K and 4K restorations from materials preserved by the Library of Congress, British Film Institute, EYE Film Institute, George Eastman Museum, the Academy Film Library, Lobster Films, and others.

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Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits on Blu-ray

7. Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits

Criterion (US), Blu-ray Region A

As Tony Rayns wrote in our December issue: “This lavish Blu-ray set from Criterion documents what Bruce Lee achieved with his distinctive approach to armed and unarmed combat in the two years up to his death from a cerebral oedema: four completed movies and fragments of a fifth… The set confirms that Lee was a singular screen presence – a ‘mover’ comparable with Hollywood’s greatest dancers.”

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The Elo Havetta Collection on Blu-ray

8. The Elo Havetta Collection

Slovak Film Institute, Blu-ray / DVD all regions

A comprehensive portrait of a filmmaker with a uniquely fantastical vision who tragically came of age artistically at just the wrong point (both his features were made after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the ensuing cultural crackdown).

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The Friday the 13th Collection on Blu-ray

9. The Friday 13th Complete Collection

Shout! Factory (US), Blu-ray Region A

An exhaustive, 16-disc bumper collection of the entire run of Friday 13th films, from the 1980 original, through its ten sequels and 2003’s Freddy Vs Jason, up to 2009’s reboot. A huge range of extras too, all presented in a beautifully produced box set.

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Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3 on Blu-ray

10. Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3

Criterion (US), Blu-ray Region A + DVD Region 1

The latest collection of films from around the world restored and presented by Scorsese’s Film Foundation through its World Cinema Project. A wonderful range of titles, both geographically and from different points in film history.

 

The top 4K releases

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Dawn of the Dead on 4K UHD Blu-ray

1. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)

Second Sight (UK), 4K UHD

George Romero’s savage zombie horror / satire of consumerism gets the gold-standard treatment in Second Sight’s multi-disc box set, which offers the film’s theatrical cut, the extended ‘Cannes cut’ and the alternate Dario Argento cut, as well as a large feast of extras including documentaries and commentaries, and CDs with the original score by Goblin as well as library sound effects used in the film. The box also includes a 160-page accompanying book with new essays, and a copy of Romero’s own novelisation of the film. Enough then to satisfy even the most rapacious consumer. 

2. Flash Gordon 4K

StudioCanal

3. The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection 4K

Universal

4. Crash 4K

Turbine Medien

5. The Elephant Man 4K

StudioCanal

6. Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 1

Sony

7. Gemini Man 4K

Paramount

8. The Fifth Element 4K

StudioCanal

See also

The 50 best films of 2020

Our annual poll of the year’s top movies – at cinemas, festivals or online – as chosen by over 100 of our contributors from around the world.

The 50 best films of 2020

How they voted

Geoff Andrew

Critic and programmer, UK

  1. Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales
  2. Buster Keaton: Three Films – Volume 2 (Our Hospitality, College + Go West)
  3. Takeshi Kitano Collection: Violent Cop/Boiling Point/Sonatine
  4. Kansas City
  5. A Fistful of Dynamite

I didn’t get to see many new releases these years, and some of these were merely upgrades for me on movies I already possessed. I confess I provided a filmed introduction to the Altman film; that minor involvement should not prevent my welcoming the belated release on disc of a very fine, underrated, unusually personal movie by a major filmmaker.

Finally, a recommendation for a rather different release (by Unitel) on Blu-ray: Felix Breisach’s filmed performance of Karl Markovics’s production of Thomas Larcher’s superb 2018 opera The Hunting Gun (which was based on the same novel by Yasushi Inoue as the 1961 film by Heinosuke Gosho). This was the first stage production by Markovics, who is better known as an actor (including The Counterfeiters) and film director (his first feature was the impressive Breathing). The opera is terrifically imaginative, and brilliantly performed.

Upekha Bandaranayake

DVD producer, BFI

  1. The Maya Deren Collection
  2. Flash Gordon 4K
  3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  4. Dance, Girl, Dance
  5. Watchmen: an HBO Limited Series

Alex Barrett

Filmmaker, UK

  1. The Bolshevik Trilogy – Three Films by Vsevolod Pudovkin
  2. Mädchen in Uniform
  3. Victor and Victoria
  4. Distant Journey
  5. Hiroshima

With everything that’s happened this year, there’s understandably been an increased focus on home viewing. Thankfully there’s been no shortage of great options – it really feels like a bumper year for new releases, with many of the boutique labels going from strength to strength. Making a list of favourites seems harder (and perhaps more arbitrary) than usual, with so many discs, and labels, deserving of praise. With that in mind, I’ve chosen simply to select the five titles which most excited me – a mixture of films I’d long sought after, new discoveries and a boxset of one of the all-time great filmmakers (I first encountered Pudovkin as a student and have always felt he’s been unfairly overshadowed by other Soviet filmmakers, particularly Eisenstein, despite being every bit their equal). 

In addition to highlighting these five releases, I’d like to give special mentions to Second Run and Kino for their especially strong release slates – including their very latest releases of Goodbye, Dragon Inn (from the former) and The Jewish Soul: Classics of Yiddish Cinema (from the latter).

Chris Barwick

Producer (Second Run / Indicator), UK

  1. Walkabout (limited edition)
  2. The Tenant
  3. The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection
  4. Alejandro Jodorowsky (limited edition collection)
  5. Kwaidan (limited edition)

Adam Batty

Critic, UK

  1. The Complete Films of Agnès Varda Collection
  2. Le Petit Soldat
  3. Beau Travail
  4. Destry Rides Again
  5. Criss Cross (Eureka)

Looking back on 2020 I’m actually surprised by how slight it feels. For me, Criterion dominated once again, with their Varda set in a league of its own. It stands as one of the best and most comprehensive home video releases of all time. 

James Bell

Features editor, Sight & Sound

  1. The Woman in Black
  2. Eve
  3. Play for Today Volume One
  4. Walkabout (limited edition)
  5. Hiroshima

Jeff Billington

Critic and producer, Indicator/Powerhouse

  1. CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel
  2. Forgotten Gialli: Volume 1
  3. Alphabet City
  4. Scorpio Films: The Dutch Sex Wave Collection
  5. Crash (limited edition Blu-ray)

Despite the challenges posed by the year, boutique labels have raided the archives to produce an unstoppable stream of releases that have made being housebound more palatable.

  • Vinegar Syndrome have been branching out into Euro-exploitation territory, and their collection of Italian and Spanish thriller rarities manages to cast the genre in new light.
  • All of Second Run’s titles have been essential. I’m singling out Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s epic portrait of the Czech New Wave, a joyous title I can’t imagine any other label releasing. 
  • I greatly enjoyed newcomers Fun City Editions’ release of Amos Poe’s Alphabet City – like Mean Streets remade by Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero.
  • The Scorpio Films collection is a real time capsule of a cash-strapped but adventurous domestic cinema attempting to navigate the space between art and exploitation.
  • Arrow’s beautifully restored, feature-packed edition of David Cronenberg’s Crash fills a long standing gap in many a collection.

Of the many great releases I’ve worked on this year and might otherwise have nominated, my favourites would be Night Tide (Indicator), John Ford at Columbia 1935-1958 (Indicator), Columbia Noir #1 (Indicator), Best Before Death (Anti-Worlds).

Michael Blyth

Programmer, BFI London Film Festival/BFI Flare

  1. Cannibal Apocalypse
  2. Dolly Dearest
  3. The Friday 13th Complete Collection
  4. Mirror Mirror
  5. The Passion of Darkly Noon

In a year that saw the loss of the wonderful John Saxon, Kino Lorber’s remastered release of Cannibal Apocalypse offered some small solace. A deliriously enjoyable slice of anthropophagic exploitation which demonstrates the B-movie maestro’s ability to bring a touch of class to even the most depraved of proceedings.

Elsewhere, Vinegar Syndrome’s release of Maria Lease’s Dolly Dearest proved that her diminutive killer was much more than just a cheap Chucky knock-off, while Marina Sargenti’s offbeat supernatural shocker Mirror Mirror looked better than ever thanks to those good people at Dark Force Ent. And as ever, Arrow treated us to a tasty buffet of home video horrors, arguably the most exciting of which was Philip Ridley’s intoxicating fable The Passion of Darkly Noon – a massively underrated film from a consistently underrated filmmaker.

But the highlight of my year was undoubtedly Scream Factory’s exhaustive Friday the 13th collection, which boasted enough additional content to keep you entertained all through lockdown. Jason most definitely lives.

Nick Bradshaw

Web Editor, Sight & Sound

  1. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
  2. The Complete Films of Agnès Varda Collection
  3. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)
  4. Play for Today Volume One
  5. The Bolshevik Trilogy – Three Films by Vsevolod Pudovkin

Michael Brooke

Freelance writer, editor and DVD/Blu-ray producer, UK

  1. CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel
  2. Walkabout (limited edition)
  3. The Elo Havetta Collection
  4. Bait
  5. Tsukamoto: Killing/Haze/Adventures of Denchu-Kozo

What all my selections have in common is that they’re superbly curated, and clear labours of love on the part of everyone concerned:

  • In addition to being a tragically timely portrait of its recently deceased core subject, the seven-and-a-half-hour Czechmate also offers a vertiginously deep dive into the Czechoslovak New Wave that pays gratifying attention to the oft-neglected Slovak part;
  • despite multiple viewings over several decades, I’ve never seen Walkabout look this good before (the inclusion of printed copies of the source novel and the first draft screenplay was a particularly nice touch);
  • the Elo Havetta Collection (which includes film-school shorts) is a comprehensive portrait of a filmmaker with a uniquely fantastical vision who tragically came of age artistically at just the wrong point (both his features were made after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the ensuing cultural crackdown);
  • Bait is a crammed tribute to doggedly independent British cinema;
  • and I’ve finally got a decent copy of Shinya Tsukamoto’s Haze, by some distance the most claustrophobic horror film I’ve ever seen. (Those who’ve only seen the murky DVD will find it a literal revelation.)

While decorum prevents me from voting for titles that I personally worked on, I’m very proud indeed of Indicator’s 2020 slate, which set the team the challenge of matching the usual quality threshold under lockdown conditions, and Arrow’s Cinema of Conflict: Four Films by Krzysztof Kieslowski included contributions from my friend Michał Oleszczyk that were so eloquent and comprehensive as to make mine largely redundant.

Philip Concannon

Critic and programmer (Badlands Collective), UK

  1. John Ford at Columbia: 1935-1958
  2. Winter Kills
  3. The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection
  4. How You Live Your Story: Selected Works by Kevin Jerome Everson
  5. The Complete Films of Agnès Varda Collection

Most of the celebrated home video releases this year were box sets containing multiple films, but Indicator earns a spot here for bringing William Richert’s Winter Kills to Blu-ray; one of the strangest paranoid thrillers of the 70s, its reevaluation has been long overdue. Releases from their label rarely disappoint, and their packages for Spring Night, Summer Night and Moscow on the Hudson also deserve praise.

Severin Films offered me one of my favourite discoveries of the year by shedding light on a fascinating period in Carroll Baker’s career, when she left America to make a series of giallo films with the Italian director Umberto Lenzi. These entertaining and formally accomplished films are beautifully presented in a lavishly designed box set.

Credit is also due to the consistently impressive UK label Second Run, who began 2020 by bringing Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela to UK cinemas, and ended it with the world premieres of Kevin Jerome Everson’s films and Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn on Blu-ray.

Sam Dunn

Producer, Powerhouse Films (UK)

  1. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)
  2. The Good Die Young
  3. Kwaidan (limited edition)
  4. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
  5. A Life in Waves

It’s been another outstanding year for Blu-ray and, increasingly, 4K UHD. So many international publishers continue to dedicate themselves to the business of making their editions absolutely first class, and we’re incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labours. 

As with previous years, choosing just five titles really is an impossible, even absurd task. So, while my selection represents some of my favourite discs of 2020, it’s necessarily far from exhaustive. It’s a list which not only contains some great films – including some classics from a range of genres, as well as a contemporary documentary (about electronic composer Suzanne Ciani) – but also highlights discs which really deliver in terms of thoughtful extras and insightful curation: 

  • Second Sight’s Dawn of the Dead set is a bewildering achievement, containing multiple cuts of the film and extras galore;
  • the BFI’s The Good Die Young also features alternative cuts, and is bursting with rare and fascinating short films from the National Archive;
  • Eureka’s Kwaidan looks and sounds glorious, and both the on-disc extras and the 100-page book are terrific;
  • Second Run’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders offers up fabulous short films and a wealth of critical appreciations;
  • and Window Pictures’ A Life in Waves contains a heady mix of archival and new extras which lovingly support and complement the main feature.

The Ferroni Brigade

Critics, Germany/Austria

  1. 3-D Rarities, Volume II
  2. Short Sharp Shocks
  3. The Last Valley
  4. Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3
  5. Le Monocle rit jaune (limited edition)

William Fowler

Curator, BFI

  1. The Kenny Everett Video Show
  2. Relaxer
  3. Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows
  4. How You Live Your Story: Selected Works by Kevin Jerome Everson
  5. Three Edgar Allan Poe Adaptations Starring Bela Lugosi (Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat & The Raven)

I’ve been pleased to hear that the important work the UK’s boutique Blu-ray labels have been and continue to do was well support through lockdown, with plenty of sets being sold through the summer. Long may their success continue. For my part, I’d like to single out these five releases this year (listed in no particular order).

  • Although relying on older comedy talent for the writing, the Kenny Everett Video Show, beginning in 1979, was an important part of the burgeoning home video and even music video culture the country would experience in the 1980s. Future video director David Mallett oversees many of the actually quite racy Hot Gossip dance routes choreographed by Arlene Phillips and there are plenty of brightly-lit studio performances from the likes of Bryan Ferry, Suzi Quatro, Chas and Dave, Gary Numan and Hot Chocolate (and there are six discs of this stuff!). Its symbolic influence needs further unpicking.
  • Elsewhere, the newish label Anti-Worlds bring a stylish committed presentation to contemporary cult, alternative and artist film releases, ensuring these bold visions receive the level of treatment and extras as archival editions. Relaxer outshines all other recent films in the grotesque yet compelling absurdity stakes (and is quietly quite a film), as the pasty lead sticks and sits, glued to his leather seat trying to reach and exceed level 256 in Pacman before the fall of the coming Millennium.
  • The Penny Slinger film reveals her to be the transgressive counter-voice in art that she has been.
  • Thanks and congratulations must be given to Second Run for their Kevin Jerome Everson collection. His attention to both material textures and the lives and labours of working-class Black American makes for highly absorbing and instructive viewing.
  • Finally, thank you to Eureka for the Bela Lugosi set. More Bela on Blu-ray please!

Robert Hanks

Critic, UK

  1. The Lady Eve
  2. The Man Who Laughs
  3. Britannia Hospital
  4. Destry Rides Again
  5. Play for Today Volume One
  • The arrival of a really good version of Preston Sturges’s The Lady Eve, the deepest of the classic screwball comedies, was a highlight of my year.
  • The Man Who Laughs is a grotesque, affecting silent melodrama, featuring an extraordinary star performance by Conrad Veidt.
  • The awkward rage of Lindsay Anderson’s medical satire Britannia Hospital felt clunky in 1982; now it feels Swiftian, prophetic.
  • Destry Rides Again is a perfect comic western, wonderfully played by James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich; it’s also a touching showcase for a version of America that values peace and order above machismo.
  • The BFI’s first selection from the BBC’s Play for Today archive didn’t showcase the best stuff, but with luck heralds an essential series.

Pamela Hutchinson

Critic, UK

  1. The Complete Films of Agnès Varda Collection
  2. The Maya Deren Collection
  3. Paris Qui Dort/Entr-acte
  4. Alice Guy-Blaché Vol 2: The Solax Years
  5. Ida Lupino Filmmaker Collection

A very impressive year for releases of silent cinema, so this list could have been much longer. And I picked up a treat from 2019 that made lockdown a lot livelier: Criterion’s Godzilla set.

Trevor Johnston

Critic, UK

  1. Columbia Noir #1
  2. The Woman in Black
  3. Hiroshima
  4. The Elephant Man 4K
  5. The Killing Trilogy

A year with a lot of time spent in front of the TV, which meant much comfort viewing to ease the stresses of all that’s going on out there. Still, I lucked out with my Blu-ray reviews, pride of place going to the Powerhouse Indicator box of Columbia vintage crime flicks. Don Siegel’s The Lineup was the revelation for me, but the high quality threshold throughout, matched to the label’s impeccable levels of presentation and extras, made this a milestone set. And it’s billed as the first volume – yay!

Elsewhere, I was delighted that the 1989 TV version of The Woman in Black finally made it to disc, and if anything proved as exquisitely crafted and downright terrifying as my distant memory suggested, while a genuine discovery was Hiroshima, an emotive venture funded by the Japanese teachers’ union to make a fiction feature about the dropping of the bomb. Staggering that this powerful, significant film almost got lost from history.

Another year, another vivid 4K restoration, with Freddie Francis’s b&w lensing of The Elephant Man now looking even more jaw-dropping. And – as a memento of the lockdown(s), not a new release – I must mention the 11-disc box set of the Killing Trilogy, which proved a satisfying deep dip into the pleasures of long-form Scandi noir – quite a remove from the satisfying hit of an 80-minute 50s B-picture, but if you have the time…

Philip Kemp

Critic and film historian, UK

  1. Black Angel
  2. The 1,000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse
  3. Kwaidan (limited edition)
  4. The Bolshevik Trilogy – Three Films by Vsevolod Pudovkin
  5. Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture (eight volumes)

Yet again, the much-heralded Death of the DVD seems to have been postponed. No shortage of worthwhile gems and appealingly off-beat anthologies.

Miguel Marías

Critic, Spain

  1. Buoyancy
  2. L’Île au trésor + Contes de juillet
  3. Fragment of an Empire
  4. Finis Terrae + La Femme du Bout du Monde
  5. The Cloud-Capped Star

Not a very good or adventurous year for Blu-ray/DVD publishing. My first two choices are great new films otherwise I fear not easily available. The other three are great old films, sometimes restored and yet insufficiently seen or appreciated.

Neil McGlone

Critic and programmer

  1. The Complete Films of Agnès Varda Collection
  2. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)
  3. Play for Today Volume One
  4. Essential Fellini
  5. CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel

Paolo Mereghetti

Film critic, Italy

  1. The Maya Deren Collection
  2. Das indische Grabmal

Mehelli Modi

Founder, Second Run DVD

  1. Cinema of Conflict: Four Films by Krzystof Kieslowski
  2. Come and See
  3. The Elo Havetta Collection
  4. The Maya Deren Collection
  5. Raining in the Mountain

My choices are strictly in alphabetical order and, this year, all appearing on Blu-ray. It’s very difficult to make sense of this strange year in our history… but I’m sure these great releases (and very many others) possibly helped us in trying to get through the sadness and isolation. So far.

Kim Newman

Critic, UK

  1. Gamera: The Complete Gamera
  2. The Fu Manchu Cycle (limited edition)
  3. Al Adamson The Masterpiece Collection
  4. The Mary Millington Movie Collection (limited edition)
  5. The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection

A great year for optimal editions/collections of work that has tended to be seen as marginal even within exploitation genres – the number two kaiju, an outdated Asian mastermind, an outlaw auteur, a test case British sex starlet and a star-director-genre combo which aptly includes a film called So Sweet… So Perverse. Extra points for maniacal completism, contextualising extras, and imaginative, sturdy packaging.

Ben Nicholson

Critic, UK

  1. How You Live Your Story: Selected Works by Kevin Jerome Everson
  2. Funeral Parade of Roses
  3. Krabi 2562
  4. The Woman in Black
  5. The Mad Fox

2020 has been a year defined by physical media for me. On one hand I spent two-thirds of the year writing an academic report on boutique UK DVD distributors; on the other, special edition Blu-rays have effectively acted as my surrogate for repertory cinema, outstripping my interest in streaming new releases for much of the year.

As such, my criteria for the selection of my favourite 2020 releases have been fairly loose and subjective. In some instances it has been the long-awaited availability of a film, in some instances the glorious presentation of a classic, in some instances the release of a film (or films) that will now be introduced to a wider audience, and in some instances it’s the full package that warrants inclusion.

It has been another vintage year for home entertainment releases, though, and so alongside the five titles selected above I’d also throw in honourable mentions to new releases of Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs and Waxworks (both Masters of Cinema); Raed Andoni’s Ghost Hunting (Second Run); Cinema of Conflict: Four Films by Krzystof Kieslowski (Arrow Academy); Joseph Losey’s Eve (Indicator); Walkabout (Second Sight); Hoop Dreams (Dogwoof) – amongst many others.

Naman Ramachandran

Critic and filmmaker, UK/India

  1. Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits
  2. The Fu Manchu Cycle (limited edition)
  3. The Fifth Element 4K
  4. Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 1
  5. Bloodstone

Just one glance at the wealth of extras in the Bruce Lee collection proves why Criterion is still the label to beat. Even the most die hard fan will learn something new from the extras when she stops marvelling at the gorgeous transfers. Powerhouse Indicator are snipping at Criterion’s heels with their tremendous Fu Manchu box set. Meanwhile, over in 4K/UHD land, The Fifth Element is more eye-popping than ever in this year’s Studiocanal release, while you’ve never seen Gandhi, Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Strangelove so vividly rendered as in the Columbia box set. And Arrow gives what is best a B-film, Bloodstone, starring Indian superstar Rajinikanth, a most loving restoration indeed and excellent commentaries.

Jon Robertson

DVD/Blu-ray producer (Master of Cinema), UK

  1. Mystery of the Wax Museum
  2. Walkabout (limited edition)
  3. Major Dundee (limited edition)
  4. Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits
  5. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue

Another bounteous year! The market may be shrinking, but labels are getting ever more inventive and resourceful in putting together dazzling restorations and editions.

My favourite disc of the year is the awe-inspiring UCLA-led restoration of 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, released by Warner Archive. One of the most hair-raising pre-Code horrors of the 1930s, it’s also one of the most blissfully gorgeous films ever made, in dreamlike two-strip Technicolor. But all of the above editions let me approach long-time favourites anew, every one of them contextualised to the hilt.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Critic, US

  1. Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: The Complete Fourth Season
  2. The Complete Films of Agnès Varda Collection
  3. CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel
  4. Second Class Citizens (Vtorostepennye lyudi)
  5. A Bread Factory

I’ve ignored precise dates because Johnson-Trump have brought history to an impasse, and one country’s 2019 release might not even arrive in the mail before 2020.

  • I’ve included A Bread Factory even though it includes my own public interview with its writer-director.
  • Teaching a course in Varda made me appreciate that she knew how to generate her own best extras (none of which, alas, I could show on Zoom).
  • The final season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deserves recognition for resurrecting the Hollywood musical to serve the specific needs of the present while triumphantly proving that sitcom characters can actually grow.
  • English subtitled Muratova is most easily tracked on YouTube, and I can’t even identify the Russian label of this welcome DVD release.

Hayley Scanlon

Critic and translator, UK

  1. Hiroshima
  2. Hanagatami
  3. Made in Hong Kong
  4. Mother and a Guest
  5. Burst City

It’s undoubtedly been a difficult year, but despite the trying circumstances distributors have been doing their best to bring to light some of the forgotten classics of East Asian cinema, beginning with Arrow’s landmark release of the long out of circulation Hiroshima, an often harrowing docudrama exploring the legacy of the atomic bomb through the eyes of the children who experienced it first hand.

Third Window’s release of the penultimate masterpiece from Nobuhiko Obayashi (who sadly passed away earlier this year) similarly looks back to the war years, an elegiac lament for doomed youth that had been a passion project for the cult director whose large body of work has largely remained unknown in the West save for his psychedelic debut feature House. 

Fruit Chan’s seminal tale of handover anxiety Made in Hong Kong has also received a timely release from Eureka, arriving as the nation once again finds itself at a moment of crisis in its relationship with the Mainland.

Meanwhile Arrow have been busy resurfacing the best in classic cult cinema, bringing Sogo (now known as Gakuyru) Ishii’s anarchic punk masterpiece Burst City to UK audiences.

And of course, the Korean Film Archive has continued to do stellar work with a new HD restoration of charming Shin Sang-ok melodrama Mother and a Guest exploring the changing mores of the early 60s society through the (im)possibilities of romance between a wealthy widow and her houseguest as seen through the eyes of her young daughter.

Josh Slater-Williams

Critic, UK

  1. Relaxer
  2. Orphans
  3. Beau Travail
  4. Chained for Life
  5. The Legend of the Stardust Brothers

Kate Stables

Critic, UK

  1. The Essential Jacques Demy (Criterion)
  2. Eric Rohmer 100: Comedies and Proverbs Special Edition
  3. Mademoiselle
  4. The Cameraman
  5. Women Make Film

Ben Stoddart

Video Publishing Business and Operations Manager, BFI

  1. Come and See
  2. Flash Gordon 4K
  3. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)
  4. The Friday 13th Complete Collection
  5. Walkabout (limited edition)

What a year 2020 has been. Whilst streaming services have unsurprisingly seen revenues soar during lockdown, it’s been refreshing to see physical media more than holding its own. 

  • I’ve been waiting for a great release of Elem Klimov’s Come and See and thanks to Criterion I now have one. Simply one of the most stunning and harrowing films ever made.
  • 4K UHD is going from strength to strength and I was also blown away by StudioCanal’s release of Flash Gordon, the new restoration is beautiful and the extras are superb. 
  • Whilst I confess my copy hasn’t arrived yet, I have to include the new 4K UHD of Dawn of the Dead. It’s a tough film to release but early reviews suggest that it’s been brilliantly done.
  • Sticking with horror is Scream Factory’s epic 16-disc Blu-ray box set of the Friday 13th films. The amount of time, money and sheer will that goes into a set like this is huge and I’m so happy to see the series get the release so many fans have craved.
  • Last but by no means least is Walkabout, another superb film getting the deluxe Blu-ray treatment by Second Sight, who for me have been one of 2020’s most impressive labels.

Amy Taubin

Critic, US

  1. The Complete Films of Agnès Varda Collection
  2. Alice Guy-Blaché Vol 2: The Solax Years
  3. Cane River
  4. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes
  5. Losing Ground

David Thompson

Critic and filmmaker, UK

  1. Station Six Sahara
  2. Le Garcu
  3. Eve
  4. Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3
  5. Play for Today Volume One

A very personal list this year, I must confess.

  • I wrote about Station Six Sahara in Sight and Sound’s Lost and Found column, so my wish was granted.
  • Pialat’s Le Garcu was never released in the UK, so this English-friendly Blu-ray is hugely welcome, and it’s joined by a slew of films by the great director in immaculate editions from Gaumont.
  • Powerhouse maintains its high standards with Losey’s delirious Eve, presented in all the extant versions.
  • The World Cinema Project – which includes the marvellous Iranian film Downpour – reaches Volume 3 on Criterion.
  • And in a strong year of releases, the BFI gives us what must surely be the first volume in a collection of classic Play for Today BBC dramas.

Has the confinement caused by the pandemic seen a significant surge in disc-watching this year? One can only hope so.

Matthew Thrift

Critic, UK

  1. Crash 4K
  2. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)
  3. Gemini Man 4K
  4. The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection 4K UHD
  5. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
  • With just a bare-bones DVD available since the early 00s, this 4K restoration of Cronenberg’s (best?) film is long overdue. Arrow and Criterion have editions incoming in the UK and US respectively, but Germany’s Turbine Media was first out the gate with their 4K UHD earlier this year. Seeing this – having queued overnight for a ticket – at LFF 96 was a formative experience for a cinephile-in-the-making, and this restoration is just a total knockout.
  • Has there ever been a more comprehensive, lavish edition bestowed upon a single film? Second Sight’s Dawn of the Dead release is a thing of beauty.
  • I missed Ang Lee’s excellent Gemini Man in cinemas, so was glad to see the 4K UHD released in 60fps. It looks like nothing else on home video, and remains an oft-spun demo disc.
  • Four of Hitchcock’s Universal biggies get the 4K treatment, with an ‘uncut’ Psycho reclaiming a few extra seconds on home vid. As expected, Vertigo is the one here though, an absolute wonder of home presentation.
  • I’d usually pick a revelatory discovery from Second Run, given there’s a new one almost every month, but this year I’m picking a 4K restoration of an old favourite. I haven’t laid my hands on the disc yet – and its Madam Butterfly (2009) extra remains one of my few Tsai gaps – but needless to say I’m counting the days…

Gary Tooze

Editor, DVD Beaver

  1. The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection 4K UHD
  2. Essential Fellini
  3. Night Tide
  4. Beau Travail
  5. Dementia (BFI)

2020: such a bad year –except for Blu-rays!

I could have added: Spring Night, Summer Night (Indicator / Flicker Alley), Jaws on 4K UHD Blu-ray, 1953’s War of the Worlds (Imprint / Criterion), Come and See (Criterion), The Man Who Laughs (Masters of Cinema), When Worlds Collide (Imprint), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Cohen), Man on the Run (Network), Fail-Safe (Criterion) and many more…

Douglas Weir

Technical producer, BFI

  1. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)
  2. Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1
  3. The War of the Worlds
  4. The Mad Magician
  5. Buster Keaton: Three Films – Volume 2 (Our Hospitality, College + Go West)

One good thing about 2020 was the abundance of riches coming from the independent labels! There are more I’d have liked to list, it was very tough boiling it down to five.

James White

Head of Restoration, Arrow Films

  1. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)
  2. Eve
  3. Daughters of Darkness
  4. The War of the Worlds
  5. I Start Counting

2020’s been a disaster in so many ways, but one upside of an otherwise terrible year has been the slate of amazing Blu-ray and UHD releases released, which have been particularly welcome given that we’ve all been stuck at home. I’ve refrained from including box sets and have kept my choices to single-title editions here.

Aside from these titles, I was also knocked out by amazing releases by Indicator, Studio Canal, Criterion, BFI, Eureka Masters of Cinema, Second Sight, Second Run, Kino Lorber, Vinegar Syndrome, Severin and Mondo Macabro. As is kosher, I’ve refrained from including any releases my label (Arrow) released, although special mention should be made of the amazing restoration of Flash Gordon produced by Studiocanal and carried out by the Silver Salt restoration team with Mike Hodges, released in amazing new 4K UHD editions by Studio Canal in the UK and Arrow in the US.

Charlotte Whitehouse

Critic, UK

  1. Eve
  2. The Woman in Black
  3. Play for Today Volume One
  4. The Fu Manchu Cycle (limited edition)
  5. Dawn of the Dead 4K (limited edition)

Samuel Wigley

Critic and BFI News editor

  1. The Cranes Are Flying
  2. The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice
  3. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
  4. Ivansxtc.
  5. Rio Grande

Jason Wood

Artistic Director, HOME Manchester

  1. Bait
  2. Vitalina Varela
  3. Women Make Film
  4. Beau Travail
  5. Talking About Trees

In a depressing year, a renewed recognition of the achievements by women filmmakers and filmmakers of colour is something to get excited about, as is Second Run’s continued commitment to the work of Pedro Costa.

Bait, and its success, remains one of the wonders of recent years, providing a welcome boon to artist film and helping lay the foundations for what is likely to be a future cinema devoid of blockbusters.

Further reading

The 50 best films of 2020

The 50 best films of 2020

The best television series of 2020

By James Bell

The best television series of 2020

The best film books of 2020

The best film books of 2020

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