The best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2023

Our annual critics’ poll salutes the best home cinema releases of 2023, from recovered new-Hollywood gems to showcases of the restored films of British, Italian and Soviet female directors – not to mention cinema’s first ‘nasty’ women.

4 December 2023

By Kieron Corless

Horses projected onto a wall and a woman's face in front of itKira Muratova's The Long Farewell (1971)
Sight and Sound

It’s been another strong year for DVD/Blu-ray releases, as evidenced by our top ten list and the full submissions below it, attesting to what has most excited our contributors this year.

If there’s a sense of buoyancy in the industry in terms of continued quality of output, that’s not to say there aren’t problems and issues I often hear raised. The cost of living crisis has inevitably hit sales, while at the same time production costs have risen – in particular, the burdensome fees charged per minute for BBFC certification, which make a significant dent in the profit margins of, especially, the smaller, more risk-taking distributors. It was ten years ago – August 2013 – that Sight and Sound first published a piece bemoaning the prohibitive impact of those charges, but there appears to have been little improvement in the situation.

That’s a shame, because more than any other the home media sector connects us to fascinating, sometimes overlooked areas of the archive and film history and to other cinemas across the globe, nourishing an excitement in rediscovery. Year end is an apt moment to salute the dedicated labels making this happen, in challenging and often precarious circumstances.

10. Wanda

Criterion

Wanda (Criterion)

As many predicted, Barbara Loden’s only film, Wanda (1970), was one of the most upwardly mobile in last year’s Greatest Films of All Time poll, with a long overdue Criterion release following shortly after.

“In terms of technical presentation, Wanda never looked glossy or sounded sharp – it was shot on a tiny budget with a crew of four – but both loving restoration and fashion have been kind to its drained, grainy look, which now seems unaffectedly stylish rather than simply austere… It’s a haunting, original film… and its maker an extraordinary figure.”

— Hannah McGill, S&S May 2023

9. Three Muriel Box comedies: The Passionate Stranger, Rattle of a Simple Man, The Truth About Women

StudioCanal

Muriel Box comedies: The Passionate Stranger, The Truth About Women, Rattle of a Simple Man (Studiocanal)

“With 13 feature films to her name, Muriel Box remains Britain’s most prolific female film director. She was also a remarkable screenwriter, as her Oscar for The Seventh Veil (1945) attests. Her career was defined by her fight to direct, to be recognised for her work and to make the industry a fairer place for other women. Her work stood in defiance of producer Michael Balcon’s words to her: ‘I don’t think a woman can direct a film unit like a man, she hasn’t got the strength.’

“So you would expect forthright feminist messaging and transgressive subject matter in Box’s films. What might come as a pleasant surprise is that so much of her work was comedy, of a sparkling kind. These three films are among her funniest.”

— Pamela Hutchinson, S&S October 2023

8. Lorenza Mazzetti Collection: K, The Country Doctor and Together

BFI

Lorenza Mazzetti Collection (BFI)

“Kafka inspired two of the films in this Blu-ray release of Mazzetti’s London films, all newly remastered by the BFI National Archive. K and The Country Doctor were both made while Mazzetti was at the Slade School of Fine Art in the early 1950s and are among the earliest film adaptations of Kafka’s writing…

“Much like K, Together opens its doors to a bombed-out London and the dust of the city rolls right in. Populated by dock workers and drunks, art students and exiles, the deaf and the mute, beatniks and babies, the city has never looked so alive and so strange, somehow both inhospitable and inviting. It is received wisdom that outsiders and emigres cast the most perceptive cinematic looks at London, and this collection makes a strong case for that. But the release is about more than just city films. It places Lorenza front and centre of the constellation.”

— Sophia Satchell-Baeza

7. Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers: Freaks, The Unknown and The Mystic

Criterion

Freaks, The Unknown and The Mystic: Tod Browning's Sideshow Shockers (Criterion)

The Pre-code cult classic Freaks (1932) may be a bizarre and uniquely provocative movie but tell me this, can you name a more powerful film about found families and community spirit? Criterion packages this talkie with two of director Tod Browning’s silent films, both set in a sideshow milieu; first deathless melodrama The Unknown (1927) starring Lon Chaney as a lovestruck knife thrower and Joan Crawford as the object of his affections, a woman mortally afraid of the male touch, and also lesser-known gem The Mystic (1925), starring a fabulously overdressed Aileen Pringle. Supplements include scores for the silents, alternate endings for Freaks, a wise essay from Farran Smith Nehme and some very sharp packaging.

— Pamela Hutchinson

6. Foolish Wives

Flicker Alley

Foolish Wives (Flicker Alley)

Erich von Stroheim’s legendary 1921 epic, the first million-dollar film, endured savage cuts at the hands of the studio and censors. Numerous efforts to reconstruct it over the years have ultimately led to this restored version, released by Flicker Alley and reviewed ecstatically in our October issue by Pamela Hutchinson:

“The film bursts with beauty, energy and arch humour. The details… are delicious, in the immense set design, opulent costumes, gorgeous lighting effects and nuances of performance. Maude George, in particular, is wonderful as Karamzin’s accomplice, and Stroheim himself every inch the ‘man you love to hate’ as the vainglorious villain, both vain and glorious.”

5. Cutter’s Way

Fun City Editions

Cutter's Way (Fun City Editions)

“A film that almost disappeared in the post-Heaven’s Gate studio turmoil, Cutter’s Way has become a cinephile classic by stealth, its reputation likely to be enhanced by this definitive new Blu-ray edition. Born from 70s America’s disillusionment, this sun-splashed California noir follows three bumbling misfit pals who come to suspect Santa Barbara’s local oil magnate of a brutal murder…

“Passer’s triumph here is in giving the actors the confidence to appear truly vulnerable on screen, delivering a remarkably telling emotional authenticity which he patiently observes and allows us the privilege of sharing – a vivid experience intensified by cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth’s silky lighting and Jack Nitzsche’s haunting glass-harmonica score.”

— Trevor Johnston, S&S March 2023

4. Cinema’s First Nasty Women

Kino Lorber

Cinema's First Nasty Women (Kino Lorber)

“This ambitious compilation comes touting an explicit agenda: to reacquaint film history with the silent era’s busy legacy of powerful, disobedient, autonomous women, in films that have been almost entirely neglected up to now…

“We get women routinely passing for men, doing their own risky stunts, playing ‘manly’ women entirely uninterested in hetero romance, staging working women’s strikes, drinking hard and protesting for women’s rights. Native American stars such as Minnie Devereaux (in a 1914 Fatty Arbuckle short) and Lilian St Cyr are rescued from obscurity, rebellious wives are sometimes played by actors in drag, and even a hefty sampling of D.W. Griffith films are offered, in which the usually virginal-recessive heroines are instead ‘tyrannising the hearthstone’, as Hennefeld puts it. It’s old-school film history turned inside out.”

— Michael Atkinson, S&S Winter 2022-23

3. After Hours

Criterion

After Hours (Criterion)

First released on DVD in 2004 (in a four-film Martin Scorsese collection from Warner Bros), this urban anxiety comedy has long been overdue for a high-definition upgrade. The spectacular restoration was worth the wait, while among the special features is a fun stitching together of the DVD’s original five-contributor commentary with updated thoughts in 2023 from star Griffin Dunne and producer Amy Robinson. And for British buyers, After Hours was particularly welcome as Criterion UK’s first release on the 4K UHD format, two years after their American counterpart started putting out 4K discs. A request for Criterion or other parties: please now rescue Scorsese’s other overlooked nocturnal New York odyssey, Bringing Out the Dead, from the joint Paramount and Touchstone/Disney vaults.

— Josh Slater-Williams

2. Twilight

Second Run

Twilight (Szürkület, 1971)

György Fehér’s mesmerising 1990 masterpiece about an investigation into a child murder in rural Hungary, an acknowledged influence on Béla Tarr, has long been difficult to see other than on murky VHS, but is now restored and released by Second Run in the UK and Arbelos in the States. 

“Second Run has wanted to release Twilight since the label’s inception back in 2005, and has given the film the deluxe treatment here… Tarr fans will doubtless snap this up without any hesitation… but so should anyone else curious to sample the work of a clearly major talent who has been neglected for far too long.”

— Michael Brooke, S&S June 2023

1. Kira Muratova’s Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell

Studiocanal

Kira Muratova's Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell (Studiocanal)

Soviet director Kira Muratova made more than 20 features but it’s only relatively recently that she’s become recognised as one of the most important directors of her generation. These two magnificent films, Brief Encounters (1967) and The Long Farewell (1971), have been beautifully restored and will only enhance her burgeoning reputation in the UK.

“Muratova was drawn to poetic forms of expression, which conflicted with the ideals of socialist realism; and to examining the real lot of Soviet women, whose advertised position was as equal partners in revolution, but who still seemed to get landed with most of the chores… While these two films represent only some aspects of a vastly flexible talent, evident through a stylistically diverse body of work, they display amply the adventurousness of Muratova’s visual imagination, the vibrancy of her storytelling and the sensitivity of her work with actors.”

— Hannah McGill, S&S November 2023

 

How they voted

Michael Atkinson
Film critic

El Vampiro Negro (Flicker Alley)
Freaks / The Unknown / The Mystic: Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers (Criterion)
The Trial (Criterion)
Rouge (Criterion)
Cinema’s First Nasty Women (Kino Lorber)

Kieron Corless
Sight and Sound associate editor

Foolish Wives (Flicker Alley)
Twilight (Second Run)
Wanda (Criterion)
Kira Muratova: Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell (Studiocanal)
Magic Myth and Mutilation: Michael J Murphy (Indicator)

Alex Davidson
Programmer and critic

A Question of Silence (Cult Epics)
The Wounded Man (Altered Innocence)
Anna May Wong collection (Kino Lorber)
The KLF: 23 Seconds to Eternity (BFI)
Coming Out (Altered Innocence)

Sheer expense has prohibited me from delving into the world of international Blu-rays as much as I would like, with extortionate shipping fees and taxes adding to already pricey discs.

But several have been worth it, and it has been so wonderful to see so many films by great queer directors finally make it to Blu-ray, from Marleen Gorris (whose films Broken Mirrors and The Last Island also made their Blu-ray debut, alongside my favourite disc of the year, her 1982 masterpiece A Question of Silence) to Isaac Julien (why it has taken so long for Young Soul Rebels to appear on Blu-ray is a mystery). I’m still eagerly awaiting the imminent arrival of Vinegar Syndrome’s release of films by Enrique Gómez Vadillo, a Mexican filmmaker whose homoerotic melodramas sound fascinating.

Finally, Blu-ray label Altered Innocence deserve a standing ovation for their services to gay cinema releases, with top-notch presentations of films by Patrice Chéreau (The Wounded Man), Eloy de la Iglesia (Hidden Pleasures and Confessions of a Congressman) and André Téchiné (Wild Reeds).

Graham Fuller
Film critic

Wanda (Criterion)
Gallivant (BFI)
Cry, the Beloved Country (Studiocanal)
The Queen of Spades (Studiocanal)
Western Approaches (BFI)

The releases of Wanda and Gallivant, each an exemplary micro-budgeted do-it-yourself road movie, are hopefully expanding the audiences for Barbara Loden’s instinctive (rather than ideological) feminist statement and Andrew Kötting’s coastal perambulation – still the finest psychogeographic film and a touching family album.

Cry, the Beloved Country was the first anti-apartheid movie and puts to shame subsequent entries that privileged the white man’s perspective; the disc’s archival extras were intelligently curated to reinforce the film’s continued relevance.

Thorold Dickinson’s baroque The Queen of Spades showed that Powell and Pressburger weren’t the only British visionaries who knew how to elicit the maniacal power of Anton Walbrook or match him with vivid actresses (Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchell).

Western Approaches, filmed as the battle of the North Atlantic raged around it, is a revelatory docudrama, lyrical in parts, that commends the stoicism of merchant seamen adrift in a lifeboat but doesn’t over-sentimentalise them.

New editions of Pandora’s Box, Contempt and Partie de Campagne vied for inclusion but their paths in home video are comparatively well-trodden.

Pamela Hutchinson
Film critic

Cinema’s First Nasty Women (Kino Lorber)
Lorenza Mazzetti Collection (BFI)
Freaks / The Unknown / The Mystic: Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers (Criterion)
Muriel Box Comedies (Studiocanal)
Kira Muratova: Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell (Studiocanal)

I broke my self-imposed conflict-of-interest rule to include the deeply impressive Cinema’s First Nasty Women set, as my contribution was so tiny and the curation project itself so vast, meticulous and joyful. If I permitted myself a second indulgence, it would be spent on the Eureka edition of Pandora’s Box, the film’s debut on Blu-ray. The other choices here represent my glee at finding more films directed by women, and films from the silent era, available on disc every year. Equally important as availability, of course, is the tangible care with which this work is presented, and these discs are exemplary.

Trevor Johnston 
Film critic

The Ranown Westerns (Criterion)
Cutter’s Way (Fun City Editions)
Unman, Wittering and Zigo (Arrow)
The Cassandra Cat (Second Run)
Universal Noir Vol.1 (Indicator)

Not to be taken as a best of the year, since changes in personal circumstances have put viewing off-limits for much of 2023. Herewith a few favourite titles from favourite publishers, though Eureka’s Pandora’s Box Blu-ray should by rights make it into the picture. Reports of physical media’s demise have been exaggerated, since as long as there are dedicated outfits working to pack their editions with expert transfers, insightful commentaries and worthwhile extras I’ll certainly be making purchases. Carving out the time for watching remains another story…

Philip Kemp
Film critic

Three Films by Ozu (BFI)
Partie de Campagne (BFI)
Kira Muratova: Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell (Studiocanal)
Muriel Box Comedies (Studiocanal)
Foolish Wives (Flicker Alley)

With the possible exception of Partie de Campagne, all these are releases of films/directors unduly neglected and fully deserving of being brought back to wider attention.  As for the Renoir, it’s very probably the finest short film ever made and can’t be re-released too often.

Ben Nicholson
Film critic

Black God, White Devil (Mawu Films)
Cinematic Sorceress – The Films of Nina Menkes (Arbelos)
Everything Everywhere Again Alive (Black Zero)
Klonaris/Thomadaki – Double Labyrinthe (Re:Voir)
Worlds: Selected Works by Ben Rivers (Second Run)

There is such a rich selection of physical media being released every year – it’s so exciting. This year my mind was drawn to smaller releases and collections of less lauded films which meant that many of my favourite labels from the UK and beyond who continue to do exceptional work – Arrow, BFI, Criterion, Indicator, Masters of Cinema, Second Sight – don’t feature. It perhaps alludes to the role that DVD and Blu-ray play in my cinematic discovery that the discs that come to mind are often the ones that have introduced me to a film, filmmaker, or the depth of their body of work.

Alex Ramon
Film critic

Tár (Universal)
Young Soul Rebels (BFI)
Interrogation (Second Run)
EO (BFI)
The Five Devils (Mubi)

Sophia Satchell-Baeza
Film critic

The Palace of Pleasure (Black Zero)
Jonas Mekas: Diaries, Notes and Sketches Collector’s Edition (Re:Voir)
Marie Menken: Visual Variations (Re:Voir/Filmmakers Cooperative)
Lorenza Mazzetti Collection (BFI)
The Ballad of Tam Lin (BFI Flipside)

Long live Black Zero label! I’m excited for whatever they put out next.

Josh Slater-Williams
Film critic

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Second Sight)
A Moment of Romance (Radiance)
Big Time Gambling Boss (Radiance)
After Hours (Criterion)
Katsuhito Ishii Collection (Third Window Films)

A particularly strong year for East Asian film releases, thanks to Eureka, newcomer label Radiance, Third Window Films, 88 Films, Arrow, Cinema Guild, and Chameleon Films. Radiance’s release slate in their first year has been incredibly exciting. While I haven’t received the disc at the time of voting, a shout-out to Arrow for finally getting the director’s cut of Michael Mann’s Blackhat onto disc.

Kate Stables
Film critic

The Last Picture Show (Criterion)
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Eureka Masters of Cinema)
Ingmar Bergman Vol 4 (BFI)
Streets of Fire – Collectors Edition (Shout Factory)
Imitation of Life (1934) (Criterion)

Matthew Taylor
Film critic

After Hours (Criterion)
Targets (BFI)
Kira Muratova: Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell (Studiocanal)
Jacques Becker Essential Collection (Studiocanal)
Cutter’s Way (Fun City Editions)

David Thompson
Critic and filmmaker

Pandora’s Box (Eureka Masters of Cinema)
Kira Muratova: Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell (Studiocanal)
Identification Marks: None & Hands Up! (BFI)
Red Sun (Radiance)
Twilight (Second Run)

In a year of distinguished new editions of films by acknowledged masters (Becker, Bergman etc), I’ve focussed in my choice on films that have barely been available in any accessible format before.  If I cheat with my number one it’s because this restoration of Pandora’s Box simply leaves all others behind.

Sam Wigley
News and features editor, BFI

Broken Lullaby (Indicator)
The Circus Tent (Second Run)
The Long Farewell
Twilight (Second Run)
Bluebeard’s Castle (BFI)

All of these were debuts on Blu-ray in the UK (I think…), and one of them – György Fehér’s incredible Twilight – I’d scarcely heard of before.

Other things to explore

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By Lisa Kerrigan

The best TV of 2021: the year in television

The best films of 2021: the year in cinema

By Isabel Stevens

The best films of 2021: the year in cinema

The best films of 2021 – all the votes

The best films of 2021 – all the votes