The best Blu-rays (and DVDs) of 2019

Cinema lives on in these lovingly curated home-media releases, offering an amazing swathe of cult, classic and rediscovered marvels.

Below, 29 critics and curators nominate their top five Blu-ray and DVD editions of the year, spanning nearly 100 new titles; first, we present the top ten choices from their lists…

Updated:

 

The ten best Blu-rays and DVDs

 

Pinter at the BBC DVD packshot

10. Harold Pinter at the BBC

BBC (UK), DVD region 2

The BFI’s exemplary collection of ten Harold Pinter plays made for the BBC – some as adaptations, some written for the small screen – confirms his status as the great master of language as a form of violence. The plays look and sound excellent in the 2K transfers presented in the set, which also comes with a helpful booklet boasting a new essay from Pinter biographer Michael Billington.

 

 

 

9. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

Second Run (UK), Blu-ray region 0 / DVD region 0

Hara Kazuo’s film is one of the greatest of all documentaries – a confrontational, pioneering work, now available on Blu-ray from Second Run in a superb new restoration.

 

 

 

8. Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The Complete Films

New Wave Films (UK), Blu-ray region B (+ some region 0)

All of the Palme d’Or-winning Turkish director’s eight distinctive features are collected in this enticing box-set from New Wave, contextualised with a range of well-chosen behind-the-scenes documentaries and more.

 

 

7. Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount 1930-1935

Indicator (UK), Blu-ray region B

Though it collects the same six grand, eccentric masterpieces made by von Sternberg and his great muse at Paramount as last year’s Criterion box-set, Indicator’s package edges ahead thanks to its superb array of additional extras – from commentaries and new interviews to video essays. A superbly presented collection, as befits one of the greatest of all screen partnerships.

 

6. Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

Criterion (US/UK), Blu-ray region A / Blu-ray region B

Criterion’s mammoth collection of the 15 Godzilla films made by Toho Studios from 1954-75 is a magnificently lavish monument to a series of films once dismissed as little more than cartoonish trash, and an essential purchase for fans.

 

 

5. Coming Home

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

Hal Ashby’s film about a Vietnam vet (Jon Voight) who is nursed by Jane Fonda after being paralysed from the waist down, is a fascinating hybrid of the 1940s woman’s picture and the 1970s counterculture film. Masters of Cinema’s new Blu-ray does justice to cinematographer Haskell Wexler’s lyrical camerawork.

 

 

4. Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz

Arrow (UK), Blu-ray region B

A very welcome set collecting three films by the underappreciated Spanish master of dreamlike, feverish horror cinema in new Blu-ray transfers that highlight their visual richness.

 

 

3. Klute

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

Alan J. Pakula’s inky black, quintessential example of the 1970s paranoia thriller, with brilliant performances from Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, is finally available on Blu-ray in an excellent edition from Criterion.

 

 

 

2. Khrustalyov, My Car!

Arrow (UK), Blu-ray region B

Alexei German’s fascinating, maddening and truly uncompromising portrait of the USSR at the end of Stalinism is one of the key Russian films of the 1990s, and Arrow’s disc presented it in a fine new transfer, with an array of contextual extras.

 

 

1. The Koker Trilogy

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

The wonderful, compassionate trilogy of films that made Abbas Kiarostami’s name in the late 1980s and early 90s – Where Is the Friend’s House?, And Life Goes On and Through the Olive Trees – are finally available in pristine, beautifully presented Blu-ray editions from Criterion.

 

 

How they voted

 

Geoff Andrew

Critic and programmer

Hold Back the Dawn Arrow, Blu rB

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu rB

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort BFI, Blu rB / DVD r2

Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The Complete Films New Wave Films, Blu r0/B

Nicolas Philibert: Les Films, Le Cinéma Blaq Out, DVD r2

Five great directors, two box sets, three very gratifying revivals. While I confess to a very minor involvement in the release of two discs (the Demy and the Leisen), I selected them because both are marvellous films; the former comes with a superb array of extras, the latter is an extremely welcome release from a director whose work deserves to be better known. As for the Kazan, I’d never seen the film before, and found it something of a revelation. The Philibert and Ceylan sets are simply essential viewing.

 

Upekha Bandaranayake

DVD producer, BFI

Coming Home Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu rB

The Rider Altitude, Blu rB / DVD r2

Sign ‘O’ the Times 4-disc set Turbine Medien, Blu+DVD rB/2

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Limited Edition 4K Steelbook Sony, 4K UHD

Honourable mentions to:
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Masters of Cinema, Blu rB
Juniper Tree Arbelos, Blu rA
Madeline’s Madeline Oscilloscope, Blu rA
Dietrich & von Sternberg at Paramount Indicator, Blu rB
They Made Me a Fugitive Indicator, Blu rB
Rosa Luxemburg Studiocanal, Blu rB

 

Alex Barrett

Filmmaker

Room at the Top BFI, Blu+DVD rB/2

Der Gang in die Nacht (Journey into the Night) Edition Filmmuseum, DVD r0

Mikhail Kaufman: Ukrainian Dilogy (In Spring + Unprecedented Campaign) Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, DVD only

A Case for a Rookie Hangman Second Run, Blu / DVD r0

Mai Zetterling: Samlade Verk (Collected Works) 1964-1996 Studio S Entertainment, DVD r2

Following on nicely from last year’s Bergman collection, the most exciting release of 2019 is a box set dedicated to another great Swedish filmmaker, Mai Zetterling. It was nominated for Il Cinema Ritrovato’s 2019 DVD Awards, which does a great service every year in highlighting international releases, including Murnau’s Der Gang in die Nacht (which comes paired with Scherben, a key kammerspielfilm directed by Lupu Pick) and Mikhail Kaufman’s Ukrainian Dilogy (which includes In Spring, one of the best of the early city symphonies).

Elsewhere, Second Run finally released their long awaited disc of Pavel Juráček’s masterpiece A Case for a Rookie Hangman, and fans of Jack Clayton and Ida Lupino were well served by several new restorations (Kino Lorber’s Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Collection would have been next on my list, had I had more choices).

Also worthy of a special mention is New Wave Film’s release of Hu Bo’s superb An Elephant Sitting Still, which seems to have flown under the radar.

 

Chris Barwick

Producer: Second Run / Indicator

The Corruption of Chris Miller Vinegar Syndrome, Blu+DVD r0

Khrustalyov, My Car! Arrow, Blu rB

The Heiress Criterion, Blu-ray rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Klute Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Universal Horror Collection Vol 1 Scream Factory, Blu rA

Another exceptional year. The home video Blu-ray collector’s market just goes from strength to strength. It’s impossible to keep up with the barrage of amazing titles coming from UK, European and US labels. The above is nothing but a random choice…

 

Adam Batty

Critic

Demonlover Arrow, Blu rB

Human Desire Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu+DVD rB/2

Coming Home Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu rB

A Face in the Crowd Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

The Big Clock Arrow, Blu rB

It’s been a quiet year, full of solid single disc releases. Gone is the bravado of previous years dominated by bombastic box-sets (though Indicator’s Dietrich/Von Sternberg set deserves an honourable mention, despite being overshadowed by last year’s Criterion set) with individual discs proving the highlight of my year. Noir has had an excellent year, with the highlights being Arrow’s release of John Farrow’s severely underrated The Big Clock and Eureka’s treatment of Fritz Lang’s Human Desire (full disclosure: I worked on this).

 

Jeff Billington

Critic and producer, Indicator/Powerhouse

Monty Python’s Flying Circus Norwegian Blu-Ray Collection Network, Blu r0

Dawson City: Frozen Time Second Run, Blu / DVD r0

Fleshpot on 42nd Street Vinegar Syndrome, Blu+DVD r0

Putney Swope Vinegar Syndrome, Blu+DVD r0

Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy Arrow, Blu rB

Another year in which bold boutique labels continue offer what streaming services don’t: permanence, physicality, and superb new and archival additional features.

In a packed field, there were several labels that stood out for the boldness of their choices and the beauty of their releases, including Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy, Arrow’s box set devoted to one of the Art Theatre Guild’s most overlooked filmmakers.

Vinegar Syndrome continues to brighten the corners of America’s cinematic underground, illustrated by its superb restorations of Robert Downey Sr’s scabrous satire Putney Swope and Andy Milligan’s sleaze epic Fleshpot on 42nd St.

Second Run’s typically astonishing string of releases included Bill Morrison’s transcendent Dawson City: Frozen Time.

Finally, Network’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Norwegian Edition is a leap forward in the presentation of archive television, revisiting disparate original materials and restoring episodes from the bottom up.

While I can’t nominate releases on which I worked, Indicator’s Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J Warren and Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg at Paramount, 1930-1935 were incredible and beautifully presented labours of love.

 

Michael Blyth

Programmer, BFI London Film Festival/BFI Flare

Next of Kin Second Sight, Blu rB

The Killer of Dolls Mondo Macabro, Blu rA

The Hills Have Eyes Part II Arrow, Blu rB

Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J Warren, 1976-1987 Indicator, Blu r0

Amityville: The Cursed Collection Vinegar Syndrome, Blu rA

The ever-wonderful Vinegar Syndrome made my dreams come true once more, this time with a lovingly crafted collection of forgotten Amityville sequels. The films themselves are, for the most part, pretty naff. But hidden among this bargain basement bunch is the rather brilliant Amityville: It’s About Time, a standout entry from Tony Randell (director of Hellbound: Hellraiser II) that deserves way more attention than its direct-to-video roots might suggest.

The year’s other great Blu-ray box set came in the form of Powerhouse Films’ Bloody Terror, a long-overdue hi-def round-up of five Norman J. Warren exploitation classics. Ranging from the sublime (Prey) to the faintly ridiculous (Bloody New Year), this divine quintet is the ultimate showcase for Warren’s outré talents, and is essential viewing for both aficionados and newcomers alike.

Elsewhere, Arrow Video continued to impress with a surprisingly robust release of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes Part II. While far from the director’s best (it might even be his worst), this thrillingly misjudged sequel holds up on curiosity value alone, and the love that has gone into this beautiful release is undeniable.

Fans of Umberto Lenzi’s deliciously depraved Spasmo should seek out Miguel Madrid’s psychedelic curio The Killer of Dolls which made a welcome Blu-ray debut thanks to Mondo Macabro, while devout Ozploitation buffs were no doubt as thrilled as I was to see Tony William’s supremely creepy Next of Kin hit the shelves courtesy of the good folk at Second Sight.

 

Michel Ciment

Editor, Positif, France

Youssef Chahine gift box – 1954-1979 – The Egyptian Lament Tamasa, DVD r2

Ozu en 20 films Carlotta, Blu / DVD

Film and Not Film, Beckett and Keaton Carlotta, Blu / DVD

Finis Terræ and La Femme du bout du monde Gaumont, Blu / DVD

GW Pabst box – The Mystery of a Soul Tamasa, Blu+DVD r2

A series of remarkable rediscoveries.

 

David Cox

Film4 channel editor, UK

The Last Movie Indicator, Blu rB

Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J Warren, 1976-1987 Indicator, Blu r0
Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz Arrow, Blu rB

The Koker Trilogy Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Khrustalyov, My Car! Arrow, Blu rB

All the Colors of Giallo Severin, Blu r0

So much of my physical media collecting has become an exercise in nostalgia, an attempt to re-capture the giddy pleasure of going to the cinema in the mid-80s. So the likes of Cujo (Eureka Classics), Weird Science & Sixteen Candles (Arrow), Birdy (Indicator), Flight of the Navigator (Second Sight), Howard the Duck (101 Films), The House collection (Arrow) and Studiocanal’s 4K John Carpenter re-releases all somehow became essential acquisitions.

Other than that, I’m just eternally grateful to the boutique/specialist distributors responsible for these releases (and countless others). The effort and enthusiasm that goes into creating these discs/collections is awe-inspiring and spirit-lifting, representing a passion for cinema that makes even the impersonal act of buying a Norman J. Warren box set on Amazon feel hearteningly communal.

 

Sam Dunn

Producer, Powerhouse Films

Don’t Look Now StudioCanal, 4K UHD

The Magnificent Ambersons Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

The Best of The British Transport Films 70th Anniversary BFI, Blu rB

Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz Arrow, Blu rB

Putney Swope Vinegar Syndrome, Blu+DVD r0

Another bumper year in which we were treated to yet more incredible Blu-ray editions from a range of diligent and dedicated publishers. All five of these titles offer exeptionally rewarding viewing experiences, but the Geoffrey Jones films included on the BFI’s long-overdue BTF Blu-ray collection afford a particular pleasure. Wonderful.

 

The Ferroni Brigade

Critics, Germany/Austria

The Untold Story – Collector’s Edition Koch, DVD

Slovak Documentary Film 60 Slovak Film Institute, DVD only

Laurent Roth: Complete Short Films Huit Production, DVD r2

Legend of the Witches & Secret Rites BFI, Blu+DVD rB/2

The 3-D Nudie-Cuties Collection Kino Lorber, Blu

 

Will Fowler

Curator, BFI

Invention for Destruction Second Run, Blu r0 / DVD r0

Black Joy Indicator, Blu r0

Nightcleaners + ’36 to ’77 LUX, Blu/DVD r0

Polyester Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Dracula A.D. 1972 Warner Archive, Blu r0

Some people will tell you that DVDs are the way out (whilst also forgetting that Blu-rays even exist). Is that why Fopp in central London is packed with these two forms of physical media and that more people around the country buy video discs than watch (non-big, new) films online?

Dracula AD1972 is certainly the grooviest Dracula sequels ever made. This new Blu-ray makes all the bright zingy clothes from the downer early years of the grimy decade, look particularly sharp and carefully styled.

Edith Massey (Edie the egg-lover in Pink Flamingos) is tremendous in John Waters’ key crossover film, offering advice as the guardian angel in a limousine to dear Divine who is slowly being drawn into the charming world of Tab Hunter. Being a Criterion release, the diffuse, soft lightening is lovingly captured in this new 2K edition. Key film historian Elena Gorfinkel provides notes.

Nightcleaners and ‘36 to ’77 are urgent 1970s films digging into the context of a strike by women night cleaners, and their relationship to the union. The campaign to bring them back into circulation has been going on for well over ten years and this special box package includes superb contextual information and documents, plus new writing.

Antony Simmon’s Black Joy tells the story of a Guyanese man newly arrived in London and his experiences of institutional racism and local hustlers, painting a rich portrait of a local Afro-Caribbean diaspora. It was a delight to discover this punk-era artefact, shot documentary-style in Brixton and only ever briefly available on DVD 15 years ago, on the shelves of my local Blu-ray shop.

Second Run continue their great work with Invention for Destruction, a stunning 4K restoration of the Czech animator/live action hybridist’s 1958 proto-steam punk film which takes viewers beneath the sea and all over the world. Zeman’s work needs to be seen to be believed and this special release also includes two early shorts.

 

Robert Hanks

Critic

Pinter at the BBC BFI, DVD r2

Armchair Theatre Archive Vols 1–4 Network, DVD r2

Room at the Top BFI, Blu+DVD rB/2

Klute Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

They Made Me a Fugitive Indicator, Blu r0

It’s been a remarkably rich year for a medium that was supposed to be sliding towards obsolescence, and I could have filled the list twice over with ease. I feel a cad for having left out Elia Kazan’s anatomy of populism A Face in the Crowd (Criterion), Astaire and Rogers gloriously free in Swing Time (Criterion), Tom Tykwer’s warning from Weimar Babylon Berlin (Acorn), and Dick Clement’s bizarro Iris Murdoch adaptation A Severed Head (Indicator): all worth your attention.

As for my top five:

Cavalcanti’s They Made Me a Fugitive, a thriller laced with rich eccentricity and baroque performances, is the pick of Indicator’s list of obscure British masterpieces and quasi-masterpieces.

Klute is one of modern cinema’s greatest romances, if that’s not too soft a word for a film in which love entwines with paranoia, feeling is as menacing an intruder as any killer.

On Criterion’s Blu-ray, the darkness glows; Michael Small’s eerie score sounds fabulous. Room at the Top – 12 years and an era earlier – is another story about the difficulty of feeling, more conventional, but no less harsh in Freddie Francis’s coal-dust and steel monochrome.

Network’s archaeology of ITV regional archives is a magnificent project; range of theme and tone and the astonishing talents employed make these four volumes of early plays from Rediffusion stand out.

The BFI’s Pinter anthology is – oh gawd, what? Agony, mostly, but who said we were supposed to be enjoying ourselves? Gaze into it and see if it gazes back.

 

Pamela Hutchinson

Critic

The Alice Howell Collection Undercrank, DVD r0

Vida en Sombras (Life in Shadows + 22 restored short films) Intermedio, DVD r0

Fragment of an Empire Flicker Alley, Blu+DVD r0

The Magnificent Ambersons Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Mai Zetterling: Samlade Verk (Collected Works) 1964-1996 Studio S Entertainment, DVD r2

There’s one celebrated classic, beautifully presented by a prestigious label, on this list, but the rest of the titles introduced me to films that were less well known, and to two female filmmakers who deserve much greater renown.

Can a box set change your life? Probably not, but the wonderful edition of Mai Zetterling’s fascinating and complex work by Studio S certainly improved mine.

Elsewhere I discovered Alice Howell was just as funny as I had been told she was – even more so, in fact – thanks to the work of Ben Model and Undercrank.

 

Trevor Johnston

Critic

The Last Movie Indicator, Blu rB

The Incident Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu+DVD rB/2

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu rB

Klute Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On Second Run, Blu/DVD r0

For me the home cinema sector exists in a kind of dialogue with my own viewing history, whether it’s revisiting titles after many years, or providing a catch-up on those I somehow missed.

Dennis Hoppper’s The Last Movie fits into the latter category, a handsome edition of film which has more going for it than its messy reputation suggests.

Klute and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn I’d both seen in my teens on TV, and obviously wasn’t mature enough to grasp their myriad complexities.

The Incident was new to me entirely, and a startling discovery, while The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is my number one choice because it brings to Blu-ray in a scrupulously curated issue one of the most jaw-dropping docs you’ll ever see.

Honorable mentions too for Under Fire (Eureka Classics), Red, White and Blue (BFI) and the eye-popping 4k UHD transfer of Alien (Fox).

 

Philip Kemp

Critic and film historian, UK

The Before Trilogy: Three Films by Richard Linklater Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Khrustalyov, My Car! Arrow, Blu rB

The Fifth Cord Arrow, Blu rB

Diamonds of the Night Second Run, Blu r0

The White Reindeer Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu+DVD rB/2

I could have added in several more: L’Herbier’s L’Argent, Kachyna’s The Ear, box sets of Ida Lupino and Koreeda, etc. Despite continuing gloomy prognostications of the death of the DVD, companies such as Eureka, Arrow, the BFI et al continue to enrich our shelves with rarities, novelties, forgotten classics and exotic fare. Long may it continue.

 

Mehelli Modi

Founder, Second Run DVD

90° in the Shade Indicator, Blu rA

The Koker Trilogy Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Khrustalyov, My Car! Arrow, Blu rB

The Fate of Lee Khan Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu+DVD rB/2

Derek Jarman, Volume Two: 1987-1994 BFI, Blu rB

My choices are listed in strictly alphabetical order. In this age of streaming, it’s surprisingly and actually a wonderful time to be a collector and watch films in a physical format. The great independent publishers and labels have each dived in with their body and soul to produce the best discs and box sets for us.

 

Kim Newman

Critic

Monty Python’s Flying Circus Norwegian Blu-Ray Collection Network, Blu r0

Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz Arrow, Blu rB

Universal Horror Collection Vol 1 Scream Factory, Blu rA

Man in a Suitcase Network, DVD r2

Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

 

Ben Nicholson

Critic

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On Second Run, Blu/DVD r0

The White Reindeer Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu+DVD rB/2

Blue Black Permanent BFI, Blu+DVD rB/2

Paysages: Jacques Perconte Re:Voir, Blu

Nightcleaners + ’36 to ’77 LUX, Blu/DVD r0

As I think I said last year in this poll, what delights me most about the fantastic work being done by a multitude of exceptional home entertainment labels today is the excitement of discovery. In an ever more congested streaming landscape there is something invigorating about a new DVD or Blu release that demonstrates the vast care and attention given to a film you’ve not seen, or maybe not even heard of. It tends to be those moments that remind me of the extra value of a physical media release that draw my attention to a lovingly curated film, and its additional assembled materials, in a way that spotting it as I’m scrolling through pages of films online can’t match.

 

Naman Ramachandran

Critic and filmmaker, UK/India

The Cloud-Capped Star Criterion, Blu rA / DVD r1

The Doors – The Final Cut StudioCanal, 4K UHD

Ikarie XB 1 Second Run, Blu / DVD r0

Oldboy special edition Arrow, Blu rB

Apocalypse Now Final Cut StudioCanal, Lionsgate, 4K UHD

2019 has nothing in comparison to Criterion’s magisterial 2018 box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema and therefore the year has shown that the venerable label is not the only game in town, not by a long shot. While it is debatable whether yet another edit of Apocalypse Now was strictly necessary, now that I have made the heavy capital investment in 4K Ultra HD technology, the transfer is transcendental.

Arrow continues to knock it out of the park and the Oldboy limited edition release helpfully includes the other two films in the trilogy, besides a host of extras.

Second Run has been plugging away quietly and efficiently for years and with its transfer of Ikarie, can now take its place at the high table. The Doors – Final Cut is yet another reason to invest in 4K Ultra HD.

While Criterion has had a number of high-profile releases this year, I’ve chosen Ritwik Ghatak’s The Cloud-Capped Star, despite its woeful lack of extras, as it is a significant upgrade on the 2002 BFI DVD. Besides, this is a good way as any to demonstrate that India has masters who do not answer to the name Satyajit Ray.

 

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Critic, US

Khrustalyov, My Car! Arrow, Blu rB

The Image Book Kino Lorber, Blu rA

Cluny Brown Criterion, Blu rA / DVD r1

A Bread Factory Grasshopper Films, Blu / DVD

Bless Their Little Hearts Milestone, Blu / DVD

The order is alphabetical. (Sorry not to have room for 24 Frames, also on Criterion.) Even though my dialogue with Patrick Wang is one of the extras on A Bread Factory, it was contributed gratis, which I believe entitles me to include this release as a favourite.

 

Hayley Scanlon

Critic and translator

Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death Mondo Macabro, Blu rA

The Devil’s Stairway Korean Film Archive, Blu r0

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On Second Run, Blu/DVD r0

Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy Arrow, Blu rB

Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

It’s been another fantastic year for classic Asian cinema on Blu-ray with Criterion’s comprehensive Showa-era Godzilla box set a standout highlight. Containing all 15 films released between 1954 and 1975, the set bears witness to the changing nature of the franchise from its nuclear anxiety roots to wider environmentalist concerns.

Meanwhile, Arrow continues to do sterling work shining a light on Japan’s lesser known avant-garde auteurs with the long-awaited Jissoji Akio box set including the three films in his loose Buddhist Trilogy as well his fourth for ATG, It Was a Faint Dream. Not to be outdone, Second Run has also brought a long-awaited title to Blu-ray in Hara Kazuo’s essential documentary The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On.

The Korean Film Archive has once again excelled itself, releasing a series of underseen Korean classics in new restorations with revised English subtitles, but it’s Lee Man-hee’s The Devil’s Stairway that makes the list here for its creepy gothic atmosphere and sense of existential dread, while Mondo Macabro’s release of Kim Ki-young’s decidedly strange 70s horror movie Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death rounds things out nicely in showcasing a different side of Korea’s best-known golden age auteur to that seen in his universally acclaimed The Housemaid.

 

Kate Stables

Critic

The Before Trilogy: Three Films by Richard Linklater Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Early Women Filmmakers 1911-1940 BFI, Blu rB

Fuller at Fox: Five Films Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu rB

Of Flesh and Blood: The Cinema of Hirokazu Kore-eda BFI, Blu rB

Apocalypse Now Final Cut StudioCanal, Lionsgate, 4K UHD

 

Ben Stoddart

Video Publishing Business and Operations Manager, BFI

Coming Home Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu rB

Birdy Indicator, Blu r0

Don’t Look Now StudioCanal, 4K UHD

An American Werewolf in London Arrow, Blu rB

Klute Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

As I read back through my picks some recurring events and cast leap out at me; Vietnam (Birdy, Coming Home) Jane Fonda (Coming Home, Klute) and Donald Sutherland (Klute, Don’t Look Now). I wrote my dissertation on Vietnam on film and Coming Home was a major focal point. It’s quite simply one of my favourite films.

Working in Blu-ray publishing I’ve been going on about Klute to colleagues for years, almost giving up on someone giving it a decent release. Thank you Criterion! I was gutted when Indicator had to delay Alan Parker’s Birdy but the release has been well worth the wait. A somewhat neglected film that deserves to be revisited.

Arrow’s definitive release of American Werewolf is a very welcome addition to my collection and it’s great to see Studiocanal continuing its support of UHD and finally giving Don’t Look Now the sort of UK release it deserves.

What unites all my picks this year is the evolution of ownership. I’ve owned all five on VHS, DVD (when available), Blu-ray and in the case of Don’t Look Now, a 4K UHD. It’s a tough market out there for sure, but home entertainment has had quite a history… and still one hell of a future.

 

David Thompson

Critic and filmmaker, London

Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount 1930-1935 Indicator, Blu rB

Babylon Berlin Acorn Media, DVD r2

The Koker Trilogy Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

Pinter at the BBC BFI, DVD r2

Khrustalyov, My Car! Arrow, Blu rB

My first choice stands out as a too little-seen Russian masterpiece now given a loving and immaculate presentation. Pinter at the BBC was another indispensable collection from the archives of television – may there be many more of this kind. The Powerhouse Von Sternberg/Dietrich box set of course duplicates last year’s Criterion edition, but the UK version scores much higher on extras.

Kiarostami’s great trilogy at last receives a proper release. And – inspired by my near-namesake’s eulogy to the series – I happily binged on Babylon Berlin, which has to be one of the great television long-form dramas of recent years. Here’s hoping the seemingly inexorable drift towards more and more streaming will not stem the flow of such well-packaged releases on disc in future years.

 

Matthew Thrift

Critic

Sign ‘O’ the Times 4-disc set Turbine Medien, Blu+DVD rB/2

Journey to the Beginning of Time Second Run, Blu/DVD r0

Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount 1930-1935 Indicator, Blu rB

Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

The Koker Trilogy Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

I’d only ever seen Kiarostami’s Koker trilogy online, in terrible quality, so this Criterion release has been a holy grail for some time. The transfers are incredible, and the inclusion of Homework (1989) – which I’d never seen – a wonderful surprise. These sets don’t come cheap, so it’s a real pleasure to find so much attention paid to the design of the packaging, with each disc’s case fittingly nested inside another: a film, within a film, within a film…

Another holy grail is these Godzilla films, which have been favourites since childhood, if largely viewed in the wrong ratio and with poor dubs. A monster of a set, and a day-one purchase that I’m saving for the guilt-free luxury of the Christmas break. Here’s hoping they sell well enough to initiate a sequel set with the Heisei era films.

Once again, Indicator outdoes itself with a stellar collection, which (for shame) included a pair of Dietrich/von Sternberg collaborations I hadn’t seen. Watching them together over a couple of days brought bountiful riches, and this one will be at arm’s reach for some time.

Any of Second Run’s 2019 releases could take this spot – or all five here, even – the one label whose entire output engenders a thrilling sense of discovery month on month. The Ear and Case for a Rookie Hangman were revelatory, but this latest Karel Zeman release knocked me for six. Who’d have thought dino-adventure movies could be so lyrically inquisitive?

As someone who attended more Prince gigs than there are weeks in the year, this was a no-brainer, and about the best we’ve got these days – at least until more concert films start coming out of his legendary vault. It’s been knocking around on Blu via an expensive Japanese import for some time, but this deluxe German edition is as good as it gets, with a new sound mix to die for.

 

James White

Head of Restoration, Arrow Films

The Incident Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu+DVD rB/2

And Soon the Darkness StudioCanal, Blu rB / DVD r2

The New York Ripper Blue Underground, Blu r0

War and Peace Criterion, Blu rA / DVD r1

Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J Warren, 1976-1987 Indicator, Blu r0

 

Samuel Wigley

Critic and News editor, bfi.org.uk

Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The Complete Films New Wave Films, Blu r0/B

The Far Country Arrow, Blu r0

Journey to the Beginning of Time Second Run, Blu/DVD r0

Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount 1930-1935 Indicator, Blu rB

The Koker Trilogy Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

The Koker Trilogy had been out of sight for so long, it was a dream come true to see it get the full Criterion treatment – and in the same year as that label’s edition of 24 Frames too. I only hope more Kiarostami is in the pipeline, and that someone finds it in their hearts to give Angelopoulos similarly pristine treatment in 2020. Indicator’s Dietrich/von Sternberg at Paramount and Masters of Cinema’s Fuller at Fox packages were also indispensable – how about Val Lewton at RKO next?

 

Jason Wood

Artistic Director, HOME Manchester

Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The Complete Films New Wave Films, Blu r0/B

The Souvenir Curzon, Blu rB / DVD r2

The Last Movie Indicator, Blu rB

Derek Jarman, Volume Two: 1987-1994 BFI, Blu rB

The Koker Trilogy Criterion, Blu rA / Blu rB / DVD r1

In an environment in which foreign language and independent films more or less struggle to gain any purchase on cinema screens (witness Strickland’s In Fabric), streaming and Blu-Ray become increasingly important for new-release titles, which are gone from theatres in the blink of an eye.

The Souvenir is not one of those films of course – it achieved commercial success – but I include it here because it repays repeat viewings.

The Last Movie is something of a lost gem and Powerhouse – as usual – did a beautiful transfer and put together a lovely package.

My other choices comprise collections of titans of arthouse cinema: Ceylan and Jarman, the latter of which the BFI has done proud in 2019. The year’s standout though was the Criterion release of Abbas Kiarostami’s The Koker Trilogy. Each film is a small gem, remarkable in its humanity and seeming simplicity.

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