12 DVDs of 2009
Peter Travers Picks the Top 12 Dvds Of 2009 To Rock Your Home Theater
1. Star Trek
Geek heaven, thy name is the three-disc Blu-ray special edition of Star Trek. I won’t BS you that the Star Trek BD (Blu-ray disc, for the uninitiated) boldly goes where no DVD has gone before. Technical pow is available everywhere these days, even on the crappiest movies (hello, GI Joe). What’s rare is finding a DVD that kicks ass first as quality entertainment and then as a demo disc to kick out the jams of the video and sound equipment you’ve busted a wallet to amass at home. The top dozen DVDs on these pages nail it on both counts.
Star Trek, a vibrant reimagining of the 1960s TV show by pop-pop-fizz-fizz director JJ Abrams, heads my list. Abrams and an ace cast, led by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as the young versions of Kirk and Spock, respectively, have crafted the best Star Trek movie ever. Not really that hard, since 1982’s The Wrath of Khan was the only standout among 10 previous films. But Abrams really humps it on the BD, sending out image and sound to make you weep while your home-theatre setup gets a workout. The opening space battle that establishes the back story for the franchise rattles and hums like a U2 concert. Equally exceptional is the attention to fine detail, from Spock’s ears to the creation of new aliens on Delta Vega and the green girl Kirk is banging. The Star Trek BD puts you right on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with a ticket to ride.
EXTRA PUNCH: Abrams is a master at DVD commentary without the usual horn-blowing. The deleted scenes actually deserve preserving. The making of the soundtrack is a literal blast. We learn why Leonard Nimoy gets to appear in the movie as Spock Prime and William Shatner (Kirk Prime) has to sit it out. And check out the new web-cam technology, which offers a 3-D-ish holographic tour of the Enterprise itself.
KILLER SCENE: I’ve got to go with Kirk on the ice planet, especially his snowy encounter with Big Red, a monster that evokes beauty and terror. Of course, just watching the last moment of Nimoy’s Spock onscreen is a subtle, lyrical tribute. That’s the magical combination that lets the Star Trek BD blow your mind without losing touch with your heart.
This miracle from Pixar deserves to snag an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, which would make it only the second animated feature (after Beauty and the Beast) to do so. Bring it on, I say, after watching this gem again on the four-disc Blu-ray Combo Pack. The story about a grumpy codger (voiced by Ed Asner), a chubby kid and a house hoisted by helium balloons is tinged with darkness and pain. You can feel the creativity whooshing through every frame.
EXTRA PUNCH: Cine-Explore lets directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson take you through every step of the movie with picture-in-picture displays for each detail they reference.
KILLER SCENE: The air and jungle action amazes, but I’ll take the near-silent prelude that depicts an entire marriage in just a few minutes of pure enchantment.
3. District 9
Even with a meagre budget of $30 million (chump change for producer and Rings lord Peter Jackson), District 9 delivers the goods. And it looks and sounds like $30 million more on this two-disc Blu-ray special edition. Jackson and South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp make sure that District 9 goes whup-ass on your nervous system without forgetting the racist parable at its core. A spaceship stalls over Johannesburg, and it’s up to government flunky Wikus (the superb Sharlto Copley) to haul the aliens off to concentration camps that mirror apartheid policies.
EXTRA PUNCH: Blomkamp’s commentary is unusually sharp, and a documentary on the alien agenda fills in holes regarding South African history.
KILLER SCENE: Wikus’ infection from an alien virus results in a devastating transformation that gives the movie its soul. And Copley, channeling Jeff Goldblum’s tour de force in The Fly, will haunt dreams.
4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Darkness falls on the hypnotic sixth instalment in the Potter franchise. And this two-disc Blu-ray special edition is your ideal guide for a twisty ride into the shadows as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is taunted by the blond, bullying Draco Malfoy (a terrific Tom Felton) and faces the loss of a mentor.
EXTRA PUNCH: Something called “Maximum Movie Mode” creates a nifty interactive experience with the movie and director David Yates. For laughs, try the feature where a cheeky Felton fires questions at his fellow actors.
KILLER SCENE: Harry on a lake as corpses rise up to stop him from finding the Horcrux, where part of the Dark Lord’s soul resides.
5. Public Enemies
The digital camerawork, some hand-held, drives a few viewers nuts, causing Michael Mann’s landmark gangster film about John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and the G-man (Christian Bale) who brought him down to be criminally underrated. This two-disc Blu-ray special edition deserves to make converts. To my eyes, the clarity of the images is simply astonishing.
EXTRA PUNCH: Commentary by Mann, a true American original, giving his reasons.
KILLER SCENE: The 1934 FBI raid on Dillinger and his gang at Wisconsin’s Little Bohemia Lodge with Tommy-gun fire exploding. You’ll be cowering.
6. Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino takes on the Nazis, along with Brad Pitt and his GI Jews. My jones for the movie amped up watching its gorgeous Blu-ray transfer.
EXTRA PUNCH: Nation’s Pride, the propaganda film shown in part to Hitler and his cronies, is seen in its entirety.
KILLER SCENE: The theatre-fire climax is a QT blazer, as is the opener, when a Nazi colonel (an Oscar-ready Christoph Waltz) engages a French farmer in a diabolical game of cat-and-mouse.
7. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
John Travolta hijacks a subway train. Dispatcher Denzel Washington tries to stop him. Blu-ray makes you feel the speed, dirt and danger in your bones.
EXTRA PUNCH: Sassy commentary from director Tony Scott, until he calls the 1974 original with Walter Matthau “dumb.” That’s dumb.
KILLER SCENE: The train hurtling at warp speed.
8. Drag Me to Hell
The most fun I had at a horror flick this year comes from director Sam Raimi, who returns to his Evil Dead roots in this tale of an old gypsy woman putting a curse on the loan officer (Alison Lohman) who forecloses on her home. The Blu-ray earns extra points for expert sound editing that ups the decibel level of every scream.
EXTRA PUNCH: The “making of” feature almost makes up for the lack of Raimi commentary.
KILLER SCENE: Watch for the chilling “here, kitty, kitty” moment.
9. Fight Club
The hot-button movie of 1999 gets the Blu-ray treatment at last, and I’m in DVD paradise. Edward Norton as a work slave and Brad Pitt as his polar opposite hit career peaks.
EXTRA PUNCH: New commentary from Norton, Pitt and director David Fincher.
KILLER SCENE: Norton beating himself up in front of his boss ”“ a shocker that cuts to the heart of the film’s mystery.
10. Wings of Desire
Is this the most beautiful black-and-white film ever made? The Wings Blu-ray from the wizards at Criterion, dispensing full justice to the artful cinematography of Henri Alekan, builds a strong case for Wim Wenders’ 1987 tone poem about angels who watch over Berlin.
EXTRA PUNCH: Newly recorded Wenders commentary, plus 40 minutes of deleted scenes totally without dialogue.
KILLER SCENE: Angels on the subway listening to the thoughts of passengers that begin to blend in a symphony of sound.
11. North by Northwest
Alfred Hitchcock debuts on Blu-ray with his 1959 classic about adman Cary Grant on the run. It’s never looked better.
EXTRA PUNCH: Martin Scorsese weighs in.
KILLER SCENE: Grant alone in a cornfield until a crop-duster appears. Duck.
12. It Might Get Loud
Three guys playing guitar. That’s all. But since they’re guitar gods Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White, this Blu-ray is indispensable.
EXTRA PUNCH: An interactive playlist to bookmark your top songs.
KILLER SCENE: The moment when the three men, visited individually, get onstage together and rock out.