2011 was still a great year for the growth of Blu-ray , lots of old classics, odd obscure cult films and a long awaited sci-fi saga made their debut in HD. All of them looking better than ever in 1080p and showing the true latitude in the Blu-ray format solidifying it as simply the best true film experience available at home . Here is my top 13 Blu-rays of 2011, with all the great releases this year it was a struggle to get it down to just 13, Here’s part 2, enjoy kids…
7- TAXI DRIVER (1976) Director Martin Scorsese- I can’t remember the exact age I was when I first saw Taxi Driver, but I think it was in my early to mid teens. The first thing that struck me being a professional drummer at the time, was the opening credit sequence with the music of the great Bernard Hermann, such amazing tempo and mood to it. At the same time, the New York florescent like lights, the extreme grittiness of Michael Chapman’s cinematography and the rawness of De Niro/ Scorsese held my attention till the last frame. I always loved anti hero protagonists in stories that to be fully realized, the ending has to have weight and be really ironically messed up in the end. Taxi Driver hits every note that still resonates with lots of people till this day. It never gets old or dated and that is in part to the Scorsese/ De Niro dynamic that has work so well for many years after 1976. The real combined genius of the two can especially be seen in the scenes with a 14 year old Jodie Foster. All the character work done makes it so believable, like both these people actually live and breath in the real New York City of the late 70’s. The film looks the best at home it ever has in the Blu ray presentation. Without looking processed or enhanced in anyway by too much DNR the grain of the film transferred amazingly, bringing out the true beauty of the camera work and art direction. The real gem of the set it the 1987 Laser Disc commentary with Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader that hasn’t been available on any release since the Criterion Laser disc in ’88, this is a must for any Scorsese fan. De Niro kicks ass as Travis Bickle like no anti hero quite has since. One of the great classics to see and enjoy over and over again in 1080p. Quite brilliant shit .
6- LE BELLE ET LA BÊTE (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) CRITERION COLLECTION (1946) Director Jean Cocteau- Again in 2011 Criterion scores super high points on there classic film Blu-ray releases. The 1946 live action french language adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast is my favorite telling of that story, the film is a more adult take. The physical lengths that actor Jean Marais’s went to in his portrayal as the beast was astonishing to say the least. 5 hours getting into make up everyday before shooting , having animal hair glued to every part his visible body with disastrous after effects to his skin. The make up is so amazing it is still stunning that it was done in ’46, along with Cocteau’s direction and expert trick photography FX, it’s a film that will have you thinking twice about what was being technically achieved in the silver age of movie making. True gold in the cinema world, cheers to Criterion for their work on bringing us this and other greats films to our homes on Blu-ray.
5- PATHS OF GLORY CRITERION COLLECTION (1957) Director Stanley Kubrick- Specking of other great films that Criterion is bringing to HD, the next two are some of my absolute favorite classic cinema by my favorite director. Even in the early days of Stanley Kubrick directing career he had no problem in going to great lengths to get the details he felt he needed. Already widely known as a perfectionist, he shot 68 takes of the doomed men’s “last meal” scene. Because the details of the scene required that the actors appear to be engaged in the act of eating, a new roast duck had to be prepared for almost every take. Also shooting in Germany, the prison scene where the men discuss their fates ran overtime on a Saturday. Kubrick could not get what he wanted, and producer James B. Harris came to the set to tell the director after take 63 that overtime was not allowed in Germany. Kubrick resisted stopping in a rare show of temper. He finally got what he wanted by take 74. It must have been abundantly clear even at that point that he was a master of photography, the use of light, shadow, blocking and movement have never been done quite so cinematicly perfect before. The depth of his black and white films are an amazing achievement realizing how slow the film and lens were in the late 50’s compared to today, that makes it so so much more difficult to get a balanced look and feel to a film. The transfer to Blu-ray is like a god send to me, I love Criterion for giving us a film that look unbelievably beautiful and rich compared to the DVD, which looks some what flat. There is no doubt in my head that this is how Paths Of Glory was intended to look by Kubrick himself. Long Live The Cult Of Kubrick.
4- THE KILLING CRITERION COLLECTION (1956) Director Stanley Kubrick- Kubrick’s great race track robbery picture and considered his first true professional film as far as cast, crew and studio financing, even though he had shot and released two independently done features already. My very favorite production story about The Killing is the relationship between Kubrick and the director of photography, this was the first film on which Stanley worked with a cinematographer. Award winning veteran DP Lucien Ballard was hired because Kubrick was officially working on a film union production for the first time which prevented him from using himself as the cinematographer, as he had done in the past. On one particular shot in the scene where the guys plan the robbery, Kubrick asked Lucien to put a dolly track down in a specific place to move though the apartment set and use a certain length lens on the camera; Stanley went over to deal with something else while the shot was being set up, he noticed that the track wasn’t being placed where he had specified, after future inspection he realized a different lens was being placed on a camera much closer to the set than he had asked for. Kubrick call over Ballard asked what he was doing with the set up he asked for, Ballard replied that having the dolly track closer with a wider lens would make it easier for the crew to pull off the tracking shot and that it really wouldn’t change the perspective he wanted that much; Kubrick already at 28 years old was a extremely accomplished 11 year professional photographer understanding lenses and composition better than most humans alive, he knew that Lucien was full of shit and was screwing with him, directly with out raising his voice Stanley said, put the dolly track where I told to with the lens on the camera I asked for or get off my set; And really the best thing about the whole story in that Kubrick was absolutely right, what Ballard wanted to do totally changes the perspective and look of the intended shot. Even at 28 Kubrick wasn’t afraid of some one 20 years his senor. One thing that will always be true in cinema is that the foundation/ guarantee of all Kubrick films is an almost magically shot image on every frame, very close to every single frame could be a beautiful still photo or painting perfectly lit for the subject they cover. As far as the Blu-ray, another brilliant presentation by Criterion. As a bonus feature, Killer’s Kiss Stanley’s 2nd film is included as well, If anything you could say the lighting and use of the New York City of the back drop is very impressive considering he did all his own camera work on that film. One last little bit of trivia is that Rodney Dangerfield reportedly appears as an extra in the racetrack fight scene. Pretty dam cool. Long Live The Cult Of Kubrick.
3- CITIZEN KANE (1941) Director Orson Welles- For some reason this film really only gets better with age. The brilliance of every aspect of the production stands forefront in the Blu-ray and should be required viewing by every student, movie lover and professional film maker a like. In a real way the relationship that Welles and his Oscar winning DP Gregg Toland had was the exact opposite of Kubrick’s and DP Ballard on The Killing; On the first day of shooting, the first day he was ever on a movie set, Welles had no idea that it wasn’t customarily the directors job to physically set the lights where he wanted them, cinematographer Toland walk closely behind the Orson making a “shhhh” motion to all technicians he approached, letting the director do as he would; Later, the DP when asked why he would let an amateur like Welles set his shots up for him, he cited that the only way that some one like him, a veteran in Hollywood, will learn something new is to watch someone who’s never done it before. Also later in the film when Orson asked Toland to teach him about lens and the camera more, he told Welles he could teach him everything he knew in a weekend. In the end, it was this film that really destroyed Orson Welle’s directing career even though he would go on to direct a number of get pictures, but on none of them was he given total creative control like on Citizen Kane. Now if you really are one of those people who don’t understand why this is regarded by many film makers as the “greatest film ever made”, the Blu-ray is loaded with supplements including a great commentary from director Peter Bogdanovich who knew Welles for the last 18 years of his life; Also the brilliant award winning documentary the Battle Over Citizen Kane will give you an idea of the chaos the director caused with the picture, almost having his films negative bought and burned by top Hollywood players, one of the best “making of ” Docs ever done; on top of that the HBO dramatic movie RKO 281 in included as well. So much is right about this film and the HD disc is something to enjoy for a long while to come.
2- BARRY LYNDON (1975) Director Stanley Kubrick- Really this might have been my first pick of the year had the disc had a documentary or commentary, something. With no extra at all it still takes a strong second place. Again here we have a case of a film that was made for viewing on Blu-ray, the visuals that Kubrick has achieved is likened to the Thomas Gainsborough and other 18th century paintings he emulated so perfectly in his period masterpiece. The tones and use of light is unparalleled, even till this day nothing else has been able to achieve the look and feel of the film. First thing that comes to mind when thinking about Barry Lyndon is the look of the scenes shot all by candle light. A 50mm Carl Zeiss lens specially build for a NASA satellite was borrowed and modified with the Kollmorgen adapter used in still cameras to shoot whole scenes with only candle light. At f/0.7, the aperture was the largest build ever for movie use, and I’m sure no one has tried to do the same thing again. Kubrick pushed the medium every time he shot a film, no one will make anything with quite so much attention to detail again. Mostly because he took quite a long time to complete a project, Lyndon took 200 days to shoot over over a 2 year period; and the studios let him work the way he worked because he was Kubrick. No one is going to get two or three hundred days to shot a movie anymore unless it’s considered a guaranteed hit, and there is almost nothing that is. It’s been turned into business driving art, or maybe I’m wrong and it’s always been money driven. In reality the attention to every part of his productions, Stanley Kubrick has left us with viewing experiences that can never be replicated by any other filmmaker again. At least we have the chance to view and take in his genius in the comfort of our homes at the highest quality ever available. Long Live The Cult Of Kubrick.
1- STAR WARS SAGA (1977-2005) Directors Lucas, Kirshner, Marquand- Most who knows me are aware of my love for Star Wars. As a child of the 70’s and early 80’s, I was in that perfect age group to have the OG trilogy capture my imagination, it’s one of the big reasons that I decided to make my living in the entertainment industry. Over the years Uncle George has tinkered with the films so many times that the original seen in theaters May 1977 has long been lost. It really use to get me pretty worked up to think of some of the changed done for the Special Editions, Greedo shooting first is so lame and wrong, the dewbacks moving scene looks like crappy CG from a video game and the Jabba stuff in the hanger bay stops the flow and pacing that worked so well in the beginning. A New Hope gets off fine compared to some of the shit in Jedi, god what a shit pile ending with Hayden Christensen’s ghost beside Kenobi and Yoda with that shitty new song choice ending the saga now, where’s my yub nub track now? Well as expected there is new tweaking and changes to all the films, and to my surprises no matter how absolutely shitty the new screaming of Vader “NOOOOOO!” as he throws the Emperor to his death in Jedi is, I actually had been able to step back in the first time in my life and just watch these films as they now exists, I fully realized that these are George Lucas’s films. No one else, no matter how much they bitch and moan will never be the inventor of this universe. Uncle George is, and he’ll continue to mess with his creation till the end of days and we will keep buying it up until the wookie factory stops turning out stories in our favorite galaxy far far away. As far as the Blu-ray presentation, this is by far the best these films have ever looked, great new commentaries, deleted scenes and new never before seen footage on the bonus disc is worth the price of the set alone to true OG trilogy geeks. Holy Grail stuff for anyone who’s followed the films since the start. This set is a great reason to get into Blu-ray if you haven’t done so already. I am really looking forward to seeing what surprises the format has coming up in 2012.
Till Next Time. Stay Tuned.