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Blu-ray Favorites From 2018

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers (Kino Lorber)

By Matt Schlee

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In releasing its Pioneers of African American Cinema box-set several years ago, Kino Lorber stated an admirable mission to shine a spotlight on early films directed by non-white male directors. It continued advancing this goal with the second installment of the Pioneers set, which has finally made its way from a Kickstarter campaign onto our shelves. This massive six-disc set compiles dozens of silent films directed by the earliest female filmmakers, making for an incredible companion piece to the Early Women Filmmakers set released by Flicker Alley last year (the pair hardly overlap). Iconic filmmakers Alice Guy Blache and Lois Weber earn their own discs while the other four discs compile a series of shorts and features from other female filmmakers of the silent era. The set includes a massive 80-page booklet which includes details on all the films, essays, and suggested further reading recommendations. The discs also include a variety of academic interviews about the films and filmmakers, but the real value in this spectacular item is as an archive of sadly marginalized films.  

The Color of Pomegranates (Second Sight)

By Matt Schlee

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UK distributor Second Sight has had an outstanding year, emerging as a true up-and-comer in the world of special edition Blu-rays. Their releases of Heimat, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and The Changeling, among others all made respective splashes in the physical media world. However, their limited edition release of The Color of Pomegranates dwarfed even the Criterion release of the movie. The Second Sight edition comes in a substantial hard-case with a 112-page companion book containing informative essays as well as original memos regarding the notorious censorship of the film. The discs contain an audio commentary, two annotated commentaries, and several other quality supplements. It also beats the Criterion edition in one major way: it includes both the Sergei Parajanov cut of the film and the edited Sergei Yutkevich cut. Both editions are worth owning as the Tony Rayns commentary on the Criterion disc is worth the price of admission, but if you’re going to choose one version, Second Sight is the way to go.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Olive Signature)

By Kevin Jones

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One of the seminal 1950s science fiction horror films, Invasion of the Body Snatchers had been long overdue for a premier Blu-ray release. Fortunately, this release from Olive Signature delivers just that. It features a great collection of interviews and featurettes about the film that prove quite entertaining. They range from showing present day shots of its shooting locations and production stories to filmmakers talking about their first encounters with the film, highlighting the film’s lasting legacy. Even the smaller bits, such as a photo gallery of production documents and scrapped pages from the script offer a unique behind-the-scenes look at this terrific film. It is a very a comprehensive package, offering the kind of release a film of this quality deserves.

Creepshow (Scream Factory)

By Matt Schlee

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Directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King, it’s hard to argue that Creepshow doesn’t have first claim to the title of greatest horror anthology of all-time. Somehow both genuinely scary and hilariously absurd, the film consisting of five segments is wildly entertaining and was the perfect candidate for this great Scream Factory limited edition release. The Collectors Edition comes in a lovely hard case which includes a poster and a laundry list of special features, including a trifecta of audio commentaries, a heap of interviews, a restoration demonstration, a roundtable discussion, and more. This sort of treatment of a cult horror film is Scream Factory’s bread and butter, and this particular release is among their best work.

El Sur (Criterion Collection)

By Kevin Jones

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Víctor Erice‘s El Sur is one of cinema’s great “what if’s”, as he was only able to complete half of his intended vision. Fortunately, the Criterion release of the film brings that other half to life. The extras dive into what would have been there, including a heartbreaking interview with Erice himself. The inclusion of a roundtable discussion from Spanish television is also a highlight, offering expert and unique opinions on what El Sur was able to do, even if only half of the original vision. As a package, Criterion’s work with El Sur is the perfect example of what extras can do by examining both the film and the creative process. The addition of the novella the film is based on further cements this as a great overall release.

Night of the Demon (Indicator)

By Matt Schlee

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The best Val Lewton film not produced by Val Lewton, Jacques Tourneur‘s Night of the Demon has been a long sought after release by Blu-ray collectors. In this edition, Indicator satisfied more than just the thirst for an HD transfer, but instead put together a complete and loving appreciation of this cult film. The set includes four different versions of the film, plus an audio commentary and feature length documentary. It also collects a seemingly endless series of interviews and appreciations dissecting the most delightful minutiae of Night of the Demon. The limited edition version of the release, which is very nearly sold out, also includes an eighty-page booklet and a hefty box that earns the release a deserved special prominence on your shelf.

The Tree of Life (Criterion Collection)

By Kevin Jones

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Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life is one of the best films of this decade and has long been rumored to be coming to the Criterion Collection. This year, it finally did and exceeded all expectations. A great transfer and extensive list of extras – including a documentary, a pair of visual essays, and an interview with Jessica Chastain – help form the backbone of the release. However, the real coup is the new three-hour cut put together by Malick for the release. Whether one prefers the original version of the film or the new extended version, its mere inclusion is enough to make this one of my favorite releases of the year.

The Passenger (Indicator)

By Matt Schlee

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Getting their hands on Michelangelo Antonioni‘s The Passenger may have been Indicator’s greatest appeal to arthouse film fans yet. One of Antonioni’s English-language films, it stars Jack Nicholson during the height of his stardom alongside the wonderful Maria Schneider. It is a woefully overlooked work of one of the great European directors, and Indicator has shone an incredibly bright light on it. The disc contains a multitude of interviews and appreciations as well as Indicator’s usual hefty booklet of essays, but the real highlight of the supplement list here is an incredible three (THREE!) commentary tracks. This release is not simply a movie, but a full and comprehensive education in The Passenger.

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