The Couch Potato Report Returns on January 4th!

The year in DVD
From collector’s editions to favourite shows, Hollywood brought it home
DVD sales have long been Hollywood’s crutch of choice. While movie audiences have been shrinking for years, the home entertainment business has assured robust profit margins for studios that now rake in more cash from DVDs than box office. 2005 leaves us, however, with the industry facing an uncertain future. In question is who will win the critical battle to determine what next-generation DVD technology looks like. Sony, which backs Blue-ray high-definition discs, appears to be the likely victor because it has the support of both Hollywood studios — and will be built into next year’s PlayStation 3 game console.
Opposing the Blu-ray group (not to be confused with the Blue Man Group) is a consortium, including Toshiba, that has developed the HD DVD format. Time is of the essence because sales of flat-screen high-definition television sets are spiking.
Worrisome, too, are recent reports that DVD sales may be peaking amid a pop culture landscape exploding with entertainment choices and ever-new technologies.
We say — let the suits do the fretting. We’re happy to kick back and pop in our favourite movie. Here are the Calgary Sun’s picks for the best movies released in 2005 on DVD.
1) SIDEWAYS: Alexander Payne’s keenly-observed follow-up to About Schmidt is both a mellow character study and a high farce drunk with emotion. The commentary by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church reveals the easy rapport they share on-screen translates off-camera too.
2) MILLION DOLLAR BABY: “I’m just doing what feels right,” Clint Eastwood tells effusive interviewer James Lipton (Inside The Actors Studio) during a chat with Oscar-winning trio Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman on the DVD. “I don’t think too much about it.” True, as a director, Eastwood makes every blow count. His wrenching, Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby is as spare and economical as the screen icon himself. Eastwood’s drama is as much about faith, sacrifice and contrition as exchanging left hooks.
3) STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH: The year’s biggest DVD — and movie — redeemed creator George Lucas with its sinister tale of how Anakin Skywalker finally fell to the dark side of the Force to become Darth Vader. The DVD’s bounty of extras is a Wookiee-like shout-out to fanboys.
4) CINDERELLA MAN: Ron Howard’s biography of Depression-era boxing legend James Braddock is a crowd-pleaser that entertains more than it illuminates. That said, it’s also packs a sucker punch thanks to an Oscar-worthy turn by Russell Crowe. For fans, the DVD goes so far to provide analysis of the actual Braddock-Baer fight that concludes Howard’s drama.
5) THE INCREDIBLES: Smart, sly, sleek and sophisticated entertainment that continues Pixar’s unprecedented dominance of all that is animated (Toy Story, Monsters Inc., A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo). The two-disc DVD is crammed with extras — the standout being the Brad Bird-directed short film Jack Jack Attack.
6) BATMAN BEGINS: Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins scraps the neon gaudiness of Joel Schumacher’s movies and puts Bats (Christian Bale) back in black. It’s darker, fiercer and far more ambitious than the previous films.
7) FAMILY GUY PRESENTS STEWIE GRIFFIN: THE UNTOLD STORY: Punctuated by cheerfully offensive humour that wouldn’t have flown on Fox, Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story plays very much like an extended episode as the matricidal infant searches for his real father.
8) MARCH OF THE PENGUINS: Think mating is hard for humans? Try being an emperor penguin in the South Pole. Or better still, watch this spectacular documentary from the warmth of your living room.
9) KUNG FU HUSTLE: Imagine The Matrix’s Morpheus discovering Wile E. Coyote is “The One” and you begin to understand the over-the-top zaniness actor-director Stephen Chow’s go-for-broke live-action cartoon comedy achieves. Chow knows that just because your film is fun, doesn’t mean it has to be stupid.
10) THE UPSIDE OF ANGER: Joan Allen provides the fiery centre of Mike Binder’s hilarious, human comedy, but it’s Kevin Costner — delivering his best performance in eons as Allen’s neighbour — who steals the show as a has-been baseball star turned talk-radio DJ who begins a boozy romance with the simmering widow.
DAILY SHOW INDECISION 2004: The most hilarious DVD of 2005 is this collection of memorable election-themed bits from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Included is correspondent Stephen Colbert’s featurette: Requiem for a Show That Was Daily.
SCRUBS — THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON: In praising Arrested Development, critics often overlook this medical comedy starring Zach Braff. It’s whimsical, sweet and consistently funny.
LOST — THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON: Among eight hours of buried bonus treasure are audition tapes, fun facts (Evangeline Lilly almost didn’t get the part of Kate because they couldn’t get the Canadian actress a work visa) and what-might-have-beens (producers wanted Michael Keaton to play Jack — and then kill him off).
THE OFFICE SEASON 1: A worthy remake of the British original thanks largely to Steve Carell’s fitfully funny performance as a boss whose incompetence approaches the superhuman.
MUPPETS: THE MUPPET SHOW: SEASON 1: It’s Muppet-ational. Each episode in this boxset features optional pop-up “Muppet morsels” that teach you about the show as you go.
MIAMI VICE SEASONS 1 AND 2: Enough ’80s goodness to make you want to gag yourself with a spoon. This cop drama fused an MTV aesthetic to genre television, changing the look and sound of the small screen.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA SEASON 1: This dark, gritty remake has reimagined the cheesy show into a space-bound parable for today’s anxiety-ridden paranoid world.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: Nobody ever did comic noir better than Hitchcock, as evidenced by these engrossing 39 episodes of this 1950s series.
NIP/TUCK: SEASON 2: It’s as silly as it is sinful, but this drama about cosmetic surgeons is heartlessly addictive.
EMERGENCY: SEASON 1: Before ER, there was this 1970s drama about paramedics.
GLADIATOR EXTENDED EDITION: After the likes of Alexander and Troy, Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic Gladiator only looks better than it did in 2000. The three-disc DVD includes a new widescreen edition of the film that’s 17 minutes longer, along with new commentary by Scott and star Russell Crowe — who won an Oscar for his role — and an embarrassment of behind-the-scenes riches.
VINTAGE MICKEY: This 90-minute disc continues the recent Disney trend of releasing classic animated footage on DVD. Vintage Mickey contains nine cartoons, including The Birthday Party, Plane Crazy, Mickey’s Revue, Building A Building and the legendary Steamboat Willie.
THE JAMES DEAN COLLECTION: James Dean has been dead for half-a-century, but the actor remains a pop culture icon. The Complete James Dean Collection includes two-disc special editions of Dean’s best-known films: East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956). This is the first time East of Eden has been out on DVD. The set even includes the “Drive Safely” ad Dean shot before his death in a car crash.
TOY STORY ANNIVERSARY EDITION AND TOY STORY 2 SPECIAL EDITION: It’s been a decade since this pioneering CG-animated comedy from Pixar Studios about the secret lives of toys revolutionized the industry. But Toy Story and its sequel are much more than just a landmark in cinematic technology — they’re deliriously joyous movies that, for sheer entertainment value, are unparalleled. The two-disc special edition of the original includes deleted scenes, games, making-of featurettes and a preview of Pixar’s next film Cars.
GHOSTBUSTERS GIFT SET: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are superbly deadpan as a trio of paranormal investigators who get a lot more than they bargained for when New York is overrun by ghoulish spirits in the sublime 1984 original. Too bad the 1989 sequel is a letdown — a tepid, misguided retread. This gift set includes both films as well as a host of extras, including three featurettes, deleted scenes and commentary from Ramis and director Ivan Reitman.
JAWS 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION: Steven Spielberg was just 26 years old when he directed Jaws. He lurched into the project, almost sank with the difficulties of shooting a scary drama at sea, and then found himself with a hit movie that remains as shocking today as it was in 1975. The 30th Anniversary Edition DVD is a classy two-disc set which includes an excellent two-hour documentary.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: The two-disc edition of this classic features Gregory Peck’s Oscar acceptance speech, commentary from director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula, the theatrical trailer as well as a documentary about the legendary leading man. There’s also an introduction penned by author Harper Lee.
THE DEER HUNTER: The last thing this five-time Oscar-winner needed was a longer version, yet the film, collected here in a two-disc set, provides keen insight into a particular time in the American psyche. A very young Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken are superb as life-long friends torn apart by the tragedy of the Vietnam war.
THE STING: This sly and wickedly smart Oscar-winner stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who established the standard by which all cinematic buddy flicks are measured. A comedy and caper set in the 1930s about two con men, it remains a vast entertainment.
CINDERELLA PLATINUM EDITION: Cinderella, the downtrodden maid-turned-glass-slipper-wearing-princess, has a fairy godmother to make her gorgeous. Cinderella, the Walt Disney musical, has digital wizards to restore its shimmering beauty — something that’s abundantly evident in the studio’s sparkling new Platinum Edition release of the 1950 animated musical based on the Grimms’ fairy tale. Along with the restored picture and sound, the two-disc DVD features an embarrassment of extras.
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION: Tim Burton’s enchanting fable about a boy (Johnny Depp) who is blessed but mostly cursed with razor-sharp scissors for hands. Since its release in 1990, Edward Scissorhands has been hailed as Burton’s most personal film, possibly explaining why it’s his best.
THE BRUCE LEE ULTIMATE COLLECTION: Five of Bruce Lee’s martial arts movies — The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Game of Death and Game of Death II — are collected in this informative must for fans of the superstar.
BILL & TED’S MOST EXCELLENT COLLECTION: For some, Marlon Brando will always be Stanley Kowalski. For others, Robert De Niro is Travis Bickle. And for others, Keanu Reeves will always be Ted of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel, which starred Reeves and Alex Winter, as a pair of affable ’80s-era dufuses. This Excellent Collection features an air guitar tutorial, interviews and even a cartoon episode of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures. To this we say, “Whoa.”
DONNIE DARKO: DIRECTOR’S CUT: Since its 2001 release ,this surreal drama starring a pre-Brokeback Mountain Jake Gyllenhaal, developed enough of a cult following to justify a director’s cut. It remains one of the odder American films not directed by David Lynch in the past 20 years.