The eyes have it | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

The eyes have it

Who needs hobbits? the year in home entertainment was still awesome, and our resident movie freaks have pulled together their 50 favourites to prove it.

2046 (sony)Wong Kar Wai’s long-awaited follow-up to In the Mood For Love finally arrives on DVD in December. Partly a sequel to the doomed love affair of the earlier film, and partly a science-fiction mood piece, Kar Wai makes images as important as narrative. CK

Angel: Season 5 (fox)Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s shadow haunted this spin-off series for a few seasons, but in this, the last, it finally came into its own. The final eight episodes are both tragic and spectacular, besting Buffy’s finale by a good stake’s length. CK

Bad Timing (paradox/Criterion)This isn’t Nicolas Roeg’s best-known movie. It hasn’t the selling points of The Man Who Fell to Earth or Don’t Look Now. But its influence is such that it needs to be rediscovered. Long before Steven Soderbergh and Atom Egoyan were heralded for fragmented editing, Roeg’s disorienting cutting patterns were revolutionary expressions of his characters shell shock. Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell suffer the after-effects of a love affair that may be scarier than meets the surface. MP

Bambi: Platinum Edition (Buena Vista)It hadn’t previously occurred to me how off-the-beaten Disney path Bambi is. (How could it? It was the first movie I ever saw.) The combination of lush forest imagery and music finds its closest ilk in Disney’s Fantasia, 2001 and music videos. It’s the cute animals and narrative pretense that look out of place. But on this restored DVD package, the whole thing’s beautiful. MP

Batman/Batman Returns (Warner Home Video)The realistic tone of Batman Begins appeases some tastes, but the gothic surrealism of Tim Burton’s Batman films made a more surprising impression on pop culture. The mainstream blitzkrieg Bat-man created is exhaustively chronicled in hours of commentaries and bonus features—these discs are what special editions should be. The Bat, Cat, Penguin and Joker are conflicting portraits of isolated artists, craving attention or anominity. MP

Beavis and Butt-Head: The Mike Judge Collection Volume 1 (Paramount)The first collection of the Beavis and Butt-Head cartoons that creator Mike Judge hasn’t deemed too embarrassing to release is a nostalgic trip back 10 years, enforcing that despite the dim duo’s media saturation, the show was undervalued. I know most of these episodes by heart, but the highlights of this nicely packaged set remain hysterical: bite-size pieces of character-driven observation and insanity. MP

The Bela Lugosi Collection (Universal)All substance, no gristle. The Bela Lugosi Collection has a couple of trailers, but that’s it as far as extras go. What it offers is five movies for about $5 each. Three of them (Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat and The Raven) are acknowledged classics. The other two (The Invisible Ray and Black Friday) are modest entertainments featuring one of the most distinctive faces and voices of horror cinema. MP

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (paradox/Blue Underground)Dario Argento’s film debut is more restrained in its gore and storytelling than later ventures. But it’s one of the key thrillers of the ’70s. The director’s gift for building scares and intrigue is already unmistakable, as is his pet theme of the culpability of artists, this time exploring the connection between a writer and a serial killer to whom he bears witness. This two-disc version finally gives the movie the DVD release it deserves. MP

Birth (alliance)Director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) pays tribute to both Kubrick and Polanski in this atmospheric drama. The story of a 10-year-old who claims to be the resurrected husband of Nicole Kidman’s widow takes some strange, illogical twists, but will stay with you long past the credits. CK

Born Into Brothels (Thinkfilm)This year’s Academy Award winner for best documentary, Born Into Brothels reveals the lives of children of prostitutes living in North Calcutta. It’s a film both grim and joyful, and gives a sense of the children’s potential beyond their circumstances, without sentiment or pity. CK

Bride & Prejudice (alliance)Jane Austen by way of Bollywood. The Edwardian class struggle source material fits perfectly with the blokes-in-frocks bawdiness and the over-the-top conventions of Indian musicals, full of colour, gesture and romantic melodrama. CK

Code 46 (mgm)Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton make an unlikely couple in Michael Winterbottom’s little-seen film, but their forbidden love carries through chilly science fiction plot twists out of a William Gibson novel. Minor moments are strangely poetic: Mick Jones sings Clash karaoke and Anne of Green Gables is an erotic classic. CK

The Corporation (mongrel media)A primer for anti-globalization, this long but fascinating Canadian-made documentary touches upon economic greed in many, many forms by comparing the corporate model with a psychopathic personality. More even-handed than Michael Moore, it’s essential viewing as part of the new wave of politicized documentaries. CK

Deadwood: Season 1 (hbo)HBO scores again with another unusual dramatic series. This is a western set in a town in South Dakota incorporating actual historical characters such as Wild Bill Hickok. Some of the frequently flung expletives may be a little too contemporary, but the spirit is authentic and compelling. CK

Dear Frankie (alliance)The feel-good British provincial romance of the year, it tells the story of a young mother trying to protect her son from the truth of his father’s absence by forging letters from him. Though the set-up is contrived, everything else is right on, particularly Gerard Butler pretending to be the boy’s seafaring dad. CK

The Devil’s Rejects (Lion’s Gate)Already a much bigger hit on video than in theatres—evidently people feel safer watching this stuff at home—Rob Zombie’s semi-sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses is really a vicious Western. Breaking the record for F-words uttered in a legitimately recognized film, its cult shelf life is inevitable. The DVD is a good next step, inspiring struggling directors with hours of quality on-set footage of the filmmaking process. MP

Entourage: The Complete First Season (hbo)Based on the personal experiences of producer Mark Wahlberg, this Hollywood-skewering comedy follows the lives of a young actor and his buddies, who don’t do much. As much wish fulfillment as satire, Entourage is Sex and the City for guys. As superagent Ari Gold, Jeremy Piven finally finds the role he was born to play. CK

Essential Steve McQueen Collection/The Steve McQueen Collection (warner/mgm)You can’t go wrong with either of two recently released Steve McQueen box sets. One has Bullitt, The Getaway and The Cincinnati Kid, the other The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven. This is the great work of the first modern tough-guy actor. CK

Fever Pitch (Fox)The 40-Year-Old Virgin comes close, but it’s the Farrelly Brothers who made the year’s most subversive, affectionate date movie. Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore struggle to keep their romance alive against personal neuroses. Fallon’s all-consuming Red Sox fandom is a roadblock to other interests—tunnel vision at its most senseless and passionate. It’s a better Woody Allen film than any of Allen’s recent output. MP

Flight of the Phoenix (Fox)Figuring this remake of 1965’s Flight of the Phoenix would be disposable, I never caught it in time for a review last Christmas. On a recommendation, I saw the film on its last night of release, entranced by its adventure tropes and surprised by its social politics. DVD doesn’t match the experience of seeing John Moore’s sand-and-sky vistas on a screen bigger than you are. But it does include a making-of documentary where the director goes crazy and throws a chair. MP

Fire and Ice (paradox/Blue Underground)It’s the collaborative appeal of director Ralph Bakshi teaming with famed artist Frank Franzetta that makes the extras on Blue Underground’s two-disc set more enthralling than the movie they’re supporting. Fire and Ice plays like a longer, slower He-Man and the Masters of the Universe episode—with of course the bonus of Bakshi’s dependable booty fixation. But its history of video obscurity makes it a definite curiosity. Through Blue Underground an OK film finally takes its stand as a great DVD. MP

The Fly (Fox)David Cronenberg’s best film is also his most mainstream, largely because its ickiness is universally shared. In the story of scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), Cronenberg’s remake of the Vincent Price B-classic combines the repulsion of insects with fear of disfiguration. The 160-minute documentary included is an embarrassment of riches. MP

Freaked (Anchor Bay)Alex Winter (the Bill half of Bill and Ted) directed and starred in this 1993 oddity that also featured Keanu Reeves as Dog Boy and Mr. T as the Bearded Lady. Freaked was initially conceived as a showcase for The Butthole Surfers. Those plans fell through—as did most of the project (it ended up grossing just $29,000). But it’s a revitalizing shot of insanity, and it’s worth acknowledging the generosity of Anchor Bay for not just sneaking this out, but releasing it as a massive special edition. MP

The Girl in the Café (hbo)Writer Richard Curtis (Love, Actually) pens this little love story set against the world of international aid and a G-8 summit in Iceland. Though a little naïve in its political ambitions, the love story between odd couple Bill Nighy and Kelly MacDonald is awkward and wonderful, making this HBO film worth seeking out on DVD. CK

The Hammer Horror Series (Universal)The movies from the British studio are all examples of horror films that excel through encroaching atmosphere before shock effects. They’re nicely transferred on disc, but here’s the main selling point: You get eight of them, for the price of a single DVD. Factoring quality and quantity, it might be the year’s best deal for movie fans. MP

Harakiri (paradox/Criterion)Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 moral drama avoids (even criticizes) the epic scale inherent in samurai films. Yet it’s thrilling and involving in ways that few straight genre films accomplish. Harakiri—the Japanese term for ritual suicide—has a scene of extended violence of such sobriety it really succeeded in making me cringe. The DVD offers ample insight into one of the key works of Japanese cinema. MP

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (New Line)The college sex comedy meets the buddy road movie, handled with a mounting insanity that’s a step away from being a horror film. Danny Leiner’s one-night adventure of Chinese and East Indian best buds on a trek for the perfect hamburger is faster and funnier than its white gross-out kin. That’s why the DVD has such high replay value. It’s the most spirited, defiant movie of its kind since Repo Man. MP

High Tension: Unrated Version (Lions Gate)For completists, you get in one package both the original French cut and the watered down English dub version. Lost amid complaints of the (admittedly) terrible ending, is the most relentless, imaginatively shot and sustainedly suspenseful straight horror film of 2005. In terms of taste and ideology, the Alexandre Aja serial killer chase pic is pretty disgusting. Like Dario Argento’s better movies, it has the nerve and style to justify that uneasiness. MP

The Incredibles (walt disney)Pixar makes the best-quality cinematic family entertainment you can get. The Incredibles’ superhero adventure continues the streak started with Toy Story through Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, and the DVD is a deluxe package for anyone wanting to get into the animation details. CK

The Jerk (Universal)Before Steve Martin was consciously smart, he was in this deceptively stupid comedy about a nomad who was born black and is afraid of cans, then gets rich enough to afford a bathtub shaped like a clam. For a 20th Anniversary Edition, the quantity of extras is lame. It’s just nice to see the still fitfully hilarious movie finally receive a widescreen home video treatment. MP

Kagemusha (paradox/Criterion)Available on DVD in the (first time in North America) 20-minute longer version, the added length doesn’t make Kagemusha more tedious. Denser and more exhilarating, it restores Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece. Text on the DVD box calls Kagemusha “a play between illusion and reality.” It’s really more interesting in its look at the denial of defeat as a ruse toward victory. The two-disc set includes an interview with producers George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, who helped fund the film when a suicidal Kurosawa couldn’t get financing. MP

Kinsey (20th century fox)The best biopic of 2004 (Ray wasn’t even close) is of the infamous sex researcher (Liam Neeson) and the unorthodox experiments he conducted with the help of his wife and colleagues. Laura Linney and Peter Sarsgaard soar in their roles, and the making-of documentary on the DVD is so good it could have been sold separately. CK

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (criterion)Not particularly appreciated upon its theatrical release, this film will one day be seen as Wes Anderson’s quirky masterpiece. It’s a love letter to anyone who as a child enjoyed the work of Jacques Cousteau, and has the best use of David Bowie’s songs in the movies ever. Top-notch Criterion DVD package, too. CK

Lost: Season 1 (Buena Vista)Even in its early stages, JJ Abrams’ Pacific-island-on-the-Twilight-Zone series has in spades what few lasting TV dramas achieve: universal empathy, gripping plotlines, surprise and moral conviction. If you’ve worn out your Buffy DVDs, Lost is the next best stop. It’s TV at its most authentically Spielbergian. MP

The Machinist (paramount)This absorbing little claustrophobic thriller is notable mostly for the physical transformation undergone by lead Christian Bale. His body becomes a character in the film—the actor starved himself to a frighteningly skeletal extreme. Watch The Machinist with Batman Begins and the level of his obsessive physical commitment to his work is clear. CK

Masculin, Feminin (paradox/Criterion)The most enthralling balance of joy and experimentation of Jean-Luc Godard’s career. Existential crisis and the pursuit of sex play into the semi-improvised escapades of a young man’s afternoons spent in arcades and coffee shops. The greatest youth film ever? The feature-laden Criterion release certainly makes that a case. MP

Me and You and Everyone We Know (allaince)Unapologetically quirky, Miranda July’s first feature is a love story and character study set in a no-name suburban town, very familiar to anyone who saw Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World. This is about the wisdom of children and the innocence of adults, and is funny and painfully sad all at once. CK

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (paramount)Twenty years of creative and personal politics come to a head in this documentary about the legendary metal act. Sacrificing any lingering mystique, the band give the filmmakers almost uncomfortably intimate access, revealing the drive to be the best sometimes comes as much from insecurity as it does from perfectionism. CK

My Summer of Love (alliance)Two Yorkshire girls become friends and then lovers under the sun-dappled trees of the eternal summer afternoon. It’s not all pastoral bliss: teenaged boredom, betrayal and innocence are served up and cut down. The commentary by director Pawel Pawlikowski is essential. CK

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (Buena Vista)Hayao Miyazaki’s early epic is almost a blueprint for his later Princess Mononoke, but stands high on its own. There’s majesty and conviction in its telling of a young girl’s stand as warring kingdoms succumb to environmental destruction. Nausicaa earns the title of mature without using it as a cloak for dullness. It’s an essential anime. MP

Omagh (sundance)A dramatization of the events during and following the August 15th bombing of the Northern Ireland town of Omagh, the story is told largely on the shoulders of one man and his family, a soft-spoken mechanic who gets involved in pursuing the bombers. The authenticity of the direction and sense of people and place make it feel like more of a historical document. CK

PS (columbia tri star)Laura Linney is a university admissions officer who meets a man half her age who she believes may be the reincarnation of her long-dead high school sweetheart. Not so much a supernatural romance, more a comedy and drama of regret and romance between generations. Topher Grace excels as the young man in question. CK

Primer (columbia tri star)Director-writer-star Shane Carruth twists the pretzel logic of time travel for his own purposes in his ambitious first film. Like all great science fiction, it uses a fantastic premise to explore broader moral dilemmas while budgetary constraints become its strength: Special effect flash is eschewed for an unsettling, analogue skitter and hum. CK

The Thin Man Collection (warner)When critics grouse about how modern movies miss the art of repartee, when they whine about an absence of chemistry between the leads, this is the film series they’ll most likely point to as having the best combination of those elements. William Powell and Myrna Loy solve murder mysteries, drink midday cocktails and make marriage look like endless fun. CK

Three War Films: The Andrzej Wajda Collection (paradox/Criterion)Collected in a boxed set, the movies A Generation (1955), Kanal (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958) tell of Poland’s role in WWII. It’s the middle film that’s the toughest, following some members of the Warsaw Uprising as they venture through sewers toward freedom. All three are unflinching examinations of human pawns, without sugarcoated resolutions or flaunted political agendas. These 1950s anomalies still carry a powerful force. MP

The Tragically Hip: That Night In Toronto (Universal)In a year where live music on DVD has exploded onto the market, this show packaged as part of the band’s retrospective Hipeponymous box set is notable. It should remind fans that despite uneven albums, 20 years on the road makes for a great show supporting a body of work now full of gems. CK

Tropical Malady (Strand)It was booed at Cannes—evidence that the stargazers who populate film festivals are even bigger philistines than most American critics. Whether or not you understand this Thai import (it certainly doesn’t make literal sense), there should be no doubting its sensory excitement. Through endless jungles and mythical tigers, Tropical Malady expresses the confusion of a romance fated to impossibility. MP

Very crudely yours, John Waters(Alliance/New Line)John Waters never lost it, although his most recent film A Dirty Shame runs out of steam after 30 minutes. This very pink box collects Waters’ New Line releases, from gutter punk nasties like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble to the eventual indie respectability earned with Hairspray and beyond. The filmmaking is never as impressive as the unmistakable sweet yet satiric sensibility—particularly resonant in Pecker, which after seven years emerges as Waters’ sharpest comedy. MP

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (sundance)Danish director Lone Sherfig’s follow-up to Italian for Beginners, this is the story of two Scottish brothers, one of whom is terminally depressed. Beginning as a black comedy it becomes a sweetly affecting love triangle. Don’t be put off by the clumsy title. CK

The Wizard of Oz: Collector’s Edition (Warner)The movie seen by everyone who’s ever seen a movie receives another DVD treatment. But this extensive collection has the feel of something ultimate. The third disc of extras, with Oz films that predate this one, is the most enticing. MP

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