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The Best Blu-rays of 2014

February 13, 2015

The home video market makes for an interesting comparison to Hollywood itself. The BD (Blu-ray Disc) and DVD market has much more to offer than just the latest box office smashes. Unlike in cinema, home video routinely sees major tent pole and prestige films being released alongside classic cinema, concerts, documentaries, anime, and other decades-old films you may have completely forgotten about. It’s a lot to keep track of and inevitably, a lot can get lost in the shuffle. That is the purpose of this list; to spread awareness of some of the best home video releases of 2014, whether you’re a burgeoning collector or simply a bargain-bin raider.

Netflix is great, but nothing beats having exactly what you want to watch, exactly when you want to watch it. I’ve mentioned several times in this space that I have a large movie collection, and I’ve been steadily adding BDs to my shelf for five years now. 2014 was a very strong year for the format, with many gems being released from studio back-catalogs and a slew of impressive box sets. This post breaks down into three categories: 2014’s most noteworthy releases; less prestigious releases (that I still appreciated), and finally, my top ten list (culled from titles I have actually collected).

Judging BD and DVD releases is not like handing out an Oscar. While the quality of the film is generally the most salient point of a Blu-ray review, the audio and visual quality presented on the disc, and quality and quantity of bonus features must also be taken into account. The lists below reflect my tastes, not only in the movies themselves, but the effort that appears to have gone into each home video release. Acknowledging that there are literally thousands of releases each year and the impossibility of collecting or even seeing them all, here are the best BD releases from 2014:

12 Great Blu-ray Releases from 2014

La Dolce Vita (The Criterion Collection)

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La Dolce Vita, to some degree, is a placeholder for all the great work done by The Criterion Collection this year. Dolce is a treasured piece of world cinema and gets an immaculate release here. It is yet another impressive release from a company that seems to do nothing but impress.

The Sopranos: The Complete Series (HBO)

I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1 (Paramount)

Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery (Paramount)

Fargo: The Complete First Season (MGM)

Hannibal: Season Two (Lionsgate)

The Americans: The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox)

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It was a big year for TV on BD. I’ve listed a few packages above that are of particular interest to me. They represent three of my current favorites and three vintage. Though more are worthy of mention, you can’t go wrong with any of the above. All featuring strong technical presentations (even the older shows), and generally strong collections of extras.

Nightbreed (Shout Factory)

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Nightbreed is an interesting little horror/fantasy hybrid. Not exactly acclaimed but it does feature a great Danny Elfman score and an extravaganza of monster makeup. What makes this a noteworthy BD release is the newly crafted director’s cut (widely seen as an improvement over the original), and several discs worth of supplemental features. With writer/director Clive Barker’s direct involvement (Barker also created Hellraiser), this limited, numbered, special edition is an important release for collectors.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino)

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A classic horror film from the silent era. One of the most influential films from the 1920s, this creepy impressionist work has been meticulously restored and given a full slate of supplements sure to please any historian or horror hound.

Mr Smith Goes to Washington (Sony)

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I love this movie. It features a peak-Jimmy Stewart performance and it’s the most un-ironically optimistic political film ever made. It’s a great film from a far-gone time that just makes you feel good. I had long wondered when it would receive the BD treatment and this release does not disappoint.

The Act of Killing (Cinedigm)

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A must-see documentary, this is a film about those who carried out an estimated one million political killings in Indonesia in the 60s. Execution methods are gleefully discussed and re-created. This is a special release because it includes the original version, plus a drastically expanded director’s cut and several bonus interviews.

Nymphomaniac (Magnolia Pictures)

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Lars Von Trier is a demanding filmmaker. It’s obvious that he demands a lot of his cast and crew, but I think he likes punishing his audiences just as much. Nymphomaniac is a challenging film. Divided into two parts, Von Trier’s ode to sexual obsession, certainly not safe viewing for some, is an achievement. Take your pick between two solid releases. One features the trimmed-down four-hour version, while the director’s preferred cut runs closer to six hours. More from LVT later…

5 More (that you won’t see on other lists)

The Counselor (20th Century Fox)

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Few people saw The Counselor. Of those who did, even fewer liked it. Ridley Scott’s latest film to hit BD may actually be better appreciated at home anyway. With a commentary and an extended cut of the film, perhaps a critical reevaluation of this film will be possible.

Dreamcatcher (Warner Bros.)

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One of the more disastrous attempts at adapting a Stephen King novel for the big screen, Dreamcatcher is a beautiful mess. It’s still a fun sci-fi/horror entry and the excellent treatment it receives with this release makes it more enjoyable than ever for its devoted fans.

Mallrats (Universal)

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This BD is beyond loaded with supplemental Mallrats goodness. An extended cut, and three-plus hours of deleted scenes and other extras… you name it. Kevin Smith’s early film gets the kind of souped-up release one might expect a for film of much higher acclaim. Long live Jay and Silent Bob.

Prom Night (Synapse)

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Like Mallrats, another cult favorite gets a release befitting a more revered film. Unlike MallratsProm Night actually gets a very impressive full restoration and looks incredible given its humble roots. Synapse surprised us by going all out here and it will be interesting to see what’s next for this studio.

Cannibal Holocaust (Grindhouse Releasing)

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Cannibal Holocaust is the gruesome exploitation film notorious for its cleverly-staged violence that had governments across the globe convinced that the actors had been killed during filming. Though the actors were not in fact killed, this film is still in the Pantheon of controversial films for its seemingly unflinching depiction of atrocity. For adventurous film goers, there just aren’t many films with must-see status matching that of Cannibal Holocaust. This BD release probably gives you more Cannibal Holocaust than you could ever want.

My Top 10 BDs of 2014

Robocop (MGM)

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MGM pays proper respect to a sci-fi classic here. Newly remastered video with just about all the old extras from the DVD days plus a new-to-video Q&A with Director Paul Verhoeven and other cast and crew.

The Jungle Book (Disney)

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This is just a piece of classic Mouse House animation I’m glad to have. A solid release in all regards but it’s the movie itself that makes this one worth it.

Harry Potter Hogwarts Collection (Warner Bros.)

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All eight movies. Every format (DVD, BD, BD-3D, UV). Every extra (or about 99% of them, but who’s counting?) including the eight-part Creating the World of Harry Potter documentary. It’s a treasure trove for Potter Heads.

Rollerball (Twilight Time)

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Speaking of forgotten classics, Rollerball is one of several great 70s science fiction films that suffers only from being released in the same era as Star Wars. A great sports movie set in a dystopian future which exaggerates the bloodsport narratives that surround today’s NFL. James Caan plays the aging star athlete who wants to go out on his own terms. The disc boasts a few cool supplements including two commentaries and an isolated score audio track, but the film is the actual prize here.

Thief (Criterion)

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Michael Mann’s dynamite début film, featuring James Caan (again), gets the royal treatment from Criterion. This release is worth having for the film itself and amazing video presentation alone. All those Criterion-produced extras only sweeten the deal.

Snowpiercer (Starz/Anchor Bay)

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Chris Evans stars in Snowpiercer (2014), from Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho. Snowpiercer is grisly and intense, but also delightfully offbeat. It represents the best of modern science fiction, and this release comes with an extra disc devoted entirely to supplements.

The King of Comedy (20th Century Fox)

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I’m so glad this overlooked gem is even available. It’s my dark-horse candidate for the Mt. Rushmore of Scorsese films. Essential viewing.

The Wind and the Lion (Warner Archive Collection)

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John Milius is an essential filmmaker in his own right and this is one of the best films he directed. This isn’t a particularly loaded release but features a great technical presentation of an often forgotten film and a commentary track by the storied Milius himself. Here’s hoping we see his long-rumored Genghis Khan screenplay get made someday.

Halloween: The Complete Collection (Starz/Anchor Bay/Shout Factory)

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This behemoth spans over 30 years, comprising all ten films, four boasting multiple cuts. There are enough supplemental features to last several October marathons, including a few “Holy Grail” items such as the remastered “Producer’s Cut” of The Curse of Michael Myers, formerly only available as a bootleg. This isn’t the most prestigious 10-film collection out there, but the inter-studio cooperation that went into this release is worth note, and Halloween will continue to be a cult favorite franchise, thanks in part to this release.

Breaking the Waves (Criterion)

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This was one of the most profound film experiences I had last year. It’s provocative and not for the faint of heart but it’s also incredibly moving. This release is as good as it gets for Lars Von Trier fans. His finest film gets a first-class release from The Criterion Collection.

Thanks to Blu-ray.com for images and being an outstanding resource for collectors and enthusiasts.

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