The 2010 Golden Gavel Awards
SANTA MONICA, CA (31 Dec 2010) As we wind down yet another year in home entertainment, the Verdict staff once again offers up a look at the best DVD and Blu-ray releases gracing retail store shelves. Our list may appear conventionally mainstream and heavy on high definition, but the rationale behind these decisions couldn't be more sound.
**) Studio Commendation: Code Red
We begin this year's list with a new tradition, honoring a studio or distributor that has gone above and beyond the call of duty in preserving films most mainstream audiences don't even know exist and could care less about. These are the anti-blockbusters from years past which hold a special place in the hearts of minds of true movie lovers. And to award this year's winner, I turn the podium over to Judge Tom Becker: "While Horror High: 35th Anniversary Edition, Madman: 30-Year Anniversary Edition, The Black Klansman, Death Journey, Stigma, and The Carrier would never warrant a place on a 10 Best List, together they are a unique and formidable group. Taking up the mantle that Something Weird Video seems to have dropped in favor of downloadables, Code Red has put out some killer special editions for films that might never see the light of day or would otherwise be relegated to the cut-out bin. These releases are genuinely fun, each one like a weird little surprise package. While the big studios so often lard their special editions with consumer-friendly, EPK-style supplements, Code Red is giving us bizarre and hilarious commentary tracks (Horror High, Death Journey), cool retrospective featurettes (Madman), interviews with lesser-known but still-interesting supporting players, "alternate" openings (historically important from an exploitation standpoint, as these films often played under various names), and the best trailer collections, usually with a self-mocking reference on the menu screen ("More Pointless Code Red Trailers"). Code Red has always added a little something extra to their releases, but this year -- particularly with Horror High, Madman, and the forthcoming Black Klansman -- they've really stepped up their game. And for that, we salute you!"
10) Look Around You: Season One (DVD) -- BBC Video
Rarely does a cult favorite, especially one from overseas, make the cut for our year's best, but this little comedy that could has won over our hearts and imaginations. Judge Roy Hrab: "A quirky and weird send-up of educational science shows. Once you learn the properties of Sulphane, there's no going back." Judge Erich Asperschalger: "In this modern world of fancy hi-def formats and state-of-the-art home theater setups, the standard DVD release of an obscure BBC show from the mid-2000s is an odd choice. But Peter Serafinwicz and Robert Popper's Look Around You transcends (and even benefits from) its low-fi status by turning the kind of schoolroom science that puts kids to sleep into razor-sharp absurdist parody that never overstays its welcome and packs in a ton of hilarious extras, guest commentaries, and material done in the same deadpan retro style."
09) Kick-Ass (Blu-ray) -- Lionsgate
As a studio best known for releasing some of the schlockiest B-movie horror the world has ever seen, to have one -- let alone two -- titles in our Top 10 is a legendary achievement. Another movie that polarized audiences this year, Matthew Vaughn's bold adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's graphic novel proves that even the most un-filmable stories can strike a nerve with today's cynical audiences. Judge Paul Pritchard: "Morally reprehensible? Perhaps. Unbelievably cool entertainment? Certainly. The film can be enjoyed as a throwaway popcorn flick, or a damning indictment on our times." Judge Harold Gervais: "One of the year's most misunderstood films roars onto Blu-ray with a top notch transfer and features that go in-depth into its background and creation." Judge Clark Douglas: "More substantial than many realize, Kick-Ass is a fascinating cinematic feast that holds an unforgiving mirror up to our society and pop culture. If the film is a pleasure (and I have to confess that it is; there's too much wit and style to proclaim the movie as anything less than enjoyable), it's a very subversive one indeed. The Blu-ray release is nothing short of superb."
08) America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (Blu-ray) -- Criterion Collection
You can often count on a Criterion disc or two making our list each year, but this one nearly surpasses some of their more impressive offerings. Judge Clark Douglas: "Criterion had an exceptional year in 2010, but this box set surely ranks as their most impressive achievement of the past twelve months. Seven films with a host of superb supplements in tow, this is essentially an entire film school course in a box; a must-own for any cinephile." Judge Harold Gervais: "Practially a master class on 1970s American cinema, this box set sums up perfectly what the Criterion Collection is all about." Judge Gordon Sullivan: "Although cineastes will probably be arguing about the merit of individual films in this set, there's no denying that all together these films represent a vital tributary in the rushing river of American film history. Every serious fan of American film needs to give this set a look."
07) Twilight Zone: Season One (Blu-ray) and Season Two (Blu-ray) -- Image
What started out as a disc authoring disaster was quickly swept under the rug and quietly became the year's most stellar television series release. Judge Tom Becker: "The folks at Image have outdone themselves with these releases, taking everything that made the earlier Definitive Editions great and adding even more; the amount of bonus material is mind-boggling." Judge Erich Asperschlager: "Going back and rescanning the original negatives, these classic episodes look and sound better than they ever have before. The addition of exhaustive bonus features take these sets from definitive to essential, and proves just how good 50-year-old source material can look if handled with care." Judge Roy Hrab: "Creator Rod Serling had an incredible ability to tell compelling stories for the small screen, and no one has come close to mastering the medium since."
06) Avatar (Blu-ray and DVD) Extended Collector's Edition -- Fox
Though the film divided our staff and James Cameron publicly bitch-slapped Judge David Johnson's review in Entertainment Weekly, the sci-fi spectacle still manages to firmly plant itself in our Top 10. Judge Roman Martel: "When it comes to one hell of a transfer and an in-depth look at the film, this is the way to go. This will please fans to no end." Judge Ike Oden: "Easily the single best looking transfer on the aging DVD format, pushing the limited technology well beyond whatever the old girl's got left in her." Judge Daniel Kelly: "Cameron's visually stunning epic finally gets the plentiful extras fans were deprived of with the initial release; a huge triumph of blockbuster entertainment." Judge Steve Power: "If you held off for the inevitable double dip and skipped over the bare-bones release from this past April, congratulations! Your patience has been rewarded with one hell of a fine collector's edition."
05) Psycho (Blu-Ray) 50th Anniversary Edition -- Universal
The studios have not been kind to classic film lovers this year, especially when it comes to high definition upgrades. However, there was at least one bright spot and that light shone brightly on a Hitchcock masterpiece. Judge Jennifer Malkowski: "The low-budget Hitchcock that changed the horror genre as well as movie spectatorship itself in 1960 holds up perfectly today." Judge Daniel Carlton: "Restored frame by frame, glorious black and white has never looked so good." Judge Patrick Naugle: "A nearly flawless image that will have fans running to their mothers in happiness." Judge Kent Dixon: "Say what you want about the remixed audio, but the resulting mix breathes new life into an old classic; a decision Hitch himself would have made had the option been available. A must-own Blu-ray release."
04) Back To The Future Trilogy (Blu-ray) 25th Anniversary Edition -- Universal
Sitting alongside the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, this is the first of the golden wish list properties to jump feet first in 1080p high definition... and it doesn't disappoint. Judge Tom Becker: "When so many Blu-rays are just copies of older releases with a tech uptick, it's great to find one that's actually worth the upgrade." Judge Kent Dixon: "The sequels aren't quite as good as the original, but taken as a trilogy, this series is nearly unmatched." Judge Patrick Naugle: "Hands down my favorite release this year." Judge Ike Oden: "From extras to specs, there isn't a stronger nostalgia release this year."
03) Alien Anthology (Blu-ray) -- Fox
Fox has been roundly criticized for their choices when migrating highly valued properties from DVD to Blu-ray, but this peace offering has made grown men openly weep. Judge Patrick Naugle: "When it comes to box sets, this baby takes the cake, as well as the gifts, the party hats, and confetti." Judge Dan Mancini: "The Alien Quadrilogy remains one of the greatest DVD releases of all time. The folks at Fox could have rested on their laurels and simply given that DVD set an HD scrub. Instead, they went all out, delivering a box with MORE extras, a significantly cleaned up version of David Fincher's workprint version of Alien 3 (with newly recorded ADR), and a Mu-Th-Ur Mode interactive viewing option that makes the most of Blu-ray's dynamic capabilities." Judge Clark Douglas: "The films look and sound better than ever (Ridley Scott and James Cameron personally supervised new transfers of Alien and Aliens), the packaging is much less cumbersome, hours of new extras have been added, and Fox is no longer pretending that Quadrilogy is a real word."
02) Apocalypse Now (Blu-ray) Full Disclosure Edition -- Lionsgate
Having personally seen the film for the first time on Blu-ray, I have nothing to compare it to. But my team assures me this release from Lionsgate is the best this mind-blowing Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece has ever and will ever look. Judge Clark Douglas: "Now this is how you treat a classic!" Judge William Lee: "One of the greatest achievements in American cinema." Judge Dan Mancini: "Plagued by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's bizarre aspect ratio choices and rights issues that prevented the inclusion of the excellent making-of documentary, Hearts of Darkness, The Complete Dossier DVD release was less than complete. The Full Disclosure Edition remedies all that." Judge Roman Martel: "The movie itself is one of the director's best and this is the ultimate way to experience it."
01) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Blu-ray) Level Up! Collector's Edition -- Universal
This one little film captured the imagination of the entire Verdict team in 2010. Judge Erich Asperschlager: "Edgar Wright and his massively talented group of actors and technical wizards poured themselves into what is not only a near-flawless film, but the best comic book movie, ever." Judge Mac McEntire: "A pure entertainment experience, blending techniques from video games and graphic novels, without losing the sweet love story at the heart of the film." Judge Paul Pritchard: "A true classic that blends genres, contrasting visual styles, and eschews logic to create a unique piece of art." Judge Harold Gervais: "The year's most misunderstood film; one people will look back on in several years and see just how wrong they were about it." And if these guys weren't passionate enough about the film itself, Universal's super-charged Blu-ray release sent them over the moon. Judge Clark Douglas: "This Blu-ray is so jam-packed with commentaries, documentaries and other goodies that it's hard to believe it isn't a double-dip. Hats off to Edgar Wright for getting this one right the first time." Judge Erich Asperschlager: "Packed with nearly thirty hours of bonus material -- unheard of for most single movie releases, and more than some multi-film sets -- the story of how this movie was made is every bit as fascinating as the end result." And to underscore our love for the film, Patrick and Erich dedicate this week's episode of F This Movie! to discussing this alternative opus.
So there you have it. This year's Golden Gavel winners. A hearty congratulations to the production and post-production teams on each and every one of these releases. May 2011 bring you even more work and movie lovers more to cheer about. Before I go, I would like to point out one final observation. You'll notice the conspicuous absence of titles from Paramount, Sony, and Warner Bros. There were a few Disney releases that just barely missed the cut, but these other once proud studios have really fallen off the pace this year. For the longest time, Universal was known for their cheap, bare bones releases, and yet this year they claim ownership to three of the Top 5. The same could also be said of Fox in years past, but they too have two titles in the Top 10. Whether it be a struggling economy, poor choices by their home entertainment divisions, or a combination of the two, these Big Three studios need to take a long hard look at their catalogs and start making some bold moves. Dump-and-run on-demand services like the Warner Archive may cater to a less discerning populace who want nothing more than a poor quality DVR copy of a sentimental favorite movie or TV release, but this business model will not sustain them financially nor endear them to movie lovers who want more and are willing to pay for it. Netflix streaming has proven there is a market for expanding instant access to movies, and Sony's Qriocity may have a chance to cash in, but there will also be a strong segment of the population crying out for physical media -- be it DVD, Blu-ray, or the next big thing -- and you cannot afford to short change them. With that, I step down from my soap box and welcome you to a new decade of prosperity for us all.
Happy New Year!
Chief Justice Michael Stailey