I am, generally speaking, a big fan of commentary tracks in general. I have even been known, on occasion, to re-purchase a film I already own if it gets re-released in a special edition with a commentary track (even if the *only* addition, special feature-wise, is the commentary track). The only reason I say “generally speaking” is that sometimes commentary tracks are not all that interesting. I very quickly tune out mentally when a director proceeds to simply analyse ad nauseum how each shot was constructed, or how he set up the lighting for the shot, or what type of camera he used, etc. I think of these types of commentaries as “film student commentaries” in that only a film student would find them interesting.
I share Selk’s feeling above about the Simpsons dvd commentaries. They are often as funny, if not even more so, as the episodes themselves. I also share people’s sentiments about Kurt Russell/John Carpenter. Their track on The Thing is awesome.
To me, a good commentary makes you feel like the director/writer/actor/whatever is in the room watching the movie with you and talking about it. The types of commentaries I love are those that include behind the scenes info, and further expand on the story/characters, etc. I like commentaries that share interesting stories about the production itself. A good example of this is Edward Zwick’s commentary on Blood Diamond – he explains a lot about the motivations of the characters and what he was trying to say about particular characters by doing certain things in scenes, but he also explains how he and Leonardo DiCaprio actually spoke with former mercenaries and soldiers to develop the Danny Archer character. It was really fascinating to listen to.
Another interesting listen is Andrew Niccol’s commentary on Lord of War. He speaks a lot about the actual people and events the film is based on, and the sort of tricks and deception that real illegal arms dealers use to fool the authorities, like changing a freight ship’s flag and name mid-voyage! Plus he tells of the difficulties in financing and distributing a film that blatantly criticizes US and other Western democracies’ involvement in the world arms trade. And this brings me to something else, voice. It helps immensely that Edward Zwick and Andrew Niccol both have great “commentary voice”. They both have this calm, soft-spoken sort of tone that is really easy to listen to. Another director with a great “commentary voice” is Michael Mann. On the flipside, a director with a really bad commentary voice is Robert Zemeckis. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy’s films and he has some really interesting things to say in the couple of his commentaries I’ve heard, but his slightly nasal, high-pitched voice gets a bit grating quite quickly.
As far as a favourite to close out this spiel and actually stay on topic, I’d say the commentaries by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens on the Lord of the Rings extended editions are among my very favourites. The tracks are a perfect mix of what I’ve spoken of above; behind the scenes, character development, inspirations, etc. Plus they explain in great detail how and why they chose to omit/change certain things from the novels, and their friendly banter is just a delight to listen to. Fran Walsh is a huge Tolkien geek and has a copy of the book open as they speak, and you can practically picture her frantically flipping to certain pages as they discuss certain scenes.
Don't worry darling, its just a hat, belonging to a small man of limited means who lost a fight with a chicken!