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Top Ten

The Year in DVDs

By Lee Gardner and Bret McCabe | Posted 12/9/2009

1) Deadly Sweet (Cult Epics)
Italian writer/director Tinto Brass' loose 1967 adaptation of a Sergio Donati novel almost plays out as an irreverent send-up of Michaelangelo Antonioni's late í60s output—especially Blow-Up—but it's too visually fantastic to be mistaken for something so purely derivative. Instead, this mystery-qua-crime thriller putting Jean-Louis Trintignant and mystery blonde Eva Aulin on the run from a crime scene through a dizzyingly alive pop cinema storyboarded Italian comic artist Guido Crepax (Valentina, the graphic novel adaptation of The Story of O) and scored by film composer vet Armando Trovajoli (whose "The Long Day of Vengeance" work Tarantino cribbed for Kill Bill Vol. 1). Beyond entertaining. (Bret McCabe)

2) Repulsion (Criterion Collection)
An acquaintance describes Roman Polanskiís 1965 classic as ďEraserhead for girls,Ē and the much-needed new Criterion clean-up/re-issue captures every iota of the dank urban claustrophobia that earns the movie that characterization. Catherine Deneuve plays a repressed young woman who recoils at men—not just their advances, but even the shaving kit her sisterís boyfriend leaves in the bathroom the women share. Left alone for a few days, she withdraws until she finds the walls of their apartment closing in, cracking, and eventually reaching out for her. Polanskiís unsettling compositions and skin-crawling detail (periodic shots of a half-cooked rabbit absently left out in the living room, slowly decomposing in the summer heat) give the movie a creeping dread thatís all the more effective for the ordinariness of the setting. This sort of atmospheric mental degeneration has been done a million times onscreen since, but rarely better than here. (Lee Gardner)

3) The 10th Victim (Blue Underground)
This 1965 outing is shrewd combination of stylish extravagance and sci-fi thriller/satire: Director Elio Petri (whose 1970 An Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion won 1971's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but has yet to hit DVD) puts Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress in a 21st century where people hunt each other for global entertainment. Yes, it's The Amazing Race meets Hard Target in an Alphaville-cum-Starship Troopers comic future, with Petri twisting the premise just enough to make it a battle-between-the-sexes romance—she just happens to be hunting the man she's falling for. Plus: totally mod black and white leather jumpsuits. (BM)

4) The Human Condition (Criterion Collection)
If Masaki Kobayashi was looking to get his 1959-61 nine-hour epic greenlit today, heíd probably be talking to HBO. The cable channel is the only first-run outlet that could hope to encompass the outsized story of a idealistic young Japanese pacifist (Tatsuya Nakadai) during WWII as he struggles with the practicalities and morality of running a mine in dusty Manchuria with Chinese slave labor; combats the dehumanization of the military (Stanley Kubrick found inspiration for the first half of Full Metal Jacket here); and tries to stay alive on the endless trek home, where everyman meets every-man-for-himself. Yoshio Miyajimaís gorgeous black-and-white widescreen photography reproduces beautifully in a typically fussed-over Criterion transfer; the conflict between good intentions and hard realities, especially as explored in the complex mine-set first third, still resonate today. (LG)

5) Scott Walker: 30th Century Man (Oscilloscope)
If you don't already feel that 1960s pop singer turned enigmatic rock provocateur Scott Walker should at least be on the short list for The Coolest Enigma Who Ever Lived honors, director Stephen Kijak's documentary may get you there. Through interviews with a wealth of better known musicians—David Bowie, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, and many, many more—Kijak traces Walker's four-decade (and counting) career arc while dropping in the studio with the man during the recording of his monolithic 2006 album, The Drift. A must simply for how much screen time Kijak devotes to discussions of Walker's music. (BM)

6) Martyrs (The Weinstein Company)
A kidnapped little girl escapes from her mysterious torturers only to show up at a seemingly random middle-class familyís door 15 years later to spatter the walls with their innards. But just when you think youíve got Pascal Laugierís 2008 movie pegged as a particularly gruesome bloody-tanktop gorno revenge flick, it bursts through into a whole new realm of wrong and just keeps going. Kubrickian in ambition and relentless in its brutality, French release Martyrs has been dividing horror nerds ever since its Region 1 DVD release in April, not least because of what it implies about anyone who will sit through it. (LG)

7) The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Criterion Collection)
Bullitt director Peter Yates' delivered another solid crime flick in this gritty 1973 outing. Robert Mitchum may have never been better as the titular Boston thug who has spent most of his life in some kind of organized crime and now, in midlife, finds himself facing a short jail stretch if he doesn't cooperate with the New Hampshire state's attorney. So he makes a deal, knowing full well what happens to stool pigeons, and the rest of this unfussy flick follows him toward the inevitable. (BM)

8) Lonely Are the Brave (Universal)
Lonely Are the Brave is a 1962 B-movie that trades in a theme that would become hackneyed in Hollywood movies over the coming decade: the passing of the Old West. But this was a labor of love for Kirk Douglas, and it shows. The star was rarely better as an unreformed cowboy in the modern Southwest who ambles into civilization and winds up afoul of the local law and on the run from a posse equipped with walkie-talkies and helicopters. Director David Miller was a journeyman at best, but he managed to get onscreen both actorly nuance (including early appearances from Walter Matthau and Gena Rowlands) and a measure of the epic struggle against nature that underpins many of the best Westerns. As Douglasí character almost literally drags his horse up the crumbling crags of the Sandia Mountains, the movie assumes a mythic dimension. After all, what Burns is fleeing isnít just jail; itís the future. (LG)

9) Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (Magnolia)
Not so much a great movie as a good reminder of what great things are possible these days. Director/co-star Tony Stone armed himself with a digital video camera, some Viking costumes, a minimal cast (including co-star Fiore Tedesco), and access to some Vermont woods and created a strangely convincing depiction of two Vikings stranded on the primordial American coast with little hope of making it home. Something about the hand-held graininess of DV and Stoneís home-movie patience help Severed Ways resonate more than mere LARP shenanigans. Even the black metal on the soundtrack canít manage to make it feel tongue-in-cheek. (LG)

10) Looking to Get Out (Warner Home Video)
This under-seen 1982 comedy Hal Ashy effort finally gets a home-video release in his original cut. It's not one of Ashby's finer moments, but given that it's coming on the heels of a remarkably consistent 1970s (Shampoo, The Last Detail, Harold and Maude, etc.) bested perhaps only by Robert Altman, a stumble was inevitable. And a stinker this is, as Ashby's often loose, low-key storytelling style really falls apart here. But it's noteworthy for the eccentric lead performances from Jon Voight (who also co-wrote) and Burt Young, who play a pair of New York gamblers trying to win back what one of them owes in Vegas. Not great by a long shot, but worth seeing just to start pinpointing Ashby's career nosedive. (BM)

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The Year in DVDs (12/10/2008)

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