Despite the approaching gift-buying season, and my own birthday November 15th, this seemed to be a light Blu-ray month. I got to review a few titles in full this month (Bill and Ted, Brave, Paranorman and Expendables 2) but still it’s the first time I’ve only had barely a dozen to recap in years. In The Shelf Space Awards, I recommend which titles deserve space on your shelf every month, usually focusing on the Blu-ray picture quality, but occasionally looking at other reasons too.
The Time Machine Award
The Prohibition era Lawless makes a fabulous portrait of the past on Blu-ray. You see all the gritty detail in the backwoods of Virginia and the green of east coast forests really pops. It’s not a perfect transfer, there are more rough spots than you’d expect from a new release, but it mostly looks solid with high production value on display.
Clever Packaging Award
Hands down, Warner Brothers’ Harold and Kumar Collection three disc set really showed their home video department got it. The three previously released Blu-rays come in a giant silver lighter. You know, for lighting, uh, candles. White Castle coasters could actually be a good conversation starter if you’re hosting cocktails, and the air fresheners would also help if you share Harold and Kumar’s choice of, uh, cigarettes.
Mini-Shelf Space Award
One of the joy’s of Pixar movies is the short film that precedes every feature. In the last six years there have been enough shorts attached to features (including other Disney releases) and included on DVD releases to compile them all in Pixar Short Film Collection – Volume 2. Remember the beautiful Day and Night? It’s in here. On Blu-ray, these shorts are stunning with all the color, detail and clarity of Pixar’s features. In this case, many of the shorts take place in the worlds of feature films like WALL-E, Up and Cars. I can’t really say it saves you shelf space, because you’re not going to get rid of your Pixar movies, but I can own the Toy Story ‘toon Hawaiian Vacation without owning Cars 2 now, and Small Fry was not included in the Muppets Blu-ray so I’m glad to own that. Bonus features include student films by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, in all different styles that hold up beautifully in HD. Seeing film grain dance in Lasseter’s black and white Nitemare and Lady and the Lamp is amazing. Andrew Stanton’s primary colors probably never looked this bright in film school. Pete Docter’s surreal trio is a collective treat. The one thing this collection is missing is a “Play All” option! Didn’t they think some of us would just watch all the shorts in a row?
Glory of Female Award
I’m trying to think of the nicest way to say this, because I think it’s wonderful. Sarah Polley’s film Take This Waltz has a lot of stark images of the female form, and it will be enticing to our basest instincts, but we’ll also appreciate the variety on display, without a self-righteous message of how important it is to see that. These HD cameras are doing wonders for indie films, giving them these high class looks, especially with Blu-ray clarity. It’s Chapter 7, just for research purposes, not that you’d be scanning for the naked scenes.
Historical Accuracy Award
The 1975 Zorro with Alain Delon as the masked hero comes to Blu-ray with all the artifacts of old foreign cinema. The print itself has some dirt and scratches, but it transferred well. There is some big grain, a lot of fuzzy shots and some odd coloring to people’s skin and the earth tones, but those are preserved accurately. You can tell it’s HD because those organic flaws look pure, unaltered by restoration or digital touchups.
Intimate Clarity Award
2 Days in New York is one of those indie movies where characters explore their locations in confined settings. It’s mostly in a New York apartment with a few excursions, but wherever the camera is it’s showing the set in perfect clarity. Even on the streets of New York, the camera is tight on its characters, but the Arri Alexa is another new system that’s bolstered indie films.
Early December Awards
If I count these separately, I’m recommending far less than 10 for November, but these pre-orders should count too.
High-Tech Dirty Joke Award
Seth MacFarlane’s feature film Ted is a technical marvel for creating a realistic CGI character, and using him for gloriously juvenile jokes. Paul was good too but Ted has fur and he’s earth-based so just looks even more tactile. I’ve seen a lot of RED camera movies on Blu-ray now and I dare say the Genesis looks even clearer. The detail from Ted’s fur mattes to the dust in the air in the top tier of clarity, if not the clearest yet. Out December 11.
Revisionist Box Art Awards
Despite being totally awesome, Premium Rush didn’t do well so they’ve gone into risk minimization mode. The DVD/Blu-ray picture is now headshots of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dania Ramirez and Michael Shannon, so anyone who likes any of them will know: hey, people you like are in this movie. You heard Gordon-Levitt is the new Batman, right? Premium Rush is still awesome and the streets of New York look fantastic on Blu-ray, remaining clear and gritty no matter how fast the bikes or the camera zoom through them. Out December 21.
TV on Blu-ray Award
"Girls," the show that became a major talking point in the industry earlier this year, gets on Blu-ray really quickly. It’s one of the best transfers of a TV show I’ve seen. The picture is clear with no digital noise, just a little flickering in a few shots, and way sharper than HDTV broadcasts. New York provides great texture for the scenes. I also have a crush on these girls, and they look lovely in HD. Hey, does anyone know the name of that wedding song? They don’t say in the commentary.
Hong Kong Movie Award
My obligatory Hong Kong movie for next month will be Wu Dang. Out December 4, Well Go put together their usual stunning transfer, yet I can never get used to watching Chinese movies with a perfectly clear and brightly colored picture. It will always be a treat.
Christmas Miracle Award
The remake Silent Night just came out in theaters and it’ll be on DVD and Blu-ray December 4. It is 100% clear with some stark winter scenery, and bright red Santa suits popping out. Then the kill scenes spray with crimson karo syrup and prosthetic carnage. The finale does that red lit, green lit effect and the HD picture still holds up.
Sundance and Toronto selection Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is another example of the glory of cinematography technology for indie movies. Filmmaker Alison Klayman follows Weiwei around the world capturing pristine images on the fly. Weiwei’s warehouse space is full of grit and texture, and even computer screens look sharp and clear when filmed with these cameras. Out December 4.
Back to Fantastic Fest Award
I saw Doomsday Book on opening night of Fantastic Fest this year, and on December 11 it’s out on Blu-ray, also from my friendly Asian film distributor Well Go. I think it looks even clearer on Blu-ray than it did on the big screen. The first segment is full of gross squishy food and slobber with crisp nighttime zombie attacks. The middle one is lit with golden light for a beautiful portrait of the robot. The final part is full of absurd images as clear as the real world full of detail and texture. So the whole film holds up as a clear, detailed Blu-ray and you can tell the distinctions between each of the three anthology segments.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel