Every month, The Shelf Space Awards gives special mention to the Blu-rays released that deserve a space on your ever crowded shelf, usually based on whether or not the HD transfer looks as awesome as Blu-ray should. If you’re still doing some belated Christmas shopping, or pre-ordering January titles, here are the awards for December.
The Pre-Focker Award
Before he was Gaylord Focker, before he was even a movie star, Ben Stiller played the greatest role of his career in Heavyweights. It was your basic Mighty Ducks type underdog story set in a fat camp, and Stiller was the fitness master trying to whip them into shape. Having watched this repeatedly on VHS only, I’m blown away by seeing a version that looks like it did in theaters. It’s not a life altering Blu-ray, but it looks like I’ve never seen it before. The picture is sharp and you see the bright colors of the forest and Stiller’s pastel workout unitards.
The Double Shelf Space Award
I gave Premium Rush an early December award last month, so now that it’s widely available, I want to remind you with another Shelf Space Award. Premium Rush is awesome, and it looks awesome on Blu-ray. Gritty New York streets hold up at high speed so you can see everything. But watch it for the practical bike riding stunts, the masterfully crafted and paced thrills, and wild sporadic irreverence. It just looks great too.
The Extra Blue Award
I don’t have a 3D TV myself, but I was excited just to get Finding Nemo on Blu-ray, so the 3D release gave me a good old-fashioned regular Blu-ray along with it. As expected, the Pixar animation looks flawless in HD. Finding Nemo is an especially good reference quality disc because of all the bright colors under the ocean. It’s as stunning as expected, but when they take to the air it’s just breathtaking.
The 70mm Award
70mm film is truly a joy to behold. Back when celluloid ruled, 70mm was the Blu-ray of film. Samsara boasts 70mm footage from around the world shot over five years, and as much as the filmmakers probably wanted you to see it on the big screen, it seems made for Blu-ray. Every image is incredible, temples, villages and natural phenomenon we’d never see but for these cameras. And images are all this movie has, it’s literally a collection of locations and rituals. Each shot feels like a high definition piece of culture, and you do get to see some of that 70mm film grain a few times.
The All Right, All Right Award
Matthew McConaughey’s uncharacteristic turn in Killer Joe has a great looking Blu-ray now. William Friedkin’s latest is perfectly clear and full of great details in the rain soaked back roads, graffiti strewn back alleys and stretched out leather duds Joe wears. Certain scenes use colored lighting to great effect and retain all the detail in the tinted frames.
The College Double Feature Award
The fall hit Pitch Perfect comes to Blu-ray just before the year-end, in a perfectly glossy, glamorous big studio Blu-ray from Universal. Everything is clear and everyone is lit flatteringly so the production numbers and everything in between looks wonderful. One of my Sundance picks, Liberal Arts, looks equally great. The picture is totally clear so the shots of the college campus are especially beautiful and brightly colored. Even plain institutional locations have a certain lively hue. I recommended the movie anyway, but go ahead and own it on Blu-ray why don’tcha?
The Triple Feature Award
The Words interweaves three distinct stories, and they all look great on Blu-ray. There’s a story of stark, gritty reality to the picture, a coldness that keeps the picture grounded, yet still clear and detailed. You see the grain in this one, which is refreshing in a digital age, especially in the WWII storyline.
The Watch it Twice Award
When I reviewed Resident Evil: Retribution on Blu-ray, I liked it so much I went right back and watched it again to hear the commentary track. It definitely bears further exploration and the 2D Blu-ray looks every bit as rich and detailed as it could have in 3D.
The TV on Blu-ray Award
I got the December release of “Girls: Season One” in time to include as a preview in last month’s column. This month I’ll highlight another HBO show, “Eastbound & Down: Season Three.” The formerly final season’s Myrtle Beach setting provides a sandy, springy look for a clear, bright picture, sharper than the televised HBO broadcasts. High definition detail for Kenny Powers’ debauchery.
The "Say Something Nice" Award
I did not have very nice things to say about the movie itself, but Total Recall (the remake) did look stunning on Blu-ray. The Sony Pictures transfer was flawless with a crisp, clear picture and all the detail in the overly packed CGI backgrounds. Great lighting too, as the deep shadows were represented well. The movie itself sucked everything interesting out of the story, but if you’re going to sit through it anyway (as I was inevitably going to), the Blu-ray looks great.
Early January Awards
The Another TV on Blu-ray Award
Well, coming out in the new year qualifies the American Being Human: Season 2 (available January 1) for it’s own special Shelf Space Award. The SyFy series has a really solid Blu-ray with a clear picture, where you can see all the gory detail in bloody makeup effects and all the shiny CGI detail in more ethereal supernatural effects. A few fuzzy spots to be expected in a TV show but mostly a solid, sharp HD picture of those especially attractive monsters.
The Third Time’s The Charm Award
The combined recommendations of myself and Bibbs could not convince you to go see Dredd 3D, so we’ll try again with Dredd 2D. The Blu-ray (available January 8) holds up magnificently, even if I can only play the 2D version. Mega City One has a saturated look heightens and grits up all the colors. Sci-fi for sure, but a look we usually only see in Tony Scott films. Those slow motion sequences are just plain psychedelic on Blu-ray.
The Straight to the Cage Award
Nicolas Cage’s latest movie Stolen (also available January 8) may not have quite gone straight to video, but I certainly didn’t get to see it in theaters. Fortunately, my first viewing of Stolen looks great on Blu-ray with a crisp, clear picture that holds up even in gritty night heists. N’Orleans is peppered with brightly colored festivities and Cage looks tough as ever running down those slick streets.
The Out-of-Character Award
I am a devoted Jackie Chan fan, so even though Crime Story and The Protector are curious atypical entries in his canon, I’m going to be a completist about owning them. This double feature Shout! Factory Blu-ray (available January 15) helps consolidate them (shelf space!). Crime Story, Chan’s serious police drama, looks fantastic for an early ‘90s Hong Kong film. You see lots of detail and clarity, even though the dirt and scratches are still there. The Protector is his second American movie, which stripped away all the Jackie Chan elements so much that he shot some extra scenes in Hong Kong to fix it. The director’s cut is a slight improvement just for having more action. The theatrical cut looks rougher than Crime Story, but for a 27-year-old film it holds up in HD. It looks like a movie, as opposed to the director’s cut that must not have had a reasonable source available. It’s so fuzzy it looks like a VHS dub many generations down. At least it still feels like a secret discovery, and you have to earn it by peering through the rough footage.
The Zero Dark Thirty Award
That other Seal Team Six movie, appropriately titled SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden, comes out on Blu-ray January 15. It’s a great looking Blu-ray with a flawless cleared picture, golden light in the New Mexico location doubling for Pakistan, and gritty detail in the safe houses and compounds. Then there’s some stock footage of Obama that really stands out as blurry TV footage, which is weird because they had HDTV while he was president.
The Stock Footage Award
The Spike TV documentary I Am Bruce Lee (available January 15) features lots of classic clips from Lee’s movies. The film footage looks like we remember from TV, a little washed out but authentic to 1970s film. Guess they didn’t pull from the Hong Kong Blu-rays. The new interviews are all in HD, so those heads talk in total clarity. That’s nice when they interview Gina Carano. I don’t know if the nine-minute Hollywood audition has been seen before, but it is an awesome bonus feature. Nine straight minutes of Lee selling himself to Hollywood, totally gracious but totally badass.
The Company Policy Award
Branded, the little seen sci-fi about a future where brands have taken over may get more attention when it’s readily available on Blu-ray. After a rough start with a grainy, noisy prologue, the rest of the film looks good. It’s less futuristic though and more just Russian, as the eastern European locations show the grit and detail in the streets. Oh, apparently in the future we do web searches on Ooogle, no more Google, for what it’s worth. It’s available on January 15.
The Sunday School Award
Any kid who endured years of Sunday School to prep for their Bar Mitzvah finally got to be the badass in the Jewish exorcism movie The Possession (available January 15). The picture is totally clear and sharp so you can see all the creepy detail of people possessed by a dibbuk box. Some nice shots of scenic Vancouver along the way too.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.