TBB’s Best DVD/Blu-Ray Releases of 2016

David D. Robbins Jr.
This is the list I submitted to the wonderful website DVDBeaver for its annual “Best of” compiling. (Which I might add, is the best list of its kind, featuring just us regular schmoes, a number of quality film critics, like Jonathan Rosenbaum and more.) This year it was “Pioneers: African-American Cinema” that stood out amid a number of great releases. I like to think these neglected films are offerings that let us glimpse into another time, where black life excelled and shimmered simultaneously as D.W. Griffith’s epic, beautiful falsity “Birth of a Nation”. One of the quandaries with old cinema and restoration is what to do with partial films, the heavily damaged ones, or with the ones featuring ‘imperfections’ — like when early black film director Oscar Micheaux can be overheard giving directions to actors over the dialogue. Well, Kino Lorber thankfully understands that the films are wonderful and need to be seen despite (or even because of) those so-called flaws. You can’t wait 40 years hoping to find just five more minutes of a film before doing something with what exists now. The same thoughts have been running through the minds of those at Osterreichisches Filmmuseum too because they’ve been doing it for years — like when they restored what existed of Frank Borzage’s 1929 masterpiece “The River” back in 2008. Now they have a 2016 release featuring just a tiny fragment (4 minutes) of Josef von Sternberg’s lost work “The Case of Lena Smith” combined with 150 stills, set designs, script notes and historical essays to fill in the blanks — like a “documentary 101” to give you an idea of the director’s vision, intention — letting you dream of what was and what may never be. It’s a yeoman’s task, but done all for the love of great film. A side note: As is usual for me in these lists — I’ve forgotten an important disc that needs mentioning — and that’s Warner Brothers Archive’s “Cinema’s Exiles” about the history of Jewish cinematic talent that migrated from Germany to Hollywood during Hitler’s reign. It begins by talking about the wild and urbane Berlin of the 1920s then moves to Germany’s highly-successful UFA (Universum Film-Aktien Gesellschaft) studio, director Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and “The Blue Angel”, Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, the great Ernst Lubitsch — and one of my favorite films — the silent picture “Menschen am Sonntag” (People On Sunday) — which launched the careers of Robert Siodmak, his brother Curt, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zimmerman. The documentary is further proof that film means inclusion, freedom and life.

Top 10 Blu-ray Releases of 2016

1. “Pioneers: African-American Cinema” (Various, 1915-1978) Kino; RA
2. “Napoleon” (Able Gance, 1927) BFI, RB
T3. “Chimes at Midnight” (Orson Welles, 1966) Criterion; RA
T3. “In A Lonely Place” (Nicholas Ray, 1950) Criterion; RA
T4. “The Magic Box: The Films of Shirley Clarke” (Shirley Clarke, 1927-1986) Milestone; ALL
T4 “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” (Robert Drew & Assoc. 1960, 1963, 1964) Criterion; RA
5. “Children of Divorce” (Frank Lloyd, 1927) Flicker Alley; RA
6. “Woman On the Run” (Norman Foster, 1950) Flicker Alley, RA
7. “One-Eyed Jacks” (Marlon Brando, 1961) Criterion, RA
8. “A Brighter Summer Day” (Edward Yang, 1991) Criterion, RA
9. “Private Property” (Leslie Stevens, 1961) Criterion, RA
10.“Deadline U.S.A.” (Richard Brooks, 1952) Kino, RA

Top 10 SD-DVD Releases of 2016

1. “The Salvation Hunters/The Case of Lena Smith (Fragment)”
(Josef von Sternberg, 1925/1929) Edition Filmmuseum; ALL
2. “Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer” (Thom Andersen, 2014) Cinema Guild, RA
(T2. Special mention: “Cinema’s Exiles” (Karen Thomas, 2016) Warner Archives; ALL)
3. “Dreams Rewired” (Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, Thomas Tode, 2015) Icarus Films; RA
4. “Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 10” (Various, 1931-1933) Warner Archives, ALL
5. “So Evil My Love” (Lewis Allen, 1948) Screenbound Pictures; RB
6. “After the Dance” (Leo Bulgakov, 1935) Sony Pictures Choice Collection; ALL
7. “City Streets” (Rouben Mamoulian, 1931) Universal Pictures Vault Series; ALL
8. “No Questions Asked” (Harold F. Kress, 1951) Warner Archives; ALL
9. “Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach” (Louise Osmond, 2016) Dogwoof; RB
10. “The Shop on the High Street” (Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, 1965) Second Run; ALL

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