CineSavant 2007 Favored Disc Roundup


Savant picks
The Most Impressive DVDs of 2007



2007 was an interesting year for DVDs. Several articles were published on the ‘leveling off’ of the DVD market, and perhaps the habit of amassing hundreds of discs had, for the average American, cooled off a bit. While DVD collectors — presumably DVD Savant’s core audience — continued on their merry plan to acquire everything they like, pundits pointed to the stats and predicted that the wealth of alternate electronic entertainment would continue to siphon away viewer interest. Not only that, the first year of Hi Def drew to an inconclusive finish, with the better part of the public either unconvinced that they need 1080 lines of video perfection, or unwilling to gamble on a VHS/Beta standoff between rival formats HD DVD and Blu-Ray. A resentment factor needs to be added in too: Heavy DVD buyers remember the fall of Laserdiscs, and can see the same thing happening all over again.


UCLA student filmmaking, 1975

I love the look and feel of HD, but despite having the review column to feed my hobby, I don’t feel comfortable spending on new hardware in the middle of a format war. Even if money were not object, I’m still not certain I’d jump on this bandwagon. The industry treats the issue as a no-prisoners battleground. I wouldn’t be surprised if some kind of Pay Per View + downloading system came along and stole the entire market!

Of course, the question all of America is asking itself is, how does Savant sort out a list of ‘Most Impressive’ DVDs? With blind subjective pigheadedness, that’s how. Anybody knows that the most entertaining DVD available this year is probably Brad Bird’s Ratatouille. Umpteen million words have been written on the story of the rodent chef and it’s one of the biggest-selling discs, so the world hardly needs me to say more about it. Other choices were accidental or abitrary. I put off getting Children of Men on the dubious notion that I’d pick it up someday on HD, and somebody else got the available screener. I was also offered one of those secret agent case packages of Man From U.N.C.L.E. episodes. But I was swamped with work at the time and couldn’t see myself watching enough of the episodes to come out with a decent review (which is how I feel about most TV series on disc).

With Stanley Rubin, February 2007

I made a list of all the discs I reviewed last year and started chopping. A top title should be something that’s worthwhile, that I’d be ready to see again right away. Breathless is a superb disc, but that’s a once-every-five years title. Being unusual helps. An important restoration is a good factor, as is showing the nerve to put energy into a worthy title that hasn’t a chance of being a big seller. Savant is criminally partial to Science Fiction and Film Noir, but a good film in any genre is good enough for me. Extras are nice and occasionally tip the scales, but in general it’s just the movie. I can’t get my family to look at DVD extras, not even ones I worked on. Especially those. When kids grow up, they get too smart for my sneaky tricks.

That’s enough of a preamble. With my disclaimers, excuses and steroid-use denials out of the way, here then are


Savant’s picks for 2007




Taking the top slot this year is Lionsgate‘s The Silent Partner. I chose this modest thriller not only because it’s terrific, but to represent the fact that no single release of 2007 jumped out and said ‘pick me.’ Daryl Duke’s 1978 picture was a sleeper when new and is still not well known, which this year is as good a reason as any to put it up front. Curtis Hanson’s terrific script pits timid bank clerk Elliott Gould against merciless killer Christopher Plummer, leading to a hair-raising battle of wits. The movie is both charming and scary, a great combination for a crime caper. Now if Lionsgate replaced that faux-Reservoir Dogs graphic with a sexy image of Susannah York or Céline Lomez, they might sell a few copies.



Criterion‘s The 3 Penny Opera. Ever since hearing a scratchy LP of Kurt Weill music, and having a German teacher recommend a Lotte Lenya concert, I’ve been trying to see a watchable version of this early G.W. Pabst musical. Criterion’s old laserdisc was an eyesore, giving the impression that the Deutsche classics we read about in Kracauer were all lost forever. This rejuvenated Die 3groschenoper is like eyewash, and the audio is great too. Pabst simplified and restructured Brecht and Weill’s tale but the film is still dazzling … to see & hear Lenya and Carola Neher sing is a revelation. Criterion’s extras detail the complex story behind both the play and the film.



MGM‘s Witchfinder General. This one’s personal, as I witnessed ten years’ worth of efforts by restorers to get the MGM lawyers and execs to understand why it was important to undo the damage done to this movie by Orion in the 1980s. The restoration of the authentic music track was motivated by early reportage in Video Watchdog. MGM goes one step further by reconstructing the authentic pre-censorship U.K. original, essentially repositioning Michael Reeves’ effort as one of the top horror films of its time. Vincent Price plays his witch-baiting villain Matthew Hopkins completely straight, uncovering his mock-piety as political opportunism and guaranteeing the film lasting relevance. It’s The Crucible stripped of poetry and soaked in blood. Lacking great extras but the finest horror release of the year.



Criterion and their licensing partner Paramount give us Ace in the Hole, Billy Wilder’s blackest vision of American madness, an anti-Capracorn noir masterpiece. Wilder was vilified by both the industry and the national press for this ultra-cynical tale of unscrupulous reporters and public officials keeping a man buried alive to generate votes and revenue, in a literal Media Circus. For once a film is perfectly pitched to Kirk Douglas’ acting style, while timid Porter Hall represents the weakened, shrinking institution of honest journalism. Americans don’t like being compared to cannibals, eating up media-fed sensation and scandal. With Jan Sterling as noir’s most worthless blonde. Criterion’s unacknowledged contribution is to restore the film’s proper title … it’s been creeping around for half a century behind the moniker “The Big Carnival”.



Kino‘s Animated Soviet Propaganda: From the October Revolution to Perestroika allows us to see what Soviet Agitprop was really about, straight from the Party Line. We should have been allowed to see these official animated productions, because they justify some of Washington’s hard-line attitudes. The loathing expressed for all things American is all the more sinister when one considers that the Soviet population had little or no opportunity to see other points of view. Some of the pacifist films are undeniably powerful, but even they are soaked in anti-American bile. A wandering Russian bird is bullied into communal submission for bringing back ‘disgusting’ jazz from the west; “Cold-hearted Boeings” devastate Vietnam, killing children while hypocritical Yankee generals pray in church. Done in a variety of fascinating animation styles.



Milestone and New Yorker‘s Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection gathers two features and a score of shorts by the celebrated but under-screened Charles Burnett, a UCLA alumnus who took the African American experience beyond Blaxploitation and liberal special pleading. Great leading actors and natural performances by non-pros portray the plight of a good man numbed by a stultifying job and a lack of life options. The co-feature My Brother’s Wedding presents a more comedic take on South Central Los Angeles. All the films are fully restored and preserved; this joins I Am Cuba as another feather in Milestone’s cinematic cap.



The limit of ten titles leads us to a no-apologies Savant favorite, the Tyrone Power vehicle Captain from Castile. The critical verdict on this expensive Darryl Zanuck production was not kind, and it’s perhaps the fact that vast costume epics have become so dull that this lavish telling of Cortez’ conquest of Mexico seems exciting by default. But the film’s spirit is such that we cheer the daring conquistadores as they risk all in a mad grab for power and riches. The two best things in the film are Cesar Romero’s all-conquering grin and Alfred Newman’s superb main march theme, which express the Spanish call to plunder as a mad rush to glory. Let’s join up! Starring Jean Peters (her first film), Lee J. Cobb and an actual smoking volcano that backgrounds several awesome views of armies on the march. Fox.



Fox strikes again with That Thing You Do!, Tom Hanks’ Extended Cut. Everything that seemed lightweight about Hanks’ directing debut is cured with the reinstatement of nineteen minutes of footage trimmed before its 1996 theatrical release. The obvious addition is several more scenes with Charlize Theron, but the characters are deeper and funnier. The story arc of the ‘One Hit Wonders’ is improved as well; Hanks’ script now plays out perfectly. He should really keep writing and directing. In retrospect it can only be the ‘niceness’ of the show that kept its great cast from stardom. Tom Everett Scott and Steve Zahn are wonderful but the magic wand only tapped Liv Tyler. The best thing about That Thing You Do! is its sense of fun and innocence, both of which are in short supply these days.



Standing in for 101 worthy Warners releases is Peter Ustinov’s powerful 1962 version of Billy Budd, finally in a proper CinemaScope presentation. Ustinov directs a dream cast –Robert Ryan, Melvyn Douglas, John Neville, David McCallum, Ronald Lewis, Niall MacGuinness, newcomer Terence Stamp and himself in one of the best films ever about men, authority and brute injustice. High school examinations of Herman Melville’s novel usually settle for a facile Christ parable but Ustinov makes sure the movie goes further: this is as insightful a story about men of action as The Wild Bunch. Those wondering why the movie didn’t fare well on American screens need look no further than the pitiful original poster — which could serve as a label for a wine bottle.



Savant’s been whining about the delay of this last disc set for over two years. Because of my participation in all of the extras I don’t feel comfortable putting MGM‘s The Sergio Leone Anthology up at number one, even though it probably belongs there. Four separate double-disc special editions are included of Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good The Bad and The Ugly and Duck You Sucker.. The GBU disc is a repackaging of a special ed that came out three years ago but the others are all new. The Dollars discs replace inadequate 1998 releases, and all three new discs have original mono mixes as an audio option. Savant’s favorite Duck You Sucker has floundered in edited versions under wrong titles for so long that it’s a matter of personal pride to see it finally given a proper release at its full (for now) length. We can all ponder Leone’s most mysterious flashback sequence, as Duck You Sucker now ends with John Mallory’s full four-minute slow motion Irish reverie: Sean Sean Sean.


Of course, the first thing that’s wrong with the list above is that this year’s most consistent provider of quality library titles — older films that aficionados like Savant dote on — is grossly under-represented. Warner Home Video has been releasing killer discs of all kinds of archive goodies like there’s no tomorrow, with elaborate boxed sets coming out at least every two weeks. And that’s not to mention making many of the hotter titles available on HD and Blu-Ray. They introduced the first Film Noir branded line and solved the studio problem with marginal oddities with their clever Cult Camp sets. That’s why the second list below is so important. Warners doesn’t dominate, but it comes close.

Here, in alphabetical order, are discs or disc sets from 2007 that Savant heartily recommends:

Air Force Warners

Angel Face Warners

The Films of Kenneth Anger Vol. 1 Fantoma

Apocalypto Buena Vista

Army of Shadows Criterion

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman Warners

Away from Her Lionsgate

Battleship Potemkin Kino

Bedazzled Fox

Berlin Alexanderplatz Criterion

Bicycle Thieves Criterion

A Big Hand for the Little Lady Warners

Black Book Sony

Blade Runner Four-Disc Collector’s Edition Warners

The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down First Look Pictures

Breathless Criterion

Bridge to Terabithia Disney DVD

Brute Force Criterion

Luis Buñuel: The Young One + Gran Casino Lionsgate

Caged Warners

The Cave of Silken Web Image / Shaw Bros.

Chinatown Special Collector’s Edition Paramount

Close Encounters of the Third Kind 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition Sony

The Colossus of Rhodes Warners

Crime Wave + Decoy Warners

The Day of the Triffids 1981 BBC-Warners

Days of Heaven Criterion

Deliverance Warners

Erik the Conqueror Anchor Bay

Fixed Bayonets Fox

Flash Gordon Savior of the Universe Edition Universal

The Fly, Return of the Fly, The Curse of the Fly Fox

Sam Fuller: The Baron of Arizona, I Shot Jesse James, The Steel Helmet Eclipse

The Gang’s All Here Fox

Gentleman Jim Warners

The Giant Claw + Creature with the Atom Brain, The Werewolf, Zombies of Mora Tau Sony

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing Fox

The Graduate MGM

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid Universal

Green for Danger Criterion

The Guns of Navarone Collector’s Edition Sony

Hangover Square + The Undying Monster, The Lodger Fox

Haramuya + Faraw! Mother of the Dunes Facets / ArtMattan

Hell and High Water Fox

Hell to Eternity Warners

Here Comes Mr. Jordan Sony

The Hill Warners

His Majesty O’Keefe Warners

The Holy Mountain Abkco/Anchor Bay

Horrors of Malformed Men Synapse

The Host Magnolia Entertainment

Hot Fuzz Universal

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman New Yorker

I Am Cuba The Ultimate Edition Milestone / New Yorker

If …. Criterion

Into the Fire: American Women in the Spanish Civil War First Run Features

The Intruder Buena Vista 10/02/07

It’s A Wonderful Life Paramount

Jane Eyre Fox

La jetée; + Sans soleil Criterion

The Lady Vanishes Criterion

Land of the Pharaohs Warners

Lisbon Story Lionsgate

The Lives of Others Sony

The Lookout Miramax

Malpertuis Barrel Entertainment

Mary, Queen of Scots + Anne of the Thousand Days Universal

The Screwfly Solution Masters of Horror: Joe Dante: Anchor Bay / Starz

The Method  8/11/07

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Warners

Miracle in the Rain Warners

My Sister Maria Arte / Rainbow

Mystery Street + Act of Violence Warners

The Naked City Criterion

No End In Sight Magnolia

Overlord Criterion

Pan’s Labyrinth New Line

Paul Robeson Portraits of an Artist: Jericho, Sanders of the River, Native Land Criterion

Performance Warners

Perversion Story Severin

Le petit lieutenant Koch Lorber

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea New Video / Docurama

Play Dirty Warner

Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938 MGM

Raise the Red Lantern MGM

Robinson Crusoe on Mars Criterion

RoboCop 20th Anniversary Edition MGM

Sacco and Vanzetti First Run Features

Sailor of the King Fox

Carlos Saura: Blood Wedding, Carmen, El Amor Brujo Eclipse

Shinobi no mono AnimEigo

Sins of the Fleshapoids Other Cinema

The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales Facets / Cinemateca

The Skin Game Lionsgate

Spider Baby Dark Sky

Straight Time Warners

Strange Impersonation Kino

The Stranger MGM

A Summer Place Warners

Ten Canoes Palm Pictures

Tension + Where Danger Lives Warners

Hiroshi Teshigahara: Pitfall, Woman in the Dunes, The Face of Another Criterion

They Live by Night + Side Street Warners

Thieves Like Us MGM

Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film Image

True Confessions MGM

Twilight Zone: The Movie Warners

2001: A Space Odyssey Special Collector’s Edition Warners

Two-Lane Blacktop Criterion

Under the Volcano Criterion

Up The Down Staircase Warners

Volver Sony

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Global Warming Edition Fox

The Way I Spent the End of The World Film Movement

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs Criterion

Who Can Kill a Child? Dark Sky

The Woman in the Window MGM

The Yakuza Warners

In going through the lists I also found three discs from other regions, and a review for a dream title that’s not yet on disc anywhere:

Caltiki – il mostro immortale NoShame (Italy)

The Deadly Companions Futurefilm (Finland)

Things to Come Network & Granada (U.K.)

The End of the World (La fin du monde)

2007 was an interesting year for DVD Savant. Looking at the documentation, the site uploaded 205 separate reviews since this week last December. Since many of those are multiple-title reviews, it’s difficult to tally exactly how many discs I’ve covered. 2008 may bring some changes, which I’ll try to cover in a long-overdue update to my yearly re-evaluations; the last one I did officially was in December of 2001! I try not to go into too much detail in Savant’s frontpage column, but this may be the year that merits a ‘where am I and how did I get here?’ update. I’m just grateful that I have so many friends out there; that’s the true bounty of this page.

Cheers to all and thank you once again for all the notes, suggestions and corrections, especially from those who’ve from time to time helped me straighten out my thinking.

Glenn Erickson, December 15, 2007


Griffith Park burns, 2007


Check out the other DVD Savant Favored Disc Roundups:
Savant’s 2009 favored disc roundup
Savant’s 2008 favored disc roundup
Savant’s 2006 favored disc roundup
Savant’s 2005 favored disc roundup
Savant’s 2004 favored disc roundup
Savant’s 2003 favored disc roundup
Savant’s 2002 favored disc roundup
Savant’s 2001 favored disc roundup

This has been a yearly tradition since 2001. Happy Holidays! 

Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson