Value of the Dolls

The best DVDs of 2009.

It’s official: Home video consumers are looking for “value added” this holiday season. So we beat the bushes and found ten 2009 DVD and/or Blu-Ray releases, in a wide array of genres, that bring a little something extra to the party. Our list isn’t merely a home video rehash of the best theatrically released movies of the year. We’re going for a true value-added experience, a video you can curl up and spend serious time with — in some cases all day and night.

The Exiles

Milestone Film & Video went whole hog with Kent Mackenzie’s brilliant character study/urban-nostalgia-mobile The Exiles, the ultra-realistic story of a group of young Native Americans living in Los Angeles’ old Bunker Hill neighborhood, circa 1961. Bonus add-ons include period footage of the now-vanished nabe, commentary track, audio features, downloadable DVD-ROM archives on Mackenzie, and White Fawn’s Devotion, the first Native American film. (Oscilloscope/Milestone Cinematheque)


Go to school on Biggie Smalls. The surprisingly conventional showbiz bio of the late Brooklyn hip-hop star (well played by Jamal Woolard) is best viewed on Fox’s deluxe three-disc edition, crammed with schwag in DTS HD Master Audio. So you’re more of a folkie than a rapper? Try Always Been a Rambler, an excellent introduction to the traditional American music of the New Lost City Ramblers, from El Cerrito’s Arhoolie Foundation. Extras: ten rare performances. (Twentieth Century Fox)

Mad Men: Season 2

Skinny ties. Bouffant hair-dos. Cocktails and smokes in the office. Perry Como. Casual sexism. Lies. Is Mad Men a sardonic portrait of mid-20th-century American power and arrogance at its high-water mark, or just a glorified soap opera? Make up your own mind with the Season 2 boxed set from the hit TV series: Intriguing peripherals on feminism, the White House, etc. Coming soon: Season 3. (Lions Gate)

Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection

In 1963, after leaving the downsized Warner Bros. animation department, toon genius Chuck Jones landed at MGM and took over the “Tom and Jerry” franchise. Piece of cake. Frustrated feline Tom in perpetual pursuit of adorably sadistic mouse Jerry was another “Roadrunner and Coyote” proposition. If anything, Jones’ playful touch lightens up the grand-guignol violence of their previous adventures, but they’re still relatively dialogue-free. Warner Home Video’s package includes 34 cartoons (“The Brothers Carry-Mouse-Off,” “Advance and Be Mechanized,” etc.) plus two informative Jones-centric docs. (Warner Home Video)

The Samuel Fuller Film Collection

A cinema fistful of action. This welcome retrospective of the cigar-chomping auteur not only taps two of Fuller’s directorial efforts for Columbia, The Crimson Kimono and Underworld U.S.A., but five earlier films written by Fuller, including the Phil Karlson-helmed Scandal Sheet and Shockproof, directed by Douglas Sirk. Tim Robbins, Curtis Hanson, and Martin Scorsese help sort out the seven-disc set. Also from Sony: The Films of Michael Powell, a delicious two-fer of British director Powell’s WWII fantasy A Matter of Life and Death (with David Niven) and the Australian artist-and-model romance Age of Consent, starring James Mason and the voluptuous young Helen Mirren. Martin Scorsese introduces both films. (Sony Pictures)

The William Castle Film Collection

Gimmick king Castle’s most famous horror film, The House on Haunted Hill, isn’t in this eight-title, five-disc set from Sony, but his Columbia hits are all here, notably The Tingler (“Scream for your life!”), Castle’s odd Hitchcock homage Homicidal, and Strait-Jacket, starring Joan Crawford as an axe-murdering maniac (“She’s the ultimate gimmick,” gushes filmmaker John Waters on the companion documentary). Endless special features: Crawford’s “axe test,” alternate endings, and vintage Castle-isms like the “Punishment Poll” from Mr. Sardonicus. (Sony Pictures)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The scuffle between two long-lost, long-clawed, superhero brothers (noble Hugh Jackman and renegade Liev Schreiber) dominates this latest in the X-Men series. Purchasers of the Fox two-disc edition get a slew of extras plus a digital copy of the flick; single-disc steerage passengers have to be content with a making-of and an anti-smoking PSA. I’m not kidding. Graphic novel fiends might be better off with Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut from Warner. The four-disc Blu-Ray set combines the theatrical cut with “Tales of the Black Freighter,” offers a 325-minute “Complete Motion Comics” show, and throws in seven featurettes in addition to a separate theatrical version of the movie. Whew. (Twentieth Century Fox)

Coraline: Two-Disc Collector’s Edition

One of 2009’s best movies, Henry Selick’s animated tale of a lonely teenage girl finding herself gets the royal treatment from Universal. Both the DVD and Blu-Ray Collector’s Editions feature 2-D and 3-D versions, a digital copy of the film, a Selick commentary track, two making-ofs, and four pairs of 3-D specs. Follow the bouncing mice. (Universal Studios)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The most momentous film on this list. Disney’s first-rate re-release of its beloved animated fairytale is a diamond mine full of special treats — video games, Walt’s home movies, making-ofs, commentaries, HD 7.1 sound — but most of the extras are only available on the Blu-Ray discs, not the DVD. They’re trying to sell us hardware. Same deal with two other recommended family-style packages from Disney/Pixar: Up and Monsters Inc. (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)

Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. I

Almost as entertaining as the five bullet-hard noirs in this set is the salty commentary track for Don Siegel’s The Lineup, by the East Bay’s Nabob of Noir, Eddie Muller, and nutso crime novelist James Ellroy. Good to see Sony weigh into the noir game with classics like Edward Dmytryk’s The Sniper and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat. Resident experts include directors Michael Mann, Christopher Nolan, and the ubiquitous Scorsese. (Sony Pictures)


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