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Best new Blu-rays of 2014

Cinema | January 16th, 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The shrinking selection of Blu-rays at area retail stores concentrates as expected on recent hits that were playing in theatres just months ago, but Blu-ray is still thriving among cineastes with more varied tastes. Even though many people seem to be switching to online streaming options for watching movies and others remain satisfied with DVD quality, the year 2014 has seen an impressive array of classic, foreign, independent and cult films released to Blu-ray in superior high-definition editions comparable to theatrical presentations. Here are just a few notable titles new to Blu-ray in the past 12 months, starting with five that played theatrically last year.

“The Wind Rises” is a wonderful and touching biographical/historical film about an aerodynamics engineer, which happens to be an animated cartoon using traditional hand-drawn images, the last film by the celebrated Hayao Miyazaki.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is eccentric filmmaker Wes Anderson’s latest. The heavily stylized story of art theft and a family fortune revolving around a hotel is offbeat, peculiar fun throughout, if not quite as engaging as his previous “Moonrise Kingdom.”

“Le Chef” (aka “Comme un chef”) is a delightful 2012 French comedy released in the US about the same time as the popular Jon Favreau film “Chef”and even more fun. It’s sort of a live-action “Ratatouille”without the rats. Jean Reno is the master chef that young but devoted amateur Michaël Youn hopes to emulate.

“The Great Beauty”won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Paolo Sorrentino’s interesting look at life and death and Rome through the eyes of a cynical participant/observer is strongly reminiscent of Fellini’s iconic “La Dolce Vita” from over a half-century earlier.

“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is a hilarious, literate, updated homage to the classic TV episodes (several of which are included as bonus features), with entertaining performances expertly tossing off clever (and sometimes multilingual) puns, plus the film makes great use of both 3-D and stereo sound. One of the best animated movies in years, it’s really made for adults, although kids might enjoy parts of it as well.

Box sets have been prominent among the year’s outstanding Blu-ray releases. Fox’s Rodgers & Hammerstein collection includes new high-definition restorations of “Oklahoma!” in both its CinemaScope and the simultaneously-filmed and slightly different 70mm Todd-AO versions, “The King and I” and “Carousel,” plus the previously-released “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music.” Each film has a number of interesting bonus features.

Shout Factory’s Vincent Price Collection volume 2 includes “House on Haunted Hill,” “Return of the Fly,” “Comedy of Terrors,” “The Raven,” “The Last Man on Earth” and the delightful dark comedy “Dr. Phibes Rises Again!” All look very impressive in HD and include some worthwhile supplements.

Criterion’s Complete Jacques Tati is a definitive set with a disc devoted to just the shorts of the eccentric physical comic, and others covering all of his features: “Jour de fête” in the B&W release version plus its long-lost color version, “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” “Mon Oncle,” “Playtime,” “Trafic” and “Parade.” Also from Criterion was a Jacques Demy set spotlighting his major works: “Lola,” “Bay of Angels,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “The Young Girls of Rochefort,” “Donkey Skin” and the lesser-known operatic melodrama “Un Chambre en Ville.” Numerous extras in both sets place each film in context and detail their backgrounds.

Once again Criterion released too many intriguing examples of international cinema to mention, with a few especially notable including “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “La Vie de Bohème,” “A Brief History of Time,” “The Hidden Fortress,” “Persona, “L’Avventura,” “La Dolce Vita,” “Jules and Jim,” “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and the poignant “Sundays and Cybèle.”

Fans of classic television got beautiful high-definition scans from the original 35mm film negatives of several iconic series, including the original Adam West “Batman,” Jackie Gleason’s classic 39 episodes of “The Honeymooners,” “Andy Griffith” season 1, and a few seasons of “Little House on the Prairie.” The first season of “I Love Lucy” also made it to Blu-ray, although scanned from slightly lesser-quality film elements. A notable recent series new to Blu-ray is the second season of the delightful Australian show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”

Best Picture Oscar-winners finally on Blu-ray are “It Happened One Night,” “All the King’s Men,” “Marty” and “In the Heat of the Night.” Other major classics with excellent Blu-ray editions include “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Women,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “Samson & Delilah,” and quite a few others, like Christmas classics “A Christmas Carol” (1938), “Holiday Inn” and “Christmas in Connecticut.” Kino released a multitude of interesting 1950s-60s United Artists films.

Some of the many classic film noir titles now in sparkling Blu-ray editions include “Double Indemnity,” “Out of the Past,” “Lady from Shanghai,” “Touch of Evil,” “Violent Saturday” and “Cry Danger.” Major westerns getting fine HD releases include “Red River,” “My Darling Clementine,” “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” “El Dorado” and many more. Classic silents now on impressive-looking Blu-rays include “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” Lon Chaney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Harold Lloyd’s “The Freshman,” and Carl Dreyer’s “Master of the House.”

Flicker Alley released an amazing HD edition of Charlie Chaplin’s 12 Mutual comedies, as well as a 50-film set of Mack Sennett comedies from 1909-1933. Also from Flicker Alley is “We’re in the Movies: Palace of Silents and Itinerant Filmmaking,” containing two fascinating feature-length documentaries and several rare independently-made short films from the 1910s through the 1930s.

Animated cartoons were well-represented on Blu-ray with the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection volume 3, Betty Boop: The Essential Collection volumes 3 and 4, “Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares” (rare 1930s-40s cartoons), “Gulliver’s Travels” (1939) with numerous Max Fleischer shorts silent and sound, and Disney’s release of “The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad” in the same package as “Fun and Fancy Free” and the best in the set, “The Reluctant Dragon.”

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