Underappreciated Blu-ray Gift Guide 2012

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There are going to be plenty of people finding copies of excellent Blu-rays from the big studios like Warner Bros, Universal, Paramount, Sony, Disney, and Fox under their trees this holiday season. The number of happy folks unwrapping their Blu-ray copy of The Dark Knight Rises or Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures will be astounding. But what about all those more independent-minded studios out there? We here at Flavorwire don’t think some of the great releases from these smaller guys should be forgotten so we put together an Underappreciated Blu-ray Gift Guide for your 2012 shopping needs. Treat the cinephile in your family to a little something special this holiday season with one of these great releases.

You might be wondering about our criteria for inclusion on this list. Well, it’s simple: 1) The Blu-ray had to be released in the 2012 calendar year. 2) It had to be released by one of the more independent-minded companies out there. 3) It had to be both an impressive film and a quality Blu-ray. 4) We had to really dig the Blu-ray enough to think more people should be aware of its existence.

*Note: We didn’t include any films from The Criterion Collection because we felt that they get plenty of (well deserved) attention and praise already.

A Trip to the Moon (1902) – Flicker Alley

It’s astonishing that a fourteen-minute French, silent, black and white, science fiction film like George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans le lune) could get one of the very best Blu-ray releases of the entire year. Such is the plight of the serious film collector, right? Flicker Alley’s careful and respectful treatment of the film is cause for celebration. Not only do you get the most beautiful version of A Trip to the Moon you’ve ever seen, you get it in both the restored hand-colored version, the black and white version, and you also get other films by MM including The Astronomer’s Dream (1898) and The Eclipse or The Courtship of the Sun and the Moon (1907). And we’re not done yet… Toss in Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange’s 2011 documentary The Extraordinary Voyage, several different musical scores, an interview with the band Air, and a beautifully illustrated 24-page booklet. This release is a film geek’s dream come true and one that belongs on everyone’s shelf. Get it now!

The Hole (2009) – Big Air

The great Joe Dante’s 3D return-to-form finally made its way to the US on Blu-ray and DVD this year – a full three years after it first screened in front of audiences in September 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Despite some great initial reviews, The Hole hit a major logjam when trying to find theaters to play when Hollywood suddenly decided to take all their non-3D films and post-convert them to 3D. After sitting on the shelf in the US for so long, it’s nice to see the film finally get a quality Blu-ray release with a solid visual presentation and some interesting bonus material. The real treat here, however, is the film itself as it plays just scary enough to be completely entertaining but not scary enough to make you keep the kids out of the room. The Hole is a fun film that deserves a bigger audience and one that Dante fans should definitely put on their wish lists.

Melancholia (2011) – Magnolia

The work of Lars von Trier is, unquestionably, an acquired taste, but there’s no denying that his latest film, Melancholia, is a well-made thought-provoking (and, at times, thoroughly depressing) film. Depressing and difficult or not, Melancholia still stands as one of 2011’s best films with some great performances from Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, and Kiefer Sutherland. Magnolia’s Blu-ray release delivers in just about every way possible. The audio and visual presentations are nearly perfect, capturing the film’s tone and color beautifully, and although the US release loses several key bonus features found on the British release, there is still some intriguing extra material included here. There’s a discussion of the film’s themes with von Trier, Dunst, and Gainsbourg, a featurette on the look of the film, and short bit about the science behind Melancholia. It’s a great disc for a film that certainly deserves a few more eyes.

The Innkeepers (2011) – MPI

Call the films of Ti West “slow burn” all you like; it doesn’t change the fact that they are also incredibly effective horror flicks that have turned the director into one of the most interesting and sought-after directors in all of Hollywood. The follow up to the 2009 throwback The House of the Devil, West’s The Innkeepers is an old-fashioned ghost story loosely based on the young director’s own experiences inside the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The film takes its time, really explores its characters, and delivers on the scares when it needs to. Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, and Kelly McGillis, The Innkeepers was easily one of 2011’s best horror films and this 2012 Blu-ray release is one that deserves a space on any genre fan’s shelf. It only includes one short making-of featurette, but the disc’s two excellent audio commentaries are worth the price of admission alone.

D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln (1930) – Kino

With so much hype and excitement surrounding Spielberg’s Lincoln, I’m actually surprised that Kino’s excellent Blu-ray release of D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln didn’t raise a few more eyebrows. Sporting a new transfer sourced from the Museum of Modern Art’s recent 35mm restoration, the film looks pretty great considering it’s over 80 years old. The Blu-ray includes 93 minutes of Abraham Lincoln’s original 97-minute version (many of the original film elements have been lost through the years) and most of the audio soundtrack is in tact. There are bits missing in the first section of the film, but for a film this old, it’s amazing that this much has actually survived. There are two short interviews between Griffith and star Walter Huston included on the disc (filmed while making the movie), but the real star of the show here is the fact that this important public domain title has finally been given a proper Blu-ray release that helps the film look better than it has since its original exhibition.

The Blue Lagoon (1980) – Twilight Time

Randal Kleiser’s 1980 classic, starring a young Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, has received quite a few DVD releases throughout the years, but it’s maiden voyage onto high-definition Blu-ray comes courtesy of the fine folks at Twilight Time. The Blue Lagoon is expected to ship on December 11 (and it’s available for pre-order now), but will be limited to 3,000 copies so act quickly if you want to grab a copy. The Blu-ray carries over the two audio commentaries and making-of featurette from the previous DVD release, but that’s not the selling point here, is it? No, no. The selling point is seeing the beautiful beachscapes and bubbling romance between the film’s young stars in crystal-clear high definition. Twilight Time has been knocking it out of the park with their limited edition Blu-ray releases this year and The Blue Lagoon is just the latest one you won’t want to miss.

Chico & Rita (2010) – New Video Group

This Spanish animated feature film, directed by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 84th Academy Awards, but I’d love to know how many people have actually seen it. I’d venture to say it’s a pretty small number here in the US. That said, Chico & Rita deserves to be seen by a much larger audience and New Video Group’s Blu-ray release is the perfect way to do it. The film’s drama, romance, heartache, and enveloping Latin music comes across incredibly well on the small screen as the Blu-ray boasts absolutely perfect audio and visual presentations. It also includes a DVD version, a soundtrack CD that will keep your feet moving throughout the day, and a small smattering of excellent bonus features including an insightful (though sometimes slow as the director’s aren’t completely fluent in English) director’s commentary, and a nice half-hour making-of documentary. If you’ve yet to feast your eyes on the beauty and heart of Chico & Rita, now’s the perfect time to head out and pick up a copy of the Blu-ray.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977) – Olive Films

Richard Aldrich’s 1977 film, starring Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, and Charles Durning, has long been on the home video wish lists of cinephiles, but Twilight’s Last Gleaming isn’t exactly on the same highly anticipated lists as things like Star Wars and E.T. It is, however, a fine (yet sometimes uneven) film that gets the royal treatment from upstart Olive Films. Presented in a completely restored version, the director’s cut of the film arrives in a top-notch transfer and the Blu-ray also includes an hour-long retrospective bonus feature called Aldrich Over Munich. While Olive Films included a disclaimer saying that the documentary’s quality wasn’t quite up to par, we found it was just fine and the really insightful information included in the piece far outweighed any technical issues it might have. This is Olive Films’ highest profile release of the year and for good reason: It’s great.

The Big Heat (1953) – Twilight Time

Another Twilight Time Blu-ray release that’s limited to just 3,000 copies, The Big Heat is one of the best film noir visual presentations you can currently find on the format. Fritz Lang’s landmark film noir, starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Lee Marvin, has never looked better than it does in this Blu-ray release. From the stark black and white contrast to the crisp details and smooth shadows, The Big Heat is easily near the top of my list of black and white transfers released in 2012. The release might only include the original theatrical trailer and an isolated music score in the bonus features department, but the beautiful presentation and the fact that you’re getting one of the very best films to come along near the tail end of the Film Noir movement in stunning high definition is more than enough to warrant a purchase.

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (2011) – MPI

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary is a bit of a change for the director. Instead of relying on his typical (and completely awesome) whimsically philosophical narration to tell the tale, he instead let’s his interviews with the subjects tell most of story. It’s a shame for those who love Herzog’s work simply for his magical voice, but it’s also great to see the variety and talent in the director’s latest film. Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life tells the tale of Michael Perry (who received a death sentence) and Jason Burkett (who received a life sentence) both convicted of a triple homicide in Texas. It’s just as much a meditation on the morality of capitol punishment as it is a recapping of the heinous crime itself and Herzog knows just the right questions to ask to get his audience thinking about the repercussions of violent crime, the people who commit them, and paying the price for their behavior. The only downfall to MPI’s Blu-ray release is the lack of bonus material, but this disc still deserves another look simply on the quality of the film itself. Into the Abyss… is not only an important film, but it’s one that will leave you thinking and is a great jumping-off point for informed debate and conversation.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) – Oscilloscope

Lynne Ramsay’s long-awaited adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name might not technically be categorized as a horror film, but it’s easily one of the most terrifying films you’re ever likely to see (and even more so if you’re a parent). The slow, methodical retelling of the downward spiral that Kevin Katchadourian (Ezra Miller) experiences, and the inability of his mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) to really do anything to stop it (or to even understand it) is simply horrifying. Ramsay’s film is a great piece of filmmaking, a well-told tale, and a scary view inside the psyche and mindset of a pure psychopath. We Need To Talk About Kevin finally hit Blu-ray stateside in May and came loaded with several interesting featurettes and interviews, an impeccable visual presentation, and the beautiful packaging fans of Oscilloscope have come to expect from their releases. It’s a worthy Blu-ray (that kind of flew under the radar this year) for a truly scary film that deserves all the praise it has received since its initial release. Pick it up if you have the chance.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) – New Video Group

José Padilha’s 2010 sequel to his 2007 hit The Elite Squad has become one of Brazilian film’s biggest blockbusters and it’s easy to see why. The film may follow in a similar vein as Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 critical darling City of God, but it’s packed with even more action, slickness, and the dire consequences are through the roof. Padilha’s direction is rock solid and his penchant for truly disturbing violence and moral ambiguity persists throughout his entire trilogy of films (which also includes Bus 174). Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a tough film to watch, but it’s well worth the effort. New Video Group’s Blu-ray sports an impressive audio-visual presentation, but the coup de grace here is a 56-minute making-of feature that provides the context and history of the urban violence that you’ll find in the film. It’s a great feature that turns a high-quality Blu-ray release into a must-have.

The Funhouse: Collector’s Edition (1981) – Scream Factory

Of course everyone knows about the greatness that is Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (it’s one of my top five favorite films of all time), but not quite as many people are aware of just how awesome his 1981 cult classic The Funhouse is. The people behind Shout! Factory’s “Scream Factory” label, however, know full well just how fun and creepy The Funhouse can be as they gave the film the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray treatment it so rightfully deserves. Starring Cooper Huckabee, Elizabeth Berridge, and a mime named Wayne Doba as one of the freakiest horror movie monsters you’ve ever seen, The Funhouse comes home with a gorgeous new high-definition transfer, a brand new audio commentary director Tobe Hooper and moderator/filmmaker Tim Sullivan, several new interviews, and even a few deleted scenes. It truly is a release worthy of the collector’s edition label that could easily have been overshadowed by some of Scream Factory’s more high-profile releases like They Live and Halloween II. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Get out there and grab a copy of The Funhouse!

Scarlet Street (1945) – Kino

If you’re surprised that the great Fritz Lang makes more than one appearance in this list, than you probably don’t know just how amazing his oeuvre actually is. The second Lang film included here is Kino’s fantastic Blu-ray release of one of the seminal (and somewhat unlikely) Film Noir of the 1940s, Scarlet Street. Starring Edward G. Robinson as Christopher Cross, Joan Bennett as the prostitute he dotes on, and Dan Duryea as her hulking boyfriend, the film is an exercise in the aspects of the Noir movement. From the darkened, rain-soaked streets to the prototypical femme fatale, Scarlet Street is a shining example of just what made the movement so endlessly entertaining. Another public domain title, Scarlet Street has seen plenty of terrible DVD releases throughout the years, but Kino’s Blu-ray is a revelation with a fantastic new transfer sourced from the 35mm print that’s been preserved by the Library of Congress. It’s absolutely beautiful, and the inclusion of a highly informative audio commentary by film historian David Kalat and a stills and poster gallery make this a must-have Blu-ray for any film buff.

High Noon: 60th Anniversary Edition (1952) – Olive Films

Arguably one of the greatest films of all time (and most certainly one of the greatest Westerns ever), High Noon saw its high-definition Blu-ray debut this year courtesy of Olive Films and the results are fantastic. The film, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, is presented in a gorgeous black and white high-definition transfer with deep blacks, solid contrast, and crisp (but still film-like) detail. It’s the best High Noon has ever looked, bar none. While some of the special features that previously appeared on past DVD releases of the film are not present on this release, we are still treated to a quite good making-of featurette and the film’s theatrical trailer. The real treat here, however, is finally having High Noon on Blu-ray and sporting a beautiful visual presentation. Extras are simply icing on the cake for Olive Films, who continues to impress with their classic film Blu-ray releases.