Our suggestions for the top 25 DVD's released this year

It seems to have be a bumper year this year for the release of films on DVD's -even though the range of films distributed in the cinema seems to be in one of its contracting periods. With the roll out of HD and Bluray DVD, 2007 looks promising for a further spurt in the volume of DVD's that will be released this year. So in order to take stock, here is our list of the best DVD film releases of 2006. The list includes a real mixture of mainstream and more left field films but they all have have two things in common - firstly they received a DVD release during 2006 either in the USA or the UK, secondly, each and every one of them are great movies.

So here in reverse order from 25, all the way to our favourite DVD film release of 2006 at number 1?

 

25. The Da Vinci Code. dir: Ron Howard. Well after all the hype and money thrown at this film, the end result is really a pretty good movie. Given the material available from the hugely successful book it seems a bit of a missed opportunity to have made a truly great movie, and perhaps, a slightly more serious and less ostentatious adaptation of the book could have achieved that. I guess the studio wanted a blockbuster and that is exactly what has been delivered, and judged on those grounds it is a considerable success, when it could so easily have been both a commercial and an artistic flop.

 
24. The Squid and The Whale dir: Noah Baumbach. The Writer and Director of this film was the co-writer of the terrific"Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", so the film had a fair amount of expectation heaped upon its shoulders. Luckily it does not disappoint. The film is remarkably adept at being both Hilarious and incisive. A tale of the inter-relationships in between a family falling apart, and the effects on their kids. To misquote an english poet who could have summed up the basis of this film "They mess you up, your mum and dad".

 
23. Brick dir: Rian Johnson.On of the most original and exciting movies to come out in some time. In the same way that Tarantino both borrowed, and added uniquely to movie sub genres, we get Rian Johnson taking moves, and dialogue inspiration from the classic crime novel noir's and then subverting them by placing them in a unique setting. The only unfortunate thing about such an emerging talent is after the excitement of this film, we will have the interminable wait for his next film (currently slated for 2008!).
 
22. Pirates Of The Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest. dir: Gore Verbinski. Surely everyone has seen the film by now, so I cant add anything particularly useful. It is a superb, visceral romp, full of swashbuckle, camp, humour but most of all cheese. It goes to show what a blockbuster can be when the incentive and the correct team all come together on a project.

 

21. Lady In The Water. dir: M. Night Shyamalan. Since I saw Sideways, Paul Giamatti has become one of my favourite actors, so I had to check out this film. It turns out to be a very good Fantasy / Thriller, and is a considerable cut above the average Hollywood fare that is continually churned out by Hollywood in this genre. A lot of thought and imagination have both obviously gone into making this an ultimately very rewarding film.

 
20. A Scanner Darkly. dir: Richard Linklater. Linklater's films are generally hit or miss, so you never know whether you will be getting a fantastic film or a stinker. Luckily this is up there with his very best. With it's rotoscoped animation style it is visually stunning, with it's story based on a story by Philip K.Dick and the voice talent on board it had the word hit all over it. All of the ingredients came together perfectly for a most innovative and enjoyable film.

 
19. The Black Dahlia. dir: Brian De Palma. The film noir is back with a vengeance this year. There are very few people to equal Brian De Palma when he is on his game (lets forgive him some of his movies that, shall we say, are less about art and more about $). Here is his finest film in a decade. A superb adaptation of James Ellroy's novel telling the tale of two Detectives investigating a murder a movie star. Suitably stylish, this noir drips wuth some of De Palmas signature recurring themes - like those of murder and obsession being principals. Josh Hartnett and and Scarlett Johnsson star and prove why they are rightly considered such hot properties at the moment.
 
18. Bicycle Thieves. dir: Vittorio De Sica. One of the best films ever made, but not hugely widely known. This film was made in Italy in 1948 and centres on the desperation of post war Italy by focusing on a desperate long time unemployed man, who gets a job putting up posters. He is delighted but there is a catch - he must pawn his families linen so that he can buy back his bike to put up the posters. He does so and sets off for work but he hadn't 't bargained on the bicycle thieves. Simply a brilliant film, given a welcome DVD release by the excellent Criterion.
 
17. The Brothers Grimm. dir: Terry Gilliam. This is undoubtedly one of Terry Gilliam's most complete films. With the director always most at home in the past, and even more at home in a settings of fantasy and fairy tales this film always looked likely to be a winner. Add into that mix the a superb and challenging story by Ehren Kruger, the undoubted chemistry between Damon and Ledger, and the stories dark grounding in its setting in the early 1800s French occupied Germany, and you get a classic. I believe Gilliam is the Michelangelo of modern cinema, and both his and his teams harnessing of technology and design (even on relatively modest budgets) produce some of the most stunning results you are likely to see anywhere.
 
16. When the Levees Broke. dir: Spike Lee. When Hurricane Katrina commenced the chain reaction of devastating events in New Orleans, it seemed all to unreal. How could this happen in the richest and most powerful country on the planet? What seemed all the more unreal was the authorities seeming inability to organise any kind of relief effort, and even more concerning, the Governments intransigence in the face of so much human suffering. With his film, Spike Lee has sought to engage with the very people who were affected most, and he has given them a voice to explain how, in personal terms, they have been affected. In telling the story of the people, the "political" (in the largest sense of the word) story is also uncovered. Whichever part of the narrow political divide you sit on, the human story here is clear, and for the victims of the floods and of the system, they have finally been given a voice for us all to hear and for us all to heed.
 
15. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. dir: Michael Winterbottom. One of Britain's most inventive and consistent directors hits the mark on this seriously overlooked film. The film is basically split between the "film" of the Story of Tristram Shandy, interwoven with the behind the scenes of this "unmakeable" film being made. This works surprisingly well, and it's leads Rob Brydon and, more especially, Steve Coogan turn in fantastic and hugely funny performances, even by their own very high standards. The film is also full of fantastic cameos. Definitely one of the funniest and best British films made in the last few years.
 
14. Match Point. dir: Woody Allen. I have always thought that Woody Allen needs to get out of the house more. Here he leaves Manhattan far behind and heads for London. With his cinematic relocation he seems to have been reinvigorated and he has produced in this film, probably his best film in a dozen or so years. London seems to have infused itself into his being, and probably more than any director, Allen is the master of making the character of a Location burn itself in to the character of the movie. As ever with a Woody Allen film, he can choose whomever he wants in the film and he obviously has had some very good advisors helping with the casting of the more minor roles, many of which are familiar to British audiences, but not necessarily, I'm sure, to him. He also had the good sense and taste to use Emily Mortimer in one of the major roles - she is a terrific actress and terribly underused in casting for major roles. A great return to form .
 
13. An Inconvenient Truth. dir: Davis Guggenheim. You will be pleased to note this review has been validated as being carbon neutral, and in replacement for the electricity it has taken to write and display this mini review, I will be walking to work all week instead of driving the RV I normally use. Seriously though, this film serves a great purpose, even if you do not accept the scientific thesis that are included here, at least it has raised the profile of the debate about the problem of Global warming. Whether we decide or not to believe governments when they tell us "Global Warming - what global warming", the profile of this movie has helped us in some way to make the debate less easy to ignore, and that has got to be a good thing for the future. On the downside its also allowed two opposing sides to try and score cheap political points over each other again - which is not the point. For that reason I have deliberately not mentioned Al Gore's name during the review - doh!
 
12. Walk The Line. dir:James Mangold. This film was a real treat. How many times have you seen bio pics (particularly musical ones) where either the lead bears absolutely no physical relationship to its subject and / or the script is so crammed filled with anecdotes (and cheese) that it is virtually impossible to watch. Being a Johnny Cash admirer I hoped against hope that this would be one of the few films that would buck that trend. Well it certainly does that and I would venture it is the best musical bio pic ever made. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are are superb as Johnny and June, and they helped make this a hugely entertaining and integrity filled film.
 
11. L'Armee Des Ombres. dir: Jean-Pierre Melville. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best films ever to come out of France. This is the first DVD release of Melville's classic 1969 take on Joseph Kessel's 1943 novel. The story is driven around the lives of the French Resistance fighters in German occupied France during the war. What sets it apart is the concentration on the individuals relationships with their colleagues, and their human frailties. The DVD is particularly welcome as it contains background material on the resistance, a commentary and a short film about Melville.
 
10. Grizzly Man. dir:Werner Herzog. A superb documentary portrait of Timothy Treadwell, a back to nature kind of a guy who spent 13 seasons living with the wild bears in Alaska, and filming his exploits with a mini DV camera. There are numerous sad and tragic ironies about the film, and Herzog has compiled here a film that not only says something our attitude towards animals, but also our attitude towards ourselves or more specificly others. The portrait of these solitary animals constantly roaming, constantly looking for something to feed its hunger - you can't make it up.
 
9. Clerks 2. dir: Kevin Smith. I couldn't believe a sequel to Clerks was being made - why on earth would he take such a chance on messing up the memory of his brilliant first movie. But the sequel works surprisingly well. As with every Smith film the characters are very easy to get comfortable with, and since making Clerks he has broadened his horizons on what he can achieve in a film. Also like every Smith film, not everything on show here always hits the mark, but this is certainly his most consistent work to date.
 
8. Volver. dir:Pedro Almodóvar. In the past I have been somewhat ambivalent with regard to the work of Penelope Cruz, and one can only imagine what possessed her to accept some of the roles she taken. But back working with the terrific Almodovar, she gives a terrific and rich performance. This seems in part to have been aided by Almodovar's lighter touch in this movie which certainly helped the characters to breathe, and work tremendously well in one of his most accessible movies.
 
7. The Double Life Of Veronique. dir: Krzysztof Kieslowski. This is undoubtedly Kieslowski's finest moment. The film was originally released in 1991 and it was immediately followed by the work he is now best known for - the excellent Three Colors trilogy of films. The DVD release we have here is the Criterion issue, which is packed with excellent extras including some Kieswlowski shorts, documentaries, essays, interviews and a commentary. A suitable epitaph for a tremendous career.
 
6. Little Miss Sunshine. dir: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris.One of the many delights in this film, is in the fact that you can't tell where exactly it is going. With the main plot surrounding, in its simplest forms, a road trip for a dysfunctional family, this could have easily degenerated into a weak sub-Farelly brothers contrived romp. What we get with the directors debut feature, is a rather good light and dark movie, with some excellent dialogue and a truly superb cast (Toni Collette is especially fantastic). It left me very keen to see the directors next project to see which they will go with their new found success. 
This film has not yet been released in the USA. It has been released in the UK.
5. The Wind That Shakes The Barley. dir: Ken Loach. An undeniably bold and brave project by Ken Loach. The approach to weave the issues of the" Irish problem" into the personal lives of the Republican activists, and maintain the focus to such an extent on the personal issues was surprising. It would have been easy for Loach to have been far more heavy handed in order to push the narrative along in much more of a historically referenced manner, but to his credit he resisted the temptation and delivered yet another great film. Certainly as a "political" film it is would be impossible to truly exert a huge amount of balance into the narrative, but there certainly is a feeling nere that Loach is looking for the truth.
 
4. Hidden (Cache). dir: Michael Haneke. This is perhaps Haneke's best film to date, and following on from The Piano player and Time Of The Wolf, the terrifically consistent standard of his recent movies is truly remarkable. The plot here centres around a TV host and his wife, who are terrorised by Videos of them that are being left on their doorstep. This leaves them feeling extremely uncomfortable as its obvious they are being watched, but more unsettling is why? In common with other Michael Haneke's films, the actual story is not necessarily the one that you are watching here, and the themes and messages are all the more powerful for that. Hidden certainly helps cement Haneke as one of the best directors around today in World Cinema.
 
3. The Producers. dir: Susan Stroman. This is a terrific film of the remake of the play of the film. For someone who loves the original film, the delightful surprise is just how good this version is. Ably supported by the unabashed enthusiasm brought to their roles by Broderick and Lane, this film is an absolute triumph under the direction of Susan Stroman, and is generally even broader and better than the original. I wonder what they could do with a remake of my favourite Mel Brooks film "Young Frankenstein".
 
2. Corpse Bride . dir: Tim Burton. The one thing about about a Tim Burton film is that you know that you are not going to be disappointed, and the delight with this one is that I think its his best so far. The story and the dialogue are both fantastic, visually his unique style has moved on a fair way, and the amazing voice talent he managed to get for this film was nothing less than the film deserved. Alongside Terry Gilliam, he is the next true genius of modern cinema. This film is superb.
 
1. Capote. dir: Bennett Miller. I didn't think they made films like this anymore. Given the huge character of Capote, and in particular the story behind the writing of his greatest work "In Cold Blood", the foundations of a superb piece of work were already there. But when of the best screenplays and performances of the last few years comes together, this all contributes to making this one of the best and most sublime films of the last 10 years. Philip Seymour Hoffman manages to maintain his meandering trajectory towards the top of the "Thinking mans actor" lis", and hopefully some of the recent commercial blockbusters will mean he will have the luxury of both being offered the best roles and having the security to reject the less demanding roles. Check this one out its absolute genius.