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Top Ten

The Year in DVDs

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1) Lola Montès (Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray)
Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montès endured many of the same heartbreaks and indignities as its title character: It was misunderstood, manipulated, abused, and abandoned. Now Criterion has righted the old wrongs by issuing a gorgeous digital transfer of Ophuls’ recently restored swan song. Martine Carol plays the titular real-life heroine, a dancer in 19th-century Europe who, in this telling, loved whom she wanted (including Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I of Bavaria) how she wanted, and, of course, publicly paid the proto-feminist price. Lola’s lush art direction and Technicolor opulence astonish, as does Ophuls’ deft emotional touch and the fact that Lola’s fate could serve as a cautionary for scandal queens and fameballs everywhere right this minute. (Lee Gardner)

2) Prodigal Sons (First Run Features)
Just one of those average American documentaries about an all-American high school quarterback who returns to hometown Helena, Mont., to attend the 20th high school reunion as the transwoman she is now who, in the process of shooting this amazing movie, finds out her older adopted brother is the grandson of old Hollywood. Filmmaker Kimberly Reed—born Paul McKerrow—fearlessly investigates herself and her family in this riveting human story to which Rick Moody does more justice than roughly 100 words can. (Bret McCabe)

3) The Complete Metropolis (Kino Lorber DVD and Blu-ray)
One of the cornerstones of silent cinema/historic sci-fi returns in a new iteration featuring 25 additional minutes of footage assumed to be lost forever until a vintage print of the film’s 1927 original cut turned up in Argentina. The new stuff mostly adds nuance and minor shading to Fritz Lang’s indelible vision of a stratified future society, but the painstakingly restored transfer helps make it the most essential version of the film yet. (LG)

4) Bronson (Magnolia Pictures)
Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn displayed his inner Alejandro Jodorowsky with his Valhalla Rising head trip that came out in late November, but a better display of his filmmaking panache can be found in his 2008 picture that came out on DVD in February. Bronson profiles a petty criminal turned self-mythologized icon told as an operatic cabaret of charismatic violence. Propelled by Tom Hardy's powerhouse performance, who can instantly switch from lake calm stillness to rabid animal and back again, Bronson pushes the crime thriller through an imaginative if patently unreliable narrator sieve and comes out the other side with one indelible slab of cinema. (BM)

5) House (Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray)
The cultist’s cult hit of 2010, Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s 1977 obscurity takes the usual horror-flick tropes—the small group of mismatched teens, the secretly sinister host, the isolated manse, the rising tide of evil and raised mortal stakes—and shoots them through an absolutely loony, borderline psychotropic mix of crazed camerawork, frenzied editing, and surreal imaginings (a disembodied ass-biting head, a carnivorous piano, a hapless older man turned into a man-shaped heap of bananas for no apparent reason). Good-bad has rarely been this uncannily good. (LG)

6) 44 Inch Chest (Image Entertainment)
Sexy Beast writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto channel their emotionally masochist inner Harold Pinter in this vivisection of middle-age masculinity masquerading as a British crime thriller. Colin (Ray Winstone) knows his wife (a va-va-voom Joanna Whalley) is having an affair with a younger man. So his mates—Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, and Stephen Dillane—kidnap the loverboy (Melvil Poupaud) and take him to a derelict flat for Colin to take his revenge. And there they wait, as retribution puddles into apathy and impotence. Doesn't deliver the same intensity of Beast, but like the later novels of Martin Amis, 44's portrait of atrophied manliness is often surprisingly candid, funny, and absurd. (BM)

7) Taxidermia (E1 DVD)
Perhaps in 30 years, Hungarian director György Pálfi’s 2006 movie will be the new House. Taxidermia follows three generations of one paternal line: a sad-sack soldier slowly going sex-crazy at an isolated post, a competitive eater on the Hungarian state team who suffers indignities both professional and romantic, and a reedy taxidermist who tends to his now enormous father and his enormous father’s enormous (like, Labrador-sized) butter-fed cats. Oh, and the enormous father was born with a pig’s tail, perhaps because of the uncertain circumstances of his conception. And that’s just scratching the surface of the charmed strangeness imbued in every frame here. Coming straight out of a lineage that includes Jan Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay, Terry Gilliam, and David Lynch, Pálfi lives up to it and extends it, adding a polished and puckish visual style all his own. (LG)

8) Dead Snow (MPI Home Video) Nazi zombies: No matter how you try to parse this 2009 word-of-mouth comedic horror flick from Norway, it all comes down to those two words. Yes, it's a totally cliché horror movie about some young people who go a-wondering in the snowy woods, where they come upon, you guessed it, Nazi zombies. These undead move and do all the things movie undead usually do, except they're much better attired because they are, after all, Nazi zombies. And while, yes, people get pursued and imperiled in the usual undead ways, they get pursued and imperiled with so much more ridiculousness because they're being chased by Nazi zombies. Dead Snow is by no means a zombie game-changer or really particularly good at all, but there are few ways to waste 90 minutes killing your brain cells that are quite as giggle-filled. (BM)

9) Service (E1 DVD)
Service is set in a Filipino porn theater, but the patrons ignore the movies in favor of picking up each other, often for pay. Likewise, the members of the extended family that runs and lives in the theater ignore the movies and the patrons, for the most part, since they’ve got troubles of their own. Matriarch Nanay Flor (Gina Pareño) is trying to divorce the unseen patriarch. Projectionist Alan (Coco Martin) has a pregnant girlfriend and a giant boil on his ass. Meanwhile, dutiful daughter Nayda (Jacklyn Jose) keeps the place running while wanly looking around for something, anything to look forward to. Director Brillante Mendoza’s camera restlessly roams the aisles, halls, and staircases of the theater and happens across a particularly squalid but unusually affecting slice of life. (LG)

10) My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (Millenium Entertainment)
Imagine what might happen if David Lynch was hired to produce an episode of Law and Order: Los Angeles and he hired Werner Herzog to direct it. Now imagine watching that episode after 30 shots of absinthe. My Son is based on a 1979 incident in which a man killed his mother with a sword, supposedly inspired by an Aeschylus play. Lynch and Herzog work with the particulars of that event but push the story through various rings of WTF? The game cast—Willem Dafoe, Grace Zabriskie, Brad Dourif, Udo Kier—is willing to go to whatever kind of crazy is asked of them, but star Michael Shannon truly deserves more directors willing to let him unleash the loony. The movie makes about as much sense as a penguin wearing a sombrero to dine at Spago, but for some reason you just. Keep. Watching. On par with either Lynch or Herzog at the top of his nutty game? Not even close. But the polar opposite of boring and genuinely not right? Absofuckinglutely. (BM)