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David Williams
Publisher/Senior Reviewer
Colin Jacobson

Copyright (c) 1997-2005
All rights reserved.

Top Ten DVDs of 2005

2005 may go down as a historic year in the world of DVD. That's not because it saw any substantial advances, as DVD stayed the course in 2005. However, this was the final year without competition of hi-def DVD. How that will affect “standard-def” DVD remains to be seen, but clearly it’ll have some impact.

That’s an issue I guess I’ll address when I do my Top Ten for 2006. As for 2005, I find it hard to discern anything unusual. DVD was already a mature format before 2005 started, so nothing extraordinary occurred. We couldn’t even look at any blockbuster catalog debuts. For instance, 2003 gave us the Indiana Jones flicks, while 2004 brought us the original Star Wars films. A few long-desired efforts finally appeared in 2005 – 1933’s King Kong being probably the most prominent – but there wasn’t anything new to DVD with the huge potential of the packages seen in earlier years.

But that didn’t make 2005 a bad year for DVD – just not a blockbuster one. At least the absence of a Lord of the Rings release meant that something else had a shot at #1 in my final Top Ten. That’s the first time since 2001 that a movie without hobbits would go home with that honor.

So enough of my yakkin’ – let’s wrap up 2005 and find out what replaced Lord of the Rings at the top of the chart!

Colin Jacobson, Senior Reviewer

Time for a close call, as I literally almost tossed a coin to decide whether Titanic or The Incredibles would earn my #1 spot. I went with Titanic partially because I like the movie a little more, but also because I think it's the more comprehensive set. For me, the "A+" for the extras of Incredibles was a narrow decision, but i felt no similar qualms when I awarded that "A+" for the supplements of Titanic. In addition, Titanic nearly earned an "A+" for picture due to its terrific transfer. The movie continues to impress, and this amazing DVD release finally does it justice.

Guess how many Pixar DVDs haven't ended up as part of my year-end Top Ten lists? If you went with "none", you'd be correct. 2000's The Ultimate Toy Box was my pick for that year's best release, while Monsters Inc. ended up third for 2002 and Finding Nemo was ninth for 2003. (1999's A Bug's Life predated my first Top Ten, but it certainly would have made any such list for that year.) Did that mean it was inevitable that The Incredibles wound wind up somewhere on my year-end 2005 chart? Probably. As for the actual product, it's hard to beat a disc with this one's unassailable ratings. A top-notch movie that improves with repeated viewings, the DVD offers a slew of excellent extras along with the expected solid picture and audio. Put down your bets now that 2006's Cars will continue this trend.

Observant readers will notice that the technical marks for this version of The Wizard of Oz don't compare all that well with the grades given to every other entry in this Top Ten. In fact, only one other "B" pops up anywhere on this page, while Oz presents two of them. So why's it on the chart - much less in such a lofty position as third place? For one, I have to consider the quality of the film. Oz continues to deserve its status as an all-time great; it delights now as much as it did more than 65 years ago. It's also an extremely well-made package. No, the picture and sound aren't among the best you'll find, but they're darned fine for such an old movie. The roster of extras goes beyond the level of comprehensive to nearly seem exhaustive. It's a lavish, loving set that truly stunned me.

Director Robert Rodriguez always gives us good supplements, and that factor helps land this two-DVD version of Sin City on my Top Ten. The fact that City is a blast doesn’t hurt. A violent but dynamic and lively comic book flick, City is a lot of fun for adherents of the genre. The DVD offers excellent picture and audio along with a find set of extras. Yeah, the extended version is a disappointment, but this remains a terrific release.

Every Star Wars film has ended up somewhere on my year-end Top Ten. Revenge of the Sith lands the lowest, though, as its fifth-place finish is farther down than the others. That’s not a reflection on the movie, which stands as the best of the prequels. The DVD itself is very good as well, with top-notch visuals and audio plus some strong extras. It’s the intangibles that make it a little less impressive than the other Star Wars DVDs, though, as it just doesn’t dazzle me to the same degree. Nonetheless, it’s another top-notch Star Wars release that made it into my Top Ten without any trouble.

Some excellent DVDs won't make my Top Ten simply because they fail to do much to update prior versions - see Toy Story and Toy Story 2 for examples of reissues that simply lack a lot of new content. On the other hand, this 4-DVD edition of Ben-Hur goes much further than the prior release from 2001. It does repeat some components, but it offers improved picture and sound along with many new extras, the most significant of which lets us see the original silent version of the movie. This is a solid reissue.

To date, only two concert DVDs - Bruce Springsteen's Live in New York City and the Rolling Stones' Four Flicks - have earned a spot in one of my year-end Top Tens. Phil Collins' Finally... The First Farewell Tour is the third, as it presents a terrific concert release. Granted, Phil's nowhere as high on my list of personal faves as Bruce and the Stones, but he puts on a good show, and this DVD works very well. With excellent picture and sound plus a fantastic roster of extras, it's a real winner.

I don't know if I'd have placed any of the four Batman DVDs on my Top Ten individually, though the package for 1989's Batman might make it. However, in a "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" deal, I felt the four-movie Batman - The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 was such a fine release that it deserved mention here. All four movies get fine picture upgrades along with strong audio and quite a few quality supplements. Bat-fans like myself waited a long time for this sort of set, and it was worth it. (Note that the link above goes to Batman and Robin. We don't have a specific page for the "Anthology"; Robin may be the worst of the four movies, but it's the only one with links to all four so I chose it as the logical route to follow.)

I'm not sure what it says about 2005 as a DVD year when re-issues comprise more than half of my current Top Ten. With terrific re-releases like this "Extended Edition" of Gladiator, though, I find it tough to complain. The longer cut of the movie improves it, and though the DVD lacks DTS audio, it still looks and sounds great. Add to that a very strong roster of extras - virtually none of which repeat from the earlier release - and you have a textbook example of an excellent re-issue.

The most successful Next Generation movie becomes arguably the best Star Trek movie DVD. First Contact isn't my favorite Trek flick - Next Gen or Original Series - but it's a solid effort. With action, heart and drama, it provides a satisfying experience. The DVD excels at almost everything. It gives us terrific audio and picture along with a strong roster of rich extras. Only a weak audio commentary from actor/director Jonathan Frakes disappoints in this otherwise sterling release.

SPECIAL YEAR-END EXTRAS: For the statistically minded out there, I tallied the Top Ten by release dates. This found that October produced the highest number of winners with three: Titanic, The Wizard of Oz and The Batman Anthology. March provided two entries, while we got single releases from January, August, September, November and December.

This left no titles from February, April, May, June or July on the list. Since I don't want to totally ignore the months that didn't chart, here are my choices for the best DVDs from each of the Forgotten Months:

FEBRUARY: Raging Bull - Special Edition

APRIL: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

MAY: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

JUNE: Jaws – 30th Anniversary Edition

JULY: Constantine

For more statistical fun, I examined my six Top Tens by studio. For that span, Disney wins with 17 of the 60 possible slots. Fox comes in second with 12 DVDs, and everyone else brings up the rear. Warner did great in 2005; including the Phil Collins release from their music division, they took four of this year’s Top Ten, so that boosted them to nine placements over the last six years. Sony nailed seven slots, and New Line came in with six. Paramount came up to three, while Artisan had two. Universal, Anchor Bay, DreamWorks and TGA - the latter produced the Rolling Stones' Four Flicks - both came in with one disc apiece. No releases from MGM, Criterion or any of the other smaller companies ever landed on the year-end Top Ten, though some of them appeared in the monthly iterations. That's a small change from last year, since DreamWorks finally made a year-end chart in 2005.