List-making season is well underway. And so, Armchair Cinephile's favorites of the last year:
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition (New Line): The DVD shelves are replete with deleted scenes that should be forgotten and "director's cuts" that don't deserve legitimization. But Peter Jackson knows exactly what he's doing with his Lord of the Rings films: He writes and shoots them intelligently, uses as much of that material in the theatrical cuts as contemporary movie-going attention spans will tolerate, then fleshes the installments out on DVD for those of us who have fallen in love with his vision of Middle Earth. While it may be sad that the moviegoing public can't be relied upon to embrace a rousing, spectacular three-and-a-half hour epic in blockbuster numbers, we are lucky that these films arrived at a time when Jackson could use the DVD format's popularity to justify the expense (and it's certainly not trivial, considering the effects work required) of incorporating the additional footage seamlessly into the release version. Even more than Fellowship of the Ring, the expanded version of Two Towers contains scenes and information that many fans find indispensable: background on Aragorn, comic relief with Hobbits, orc-smashing trees and (most importantly) a long flashback that explains the sad loved-son/hated-son dynamic of Boromir and Faramir.
| The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition (New Line)
Blue, White, Red, Ararat (Miramax)
The Chaplin Collection Vol. 1, Looney Tunes Golden Collection (Warner Brothers)
Once Upon a Time in the West (Paramount)
Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink (Fox)
The Collected Works of Jan Svankmajer (Image)
Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service (Buena Vista)
West Side Story (MGM)
Schizopolis, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, By Brakhage (Criterion)
3. The Chaplin Collection, Vol. 1 (Warner Brothers): Buster Keaton's legacy arrived first, but 2003 saw the inauguration of a thorough series of Charlie Chaplin releases, restored and supplemented with the help of the artist's heirs.
4. Once Upon a Time in the West (Paramount): Sergio Leone's iconic capper to his Spaghetti Western career is as much a ritual as a story, inviting regular immersion in its stark compositions and bizarre soundtrack.
5. Miller's Crossing/Barton Fink (Fox): Finally, the Coen Brothers' filmography is complete on disc; Miller's Crossing, one of the last to arrive, is their most heartfelt work, and the one that benefits the most from a fresh look.
6. Ararat (Miramax): Buried by unsympathetic reviews before it got a proper release, Atom Egoyan's complicated testament to the Armenian genocide is richer and more accessible than its critics proclaimed.
8. West Side Story (MGM): Weren't we supposed to have a renaissance of musicals this year? Bad timing: West Side Story arrived in a gorgeous edition, showing aspiring song-and-dance filmmakers just how high the bar really is.
9. Schizopolis (Criterion): It's either the funniest avant-garde film ever or the most formally challenging comedy; either way, Steven Soderbergh's reinvention of himself is a one-of-a-kind piece of low-budget cinematic anarchy that ought to be an acknowledged cult classic by now.
10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Criterion): Terry Gilliam's most underrated film arrived with some of the most enjoyable bonus features put on DVD yet, including a vintage Hunter S. Thompson documentary and a look at the sordid world of Writers' Guild negotiations. •