James Plath weighs in with his Best of 2012 picks

No one pays full price for Blu-rays, Lawrence.

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James
Plath

If you looked at Christopher Long’s, William D. Lee’s, or John J. Puccio’s Top 10 lists, you didn’t see much in the way of overlapping. It’s been that kind of year for people in the business of watching and rating films. How else to explain Ben Affleck’s win last night for Best Director at the Golden Globes, when he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar in the same category? And “Lincoln,” which felt like it might steamroll the competition, walked away with only a win for Daniel Day-Lewis—which was as much a win for Makeup as it was anything else.

Not wanting to muddy the end-of-year waters even further, I’m going to abstain from ranking my top theatrical picks this year. You’ll get enough of a sense of those when I offer my Oscar predictions. Besides, there are far too many I haven't gotten around to seeing yet.

Of the 2012 films I’ve watched, these are the ones I most enjoyed:

  • Argo
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Lincoln
  • Flight
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Hitchcock
  • The Sessions

I know I’ll stand alone for liking “Hitchcock,” but like “My Weekend with Marilyn” it offers a nice interweave of a film being shot and behind-the-scenes lives that somehow seem parallel in interesting ways. Many will see Anthony Hopkins as being too over-the-top as the Master of Suspense, but they’re forgetting how utterly theatrical Hitchcock was and how close he came in real life to being a caricature of himself.

As for Blu-ray releases, 2012 was the Year of the Dragon, which, according to the Chinese Zodiac, meant a year of highs and lows and risk-taking. There were certainly plenty of “lows” released, but some highs as well. It was the year of the mega-priced sets, with studios gambling that movie fans and collectors would be willing to pay the price. I mean, no one pays list price, but if they did, the total for these 12 top picks would be a whopping, don't-let-your-spouse-see-the-credit-card-bill total of $1,573.63. 

The Best Blu-ray Releases of 2012: A Baker’s Dozen

1. Lawrence of Arabia 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition. List price: $95.99. Arguably the greatest film epic ever, David Lean’s sprawling masterpiece finally came to Blu-ray this year in a two-disc no-frills version and this four-disc set, which includes a CD, a hardcover coffee table book, a numbered 70mm film cell, and luxury packaging. The video and audio are flawless, and the bonus features are copious.

2. Casablanca 70th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition. List price: $64.99. Sporting a new digital transfer and including Lauren Bacall on a number of features, this version of the Bogie-Bergman classic is a delight to watch and a treasure to add to collections. The audio and video are again flawless, and there’s a decent amount of bonus features.

3. Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection. List price: $299.00. The top two releases can be stored on shelves, but the bond set comes in an oversized book with the discs tucked into sleeves. It can be a bit awkward to store. Still, all 22 films for the first time, and on HD? Plus there are a 130 hours of bonus features, with an additional disc featuring an hour of brand-new bonus features. Nine titles debuted in this set for the first time. Film quality is 8 out of 10, and the bonus features slightly more than that.

4. Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Blu-ray. List price: $64.98. It may appear to be a no-frills release, but getting all four Indy adventures on Blu-ray is pretty fantastic. This set features new making-of extras and cast and creator interviews, plus those from previous releases. Sound and picture quality are great.

5. Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. List price: $159.98. All the classic Universal monster pictures are here—“Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Mummy,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” and in its original 3D format “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Wow! Plus 12 hours of bonus features and a collectible book.

6. The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series. List price: $349.98. One of the all-time great sitcoms looks so impressive you’ll watch episode after episode of Rob and his Alan Brady Show cronies. Plus there are a bunch of bonus features, most of them ported over from the DVDs. But all 159 episodes of the Emmy-winning show are here on beautiful HD.

7. Cinderella Three-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray. List price: $44.99. The 1950 animated classic finally came to HD this year, and it looks terrific.  Diane Disney Miller provides the intro to a classy film that’s released in a classy package, with a clever second-screen app that puts your child in a storybook and new bonus features. Mostly, though, it’s the way this classic looks and sounds.

8. Marvel’s The Avengers Four-Disc Combo. List price: $49.99. The Blu-ray combo is just as good, but why not go for the 3D on this one? The blockbuster proved that superheroes aren’t dead, and this action-flick really pumped up the volume and the action. With a decent amount of bonus features, it easily makes the list.

9. Rashomon: Criterion Collection Blu-ray. List price: $39.95. Toshiro Mifune’s psychological thriller, which influenced the direction film would take thereafter, gets a digital restoration along with an uncompressed mono soundtrack, a new audio commentary, plus a bunch of other bonus features. 

10. Brazil: Criterion Collection Blu-ray. List price $49.95. Terry Gilliam’s futuristic fantasy gets a new restored digital transfer of the 142-minute director’s cut, with new DTS-MA audio and new production features.

11. Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection. List price: $299.95. Not all of the Master of Suspense’s 15 films are as iconic or successful, but still . . . . Included here are “Sabateur,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Rope,” “Rear Window,” “The Trouble with Harry,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956), “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho,” “The Birds,” “Marnie,” “Torn Curtain,” “Topaz,” “Frenzy,” and “Family Plot.” There aren’t quite as many bonus features, though, and the picture quality varies considerably, but it’s still a very nice set.

12. Singin’ in the Rain 60th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition. List price: $58.88. Arguably the top musical of all time gets the custom treatment with an umbrella, new tributes, new bonus features, and a 48-page hardcover production book with previously unseen memos and photos.

You know it’s been a good year when decent Blu-ray sets like “Forever Marilyn” and the “Lethal Weapon Collection” don’t even make your Top 10, and “Brave” also falls short.