1. Sam Peckinpah’s Legendary Westerns
This gathering of four very different Westerns directed by the late Peckinpah between 1962 and 1973 presents a wider, more inclusive vision of this genre than any other filmmaker’s, and yes, I love John Ford and Howard Hawks, too. Peckinpah was so openhearted yet so cynical (he clearly loved the over-the-hill outlaws in his masterpiece The Wild Bunch, but knew their bad deeds doomed them to die grisly deaths), so celebratory yet so mournful (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is a bluesy folk elegy for the Old West and the Western itself, even without costar Bob Dylan’s grandly dolorous soundtrack). Add the contemplative Ride the High Country and the boisterous Ballad of Cable Hogue and you get a fully imagined portrait not just of the West but of America, which Peckinpah, like so many great artists, saw as a place of endless opportunity and soul-crushing difficulty. The set has a stagecoach-full of extras and commentaries by some of the best Peckinpah analysts. But it also contains tremendously moving — and glowingly relevant — stories of friendship, romance, betrayal, confusion, despair, and elation…Well, you best get off your high horse, grab some grub, and gather round Sam Peckinpah’s campfire.
2. The Cary Grant Box Set
In a year that saw star-themed boxed sets go haywire — hey, who doesn’t adore Jimmy Stewart, but did we really need a collection that includes Firecreek and The Cheyenne Social Club? — this was the classiest act from the movies’ classiest male star. The Cary Grant Box Set is the crème de la Cary, from His Girl Friday (only the fastest, wittiest comedy ever filmed) to Holiday (only the most touching movie that Grant or costar Katharine Hepburn ever appeared in), plus three more worthies (Only Angels Have Wings, The Talk of the Town, The Awful Truth), all made between 1937 and 1942. Add shrewd comments from critic-historians David Thomson and Todd McCarthy and you’ve got a box of pure pleasure.
3. Pandora’s Box
American actress Louise Brooks ascended into movie heaven as Lulu, the sensuous protagonist of G.W. Pabst’s thrilling 1929 German silent film. Her ink-black hair cut with severe bangs, Lulu is irresistible to men, a wanton woman who knows exactly what she’s doing…until she falls for Jack the Ripper. This superlative Criterion Collection package is half Pandora, half Louise: The second disc is given over to lengthy interviews and profiles of the charismatic actress; the small book enclosed includes the famous 1979 Kenneth Tynan New Yorker profile of Brooks that restored the then-nearly forgotten actress to prominence.
4. Reds 25th Anniversary Edition
For years, admirers of Warren Beatty’s magisterial, sexy, knotty examination of journalist/American Communist John Reed have been awaiting its DVD release; it turns out that after 25 years, the movie has only increased in power and relevance. Beatty as Reed, Diane Keaton as his lover Louise Bryant (possibly her finest performance ever), and Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill (back when Nicholson was still acting, not doing variations on Jack Nicholson the Oscar-Night Crazy Guy) all bring their collective intelligence to a large-canvas epic. Beatty, who doesn’t have much use for looking back and second-guessing, provides generously insightful comments.
5. The Comeback The Complete Only Season
Lisa Kudrow’s wickedly smart satire of reality TV, network sitcoms, and her own Friends image was idiotically misunderstood by most critics and cruelly canceled by HBO after a mere 13 episodes. Fortunately, Kudrow and co-creator Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City) will always have this DVD collection showcasing their glorious creation: Valerie Cherish (Kudrow), a former sitcom star trying to make, yes, a comeback. The commentaries are witty and bitter in just the right proportion.