1. Ford At Fox. A DVD set to rival Monument Valley in scope. The 12-pound package includes 24 of John Ford's movies and a new documentary about the director. Most of the films are new to DVD.
The titles range from "The Iron Horse" (1924) to "What Price Glory" (1952). "The Iron Horse" is one of the set's tent-pole films. It's a fast-moving western adventure about the building of the transcontinental railroad, beautifully restored and given an outstanding new score.
This late-year entry sets a new standard for DVD retrospectives. Pony up and jump aboard. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Read more about "Ford at Fox."
(Update: Looking for the top DVDs of 2008?)
2. Payback: Straight Up -- the Director's Cut. A wrong was righted as "Payback" came back in 2007, this time kicking ass the way the director intended.
In 1998, star Mel Gibson, Paramount and Warners took the mean-spirited crime movie away from freshman director Brian Helgeland. Critics wrote off the resulting doctored version as a promising movie desperately in search of an ending.
In 2005, Paramount and Gibson gave Helgeland another shot at the film. The director and his editor recut the work. And so we have "Payback: Straight Up,” one seriously hard-boiled movie that exists only on DVD. (Paramount Home Entertainment)
Read the full "Payback: Straight Up" review.
3. Stanley Kubrick. The master director’s longstanding demands for home video presentation of his films kept true widescreen versions off the market. Until now.
Warner’s rereleases give Kubrick’s fans what they wanted all along: remastered widescreen images, surround sound, in-depth extras. And high definition in both formats.
“2001,” for example, finally looks crisp and pristine, beautifully letterboxed to theatrical specs. The extras explore the film from all angles, practical and philosophical. Remarkable. (Warner Home Video)
Read the "Eyes Wide Shut" review.
4. Help! An extensive restoration and a legal truce propelled this high-energy Beatles comedy back into the video world after a long absence.
The seven remixed and remastered original songs sound like something new. Just listen as Ringo kicks the theme song into overdrive, and the 5.1 soundstage rushes in.
The movie doesn’t have the magical touch of “A Hard Day’s Night,” but the Beatles’ humor is on full display; director Richard Lester delivers a rocking and rollicking good time. The restoration documentary shows the alarming condition of the film and how it was returned to its pop-art glory. (Capitol/Apple)
5. The Jungle Book: 40th Anniversary replaces the truly limited "Limited Edition" of late 1999.
Upgrades include the restored film in its theatrical aspect ratio; a herd of extra features; and two fine audio tracks.
"The Jungle Book" works its magic on adults as well as any Walt Disney film. It's hip, exotic, and a bit spooky. I'd watch it over the (mostly boring) "Fantasia" any day.
The Sherman brothers' hep-cat songs sound sensational -- "I Wan'na Be Like You" with Louis Prima is the showstopper, but also check out the snake's hypnotic, Ellington-inspired blue-noter. (Disney)
Read the full "Jungle Book" review.
6. The Third Man. Criterion revisits Carol Reed’s “European noir” and delivers a definitive set.
Criterion’s 1999 DVD was an early star of the format. This time, we get newly restored images; a feature-length documentary about the production and co-star Orson Welles; a commentary from Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Tony Gilroy; as well as the essential extras from the previous disc.
Criterion has been returning to some of its older titles for a tune-up; this is a fine example of what can be accomplished. (The Criterion Collection)
7. Witchfinder General. This tale of ancient evil contains what could be Vincent Price's best performance. The movie was cast aside as another British horror quickie until finally debuting on DVD last fall as an MGM "Midnight Movies" title -- complete with a first-rate restoration.
Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, the psychopathic witch hunter of England during the mid-1600s.
"Witchfinder " didn't cost much but feels like a big-budget film. The movie was quite capably cast and costumed. The locations are gorgeous, photographed with an artist's touch. Paul Ferris' lush but haunting soundtrack, replaced on VHS by a synthesizer, returns to complete the restoration.
The look-back documentary on "Witchfinder" is unusually good, fueled by the story of doomed young director Michael Reeves. (MGM/Fox)
Read the full "Witchfinder General" review.
8. The Ultimate Matrix Collection in HD DVD. Fulfills the prophecy of the A/V geek elders: this is audio and video of a higher order, a plunge into the future of home theater.
The experience is that of watching moving images on film, not DVD or television. (The series was produced "with future technology execution in mind," Warner points out.) All three films look great, but the second and third installments are solidly in the reference-quality zone.
Audio lives up to the promise of HD sonics. Explosively. When the audio engineers send a jolt to a specific, discrete speaker, the result is powerful and distinct. The percussive sounds of gunfire are unlike anything I've heard on disc or in theaters. (Warner Home Video)
Read the "Ultimate Matrix" review.
9. Viva Pedro. Watching these eight films from Pedro Almodovar in chronological order is a good education in the Spanish master's work. You'll laugh, cry and spend a lot of time trying to figure out if you're watching a man or woman.
The films span 20 years -- from "Matador" to "Bad Education." Antonio Banderas shows up in three films; Penelope Cruz is in two.
Almodovar's earlier films aren't easily found in the U.S. -- at least at your local Blockbuster -- and so we welcome "Live Flesh," "Matador" and "Law of Desire."
Extras are solid -- except for the curious and unexplained absence of any Almodvar interviews. (Sony Pictures)
Read the full "Viva Pedro" review.
10. Becket. Peter O'Toole's delightful commentary track pushes this sought-after 1964 title onto the top 10 list. The world's reigning greatest-living-actor speaks with candor, humor and focused insight about the "fascinating buddy story" he made with pal Richard Burton.
The historical film (filled with historical errors, as O'Toole points out) concerns the relationship between Henry II (O'Toole) and his adviser Thomas Becket (Burton), who turns from close friend into "this troublesome priest."
The film benefits from a restoration from the Film Foundation, which appears to have done the best it can with the damaged surviving materials. The "Becket" DVD is a highly watchable widescreen presentation despite overall softness and faded colors. Both the images and audio (2.0, 5.1) are free of obvious wear.
Two interviews with Burton highlight the extras. One from 1967 -- in which he speaks with great intelligence of his craft -- and another from 1977 -- a confessional in which the ravages of his alcoholism are quite apparent. (MPI)
More top DVDs -- 10-20:
The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Anchor Bay)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Sony Pictures)
Sans Soleil and La Jetee (Criterion)
Star Trek the Original Series: First Season (HD DVD) (Paramount)
The Sergio Leone Anthology (MGM/Fox)
Infernal Affairs Trilogy (The Weinstein Company)
Benny Hill: Complete & Unadulterated Megaset (A&E)
Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film (Image Entertainment)
Spider Baby (Dark Sky Films)
Twin Peaks: Gold Box (Paramount)