Here, in no particular order, are this DVD blog's favorite discs of 2009. There were few notable box sets in this year of cutbacks, but plenty of impressive Blu-ray debuts. (The Criterion Collection's entry into high definition certainly brought a pleasant buzz.)
No one studio stood out on this year's top 10 list, with only Universal and Criterion placing more than one title. In terms of quality-quantity, though, it's fair to say Sony had the best 2009.Pinocchio: Near the end of this 70-year-old Disney classic, the exquisite and detailed drawings devolve into a angry primal swirl of black lines, as the killer whale Monstro bears down on the boy-puppet and his maker. Animated beauty becomes beast, producing one of the most exciting scenes in cinema. That, of course, is Disney magic, found everywhere in "Pinocchio," the studio's second animated feature. The old masterpiece looks miraculous on Blu-ray, restored and color enhanced to perfection. You don't have to wait long to be astonished by the visuals, as the opening scene takes us inside the toymaker's glowing shop. The three-disc set comes packed with extras, such as the BR-only "deleted scenes" (pumped-up storyboards) and an alternate ending. (Disney) Do the Right Thing: Universal's excellent high definition release marks the 20th anniversary of Spike Lee's controversial film about race relations in Brooklyn. The Blu-ray (and double-disc DVD) builds upon the Criterion Collection's 2001 DVD, retaining most of the solid extra features and adding two vital new ones: a solo feature commentary by Lee and a retrospective docu with the director interviewing his collaborators. This is an unusually fine effort out of Universal, not known for extensive extra features. The Blu-ray's clarity and colors are outstanding. The 5.1 surround stage is used to great effect; check out the audio haymaker in the title sequence with Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy -- one of the great openings in film history, certainly one of the most explosive. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) My Dinner With Andre: Still a succulent piece of filmmaking. The ultimate talkie has lost none of the charm, mystery and wisdom that turned it into an indie hit back in 1981. The tale of two men and their meal returns in a fine double-disc edition. The main extras are new video interviews with the two "stars," the theatrical director Andre Gregory and the actor/writer/director Wallace Shawn. The men talk separately this time around, chronicling the development of the script and film, and expanding upon their ongoing working relationship and friendship. The interviews are ably conducted by "Andre" fan Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"), who was something like 12 when the movie came out. (The Criterion Collection) The Prisoner: The Complete Series: On Blu-ray, this appears to be the finest video incarnation of a 1960s TV show yet seen. The A&E release should prove definitive, given its outstanding images and the wealth of extra features. On Blu-ray, the op art/pop art imagery leaps from the screen. Colors are bold and vivid, yet not oversaturated. The clarity is remarkable, almost too good -- the actors' perspiration and skin blemishes are borderline distracting. The key new extra is "Don't Knock Yourself Out," a docu that starts off with a fan-boy tone, but eventually digs deep into the show's history, including a probe of star/exec producer Patrick McGoohan's sometimes weird and abusive behavior on the set. (A&E Home Entertainment). Slumdog Millionaire: Director Danny Boyle offers a half hour of deleted scenes from his Oscar-winning film, anchored by an expanded and re-scored version of the frantic chase through the slums of Mumbi, India. Some of the new material is revelatory, suggesting that Boyle would have no trouble putting together a solid "director's cut." Boyle and star Dev Patel (the adult Jamal) pair up for a fast-moving commentary that keys off the rapport the director and young British star built up during the filming and promotion of the film. Their war stories about filming on location in teeming Mambai are often remarkable. He advises owners of the Blu-ray that the grain and noise they'll be seeing in the images is quite deliberate -- do not adjust your set. (Fox Home Entertainment) The William Castle Film Collection: Retro fun with the P.T. Barnum of American horror films. Sony's slick box set rounds up the director's essential fright flicks, including "The Tingler," "13 Ghosts," "Straightjacket" and "Dr. Sardonicus." Three of the eight films are making their DVD debuts, while the others have been remastered to the studio's high standards. Castle was known for making fright fun, so be prepared to scream and laugh along with these killer Bs from a half century ago. Start with the ace documentary "Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story" and then go directly to "The Tingler," starring Vincent Price and the world's lamest -- but plenty scary -- movie monster. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live: At full blast -- that being the nine-DVD version -- this is an unparalleled treasure chest of rock, pop and soul history. True, the performances often are sloppy; the video quality varies from rotten to pretty good; and the entire collection feels disorganized. Soldier on. That's all secondary to the many amazing moments found here. My top five: Prince's blistering solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"; Stevie Winwood and Jim Capaldi pounding away on "Dear Mr. Fantasy"; the Righteous Brothers' heart-stopping "You've Lost That Loving Feeling"; Al Green's concert triumph with "Tired of Being Alone"; and the Doors' "Light My Fire" with Eddie Vedder. Viewers have menu options that keep the focus on the songs, not the industry bullshit, or they can wade through untold hours of extra features. (Time Warner) Coraline: Neil Gaiman's tale of a girl who discovers an alternate reality lurking beneath her new house gets back to the creepy days of early fairy tales, when awful things can happen to good kids. The director, Henry Selick, also made "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and while the film is similar stylistically, the storytelling is pure Gaiman. The Blu-ray comes with a quartet of 3D glasses, but go with the 2D for maximum visual impact. Graphic novelist Gaiman ("Sandman," "Mirror Mask") participates in the extras, expressing admiration for how his kids book was adapted -- and significantly changed -- for the screen. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: Paramount rereleased this unusual late-period John Ford classic as part of its excellent "Centennial Collection." The John Wayne-Jimmy Stewart movie has a fascinating backstory -- Ford almost couldn't get the it made -- and the new seven-part docu does a fine job in covering its history. The widescreen picture (1.85:1) comes mostly free of wear and is gorgeous in its film noir-inspired night scenes. The double-DVD set includes two feature-length commentaries, by Peter Bogdanovich and Ford's biographer grandson Dan Ford. Both share archival audio recordings made with the director and stars. This, of course, is the movie that made Lee Marvin a star owing to his whip-smart portrayal of a legendary outlaw. (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment) Repulsion: Madness, murder and a breathtakingly young Catherine Deneuve drive this psychological horror movie from Roman Polanski. Criterion's Blu-ray version delivers exquisite black-and-white images, all the better to capture the awful goings-on in the apartment of a young French woman living in London. "Repulsion" characterizes the anti-heroine's response to sex-hungry men, but get a load of the famous rotting rabbit on a dinner plate that mirrors her deterioration into madness. (The Criterion Collection) And ... "The Class" (Sony) ... "Waltz With Bashir" (Sony) ... "The Human Condition (Criterion) ... "Audition" (Shout! Factory) ... "Icons of Science Fiction: Toho Collection" (Sony) ... "Kagemusha" Blu-ray (Criterion) ... "thirtysomething" (Shout!) ... "Max Fleischer's Superman" (Warner) ... "Wings of Desire" Blu-ray (Criterion) ... "Playing Shakespeare" (Athena).
For a second opinion, check out DVD Savant's "Most Impressive Discs of 2009."