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No need to ever leave your couch

December 16, 2007|DENNIS LIM

In terms of home entertainment, viewers had an embarrassment of riches to choose from this year. Among 2007's best releases were restored old favorites and newly discovered rarities, television classics past and present, and at the top of the heap, the most expansive box set ever devoted to a single director. What follows is a look at the best of the best:

Ford at Fox (Fox). John Ford made more than 50 films in his 32-year tenure at Twentieth Century Fox. This huge, heroic box brings together 24 of them, from rare silents (including two versions of 1924's "The Iron Horse") to canonical greats ("My Darling Clementine," "How Green Was My Valley") to relatively unsung works (1933's remarkable pacifist fable, "Pilgrimage," for one). The $300 list price works out to a perfectly reasonable $12 a movie (and you can get it for less online). Think of it also as a contribution to film culture -- if this set sells, expect home-video divisions to dig deeper into the studio vaults.

Twin Peaks -- The Definitive Gold Box Edition (Paramount). A few '90s TV landmarks -- "The X-Files," "The Larry Sanders Show," "Seinfeld" -- got the full DVD treatment this year, but this is the essential one. Like its heroine, David Lynch's groundbreaking series died young and left a beautiful corpse. Network prime time had never seen anything like it. Seventeen years on, it still hasn't.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (Criterion). The culminating achievement of the German New Wave's late, great bad boy Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this 16-hour adaptation of Alfred Doblin's Weimar-era novel first aired as a TV miniseries in 1980. The Criterion edition of this long-unavailable epic is packed with extras, including a 1931 version of the novel.

Days of Heaven (Criterion). As rapturous and mysterious today as it was nearly 30 years ago, this Terrence Malick masterpiece deserves to be seen on the big screen. But Criterion's disc, featuring a Malick-approved digital transfer and commentary from key collaborators (including editor Bill Weber and production designer Jack Fisk), is a truly worthy second best.

Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection (Milestone). Completed in 1977, Burnett's UCLA thesis film "Killer of Sheep" has slowly achieved the status of a modern American classic. Finally released in theaters last spring, it's one of the year's best-reviewed films. Milestone's generous two-disc set also includes Burnett's second feature, "My Brother's Wedding" (in both its 1983 version and a new director's cut), and four previously unavailable shorts.

Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume 4 (Warner). Warner's latest noir sampling -- five pairs of double bills (each one also available individually) -- is its most adventurous yet. The standout disc pairs Andre De Toth's "Crime Wave" (1954), a laconic B-movie with Sterling Hayden and time-capsule L.A. locations, and the wiggy Poverty Row production "Decoy" (1946).

The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volumes 1 and 2 (Fantoma). The avant-garde pioneer and "Hollywood Babylon" author turned 80 this year, and to mark the occasion, micro-distributor Fantoma Films issued two collections of his short works. Vast swathes of queer culture and pop art have their roots right here.

Late Ozu (Eclipse). The most impressive set from Criterion's new midpriced line Eclipse (which also put out collections of early Samuel Fuller and early Ingmar Bergman this year) assembles five of the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu's final movies. All were made after his best-known film, 1953's "Tokyo Story," and each is a subtly resonant variation on its theme of domestic discord.

Battleship Potemkin (Kino). Sergei Eisenstein's agitprop paean to the Russian Revolution is one of the most influential works in film history (the Odessa Steps sequence alone is legendary) and also one of the most mangled, repeatedly censored and revised after its 1925 release. Kino's two-disc set features a reconstructed version and traces the tumultuous history.

Planet Earth (BBC). Jaw-dropping feats of hi-def cinematography abound in this majestic, precedent-setting travelogue, the "Citizen Kane" of nature shows.

Honorable mentions: "The Stanley Kubrick Collection" (Warner), "Breathless" (Criterion), "The Third Man" (Criterion), "Inland Empire" (Rhino), "Funny Face -- 50th Anniversary Edition" (Paramount), "I Am Cuba" (Milestone)

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