Watching DVDs sounds like a ludicrously easy job. To most people, it probably doesn't sound like a job at all. But trust me, after several hours of fawning featurettes and dull-as-dirt director's commentary, it can get excruciating. That makes the great DVDs -- the ones with bountiful bonus features that never bore -- seem that much greater.
Here's my list (in no particular order) of the best DVDs of 2004. These are the ones I most enjoyed watching and would view even if it weren't part of my so-called "job."
'Freaks and Geeks'
It's too bad this wise and witty look at high school in the 1980s was prematurely canceled by NBC in 2000. Fortunately, a clever and surprisingly thorough DVD set ensures that it may be gone, but it won't be forgotten.
'Star Wars' Trilogy
I know it's lame that George Lucas didn't include the original versions of "A New Hope," "Empire" and "Jedi" in this much-anticipated box set. I know, and yet I find it hard to care after watching the outstanding, 150-minute making-of documentary "Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy."
'Seinfeld: Volumes 1 and 2'
Is it possible this is the most over-hyped DVD in history? Yes. Is it also possible that it's one of the best TV-show box sets ever? Yes again. While I'm asking questions, are these pretzels still making me thirsty?
'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Special Extended Edition'
You don't have to be a Tolkien nerd to fall in love with this completely engrossing four-disc box set. Sure, it helps, but it's not a requirement.
'The Battle of Algiers: Criterion Collection'
With so many documentaries about the war in Iraq released in 2004, it's this film -- Gillo Pontecorvo's 1966 documentary-style look at the struggle for Algerian independence -- that teaches the most about terrorism. The many extras on this three-disc set only enhance the educational, and sobering, experience.
'Capturing the Friedmans'
Released in January 2004, this tragic documentary about a Long Island family's collapse is all the more heartbreaking because of the DVD's bonus material, which includes additional home movie footage of the Friedmans as well as documentaries about the criminal case involving father Arnold and son Jesse.
'School of Rock'
The surprisingly entertaining commentary track by star Jack Black and director Richard Linklater is only the beginning of this DVD's many charms. It's too bad the special edition of Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" -- released in November with minimal, lame extras -- isn't nearly as rockin' as this "School."
True story: I sat down to review this DVD on a Sunday morning, thinking I could get through it in a couple of hours max. By the time I was done, my eardrums were shot and the sun had gone down. I'm bummed that some bands (Led Zeppelin) and many songs are omitted from the DVD of this historic concert. But what's included (Queen, U2, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner) sounds so fantastic, this child of the '80s can't help but feel a whole lotta love.
The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection
You can't go wrong with Hitchcock, especially not with the special edition of "Strangers on a Train" (one of the nine DVDs included in this set), which contains two versions of the classic and a number of illuminating bonus features.
'The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season' and 'The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season'
Mmm ... Simpsons box sets. I can't choose between these two collections of the two best seasons in "Simpsons" history, so I'm not going to. You should own them both. Feel free to order now by calling Mr. Plow ... that name again is Mr. Plow.
|Lots of box sets and special editions await in the new year. Here are some of the more noteworthy releases heading to DVD in the coming months:Jan. 25¢ "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster"¢ "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"¢ "The Wire: The Complete Second Season"Feb. 1¢ "The Grudge"¢ "Ray"¢ "Chariots of Fire: Special Edition"¢ "Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection"Feb. 8¢ "Miami Vice: Season One"¢ "Murphy Brown: The Complete First Season"¢ "Night Court: The Complete First Season"¢ "The Greatest American Hero: Season One"Feb. 15¢ "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut"Feb. 22¢ "I Heart Huckabees"March 1¢ "Bambi: Platinum Edition"¢ "The Brady Bunch: The Complete First Season"¢ "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie"¢ "Bringing Up Baby: Special Edition"April 19¢ "Meet the Fockers"|