Friday, December 21, 2012

Sean’s Top Ten Blu-rays of 2012 / Holiday Gift Guide

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Making a top ten list of Blu-rays is always a difficult thing for me to do.  The fact that there’s so many excellent releases that I haven’t seen yet just makes it even harder because I know a lot of them would be on my list, not to mention that the year isn’t over yet and I still have more movies that I haven’t even reviewed yet.  So with that in mind, I’ve decided to make a list of the Top 10 Blu-rays that I’ve actually seen and most likely reviewed, and another list of Blu-rays that I probably would have included on this list if I had seen them.   
For my top ten I’ve decided to rate them based on a variety of reasons including: my affection for them, their audio/video quality, and what kind of special features were offered.  This year, since all of the movies on my list are fairly equal when all of the factors are added up, it came down to simply which movies that I love and will watch the most, which resulted in the following list which would make excellent holiday gifts:

10. Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season - This is an incredible show that’s been packaged in a stellar Blu-ray set.  The audio and visual qualities are reference quality and there’s so many excellent extras that this is a must own release.  The show’s writing is smart and complex, the actors are incredible in their roles, and the production of the show is first rate. This is a show that you will have to pay attention to or you will miss important information. It’s not needlessly complex, it’s just intelligent writing that demands more of you than the usual show does and I have no problem with that. For fans of this genre, this level of quality is a godsend but if you are shying away from the show in fear of the fantasy aspect you should give it a chance because this is a character driven show first and a fantasy show second. One final word about the show is the fact that this is a very adult show with a lot of graphic violence and nudity so if that makes you uncomfortable, then this probably isn’t the show for you but it’s a lot more than just that.  You can read my review of this Blu-ray here.
9.  The Muppets - This film marks the triumphant return of the Muppets and everything that they stand for!  The movie is full of humor, catchy songs, and some touching moments that will get to you.  Disney has put together a fantastic Blu-ray that has excellent picture and sound quality, some great extras including the free soundtrack, and I really can’t recommend this movie highly enough.  If you loved the Muppets before, then you will love this a lot.  If you never liked the Muppets, this movie might very well change that opinion.  With a sequel already in the works, the Muppets are back in a big way and I couldn’t be happier to welcome them back with open arms!  You can read my review for this Blu-ray here.
8.  Finding Nemo – Finding Nemo is one of my favorite Pixar films as it has a fantastic script that works on many levels and also because the characters are so well-defined and the animation is just beautiful to see.  It’s also rare that you get to see a father trying to save his son, so as a father to a young boy, this story also touched me more than most. Every parent can relate to wanting to protect their child at all costs, even to the point of inadvertently over-protecting them.  Of course, that kind of love and protection can come at a cost.  As Dory points out, “You can’t never let anything happen to him.  Then nothing would ever happen to him.  Not much fun for little Harpo.”  The movie offers a lot of good lessons that are presented with humor such as learning to let go, trust in your friends, and always hope for the best. It’s a great movie and this 2D/3D Blu-ray set is just amazing across the board.  The video quality and the 3D aspects look fantastic and the audio is reference quality too.  The extras are just as good and there’s a ton of them to help you appreciate the movie even more.  You can read my review for this Blu-ray here
7.  The Rescuers/The Rescuers Down Under – The Rescuers has long been a family favorite and I’m very happy that not only is it finally on Blu-ray, but also that Disney took the time to release a quality Blu-ray and even included the film’s sequel with it! The Rescuers is one of Disney’s most atmospheric movies and it has a great mix of comedy, action, thrills, and drama that really sets it apart from the other Disney movies. Based on the series of books by Margery Sharp, it also has a memorable villain in Madame Medusa who is one of the most evil characters in the Disney universe.  Opposing her are two small mice that are the personification of courage which proves that you can make a difference no matter how small you are.  And then there’s all of the great supporting characters that add a lot of heart and humor to the movie.  The Rescuers Down Under followed thirteen years later and while it had a lot of charm of its own, it didn’t live up to the gold standard of the first movie and wasn’t as much of a success as the original. I’m happy that they’ve released a quality Blu-ray even though I think there should’ve been a lot more extras on it. On the plus side, the value of this set is increased by the addition of the sequel and even though it’s not as good as the original, it’s nice to have that included as well for the price of one movie. You can read my review of this Blu-ray here.
 6.  Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One - One of my earliest childhood memories is watching Star Trek: The Original Series which I loved.  That love continued with all of the motion pictures that featured Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the gallant crew of the Enterprise. When I first heard that there would be a new Star Trek show set a hundred years after the original series, I was excited but concerned at the same time.  How could another Star Trek show without Kirk and the rest of the crew possibly be as good as the show that set the standard?  As time went on and the show worked out its kinks, it started to feel more and more like the Star Trek that I loved and it eventually found its own identity and well-deserved acclaim.  If you’ve seen the awesome Blu-ray sets for the original series, then you know just how good this set is.  This show has never looked or sounded better and I can’t recommend it enough.  The show’s remastered video and audio are incredible and well worth the cost of the set alone, but if you still need convincing, take a look at the extra features which should convince you.  This may be the weakest season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it has plenty of good episodes and to be honest, it looks so amazing that I found myself transfixed even during the weaker episodes.  This season started off The Next Generation’s epic run that not only went on longer than its predecessor, but it also forged its own path to greatness.  You can read my review of this Blu-rayhere.
5.  E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial: 30th Anniversary Edition -  I think at this point, just about every person on this planet has seen or at least is aware of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and loves it including myself.  That wasn’t always the case for me as I clearly remember being turned off by the poster of the two fingers (one human and one alien) about to touch in a gesture of peace and friendship which I thought looked lame.  I was all about Rocky III and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan that summer and I had no interest in seeing what seemed to be a wussy movie. So, I was dragged kicking and screaming to see E.T. and by the time the movie was over, I was in tears along with everyone else in the audience.  That feeling of heartbreak combined with joy was a new movie experience for me and I couldn’t believe how much the film had affected everyone else around me.  I saw it several more times after that and every time, it ended with the same result, which really opened my eyes to just how influential and powerful a film can be.  This Blu-ray’s video and audio quality are exceptional and the extras are also very very good.  I really don’t think there are too many people left in the world that haven’t seen this film by now, but if you are one of them then you need to pick up this movie and experience it for yourself.  This is Steven Spielberg’s most personal film and it’s got an incredible cast and some great themes as well.  Now that it’s on Blu-ray there’s no reason that this movie shouldn’t be in every person’s collection!  You can read my review of this Blu-ray here.
4.  Jaws - Despite its troubled production, Jaws not only marked the 26 year-old Steven Spielberg’s first masterpiece, but it was also the first summer blockbuster as well as the movie that made people world-wide afraid to go into the water. Part horror film and part thriller, this taut and suspenseful tale of a massive killer great white shark terrorizing a summer resort town is nothing short of perfection across the board.  Jaws is one of the few films in history to have every element involved in the film such as the director, the cast, the crew, and the composer be all so perfectly suited for the film that it seems like it was destined. There is no weak link in this movie, nor any wasted scenes, as this movie is a lean take no prisoners endeavor that set the standard for a bunch of wannabe imitators including official sequels of its own.  I am so happy that Universal invested the time and the money to restore this movie to the glory that it deserves.  This Blu-ray offers some stunning audio and visual quality and a ton of fantastic extras to view after you watch the movie.  If you haven’t seen this movie before or if you are no longer afraid to swim in the ocean, then you need to see this movie right away.  This is without a doubt, the finest horror/creature film ever made and it stands up to anything Hitchcock ever did.  It mixes the humor, suspense, drama, and horror genres together to create something better and new.  Jaws rightfully put Steven Spielberg on the map and was his first of many masterpieces.  You can read my review of this Blu-ray here.
3.  The Lethal Weapon Collection - When I think of my favorite action movies, the list narrows down to the Indy and Bond films along with the Die Hard and the Lethal Weapon series.  Each of those series was groundbreaking in its own way but Lethal Weapon was unique in several different ways.  It reinvented the “buddy cop” movie and it did so through some brilliant characterizations but also by pairing a black man with a white man which was something new but has been copied many times since then in different configurations like Rush Hour or Shanghai Noon.  Another factor that set the Lethal Weapon movies apart was that each one of them contained a serious message amidst all of the fun and thrills.  The first film showed the consequences of drugs, the second showed the ugly side of drugs and apartheid, the third delved into the destructive effects of gangs, and the fourth shone a light on human trafficking.  These messages weren’t browbeaten into the audience but they were there and they provided some extra heft to these action/comedy films.  These films (especially the first one) were edgy, silly, dark, funny, and action-packed and it’s a credit to Richard Donner and his cast that they were able to balance so many different tones.  The characters of Riggs and Murtaugh were also fully fleshed out with believable quirks, flaws, and had a basic humanity that was rare in action movies. It’s impossible to copy the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.  Their amazing portrayals of two very different men who were originally forced together only to become as close as family provides the heart of these movies. This franchise has some of the best action sequences around and also some extremely funny moments.  The Lethal Weapon series is like taking the best action movie and combining it with the best comedy movie and keeping the best from both.  Now with new and improved audio and video transfers and a new disc of retrospective material, there is no reason that the Lethal Weapon Collection isn’t in every home!  You can read my review of this Blu-ray set here.
2. The Avengers - Like most guys my age, I grew up watching admittedly crappy animated shows like the “Super Friends” or “Spiderman and his Amazing Friends” just to see superheroes team up.  It didn’t matter if it was Marvel or DC, I just wanted to see the all-star superheroes join forces to defeat evil so bad that I was willing to put up with bad writing and terrible characters (remember the wonder twins and their stupid monkey?) just to see it.  For the most part, if you wanted to see something like the Avengers or the Justice League fight alongside each other, you needed to buy the crossover comics which were always better than any of the animated shows.  There’s been countless crossovers between the superheroes and even between Marvel and DC characters (which are my favorite), but there’s never been a high quality live action film to do so.  DC Comics came close once, when George Miller almost made a Justice League movie, but that movie fell apart at the last minute.  So at long last, Joss Whedon had the honor and the challenge of coming up with a movie that would not only meet the sky high expectations from fans, but also coming up with one that would be true to the characters and respect and incorporate their individual journeys that occurred earlier.  I am ecstatic to report that Whedon has done just that. Whedon specializes in writing for a large cast of differing personalities and viewpoints, which was essential for The Avengers to be successful.  Whedon not only had to reintroduce the characters to an audience that may not have seen their origin movies beforehand, but he also had to continue their personal story-lines in addition to moving their combined experiences forward for this movie.  I don’t know how he pulled it off, but he did with style.  The fact that The Avengers has started off this strong with their first movie will only make future sequels have almost impossibly high expectations and excitement, which isn’t a terrible way to start a new franchise.  The Avengers is without a doubt, the best movie I have seen in a long, long time and one that not only met my impossible expectations, but actually exceeded them.  You can read my review of the movie here.
1.  Indiana Jones – The Complete Adventures – Was there any doubt that this would be my number one choice?  The Indiana Jones films have been often imitated but never surpassed and that’s because they can’t be replicated. The combined imagination of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas along with the iconic performance of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones is pure magic.  The series’ heady mix of high adventure, thrills, romance, action, and humor is impossible to resist which is why they are so beloved across the world.  When Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released, the film’s tagline said, “If adventure has a name…it must be Indiana Jones,” which is not only a perfect encapsulation for the series, but it’s also completely accurate as well. When I think of adventure movies, the Indiana Jones movies are the first to spring into my mind as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have concocted the perfect blend of derring-do adventure, humor, action, and thrills and distilled them to create the perfection of the Indiana Jones franchise.  Despite their considerable talents, this franchise is also very dependent on its star Harrison Ford, who brought the character to life so indelibly that it even eclipsed his other beloved character of Han Solo from the Star Wars franchise.  No one else could have played Indiana Jones as well as he does as the role fits him like a glove. Finally having these films on Blu-ray is a dream come true for me and I am so happy that Paramount took the time to to release them right.  As the crown jewels in Paramount’s collection, these films were given the respect that they deserve, with incredible restorations which made these movies look and sound better than they ever have before. The extras are also extensive and wonderful, although I wish even more had been included being the insatiable fan for this series that I am.  I’m not just saying that I recommend that you buy this collection, I am saying that this is a must buy for any fan of cinema!  Buy it and you won’t regret it!  Trust me.  You can read my review of this Blu-ray set here.
If you’d like to purchase any of my top ten movies please click on the links below! Have a safe and fun holiday season!

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