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Friday, July 26, 2013

Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Best Pictures DVD Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Warner Brothers is celebrating its landmark 90th anniversary with a year-long initiative to release seven new major home entertainment collections. The campaign’s flagship release, The Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film DVD Collection, showcases 100 movies from the studio’s historic, hallowed archives — the largest film library in the world.  The limited and numbered box set includes all 22 of the Warner library’s Best Picture winners, and a new full-length documentary, “Tales from the Warner Bros. Lot.”  The collection is also available as a 50 Film Blu-ray box set.  In addition, the Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film DVD Collections such as this one will be released throughout the year in five separate sets, each showcasing twenty essential titles in five major genres. This week marks the release of this Best Pictures box set, which includes twenty of the studio’s Best Picture winners from Academy Award history.



Films (5 out of 5 stars) 

With the Academy Awards just around the corner, it’s fortuitous timing that Warners has released this awesome box set of twenty movies that have won the Best Picture award for the studio.  This set offers a perfect overview of some of the most critically acclaimed movies that the studio has released, starting with 1929’s The Broadway Melody, all the way up to the more recent film from Martin Scorsese, the violent and bloody  The Departed.  This set is the start of a wave of other sets that will be broken up by genre to make it easier for fans to pick up whichever one appeals to them.  For the completionists out there, there’s also the one-hundred film set and a fifty film set that includes a lot more movies. There’s so many good movies in this set that it’s easy to just let the set speak for itself.  Take a look at what you can find in this twenty movie set: 

1929-1942 (A New Era)


The Broadway Melody (1929)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture
MGM pulled out all the stops for its first talking motion picture, The Broadway Melody of 1929, setting a new standard for big-budget films and establishing an archetype for decades of movie musicals to follow .
The Great White Way truly becomes the Street of Broken Dreams when sisters Queenie and Hank Mahoney (Anita Page and Bessie Love) follow Hank’s boyfriend, Eddie Kearns (Charles King), to Manhattan with visions of stardom. While in New York, Eddie and Queenie become attracted to each other, but unwilling to betray her sister, Queenie dates a feckless cad. Now, Hank must sort out the tangle of aspirations and emotions that form this tragic love triangle.
With Academy Award nominations for “Best Director” (Harry Beaumont) and “Best Actress” (Bessie Love), and featuring the songs “You Were Meant For Me,” “Broadway Melody” and “The Wedding of the Painted Doll,” The Broadway Melody of 1929 became the first musical to win the “Best Picture” Oscar.

Grand Hotel (1932)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture 
Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery star in 1932′s Grand Hotel, based on the novel by Vicki Baum.
In a single day in Berlin’s Grand Hotel, jewel thief Baron Felix von Geigern (John Barrymore) covets both prima ballerina Grusinskaya’s (Greta Garbo) jewels and the beautiful Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), who is the mistress of the Preysing (Wallace Beery), boss to the terminally ill Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore).  In just 24 hours, the lives of these people will change forever in this Hollywood classic and winner of the “Best Picture” Academy Award.  In this great 1932 screen drama, the glitz and glitter of Berlin’s opulent Grand Hotel comes alive with the personal stories of its guests and employees. 
Featuring grand performances from the biggest stars of the era, including Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore, this “Best Picture” winner remains an original.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture
The Bounty is on a mission in the South Seas. The brutal and arrogant Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton in an Oscar-nominated performance) becomes antagonized by the genteel manner of the First Officer Christian Fletcher (Clark Gable, who was also nominated for the “Best Actor” Oscar).  While in Tahiti, the men of The Bounty are seduced by the gentle beauty of the island and its women. As they head back to England, life aboard the ship becomes unbearable. Fletcher seizes the ship and Captain Bligh is set adrift. The Bounty returns to Tahiti to retrieve the women, and once reunited, they set sail for a new life.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards and winning for “Best Picture,” this 1935 vigorous retelling of a true historic incident about a British ship commandeered from its brutal master, remains a cinematic classic.

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor – Joseph Schildkraut, and Best Screenplay
The story of one of the world’s greatest writers, a man who proved that one voice can overcome injustice and change the course of a nation is immortalized in The Life of Emile Zola, the very first Warner Bros. film to capture the coveted “Best Picture” Oscar.  Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, this 1937 drama episodically explores the career of the novelist who championed the cause of France’s oppressed. Zola (Paul Muni) is a hugely successful French author who risks all his success and comfort to come to the defense of the unjustly jailed Capt. Dreyfus (Oscar winner Joseph Schildkraut). 
Winner of three Oscars overall – and of immense critical and popular success – this distinguished film is a must-see portrait of a life that grew into an important voice for art, truth and justice.

Gone with the Wind (1939)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress – Vivien Leigh, Best Supporting Actress – Hattie McDaniel, Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction
Winner of eight Academy Awards (plus two special achievement Oscars) and still history’s all-time domestic box-office champion  ($1.5 billion), Gone With The Windhas long been considered the most celebrated motion picture of all-time.
Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland and Hattie McDaniel star in this classic epic of the American South. On the eve of the American Civil War, rich, beautiful and self-centered Scarlett O’Hara (Leigh, in her Oscar-winning role) has everything she could want – except Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard).  But as the war devastates the South, Scarlett discovers the strength within herself to protect her family and rebuild her life. Through everything, she longs for Ashley, seemingly unaware that she is already married to the man she really loves (Gable) – and who truly loves her – until she finally drives him away. Only then does Scarlett realize what she has lost … and decide to win him back.
Inarguably, one of the greatest American films ever made, it should also be noted that “Best Supporting Actress” winner, Hattie McDaniel, became the first African-American actor to ever win an Oscar.

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress – Greer Garson, Best Supporting Actress – Teresa Wright, Best Screenplay Adaptation, and Best Cinematography
“Mrs. Miniver” is a memorable spirit-lifter about an idealized England that tends its prize-winning roses while confronting the terror of war. The “Best Picture” Oscar winner struck a patriotic chord with American audiences and became 1942′s #1 box-office hit.  Greer Garson gives a formidable Oscar-winning performance in the title role, comforting children in a bomb shelter, capturing an enemy parachutist and delivering an inspirational portrait of stiff-upper-lip British resolve. When Hitler did his worst, Mrs. Miniver did her best.

Casablanca (1942) 

OSCAR WINNERBest Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay
Casablanca: easy to enter, but much harder to leave, especially if you’re wanted by the Nazis. Such a man is Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), whose only hope is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart in one of his most memorable roles), a cynical American who sticks his neck out for no one – especially Victor’s wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the ex-lover who broke his heart.  Ilsa offers herself in exchange for Laszlo’s transport out of the country and bitter Rick must decide what counts more – personal happiness or countless lives hanging in the balance.
Winner of three Academy Awards including “Best Picture,” Casablanca remains one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures 70 years after it first lit up the screen.

1946-1959 (The Golden Years)


The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) 

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor – Fredric March, Best Supporting Actor – Harold Russell, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Score 
It’s the hope that sustains the spirit of every GI: the dream of the day when he will finally return home. For three WWII veterans, the day has arrived. But for each man, the dream is about to become a nightmare.  Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) is returning to a loveless marriage; Sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March) is a stranger to a family that’s grown up without him; and young sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) is tormented by the loss of his hands. Can these three men find the courage to rebuild their world? Or are the best years of their lives a thing of the past? 
Featuring a brilliant cast that includes Myrna Loy and Virginia Mayo, The Best Years of Our Lives garnered seven Oscars, including “Best Picture.” Heart-wrenching, touching and “filled with emotional dynamite” (The Hollywood Reporter), it remains “one of the best films about war veterans ever made” (American Movie Classics).

An American in Paris (1951)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Score 
A magical moment in cinema history, 1951′s An American in Paris earned eight Academy Award nominations, winning six (including “Best Picture”), while striking box-office gold.  This sparkling musical showcases the incomparable Gene Kelly with the lovely Leslie Caron amid the glorious melodies of George and Ira Gershwin.  When ex-GI Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) remains in Paris to pursue life as an artist, he is discovered by a wealthy patroness interested in more than his art, but soon threefriends find their lives complicated when two of them fall in love with the same woman. 

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Score 
Nominated for eight Academy Awards and winner of five, including “Best Picture,” this 1956 cinematic adaptation of the classic Jules Verne story is epic in scope (and in the number of stars who make appearances throughout).  David Niven plays Phileas Fogg who bets his fellow club members that he can circle the globe in 80 days. That may not be impressive today, but, in 1872, it was nearly impossible.  Accompanied by his valet, Passepartout, and the wandering Princess Aouda, Fogg crosses Europe, India, Japan, the Pacific and the United States in his quest, and the Oscar-winning Cinematography by Lionel Lindon captures it all.

Gigi (1958)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Song – “Gigi”, and Best Score 
Winner of nine Academy Awards, this 1958 romantic musical remains a Hollywood classic. Leslie Caron stars as Gigi, a young foundling reared by two veteran Parisian courtesans to be the mistress of a wealthy young gentleman.  But Gigi shocks everyone when, despite the best efforts of her mentors to teach the importance of champagne, jewels and independence, the irrepressible girl falls in love with the man for whom she is intended.  Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jordan and Hermione Gingold also star in this blockbuster Lerner and Lowe musical (the same team behind My Fair Lady).

Ben-Hur (1959)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor – Charlton Heston, Best Supporting Actor – Hugh Griffith, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Special Effects, Best Sound, and Best Score 
Experience the visual splendor, thundering action and towering drama of this record-setting film; winner of ELEVEN Academy Awards (a feat not equalled until 1997′s Titantic and 2003′s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)! Charlton Heston, in his Oscar-winning role, is Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish nobleman in Palestine whose heroic odyssey includes enslavement by the Romans, vengeance against his tormentors during a furious arena chariot race and fateful encounters with Jesus Christ. “Best Director” Oscar-winner William Wyler masterfully grips the reins of this enduring and spellbinding spectacular. 
For the special “50th Anniversary” release, “Ben-Hur” underwent a $1 million restoratiom – frame-by-frame from an 8k scan of the original 65mm camera negative, making this the highest resolution restoration ever completed by the Warner Bros. studio.

1975-2006 (The New Classics)


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor – Jack Nicholson, Best Actress – Louise Fletcher, and Best Screenplay Adaptation
A nice rest in a state mental hospital beats a stretch in the pen, right? Randle P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson in his memorable Oscar-winning performance), a free-spirited con with lightning in his veins and glib on his tongue, fakes insanity and moves in with what he calls the “nuts.”  Immediately, his contagious sense of disorder runs up against numbing routine. No way should guys pickled on sedatives shuffle around in bathrobes when the World Series is on. This means war!  On one side is McMurphy. On the other is soft-spoken Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher in her own Oscar-winning performance), among the most coldly monstrous villains in film history. At stake is the fate of every patient on the ward. 
Based on Ken Kesey’s acclaimed bestseller, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nestswept all five major Academy Awards: “Best Picture,” “Best Actor” (Nicholson), “Best Actress” (Fletcher), “Best Director” (Milos Forman) and “Best Screenplay Adaptation” (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman).  Raucous, searing, and with a superb supporting cast that includes Brad Dourif, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Lloyd (in his film debut), this one soars. 

Chariots of Fire (1981)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, and Best Score 
In 1981, Chariots of Fire became the little movie that could… winning four Academy Awards (including “Best Picture” and Vangelis’ Oscar-winning score that remains a classic in cinema history).  Featuring a sterling cast of newcomers and veterans alike, headed by Ben Cross and ian Charleson, Chariots of Fire tells the inspiring true story – told in flashback – of two young British athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics.  Eric, a devout Scottish missionary runs because he knows it must please God. Harold, the son of a newly rich Jew runs to prove his place in Cambridge society.

Amadeus: Director’s Cut (1984)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor – F. Murray Abraham, Best Screenplay (Adaptation), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, and Best Sound 
1984′s Amadeus was not only a gripping human drama and sumptuous period epic that celebrated the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but it was also a box-office hit that managed to garner 8 Academy Awards (out of an astounding 11 nominations).  This marvelous film portrays the rivalry between the genius Mozart (Tom Hulce) and the jealous court composer (F.Murray Abraham in his Oscar-winning role) who may have ruined Mozart’s career and shortened his life. 

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Actress – Jessica Tandy, Best Screenplay Adaptation, and Best Makeup 
Nominated for nine Academy Awards, this 1989 box-office smash and winner of the Oscar for “Best Picture,” tells the funny, tender story of a feisty Southern lady (Jessica Tandy in her Oscar-winning role) and her chauffeur (Morgan Freeman in his Oscar-nominated performance).  In 1948, the son of an elderly Southern matron (Dan Aykroyd in his Oscar-nominated role) hires a chauffeur for his mother. And over the next 25 years, the relationship between the matron and the chauffeur blossoms into one of respect and friendship as the civil-rights movement brings changes to the old South. 

Unforgiven (1992)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor – Gene Hackman, and Best Editing 
Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman play retired, down-on-their-luck outlaws who pick up their guns one last time to collect a bounty offered by the vengeful prostitutes of the remote Wyoming town of Big Whiskey. Richard Harris is an ill-fated interloper, a colorful killer-for-hire called English Bob. And “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar winner Gene Hackman is the sly and brutal local sheriff whose brand of law enforcement ranges from unconventional to ruthless. 
Eastwood picked up the “Best Director” Oscar and Unforgiven was also rewarded with the “Best Picture” Academy Award. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) 

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Visual Effects, Best Song – “Into the West”, Best Score, and Best Sound Mixing  
Winner of 11 Academy Awards including “Best Picture” and “Best Director,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy came to a stunning conclusion with the theatrical release of “The Return of the King.”  The final battle for Middle-earth begins as Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn struggles to fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer Frodo may complete his quest.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic adventure of good versus evil, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” is the ultimate achievement by director Peter Jackson in his acclaimed film trilogy. 

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress – Hilary Swank, and Best Supporting Actor – Morgan Freeman 
“I don’t train girls,” growls boxing trainer Frankie Dunn. But something’s different about the spirited boxing hopeful who shows up daily at Dunn’s gym. All she wants is a fighting chance.  Clint Eastwood plays Dunn and also directs, produces and composes music for this controversial and acclaimed, multi-award-winning tale of heart, hope and family. Eastwood received an Oscar nomination for his acting, an Academy Award for his directing, and the film also captured the “Best d Picture.”  Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays resilient Maggie, determined not to abandon her one dream. And Morgan Freeman (who grabbed his own Oscar) is Scrap, gym caretaker and counterpoint to Dunn’s crustiness. Grab your dreams and come out swinging.

The Departed (2006)

OSCAR WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay Adaptation, and Best Editing 
Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg star in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 crime drama “The Departed,” which captured the “Best Picture” Oscar, as well as Scorsese’s first “Best Director” win.
“The Departed” is set in South Boston where the state police force is waging an all-out war to take down the city’s top organized crime ring. The key is to end the reign of powerful mob boss Frank Costello (Nicholson) from the inside.  A young rookie, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) is assigned to infiltrate Costello’s mob. While Billy is working to gain Costello’s trust, another young cop, Colin Sullivan (Damon) is among a handful of elite officers whose mission is to bring Costello down; although he is playing both sides of the fence and tipping off Costello.
Each man becomes deeply consumed by his double life, gathering information about the plans and counter-plans of the operation he has penetrated. But when it becomes clear to both the gangsters and the police that they have a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin find themselves in constant danger of being caught – and each must race to uncover the identity of the other man in time to save himself.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

Any time you collect twenty movies that span decades, you can expect the video quality to vary from movie to movie.  Depending on its age and other factors such as the  equipment and film stock used, the resulting quality can always change.  I’m happy to report that although these movies are on DVD, they all look as fantastic as the format will allow.  Don’t get me wrong, I would much prefer them to be on Blu-ray with its razor sharp picture in high definition, but these movies look very good despite being on DVD.  Each movie is presented in its original aspect ratio from its theatrical release which is the ideal way to present the movies.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Just like the video, this Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection offers a wide variety of soundtracks that can range from Dolby Stereo to the the sonic wonders of The Return of the King’s Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix that will shake the room.  All of these movies sound very good no matter their age as the dialogue can be heard clearly in each and the music and sound effects are also clean and distinct.  Of course, the audio mixes improve with each passing year so there’s a big difference between The Broadway Melody and The Return of the King.  Fans of these movies (and who isn’t?) should be pleased with how each of these films sound.

Extras (3 out of 5 stars) 

Almost each of these films have some manner of extras and many of them such as Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Ben-Hur, Around the World in 82 Days, An American in paris, Chariots of fire, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Unforgiven, and more, also have a commentary track as well.   There’s also some behind the scenes featurettes sprinkled throughout the set on movies inlcuding Grand Hotel, Driving Miss Daisy, An American in Paris, Around the World in 80 Days to just name a few.  With the older movies there are some newsreel clips as well which I always enjoy as it’s kind of like taking a trip back in time.
There’s also some fantastic documentaries like “Michael Curtiz: The Director You’ve Never Heard Of” that focuses on one of my favorite directors from the 30s and 40s and who directed such diverse movies such as The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The SeaHawk, Mildred Pierce, and The Comancheros.  It’s nice to see him get some long overdue recognition.  We also get a very nice booklet with the set that offers a synopsis of each movie along with a listing of all of the Academy Awards they received.  One thing to note is that these discs are the same as the previously released DVDs so they will say “Disc 1″ or “Disc B” etc. and you may not get the other disc that came in the original set if it was a extras only disc.
For long movies like Ben-Hur, there’s two discs that cover the length of the movie but for other movies that had one disc for the movie and another disc for the extras, you should be aware that you will only be getting the feature disc and not the extras disc.  If there’s extras on the main feature disc, those are still there, but that’s all you are getting.  For most people that’s fine, but for those of us that love every extra we can get our hands on, it’s something you should be aware of before buying this set.  My only real complaint about the set is the packaging it comes in.  The cases used to hold all of these discs are too flimsy to really contain the weight of these discs and mine arrived broken with the spine no long attached to the disc holder to keep them in place.  The discs were still in perfect shape but the trays just dangle with nothing fastened to keep them in place.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

It goes without saying that some of these movies are among the greatest movies of all time and that’s enough of a reason to pick this set up.  This set will appeal to everyone – from the casual moviegoer who may not have seen a lot of these movies but is curious enough to see what made these films so famous, to the hardcore movie buff that will be more than happy to have this many historically and culturally significant movies all in one box set.  I already owned many of these movies and I’m still very pleased that this set has plugged in many of the missing movies that I had been wanting to get for a long time. 
If you can afford it, I would recommend getting the 50 Film set that Warners has released on Blu-ray to get the best quality available, but if you aren’t that worried about high defintion or can’t afford that set, this is a perfect solution to fill your needs.   Take a look at the other Warners 20 Film sets or if you want all of them, then you should save some money and just buy their 100 Film set to get them all in one shot.  You can find out more about those sets on Warners’ official Facebook page which you can find here or on Twitter if you search for the hashtag #bestofwb.  Movies don’t get that much better than a lot of these, so this box set is an easy choice for me to recommend.  Start your collection now by clicking on the link below!
Order your copy today!

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