Chris’s Top Ten Blu-rays of 2016

2016 was a great year for movies. In parallel, I’d argue that it was an even better year for home video releases, in which we saw a number of 2015’s best and brightest hit Blu-ray, the advent of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, and a number of remasters and restorations came forth from both the major studios, and their smaller counterparts. To celebrate such a great year for Blu-ray, here are my top 10 releases from 2016, in no particular order:

Crimson Peak:

I don’t do horror, but I do do Guillermo Del Toro, regardless of what vision he attempts to bring to screen. I found Crimson Peak to be a phenomenal film, full of not only references to classic cinema, but of a cinematic vision that was disturbing and compelling, driven forward by an eerie, depraved performance by Jessica Chastain who cements the film in the realm of madness. The Blu-ray release from early on in the year, features a sharp, detailed digital video presentation in 1080p, and a fantastic DTS:X audio track, complemented by a great set of special features, and fantastic packaging. This movie under-performed pretty heavily at the box office, and flew under most people’s radars. If you enjoy gothic horror, or even just Guillermo’s previous work, you oughta check out the Blu-ray release of this film.

Steve Jobs:

We didn’t write a review for this film’s Blu-ray release due to lack of time and manpower when it was released in February, but Danny Boyle’s biopic, written by legend Aaron Sorkin, is a tightly scripted, engaging drama that focuses on three key moments from Steve Jobs’ life from the unveiling of the Macintosh, straight through to the kickstarting of the modern era of Apple Computers. In typical Sorkin style, the film is an actor’s movie, putting all of its weight squarely on the shoulders of Michael Fassbender, who delivers a career defining performance. The Blu-ray release is light on special features, but features excellent minimalistic packaging, and a fantastic 1080p video presentation that recreates the 3 different capture formats that were used to represent the 3 different eras covered in the film with expertise.

Sully:

I was floored by this movie. Clint Eastwood and his crew did an incredible job of retelling the story of the miracle on the Hudson by presenting the disaster as a moment of celebration, where the entire city of New York got together to save the lives of 100+ people on board that plane. In parallel, it also does a diligent job of exploring the investigation put on by the NTSB regarding the landing, and the psychological effects it had on Sully Sullenberger himself. The Blu-ray packs a wallop, with a picture-perfect 1080p presentation, a fantastic Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and a decent set of special features to help flesh out the package. Sully also makes for a great experience in 4K Ultra HD, with a decent uptick in detail across the board, and only a few seams revealed in the presentation.

The Hateful Eight:

True fact: you could shoot anything in Ultra Panavision 70 on 65mm film negative, and release it on home video and you’d most likely find it on my year end list. It also helps that Tarantino’s 8th feature film is a masterpiece, one that finally proves that his taste for snappy dialogue can hold up without an over reliance on gratuitous violence and anger. Instead, his script takes a different route, slowing down for an intense, engaging whodunnit style of film, split into several chapters in which the, “Hateful Eight,” try their best to survive in an endless blizzard together, cooped up into a small cabin. The Blu-ray release does an excellent job of recreating the 2.76:1 aspect ratio native to Ultra Panavision 70, carrying as much of the fantastic color and detail that the 1080p presentation could absorb from the 4K digital intermediate master of the film, and a more than capable 5.1 surround sound track. Could I use the full roadshow release of the movie, or some decent extras? Sure. But for now, I’m pleased with what we’ve got here on Blu-ray.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens:

I loved The Force Awakens. It may be pure fan service, and have all sorts of plot holes, but I left the theater grinning ear to ear. I’ve said my piece on this film in multiple places, but this much is clear: The Force Awakens is a tour de force on Blu-ray. The 1080p video presentation, sourced from the original 2K digital intermediate, is sharp, detailed, and has just the perfect amount of grain and grit to help call back to the Original Star Wars Trilogy. The DTS surround sound presentation blasts through the 7.1 soundscape, with Tie Fighters and X-Wings exploding from every corner of the room with exacting precision. Even the 3D presentation, exclusive to the Collector’s Edition release of the film, adds a decent amount of depth to the image without becoming gimmicky. Both the standard release, with all of its various packages, and the Collector’s Edition feature a great package of special features, and great packaging no matter which version you purchase. Disney did an excellent job bringing the next entry in the Star Wars saga to home video.

Time After Time:

Nicholas Meyer, in his first tour of duty behind the camera, crafted one of the most effective fish-out-of-water tales, one in which two Victorian Age gentlemen, H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper, travel forward in time to 1979, H.G. chasing after the Jack in order to end his villainous murder spree. It is pure fun from start to finish, with wacky science propelling the story forward, and two English gentlemen forced to cope with the reality that the 70s were a dark, confusing time for everyone involved. Warner Archive did a phenomenal job bringing this one to Blu-ray a couple months back, with a fantastic 1080p presentation sourced from a new HD master, and excellent audio to match it. Special features aren’t really the Archive’s strong suit, but I’m just so glad they were able to bring a now personal favorite of mine to Blu-ray in great style.

It’s Always Fair Weather:

Another Warner Archive release, It’s Always Fair Weather is an early MGM cinemascope Gene Kelly musical feature, one of his finest. It feels grounded in reality, as it tells a story of three old friends who realize that after being apart for ten years they no longer recognize each other or even tolerate each other, but still finds room for elaborate song and dance numbers and a surprising amount of action to help the film stay light on its feet. Sourced from a brand new HD master prepared by the guys at Warner Archive, It’s Always Fair Weather features a surprisingly authentic film-like transfer, complete with optical grain spikes, the odd spot of stock footage, and all the early Cinemascope lens distortion you can handle. On top of that, the original 4-track mag sound presentation has been remixed into a mostly effective 5.1 surround sound mix, and the Blu-ray packs a remarkably good set of extras for a Warner Archive release. It might be their best release this year.

Star Trek in 4K Ultra HD:

I know it might be considered cheating to group 3 movies under one banner, but the 3 new Star Trek films already sported some of the finest 1080p video transfers Blu-ray has ever seen. Your opinions of the movies may vary, but it can hardly be argued that they didn’t benefit from receiving the 4K, HDR-enhanced treatment this year. Even though each one was finished using a 2K digital intermediate, the upscales each one received are absolutely phenomenal, revealing just how incredible the colors and effect sequences that help bring the films to life really are. It feels like, especially for Star Trek Into Darkness and it’s IMAX sourced sequences, I was watching these films for the first time all over again on home video. Although I haven’t had time to sit down and write comprehensive reviews for the first two films and their 4K re-releases, I consider them to be some of the finest 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays currently available.

Only Yesterday:

It’s a damn shame that Isao Takahata’s work has always had to linger in the massive shadow of Hiyao Miyazaki’s filmography. As one of the cofounders of Studio Ghibli, his features have always struggled to find an audience, especially here in the Western world. I was ecstatic to hear that Gkids and Universal finally licensed Only Yesterday to receive an English dub featuring major players such as Daisy Ridley, as well as a wide theatrical release and ultimately a home video release stateside for the first time. The movie, which follows a young, single woman on a trip to Japanese countryside where she searches for greater meaning in her life, is at the same time nostalgic, full of regret, and radiates a sense of warmth and life that feels true to life. Bolstered by the brilliant animation staff of Studio Ghibli, this new Blu-ray is to die for, revealing every penciled line, and ounce of film grain that the original film negatives have to offer, and both the dub and original soundtrack are presented with excellent fidelity. The packaging of this release, and the collection of extras included are average, but the film and its presentation make this release more than worth your time.

Pete’s Dragon:

Have you seen Pete’s Dragon yet? Hold up. I’ll wait……Now that you’ve seen the movie, wasn’t that just a wonderful experience. One in which we get to experience the world where dragons exist through the eyes of a child, one who does his best to protect the only world he’s even known from a world of adults who see him and his dragon as a chance to achieve fame and glory at their expense. The cast is stacked with some of Hollywood’s finest including Bryce Dallas Howard and Karl Urban, and turns out some fantastic performances from child actors Oakes Fegley and Oona Lawrence. The Blu-ray, released by Disney, turns out a powerful surround sound track and a warm, nostalgic and somewhat naturalistic 1080p video transfer with a decent set of extras that dive into the film production, and a decent packaging job as well.



And that about does it for me in 2016 – don’t worry, I’ll be back for more reviews, miscellaneous articles, and even a new series or two. Who really knows what 2017 holds. For now, I’ve got a wall of classic films to dive into to help ring in the New Year – I hope you all have had a wonderful Holiday season so far, and have a wonderful New Year’s celebration. I’ll catch you on the flip side – Chris