Picking the top 10 DVD/Blu-ray movies of 2010 is a lot different than picking the top 10 movies of the year. I'm not saying artistic quality doesn't matter on DVD. What I am saying is that the quality of the DVD image and digital sound counts just as much as the quality of the film. I'm looking for the WOW factor — DVD movies that rock the house, whether you're watching them on a high-end home theater system or on your computer screen. And it's not all showboating. A great DVD transfer can capture the play of light and shadow in a movie of hushed intimacy. So, here they are: the 10 best DVDs of the year, with references to key scenes that demonstrate what DVD picture and sound can really deliver.
Director Chris Nolan's mesmerizing mindgame starring Leonardo DiCaprio as an invader of dreams is my choice for the cream of the DVD crop. You can watch it multiple times and still dig out new meanings, all while yelling "Holy shit" as you white-knuckle the couch. The visuals, shot by the gifted Wally Pfister on locations from the steaming heat of Morocco to the snow-capped Alps, are astounding.
Key Scene: A freight train barreling through a traffic-clogged street is jaw-dropping.
James Cameron's reinvention of 3D for a new century might have been No. 1 on my DVD list except for one thing: Cameron built this futuristic wowser for 3D IMAX, which is the form in which the film works best and which we can't — yet — get at home. The computerized creation that is Pandora overflows with beauty and terror.
Key Scene: Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a crippled ex-marine on the Pandora mission, flying through the air on a banshee he's just made his bitch.
The animated DVD event of the year. Vividly directed by Lee Unkrich, this second sequel goes darker and emotionally deeper than its predecessors, as the toys face abandonment issues.
Key Scene: You won't find a scarier model of image and sound design as the toys are swept into a garbage dump and near incineration. A nightmare alert for brats.
Martin Scorsese dips into Inception territory with this brainteaser from Dennis Lehane's novel about an investigation at an asylum for the criminally insane. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a detective who may or may not be what he seems.
Key Scene: A hurricane hits the island in a sequence to prove your home-theater system.
Critics raved and hardly anyone came. So catch up by grabbing this Blu-ray. Edgar Wright's dazzling distillation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-volume graphic novel is a game-changer. With the help of the gifted cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix) Wright creates a visual wonderland for Scott (Michael Cera) as he seeks to defeats his dream girl's seven evil exes.
Key Scene: The Amp Battle between Cera and bass rocker-slash-power vegan Brandon Routh takes aural mastery to a new level.
Tim Burton meets Lewis Carroll in a mix of animation and live action. Need I say more? Johnny Depp is his own special effect as the Hatter, orange hair sprouting everywhere. Love for Alice (Mia Wasikowska) shines out of his eyes. Depp and Burton are wizards at dressing up psychic wounds in fantasy.
Key Scene: Anything with Helena Bonham Carter as the villainous, giant-headed Red Queen, especially when she orders up decapitations like lattes.
Ben Affleck really proves himself as a director in this crime Caper — he keeps a complex plot and dozens of characters in whirling motion. A second viewing only increases your admiration.
Key Scene: The opener with the bank robbers in nun masks is only topped by the climactic heist at Fenway Park, Boston's baseball mecca.
The year's best box set — by a mile. Martin Scorsese introduces 15 films from Kazan, who died in 2003 after a career haunted by controversy, after he named names at the McCarthy hearings in 1952. But it's the art of the man behind such classics as On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and Viva Zapata! (making its DVD debut) that brings these discs to glory.
Key Scene: The whole of A Letter to Elia, Scorsese's cinematic love letter to the passion for film that Kazan passed on to him.
The Criterion Collection is famed for bringing classics to DVD with unprecedented care. Criterion outdoes itself with this Blu-ray beauty that captures every pristine, poetic, black-and-white image that first-time director Charles Laughton brought to this 1955 tale of a psychotic preacher (Robert Mitchum at his greatest) on a lethal hunt for two children.
Key Scene: The children's murdered mother (Shelley Winters), strapped in a car as it sinks in a river, her hair fanning out in the water. The eerie beauty of that moment is unforgettable, and captured here for the time capsule.
This no-frills documentary is a must because it lets us see Banksy, the elusive British graffiti artist, launch his illegal bursts of creativity on walls and buildings. Banksy lets French videographer Thierry Guetta shoot his work. Then, when Guetta starts making his own art, Banksy switches roles and directs a movie about Guetta. The line between making guerrilla art and selling out has never blurred more provocatively. The visuals are amazing.
Key Scene: You pick it. The film shows work before it is painted over or removed. The DVD lets you hit the pause button, study it and decide whether it's art or nonsense.
Usually DVDs can make any movie look good. Not this stinker. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) set off for a freebie week in beautiful, buttoned-down Abu Dhabi that makes the city and the girls look like melting M&Ms.
The third chapter in the triangle of Bella (KStew), Edward (RPatz) and Jacob (Tlaut — I made that name up) actually does look clear and crisp on Blu-ray. But the sharpness only makes you notice the cheapness of the special effects. The scene in the snowstorm is backlot on a budget. And the fur Bella nuzzles when she's near a werewolf Jacob smacks of shag carpet.
A Disney classic fantasia becomes a live-action debacle with Nicolas Cage in for a paycheck as the wizard and Jay Baruchel as the apprentice. Have computer-generated effects every looked more fake on a DVD? Not this year, baby.