This list for the best of 2014 will be a little different than the ones you see at other Blu-ray sites. I cover a wide range of releases for DoBlu, from Hollywood blockbusters to classic foreign films. The following list has been culled from discs I’ve personally reviewed this year, so it is more eclectic than your run-of-the-mill year-end list.
There is no specific order, I hope its content will shine a spotlight on Blu-rays the average person may have overlooked in 2014. Some personal favorites of mine finally hit Blu-ray in 2014. I am always grateful when a cherished film gets the Blu-ray treatment, even if the format is aging at this point. For many older catalog properties, their Blu-ray likely represents the final A/V upgrade on home video. Studios are rapidly moving to streaming services for niche and less popular movies. There is reason to celebrate when a quality movie gets a respectable Blu-ray edition.
John Carney’s magical celebration of new romance finally hit American shores as a Blu-ray in 2014, exclusively from Amazon. Once was never demo material, but its beautiful songs from The Swell Season sound excellent in lossless fidelity.
Caity Lotz plays a prominent part in two different selections on this list. Is that a coincidence? Possibly not. She first rose to fame as the Black Canary on the CW’s hit superhero series, Arrow. Arrow’s second season was some of the best action storytelling seen on network television in decades. Oliver (the Green Arrow) renounced his murderous ways just as his greatest enemy, Deathstroke, shows up in Star City looking for vengeance. Marvel might have the movies, but Arrow proved DC was just as capable on television. Arrow has very good production values, the CW show looks and sounds like a winner.
Caity Lotz also starred in The Machine, one of the best independent science fiction films of this decade. Some had questioned her acting chops but the rising star proved in The Machine she can handle anything thrown at her. It also happens to have excellent A/V quality for an independent production, courtesy of very reliable XLrator Media. They know what they are doing on Blu-ray as a distributor.
2014 saw the release of the very influential Style Wars, a 1983 PBS documentary that helped introduce the Hip-Hop community of New York to the nation. Before Rap music or celebrities like Jay-Z ever rose to fame, this short feature on young graffiti artists caught the imagination of millions. Almost as importantly, the Blu-ray comes loaded with special features that were carefully picked from hours of unused footage. It’s a loving tribute to the film and its ethos, some of the most moving extra footage I have seen on Blu-ray.
When we are sent horror BDs to review, I am often disappointed with how poor the movies turn out. Few genre films these days are truly looking to scare their audience. This is not so in The Possession of Michael King, one of the scariest movies from 2014. I would warn that watching it alone in the dark, on a good surround system, might prove a truly frightening challenge. It provides a very intense surround mix that will wake the dead and frighten you.
Auteur director Wes Anderson has been on a roll. Coming off the charming Moonrise Kingdom, the quirky director works his magic once again in The Grand Budapest Hotel. While Rushmore remains his best film, he’s better than ever at the craft of direction and achieving his singularly unique vision. The excellent video quality is a by-product of its highly-refined cinematography, which should get an Oscar nomination.
The first Wolf Creek, a minor cult hit, never even hit Blu-ray in the United States. Rarely do sequels top the original, but I had as much fun with Wolf Creek 2 as any gory thriller in recent memory. It’s a wild ride, from beginning to end. The video quality is spectacular as well, some of the best picture quality ever released on Blu-ray. I can’t wait for Wolf Creek 3, crazy killer Mick Taylor has to terrorize more tourists in the Australian Outback. Easily the best overall A/V quality for a horror film in 2014, shot in pristine digital footage.
British distributor Arrow Video has always specialized in obscure and cult films. It is rumored that American studios forced Arrow Video to start region-locking their UK releases after fans saw how much attention and care their extravagant BDs were receiving, American distributors did not want the competition. I could have listed several different choices from 2014 but the one I will choose is Hell Comes To Frogtown, a wild B-movie from the 1980s starring radioactive frogmen and WWE legend ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper. No other distributor would have rescued the obscure cult classic for Blu-ray. Sadly, only 1000 units were printed and this combo set is now out of print, commanding healthy money on the used market.
One of the very best classic film transfers seen in 2014 was Fox’s The Agony & The Ecstasy. Watch Oscar winners Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison square off in a remarkable vintage transfer, one of the few movies produced in the expensive Todd-AO 65mm film process. It is a essential disc for videophiles and the movie has held up better than expected, once nominated for five Academy Awards.
Director Wong Kar Wai’s films are often described as poetry in motion, so it was with great fanfare that he released this fantastical biopic of Ip Man, the martial arts legend that originally taught Bruce Lee. The Grandmaster is a martial arts film like no other, reveling in the grace and fluidity of its fighters. Included on this BD is the shorter Weinstein cut of the film, but most consider it an equally valid version to the longer Hong Kong cut found overseas.
One movie makes the list because it seems to have gotten lost in history and deserves far more recognition. Actor Robert Duvall turns in possibly his strongest performance as a single father in rural Mississippi, the very moving Tomorrow from 1972. Based off a story by William Faulkner, the drama is a tragic tale of some power and depth.
No list would be complete without the most twisted film of 2014, Moebius. Using no dialogue at all, the Korean psycho-sexual thriller goes places few films dare. Korean cinema has earned a reputation as producing some of the world’s edgiest filmmaking and this experiment works better than expected.