1 The Art of Buster Keaton Video of the Year (1920-27, Kino, unrated, $29.95 each, laserdisc Vols. 1 and 3 $99.99, Vol. 2 $139.99) With each passing year, the world looks more the way Buster Keaton saw it. Technology permeates our lives; we run by clockwork, and the only possible human response is serene comic rebellion. Copyright issues had kept most of Keaton’s silent-era canon from video until this year, when Kino released 10 tapes with 11 features and 19 shorts in breathtakingly clean prints. Watch Sherlock, Jr. if you want to see a hilarious dissertation on movies and identity; watch The Navigator for the distilled Keaton vision of man versus machine; watch The General for epic grace. As civilization grows louder, Keaton’s silence still packs a kick in the pants.
2 Immortal Beloved and Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1994, Columbia TriStar, R, priced for rental, laserdisc $39.95; 1994, Columbia TriStar, unrated, $19.95, laserdisc $34.95) The Rebel-With-a-Piano genre found new life with these two releases. Beloved gave us the life of Beethoven with a well-tempered Gary Oldman as Ludwig and just the right amount of melodramatic cheese, while Thirty-Two Short Films splintered the career of pianist Gould — the James Dean of classical music back in the ’50s — into innovative shards. Both boast glorious soundtracks and seriously benefit from hooking the VCR up to your stereo.
3 History of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1995, Time-Life, unrated, tape Vol. 1 $13.48, Vols. 2-10 $23.48, set $159.99, laserdisc set $199.98) These 10 hours of musical history on 10 tapes (or five discs) come as close as possible to covering the generational juggernaut that rock once was and the demographic kaleidoscope it has become. The series ran in TV syndication earlier this year, but additional archival footage has been added for video, making it a head-spinning crash course in the four-beat basics.
4 Leave Her to Heaven (1945, FoxVideo, unrated, $19.98, laserdisc $39.98) One of the creepiest of the old ”women’s films” finally makes it to home video. Gene Tierney (Laura) uses her wide-eyed beauty to unsettling effect as the all-too-devoted wife of a writer (Cornel Wilde). Refusing to share him with anybody, she lets her disabled brother-in-law drown and throws herself down the stairs to abort their baby. As one of the characters says, ”There’s nothing wrong with Ellen. She just loves too much.”
5 Heavenly Creatures (1994, Miramax, R, priced for rental, laserdisc $39.99) Wildly stylish, this New Zealand true-crime tale plunges viewers into the fervid inner world of its teenage antiheroines — frumpy Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and chic, deluded Juliet (Kate Winslet) — while never muting the grimness of their murder of Pauline’s mum.
6 Fresh (1994, Miramax, R, priced for rental, laserdisc $39.99) Coming as it did near the end of a cycle of violent inner-city dramas, Fresh was overlooked by theatrical audiences. On video, it’s harder to look away from this disturbing story of a 12-year-old drug runner (Sean Nelson) who is smart enough to recognize the destruction his bosses are wreaking, clever enough to turn the tables against them, and wise enough to mourn his own amorality.