5 best (and 3 worst) DVDs of 2011
Praise for new editions of old classics, including of ''Star Wars,'' ''Taxi Driver,'' and ''Blow Out.'' New films like ''Big Mommas'' and ''Justin Bieber: Never Say Never'' didn't fare so well
1. Blow Out (1981, R)
Arguably the greatest Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made, Brian De Palma’s kinky conspiracy thriller is a paranoid classic, thanks to one of John Travolta’s finest (and most underrated) performances. As a schlocky-movie sound- F/X man who accidentally records the pop and screech of a blown-out car tire during the fatal crash of a presidential candidate, Travolta proved that he was way more than just a white-suited disco-era pin-up, that he could really act. De Palma’s baroque directing style may not be everyone’s taste, but if you’re willing to submit to his signature Steadicam and split-screen flash, you’ll feel downright dizzy by the haunting final scene — which remains one of my all-time personal favorites. Even if you’ve seen Blow Out before, Criterion’s gorgeous Blu-ray edition will feel like new.
2. Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection (1942-67, Not rated)
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were one of Hollywood’s greatest onscreen couples. He was a blue-collar, beer-from-the-bottle guy’s guy; she was a fizzy, fidgety lockjaw who took no guff. Together, they were 100-proof movie magic. This terrific 10-disc box set kicks off with 1942’s Woman of the Year and runs through 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. My pick for the best of the bunch: 1949’s daffy marital comedy Adam’s Rib.
3. Taxi Driver (1976, R)
If you’re still on the fence about whether to bust open your piggy bank to purchase a Blu-ray player, here’s exhibit A for why you absolutely should. Martin Scorsese’s descent into the nightmare mind of unhinged New York cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro, never better) has always looked amazing — whether it’s the steam rising from rain-soaked manhole covers or Times Square’s neon-lit peep-show signs. But on Blu-ray, it just feels more immersive and haunting. A dark gem.
4. Sweet Smell of Success (1957, Not Rated)
Speaking of New York’s mean streets, Alexander Mackendrick’s morality tale about a hungry press agent (Tony Curtis) and a ruthless gossip-column rainmaker (Burt Lancaster) is as good — and as deliciously nasty — as it gets. Now, thanks to another stellar Criterion makeover loaded with extras, it has the kick of a cookie full of arsenic.
5. Star Wars: The Complete Saga (1977-2005, PG-13)
This is a tough one. The Star Wars purist in me wants to leave it off the list because of George Lucas’ incessant tinkering (most egregiously, Darth Vader’s newly added ”Noooo!” during the climax of Return of the Jedi). But my inner 11-year-old Star Wars fanboy can’t deny the giddy thrill of seeing the original trilogy — yes, even the three prequels — on Blu-ray. So I’ll take after young Skywalker and refuse to give in to the dark side.
1. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011, G)
Part squealing concert film, part day-in-the-life doc, this is tween torture. The one highlight? Watching the Biebs whine when his bangs are cut.
2. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (2011, PG-13)
Martin Lawrence in drag was (marginally) funny the first time. But this turd of a third chapter proves it’s time to hang up the XXL muumuu.
3. Captain America (1990, PG-13)
Trying to piggyback on the success of Chris Evans’ superhero, this MGM cheapie (starring a doughy Matt Salinger) should’ve stayed in the mothball bin.