The mark of a really worthwhile DVD or Blu-ray is one that we’re inclined to keep on hand, rather than just taking it for a quick Netflix spin or tossing it into the giveaway pile. Sure, our place is bursting at the seams — but what’s another popped stitch or two if it makes room for the year’s most rewarding and best-appointed discs? The ones we held on to in 2014 include:
You won’t find better DVD commentary that complements the onscreen action than in Tom Hardy’s acclaimed, ambitious “road” movie. Writer-director Steven Knight’s inspired gimmick: sticking Hardy in a car for 80 minutes, alone on the highway, and confronting his character, Ivan Locke, with rotating crises that unfold entirely over his dashboard phone. But even with all that’s transpiring, there’s more than enough tense silence to accommodate Knight’s audio tidbits. Among them: Hardy and the crew shot the film 16 times over, hitting the motorways between Birmingham and London and running straight through the entire narrative again and again.
“Under the Skin’’
Watching Scarlet Johansson and director Jonathan Glazer’s arthouse sci-fi film, we couldn’t help thinking of “Blade Runner.” Sextraterrestrial Johansson’s eerie dispassion in the face of some wildly unnerving situations brings to mind the old emotional-response gauge that Harrison Ford’s detective squad used to spot androids. In featurettes, effects artists, bless ’em, say it’s their job to support the narrative, not to be noticed — but you’ll welcome the peeks at their trippy handiwork. And there’s discussion of standout cast member Adam Pearson, whose facial deformity is pivotal to the story.
Finally, an inside look at how Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s stunningly immersive zero-gravity ordeal was created by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and crew. Fascinating stuff that’s alternately accessible and mind-boggling. Another extra of note: an original short by Cuarón’s son and co-writer, Jonas, imagining who’s on the garbled receiving end of Bullock’s mayday call down to Earth.
After watching Judi Dench’s poignant portrayal of a real-life contemporary Irish woman still yearning for the child she was forced to give up in the ’50s, you feel a need to know more. Bonus material from Steve Coogan, Dench’s costar and the film’s producing catalyst, fits the bill. Despite the tragedy of her story, Coogan says, “Philomena has been unburdened by . . . the film. She has a lightness about her, which is reflected in Judi’s performance.”
“The LEGO Movie’’
This story of everyguy Emmet (Chris Pratt) cheerily toiling to save his world from oppressive Lord Business (Will Ferrell) is more clever and narratively heartfelt than you’d ever expect from a toy showcase. And watching on disc isn’t a lesser viewing experience. The look of the film is so overwhelmingly dense — check out those rolling LEGO seas! — it’s great to be able to hit rewind. Equally awesome: a how-to section on building some of the thingamabobs onscreen brightly encourages kids to ignore the instructions.
“It Happened One Night’’
Is Frank Capra’s classic correctly categorized as one of the prototypes for screwball comedy? It’s a question examined on Criterion’s Blu-ray reissue, as critics take apart the film’s infectiously amusing story of spoiled runaway socialite Claudette Colbert and scamp newspaperman Clark Gable road-tripping by bus. The disc also includes Capra’s first film, a 1921 Rudyard Kipling adaptation. This silent short and the feature play as a study in how rapidly movies evolved during this era. The gap between “One Night” and contemporary rom-coms feels downright narrow by stylistic comparison.
“All Is Lost’’
Robert Redford has almost no dialogue as a man sailing alone in the middle of the ocean, and facing increasingly dire circumstances. Which is partly why you pick up the DVD: to see what more Redford has to say, in supplements, at least. Ditto filmmaker J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call”). The budding visionary’s playful, upspeak-inflected commentary hardly strikes the tone of enigmatic intellectualism you’d expect. And he’s here to tell you, brightly, that’s Redford doing his own man-overboard stunts.
Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline break down their unforgettable performances as a haunted Holocaust survivor and her unstable lover in an extended discussion featured on this Blu-ray debut. The conversation focuses more on details than themes, with the group recalling how Streep’s role nearly went to an eventual Slovakian presidential candidate. Kline, meanwhile, remembers director Alan J. Pakula appreciating the screen newcomer’s delight he brought to his role: “Had [the character] not been insane, he was joyous. That was the tragic thing.”
“Escape From Tomorrow’’
Go figure, this is the only DVD we saw this year in which the production’s copyright-clearance lawyer gets featurette time. Rookie filmmaker Randy Moore gained instant notoriety for shooting at Disney World, guerrilla-style, for his surrealist depiction of a family vacation at the Freakiest Place on Earth. Moore is likably soft-spoken in discussing his stunt, never coming across as self-congratulatory. Leads Roy Abramsohn and Elena Schuber supply in-character commentary, with some amusing awkwardness over scenes of him straying with a princess-turned-cougar.
Imagine “Trainspotting” source novelist Irvine Welsh putting his gonzo stamp on “Bad Lieutenant,” and you begin to picture what Scottish cop James McAvoy gets up to in this latest Welsh adaptation. What starts as a look at McAvoy’s amusing misanthropy and Machiavellian work approach turns into a far darker study of a man in free fall. Hard to say why it bypassed area theaters, unless exhibitors fretted about its edgy depravity. Good will toward men? Yeah, that’s never really been Welsh’s bag.