Many of the year’s best DVDs and Blu-rays stood out for telling compelling stories, then breaking down those stories with all the background you could want. Conversely, there were also a couple of discs that teasingly withheld deep analysis — a diabolically shrewd motivator for repeat viewings, as it turns out. Our picks include:
It reads like supermarket tabloid copy: Gun-toting, bikini-clad coeds seduced by gangsta svengali James Franco! In a featurette, cast member and Disney Channel good girl Selena Gomez recalls the freakout she experienced when her young fan base started turning up around the Florida set. Not to worry, rules-shredding filmmaker Harmony Korine (“Gummo”) reassured her. Everyone would see — there was the film the media believed Gomez was making, and the film they were actually making. In an interview, Korine mischievously discusses the abstractions he was after: “I like the idea of not always knowing what you’re trying to say,” he explains. “Chasing something that’s more inside, that’s more inexplicable.”
Or, as an alternate title: “Silent Comedy Icon Harold Lloyd Dangles From Building-Façade Clock!” It’s a little disheartening that this Criterion Blu-ray debut includes a vintage documentary saluting Lloyd as “The Third Genius.” Watching some of his more inspired bits, you’d think he’d be as remembered as Chaplin and Keaton, and not just a runner-up. Amusingly, the film’s title also seems applicable to Lloyd’s on-set attitude when making his “thrill comedies,” as we see in a behind-the-scenes deconstruction of the clock sequence. There was lots of perspective trickery involved, but OSHA inspectors would have flipped just the same.
“ON THE WATERFRONT”
“Coulda been a contender”? Marlon Brando was so much more than that here, as he helped Elia Kazan’s groundbreaking drama dominate the Oscars. Criterion handsomely remembers this gritty classic with a high-resolution Blu-ray restoration that lavishes nearly as much attention on supplements. Eva Marie Saint is featured in a new interview, elegant as ever, reminiscing about Kazan. And no, she says, the famous scene with rough-edged Brando playing with her character’s delicate glove wasn’t some calculated Method showcase, just a happy accident. Another segment features Martin Scorsese discussing the film’s role in steering Hollywood toward a new urban realism.
“Remember when Ben Affleck used to be an actor?” It was so refreshing to see this sentiment’s evolution from a “Gigli” dig to a comment on Affleck’s burgeoning directing career. That said, he certainly also does solid work playing Tony Mendez, the real-life CIA agent who ran a rescue operation during the Iran hostage crisis using a fake movie production as cover. A novel subject, political intrigue, suspense, humor — what more could we want from a DVD? Try this one’s picture-in-picture interviews with the real-life Mendez, Jimmy Carter, and others involved in the saga, commentary by Affleck, and an extended cut issued at year’s end.
Steven Soderbergh and Jude Law start out crafting what feels like a Big Pharma companion to Soderbergh’s “Traffic” drug-trade study, then shifts to a tone that’s wickedly Hitchcockian. Rooney Mara plays a woman struggling with depression despite the happy news that her SEC-busted husband (Channing Tatum) is coming home from prison. She gets help from conscientious psychiatrist Law, but the experimental drug he prescribes triggers problems he never anticipated. Suspenseful, unnerving stuff, complemented by a bonus drug infomercial (infauxmerical?) and an entertainingly screwy featurette done in ’70s grindhouse style.
Joaquin Phoenix challenges viewers as a rough-edged WWII sailor whose boozy, troubled postwar meanderings lead him to Philip Seymour Hoffman, charismatic head of a Scientology-like self-actualization movement. There’s no end of deep thinking going on in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest — meditations on belief, on human needs and impulses, on the tenuousness of connection, on the torturous elusiveness of a sense of self. But come prepared to formulate your own take, because you won’t find any conventionally definitive featurettes here (although we do get 20 minutes of outtakes polished enough to play like a short version of the final product). In lieu of analysis, we get John Huston’s 1946 documentary “Let There Be Light,” examining “battle neurosis” among WWII vets.
Finally, the Wachowskis speak — if only because they were so clearly anxious to help this epic, era-jumbling collaboration with director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) win the appreciation that it didn’t get in theaters. (It deserved better, we say.) Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are part of an ensemble gamely tackling multiple roles as the film depicts power dynamics and exploitation through the ages: on a 19th century sea voyage, in ’70s “China Syndrome” territory, in future epochs both more and less evolved than our own. After being notoriously camera shy all through the “Matrix” years, Andy Wachowski and pink-dreadlocked sibling Lana (formerly Larry) are front and center for an hour’s worth of interviews and on-set material, deconstructing the film with Tykwer and source novelist David Mitchell.
“IRON MAN 3”
That thrilling Air Force One set piece was the first action sequence in years to genuinely leave us asking, ‘How’re they gonna get out of this one?’ So naturally we had to get the behind-the-scenes details, which this disc satisfyingly delivers in its segment on the Barrel of Monkeys skydiving team. We also get to know director and Robert Downey Jr. pal Shane Black, the polarizing “Lethal Weapon” writer who reinvented himself as a more nuanced talent with Downey’s witty “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”
Sure, it’s a sequel, but it’s a Pixar sequel, so there’s dependable entertainment in the story of Billy Crystal and John Goodman’s feature-creatures first getting to know each other. The disc’s extras, meanwhile, lack the customary kid-centric focus, but there are still bits that connect. For young’uns who’ve seen the original installment endlessly and made the continuity-stickler note, “Hey, didn’t Mike talk about knowing Sulley in fourth grade?,” deleted scenes include storyboards of the pair attending Frighten Elementary together. (Pixar boss John Lasseter ultimately said to just let it go.) And director Dan Scanlon recalls that in searching for the right prequel story, the filmmakers considered making it Sulley’s big dream to become — shades of “Rudolph” — a dentist.
“OFFICIAL 2013 WORLD SERIES FILM”
How could we not include this? The Red Sox-toasting disc has a tendency to overanalyze moments that already stand quite nicely on their own, thanks: David Ortiz’s emotional expletive during the team’s Boston Marathon tribute on April 20, Jonny Gomes’s walk-off helmet punt, the violently enthusiastic beard-tugging. But we also get exclusive footage that definitely enhances this feel-good story, including access to what Big Papi told his teammates during that pivotal Game 4 huddle down in St. Louis. There’s always room on the DVD keeper shelf for a disc so good at reminding us how every little thing’s gonna be all right.