Now that standard DVDs, Blu-Ray discs and online films are thrown at us on a daily basis, our entertainment options are more plentiful than ever. I was surprised, therefore, that it took me very little time to identify the ten best home-viewing releases of 2009. Not all of them are of specifically GLBT- interest, but I doubt many readers will quibble (at least not much) over the significance of my selections.
In my personal order of preference, they are:
Yentl- Barbra Streisand’s much-beloved “drama with music” finally made its DVD debut in early 2009, shortly after the 25th anniversary of its 1983 theatrical premiere. Streisand stars as a young Jewish woman who disguises herself as a man so she can continue her studies of Talmud following the death of her loving, progressive father. The film is notable for being Streisand’s superior directorial debut as well as for its beautiful score by songwriting greats Alan & Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand. The disc is a must-have not only for the film itself but also for a number of great behind-the-scenes extras.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- Walt Disney famously bet several years of his life and virtually all his assets on the first feature-length animated movie in history. Fortunately for him, it became a smash hit and instant classic. The recently released home video “diamond edition” reveals why this adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story remains so enduring. This is also the first time Snow White has been available on Blu-Ray, providing the strongest visual argument yet to buy a Blu-Ray player.
The Wizard of Oz- The Judy Garland classic looks and sounds better than ever thanks to its recent, 70th anniversary DVD re-release. It, too, was also just released for the first time on Blu-Ray, making the cinematography’s “no place like home” sepia tones warmer than ever and its “merry old land of Oz” color scheme truly eye-popping. The disc is also available in a lavish box set that includes a variety of goodies.
Milk- Sean Penn masterfully, even exuberantly, re-incarnates Harvey Milk, the first openly gay US politician. As a well-deserved result, Penn won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Actor. Director Gus Van Sant made full use of his knowledge of filmmaking and GLBT history, making this important story engrossing no matter what one’s sexual orientation. The disc also features several interesting documentaries about Milk and his legacy.
Gone With the Wind- Scarlett, Rhett, Bonnie Blue, Melanie, Ashley and Mammy are all here (albeit briefly in Bonnie Blue’s case), for the first time on Blu-Ray as well as in a lovingly re-mastered standard DVD. A truly immortal film (if at times uncomfortable due to its pre-Civil War, Old South setting), GWTW is graced with vivid cinematography and performances and a classic music score.
Ready? OK!- I’ve been raving about this movie via numerous outlets for the last year-and-a-half. Now that it is available on DVD, I’m delighted to have an opportunity to rave about it all over again! The charming story of a little boy who longs to join his Catholic school’s cheer squad was a hit on the 2008 film festival circuit, and is worthy of the broader exposure it now has courtesy of home video.
Coraline- A visually amazing and emotionally haunting stop-motion animated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fairy/morality tale. Not just for children, it spins a web — not unlike its spider-ish villainess (voiced by Desperate Housewife Teri Hatcher) — composed of equal parts whimsy and danger. The home video version comes with 3-D glasses in hopes of replicating the superlative theatrical experience to some degree ... the bigger and more hi-def the TV, the better.
Humpday- This provocative yet sensitive exploration of male relationships narrowly missed being included among my ten best films of 2009. Two longtime, seemingly straight buddies make a bet to have sex on camera … with each other. Gay men, bisexual men, straight men, curious men and the women who love them should all see this movie (did I mention that it’s primarily a comedy?) for its bold take on sexual politics.
Up- Disney-Pixar’s most recent animated hit is a decidedly more mature work in both plot and execution. An elderly man mourning the death of his wife takes off in a helium balloon-laden house on an adventure to the one place they didn’t get to travel to together. He and a stowaway, overly-eager Boy Scout discover considerably more than they bargained for. Many critics named this one of the best films of 2009, and it could well end up in the running for Best Picture among this year’s Oscar nominees.
The Strange One- One of the more obscure movies among 2009’s video releases, this 1957 drama features Ben Gazzara and a young, dreamy George Peppard in their film debuts as cadets in a military academy. Homosexual tensions run high, and the original theatrical release was censored as a result. Thankfully, the film has been restored and is now presented uncut for the first time on DVD.
Before concluding, my TV-loving partner, Jim, would say I was remiss if I didn’t mention that 2009 also marked the long-awaited home video debuts of Lucille Ball’s later-life series Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show,as well as the final season of Bewitched.
May 2010 bring you and yours many happy viewing experiences!
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.