JANUARY 4 ― There's no stopping the forward march of streaming services in 2019, with Disney+ and even Apple TV+ providing added competition to the behemoth that is Netflix, and niche streaming platforms like MUBI and Shudder catering to markets that are under-served by these big platforms.
That being said, there are also more and more noises being made about titles that have been purchased that have, however, disappeared from some streaming platforms, not to mention the endless number of titles that have yet to make it to streaming services.
It's this small, but arguably historically important void that physical media has been filling, with plenty of labels exploring and discovering all sorts of niche markets to cater to, from silent films to arthouse films to forgotten VHS-era horror titles, vintage adult films and more.
The biggest marquee title of 2019 is probably Criterion's release of Godzilla: The Showa Era Films, 1954-1975, a gigantic boxset containing 15 movies on 8 Blu-ray discs, whose gigantic price tag meant that I'll have to wait a bit to get my hands on it since even Criterion alone released so many films that I've long waited for on Blu-ray like Cluny Brown, Do The Right Thing, Wanda, War And Peace, Polyester, Mikey And Nicky, Local Hero and tonnes more.
So of the ones that I did manage to acquire this year, running across the gamut from arthouse films to horror films, kung fu films and cult films released on Blu-ray or DVD in 2019, these are my favourites.
The Koker Trilogy (The Criterion Collection)
The last time I saw Abbas Kiarostami's breakthrough film Where Is The Friend's House was on a VCD way back in the late 1990s or early 2000s, when VCDs were still a thing here, so you can imagine how that film must have looked like on that now dead format.
To finally get to see it on Blu-ray, in a fresh new scan, on a Criterion release (with all the supplemental materials that are by now their trademark) is quite simply a revelation.
Every bit as achingly beautiful to look at as their release of Kiarostami's Close-Up from a few years ago, this boxset of his Koker Trilogy, which also includes his early masterworks And Life Goes On and Through The Olive Trees is one of the best cinematic gifts of the year.
If you're a Kiarostami fan, this one's a total no-brainer.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Twilight Time)
Frank Tashlin's colourful comedies are simply made for the Blu-ray format, and one of his best films, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, finally gets a region-free Blu-ray release courtesy of Twilight Time after the now out of print (and very expensive) region B UK Blu-ray release by Masters Of Cinema.
The transfer here looks quite different from the UK release, looking darker and sharper, with a bit more teal/blue in it, but to these eyes it looks much better and a step-up from the UK one.
It loses a few points in the extras department, because it doesn't have the Joe Dante introduction that was on the previous release, but totally makes up for it with an excellent audio commentary by film historian Dana Polan, which delves into the Freudian aspect of the film and its subtext, which will increase your appreciation of the film.
Spookies (Vinegar Syndrome)
Imagine an almost forgotten, crappy yet very fun and much beloved horror title from the 1980s receiving the kind of lavish red carpet treatment that's usually the hallmark of a Criterion Collection release, and you'll get this lovingly assembled Blu-ray release of Spookies by the heroic folks at cult label Vinegar Syndrome.
The picture quality is stunning, the extras astoundingly plenty as it's a 2-disc release, with the second disc containing TWO full length documentaries, one on the making of the movie and another on the British home video distributor Vipco; this wonderful release will keep you entertained for hours on end.
Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach (Grasshopper Film)
The Straub-Huillet directing team is one of my all time favourite, and Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach is without a doubt my favourite film of theirs, so when a Blu-ray release of the film is announced, naturally I had to bite.
Having owned two previous DVD editions of the film, it's just breathtaking how beautiful this new 2K scan restoration of the film looks compared to the old DVDs.
In addition to interviews and introductions by director Jean-Marie Straub and Christiane Lang Drewanz, the fine folks at Grasshopper Film also included two short films, one by Straub-Huillet from 1968 featuring Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the other by Straub from 2011 called The Mother; the latter definitely one of the highlights of this excellent package.
Big Trouble In Little China: Collector's Edition (Scream Factory)
Even before this, I've already owned three different Blu-ray releases of this much loved John Carpenter film ― the normal release by 20th Century Fox, the UK Arrow Video release and also the Arrow Video steelbook ― which meant there are already plenty of bonus features floating around for this movie.
But a 2-disc Collector's Edition release by Scream Factory means that the barrel is probably deeper than we've thought before, as they've proven with this release, which looks to be using the same transfer as the Arrow release, but is armed with even more new and exclusive bonus features.
So does that mean that it's worth triple/quadruple dipping for this one? Hell yes!!
Fritz Lang's Indian Epic (Film Movement)
Technicolor films restored and released on Blu-ray are one of my greatest weaknesses, so to finally see these two films by Fritz Lang ― The Tiger Of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb ― usually referred to collectively as his Indian Epic on high definition is one of the highlights of the year for me.
Even though the Fantoma DVD release from almost 17 years ago was already reference quality, this new 4K restoration is just a whole other level of jaw-dropping beauty.
The extras are more or less the same as the ones on the Masters Of Cinema DVD from 2011, with the addition of a nice video essay on actress Debra Paget by Mark Rappaport rounding things up, making this a relatively low-key but very important Blu-ray release for 2019.
Wheels On Meals (Eureka Classics)
If you're a Jackie Chan fan, then 2019 would have been a truly bumper year for you, with Criterion releasing Police Story 1 & 2 (after Eureka Classics' release which made my 2018 list), and UK's 88 Films getting in on the action with their release of Miracles: The Canton Godfather, and minor Chan films like The Protector and Crime Story.
But my favourite is the Eureka Classics release of Wheels On Meals, one of my childhood favourites, and surely of many others too.
The PQ is, as always with Eureka, great, and you get both the original Cantonese language track and the English dub, with loads of interviews with everyone from director Sammo Hung to actors Yuen Biao and Tony Vitali and there's even one with director Stanley Tong.
Also included is the Spartan X (the film's Japanese title) end credits which contained bloopers, which would later become a traditional feature of Jackie Chan films, so now we know this is where all that began!
Detour (The Criterion Collection)
I've been watching this film from the days of crummy prints on VHS right to its many DVD releases, the best of which was probably the DVD release by Image from 2000, and not even that release can compare with the wondrous presentation by Criterion on this release.
Granted, this is a Poverty Row quickie shot in reportedly just six days in 1945, so anyone expecting modern day HD digital filmmaking levels of clarity should maybe temper those expectations a bit.
But a restoration of this magnitude was simply impossible just a few years ago. Just check out the “Restoring Detour” bonus feature on this disc to see how this new Criterion disc has practically annihilated any other previous home video release of this legendary noir masterpiece.
After decades of suffering through poor VHS and DVD releases, this is finally the one.
A Bread Factory (Grasshopper Film)
For people living outside of big US cities with arthouse cinemas like New York, 2019 was more or less the year we could finally get acquainted with the full body of work of Taiwanese American filmmaker Patrick Wang.
His first film In The Family has been available on DVD since 2013, but it's only after he unleashed the two-part, four-hour epic, A Bread Factory in late 2018 that some cinephiles really began to sit up and take notice, which probably explains why his 2015 film The Grief Of Others finally saw a DVD release in mid 2019 (despite it playing at the ACID sidebar of Cannes).
So I'm forever thankful that Grasshopper Film took a chance and released this delightful gem on Blu-ray, as I'm pretty sure I'd never get the chance to see it if they didn't do so.
Imagine Hong Sang Soo or Eric Rohmer making a Christopher Guest film, and that's exactly how wonderful this film is, and what a privilege it is to be able to see it any time I want, and return to it as many times as I want, thanks to the existence of this priceless release. An absolute gift.
Far From Heaven (Kino Lorber)
Taking inspiration from Douglas Sirk's classic weepie All That Heaven Allows and also Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Sirk homage Ali: Fear Eats The Soul, director Todd Haynes' own homage to Sirk-ian melodrama Far From Heaven is without any doubt one of my most beloved film from the 2000s.
I've waited a long time for a nice HD transfer of this film, so I was more than ecstatic when Kino Lorber finally put this one out on Blu-ray, with Ed Lachman's Oscar nominated cinematography rendered here in beautiful, glorious eye popping detail.
The extras here are just the same as the previous DVD release, but it's the wonderful audio and visual representation here that makes this one such a must-have.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.