Double-dipping is a dirty word among movie fans, who have grown increasingly weary of shelling out more money for a multiple versions of a given film. There can be a benefit to the practice, however, especially for consumers eager to pick up multiple movies quickly and efficiently without a lot of fuss. Warner Bros – one of the most notorious practitioners of double-dipping – has recently dived into its archives for a series of “Best of” DVD Collections. Their Best Picture compilation – consisting of 20 films that snagged the top trophy their respective years – ranks as one of the most reliable, marred by a few embarrassing hiccups. Hit the jump for my full review.
The very nature of the set binds Warners’ hands a little bit as far as movie selection goes. Their Romance DVD set and Musicals DVD set stick to the classics and keep the flashes in the pan to a minimum. For the Best Picture set, they can’t stray from the assigned template at all: find the qualified films in their library, slide them into some new packaging and call it a day. The set contains its share of indisputable gems, including Unforgiven, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Gone with the Wind, The Return of the King, and Casablanca. The rest run the gamut from solid-but-stodgy (Driving Miss Daisy) to head-scratching misfires (Around the World in 80 Days). Taken together, they aptly demonstrate the honor and the folly of the Oscars.
To the five gems listed above, I’d add five others that stand as indisputable classics: An American in Paris, Ben-Hur, Amadeus, Mutiny on the Bounty and The Departed. Each of them demonstrates the range and artistry of the medium, and though resolutely mainstream, all of them belong in any serious filmmakers’ collection. Clint Eastwood’s bitter rumination on the Western genre that made him famous… Milos Foreman’s twin odes to rebellion and nonconformity… Martin Scorsese’s long-overdue affirmation form the Academy… Gene Kelly’s pure expression of dance and motion… and Casablanca, the definitive example of how high a studio-based product can climb. All of them reflect the distinctive outlook and sensibilities of their directors, and all of them hold up even after decades of repeat viewings. 10 movies out of 20 isn’t bad, and if you’re looking to get a jumpstart on a collection, they alone should be worth the price of a purchase.
Of course, a number of people already have DVD copies of these films, in which case the remaining movies in the collection need to step up and pull their weight. Most of them suffer from the bloat of self-importance: decently made, but consumed with their “message” that looks increasingly ridiculous as time goes on. The most recent, Million Dollar Baby, probably ranks among the best of them. And yet as Eastwood’s second contribution to the set, it represents a step down: the story of a poor-as-dirt girl who finds redemption and fulfillment on the boxing circuit. Hilary Swank scored her second Best Actress win for the her part in the film, while Morgan Freeman finally won an Oscar of his own. It typifies the Academy’s modus operandi: a well-made, generally positive message picture that doesn’t ruffle too many feathers, directed by a well-established figure who nonetheless has done better elsewhere.
Chariots of Fire leaves a similar impression, a plucky underdog of a movie that upset Reds and Raiders of the Lost Ark to win Best Picture in 1981. It tells the story of two British runners – one a secular Jew, the other a devout Christian – who find common ground during the 1924 Olympics. Beautifully filmed and with a respectful approach to both religion and sportsmanship, it maintains a constant air of respectability. Having said that, you won’t find it on many all-time favorites lists the way you would other movies in this set (or Raiders, which it beat for the top spot.)
From there, things quickly go downhill, with increasing pomposity and self-importance weighing down the other entries in the set. The early films will appeal mostly to buffs looking for a little history. Broadway Melody was the first all-sound musical ever produced and retains a certain throwback charm, while The Life of Emile Zola staggers beneath its own self-regard. The Best Years of Our Lives does better – presenting a view of the horrors of war through returning WWII veterans, which makes for an interesting contrast with later Vietnam-era films. It still suffers from wearing its heart on its sleeve… as do the likes of Gigi, Driving Miss Daisy and Mrs. Miniver. None of them are truly ghastly (though Around the World in 80 Days suffers from unbelievable bloat), but they all pale in comparison to their fellows in the set.
Purchasing it therefore becomes a question of how readily you want the discs you don’t yet have. All of them are identical to the commercial DVD copies previously available: Warners has simply put them in a new container. That means you won’t be getting anything fresh on any of them, though most contain at least a few extra features to keep you happy.
One big boner in the set comes with Amadeus: we get the extra features disc, NOT the disc containing the movie itself. It’s an unconscionable oversight, especially since the film represents one of the best inclusions in the set. The Return of the King feels a tad wonky as well, since neither of the first two Lord of the Rings films won Best Picture. (And what’s the point of one without any of the others?) Even so, we’re looking at a net price of less than $6 per movie, even lower if you find it on sale. Just make sure you want what you get… and are willing to overlook what you don’t.