The best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

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For several years now, contemporary consumption has been drifting inexorably towards the apparent death of physical media and thoughtful curation in favour of limitless choice and instant streaming. Fortunately, cinema still has those who are fighting the good fight. Where online platforms like MUBI are reminding audiences of the benefits of curated content in their film streaming services, several boutique home entertainment distributors continue to endeavour to create desirable and collectable DVDs and Blu-rays.

These processes often involve painstaking restoration, or come complete with fascinating additional content whether in the form of on-disc documentaries or essay accompaniments. In a lot of cases, these releases also serve the purpose of repertory cinemas – to bring acclaimed or overlooked titles back into the public consciousness. In the year that the famous Criterion Collection launched its UK distribution arm to much fanfare, we’ve taken a look back at a clutch of our favourite home entertainment releases of the year.

13. Kikujiro (Third Window Films)
Gameshow host, actor, director and one-time videogame developer, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano is a true renaissance man for 20th century pop culture; he is also one of Japan’s most sensitive and talented directors. His 1999 comedy Kikujiro is a wonderful fable about a young boy’s cross-country search for his mother and the irascible middle-age grouch who accompanies him. Kitano gifts audiences with an irresistibly warm tale that is as full of pathos as it is hilarity: never truer was the old cliché, “It’s about the journey, not the destination”, than here. [Chris Machell] Read our full review

12. The Ninth Configuration (Second Sight)
The Ninth Configuration is a uniquely original take on the manifestations of PTSD, tiptoeing around tonal consistency and oscillating from laugh-out-loud farce to a dark, yet strangely poignant, existentialist study. Rarely does a film thrust you into such an oddly emotional head space, and this is something that hasn’t been lost on the number of loyal supporters it’s gained through its years in the cinematic wilderness. A resolutely offbeat film, The Ninth Configuration offers a richly rewarding and affecting viewing experience if you’re willing to embrace the esoteric flourishes. [Adam Lowes] Read our full review

11. Electra, My Love (Second Run DVD)
It was playwright László Gyurkó who originally decided to co-opt the story of Electra (told by everyone from Aeschylus to Sophocles in antiquity) to address the contemporary political concerns of his native Hungary in the 1970s. His compatriot, and filmmaking legend, Miklós Jancsó then used the same thing as the basis for his radical mythological adaptation, Electra, My Love. It transforms the ancient Greek story into an incredible musical pageant, exploring tyrannical governance and the empowerment of revolution during Soviet control of his homeland and strict state censorship – all told with his meticulous ‘calligraphic’ style and gorgeously presented by Second Run. [Ben Nicholson] Read our full review

10. The Samurai Trilogy (Criterion Collection)
Miyamoto Musashi, a 17th century samurai of mythic status in Japan, is the subject of Hiroshi Inagaki’s superlative trilogy. An epic told in three parts, The Samurai Trilogy shows the foolish young Takezo’s journey to becoming the legendary samurai Musashi. Archetypal screen samurai Toshiro Mifune is perhaps better known for his work with director Akira Kurosawa, but his performance in Inagaki’s films is unparallelled. The trilogy’s influence on cinema is formidable, but few series can match the sheer cinematic mastery on display here. [Chris Machell] Read our full review

9. Waking Life (Arrow Video)
Richard Linklater may have received the best notices of his career for Boyhood a couple of years back, but previous to that film, Waking Life had seen him also experimenting with the elasticity of cinematic storytelling to equally stunning effect. Perhaps given the ostensibly bookish subject matter, Waking Life has seldom been acknowledged as a legitimate innovator of the medium, but the film’s use of rotoscoping is nothing short of wondrous. It’s a film which both welcomes and encourages repeat viewing – there’s always something new to discover and take away from the uniqueness and originality on display. [Adam Lowes] Read our full review

8. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Arrow Academy)
One of the most prolific directors of the 1970s, Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a master of stark European cinema, telling ostensibly small stories made profound by their intense emotive power. Fassbinder aficionados may differ on which is his best work, but Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is surely among his greatest achievements, a heart-breaking and sadly prophetic work on the prejudices and pressures heaped on a young Moroccan immigrant and his much older German wife. The film’s narrative is sparse, but its emotional journey is rich, grounded by two stunning, raw performances from leads El Hedi ben Salem and Brigitte Mira. [Chris Machell] Read our full review

7. The Shop on the High Street (Second Run DVD)
As 2016 draws to a close, it seems only right to laud the re-release of Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’ The Shop on the High Street. The modern political climate of bifurcating opinion and the rise of intolerance illustrates with alarming perspicuity the continued urgency of their work about the creeping grip of fascism. More of a precursor to the famous Czech New Wave of the 1960s than an example of it, it’s a gripping and rigorous work that masterfully utilises conventional storytelling with the occasional flourish to capture the slippery slope of quiet acceptance. [Ben Nicholson] Read our full review

6. The Emigrants and The New Land (Criterion Collection)
Jan Troell’s duo of films about a family of 19th century immigrants is one of the very best that the newly-minted Criterion Collection has had to offer. Over a million Swedes left for America in the period, an odyssey which is rendered here with heart-breaking clarity and humanity. Career-topping performances from leads Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman, as well as beautiful, simple cinematography, frame this epic in the relatable, human terms of hardship and endurance. With current global rhetoric on immigration taking an increasingly ugly turn, the re-release of this masterpiece couldn’t be timelier. [Chris Machell] Read our full review

5. Culloden / The War Game (BFI)
For those unfamiliar with Peter Watkins oeuvre it’s worth noting that Kenneth Tynan once claimed that Watkins’ The War Game “may be the most important film ever made.” As overblown as this sounds, it doesn’t seem out of place while watching this truly remarkable film of astonishing power and scope. What is perhaps more shocking is that alongside the political hot potato about nuclear preparedness, Watkins also made the incredible battle documentary Culloden. They’re both works of enormous invention on a limited budget, that are unforgettable in their emotions and intellectual heft. [Ben Nicholson] Read our full review

4. Napoleon (BFI)
It’s impossible to pithily surmise the vast riches and potency of Kevin Brownlow’s mind-blowing, meticulous restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon as re-released by the BFI this year. Perhaps similarly to Gance’s own struggle to squeeze Napoleon’s story into a meagre five-and-a-half hours. Featuring a barn-storming score from conductor Carl Davis, this is a silent epic of the very highest order. It’s as immersive as it impressive; from visual innovation to the sheer technical scope of the project. And that tricolour denouement – wow! If cinema can yield religious experiences, then this is one of them. [Ben Nicholson] Read our full review

3. Alan Clarke at the BBC (BFI)
In this era of benign political filmmaking, where the principles and ideals of liberal audiences are appropriated by studios and reflected back at them with a smug sense of self-congratulation, the formal inventiveness and humanistic impulses of Alan Clarke’s films feels like a punch to the solar plexus . Bringing together the twenty-three surviving dramas Clarke directed for the BBC (including rare gems such as Christine, Elephant and Road) this essential box set highlights exactly the kind of unflinching, politically engaged filmmaking that’s noticeably absent from our screens. [Patrick Gamble] Read our full review

2. Dekalog (Arrow Academy)
Years before long-form television’s phenomenal rise, Dekalog’s alternate scope and intimacy continue to dwarf most other achievements. Arrow Films’ new release contains not just the new 4K restoration of all ten episodes but much of director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s early career as he adapted his documentary style to fiction. Through the everyday stories of people living in the same Warsaw apartment block, Kieślowski depicts the turning point between the more spiritual past and modern secular future. The Ten Commandments may be in a clear-cut form which doesn’t neatly fit the characters’ struggles, but Kieślowski shows we don’t transcend their moral implications. [Jordan Adcock] Read our full review

1. Man With a Movie Camera (Masters of Cinema)
There’s not much to say about Dziga Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera that’s not been said a dozen times before, but Eureka’s sumptuous new four-disc Masters of Cinema re-release is reason enough say something. The film itself is one of, if not the greatest documentary of all time, a dizzying and dazzling tour through a bustling modern Russia in the 1920s. Vertov both pioneered new techniques and adapted them from others to make a singular work that holds up almost a century later. The main film appears alongside four lesser know works that make this a must have cineastes. [Ben Nicholson] Read our full review

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