We begin this year's awards by honoring a studio or distributor that has gone above and beyond the call of duty in preserving films most audiences don't even know exist. These are anti-blockbusters from years past which hold a special place in the hearts and minds of true film fanatics. To award this year's winner, I turn the podium over to editor Tom Becker: "It was a good year for boutique labels. Severin and Synapse made terrific headway into high definition, with terrific releases like Vampire Circus and The Dorm that Dripped Blood (Synapse) and Horror Express and Bloody Birthday (Severin). Code Red and Scorpion stayed in the game with their Maria's B-Movie Mayhem and Katarina's Nightmare Theater lines. But one studio that really stood out was Raro Video, an Italian company that started distributing in the US in 2011. Raro releases lesser-known but still valuable European films that sport good technical presentations and worthwhile supplements such as often enlightening essays. Some of these films had previously be given US "budget releases," so it's great to have the chance to see them uncut with nice transfers. Raro turned out my favorite release of the year, Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection, an essential set of influential action/crime films that are aching for rediscovery. Other rare treats from Raro included The Perfume of the Lady in Black, Fellini's little-seen The Clowns, Anger, The Secret of Dorian Gray, Ruggero Deodato's Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, and Crime of Love. Too often, foreign films that were not widely distributed in the US during their theatrical runs get short-shrift when it comes time for Region 1 DVD releases. Fortunately, Raro has upped the ante. These films run the gamut from art to exploitation, and thanks to Raro, they're getting the respect--and hopefully the audience--they deserve."
10) The Three Colors Trilogy (Blu-ray) -- Criterion Collection
What would the Golden Gavels be without the presence of at least one Criterion release? The highly respected historians and preservationists of film continue to raise the bar for physical media and do so once again with this release. Judge Clark Douglas: "True to form, Criterion produced a host of terrific releases in 2011, but arguably their most impressive achievement is the tremendous presentation of Krzystof Kieslowski's three thought-provoking, subtly connected films which collectively rank as one of the great cinematic achievements of the 1990s. These fine efforts have been blessed with exceptional high definition transfers and a host of informative, rewarding supplements. For serious cinephiles, this is surely one of the most exciting box sets of the year."
09) Citizen Kane (Blu-ray) Ultimate Collectors Edition -- Warner Bros.
After being shut out of the Golden Gavels in 2010, Warner Home Video returns to the stage with the first of two special edition releases. Judge Clark Douglas: "This Blu-ray disc represents an entirely new level of beauty. Gregg Toland's deep focus cinematography offers some of the most striking imagery the movies have ever seen, and this stunning transfer should certainly give many viewers a new appreciation for his work." Judge Patrick Rogers: "There's a reason why Orson Welles' masterpiece is considered by many to be one of the greatest American films of all time. Its innovations behind the camera and masterful mix of comedy and drama packed within a surprisingly breezy and non-linear narrative are what give this film relevance even today."
08) Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Blu-ray) -- Fox
The first of three Fox releases and the most contentious of all our awards this year goes to Lucasfilm's much maligned high definition upgrade of the two Star Wars trilogies. First generation fans love the original films and despise the prequels. Second and now third generation Jedis overwhelmingly love everything George has given the franchise. But the sticking point here continues to be the absence of the original theatrical prints. We can argue for hours over why this is the case, but the fact is adverse public opinion undermined what could have been one of the finest releases of the year. Judge Steve Power: "Fans clamoured, and Lucas answered with a beautifully crafted 9-disc set. The restorative efforts look marvelous, the sound mix is excellent, and the collection of extras is extensive if not exhaustive. This one might rank higher if not for further needless tampering and what I expect will be further efforts to tie these films more closely together to the entire franchise." One last note: Fox decided against providing us with review product for this release, which is why Verdict did not post a review.
07) Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXI, MST3K vs. Gamera -- Shout! Factory
There's no disguising the fact that Verdict has a special place in its heart for Shout! Factory. They've grown from an obscure niche distributor to one of the finest purveyors of pop culture, picking up licenses for many properties that other studios have long since abandoned and giving them the care and attention fans clamor for. Nowhere is that more evident than in their handling of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This year we pay homage to their limited edition collection MST3K vs. Gamera. Judge Erich Asperschlager:
06) Super 8 (Blu-ray) -- Paramount
The only Paramount release to make this year's list is also one film that is criminally underrepresented in the throng of 2011 Best Of lists from industry guilds and movie fans alike. At the core of JJ Abrams Super 8 is a heartfelt sincerity, tapping an innocence most of us have long since buried or forgotten; a sense of wonder and trust that enables us to see the world with fresh eyes, untainted by life's failures and regrets. Inspired by classic sci-fi/monster movies and informed by an era in which America's innocence was still hanging on by a thread, this is love letter to genre fans and a thank you to Steven Spielberg and his peers. Judge Paul Pritchard: "More than mere homage, Super 8 is just about the best family sci-fi adventure this side of 1982. Exceptional work from a young cast is complemented by excellent effects work. But what cements the film's place as a modern great is its heart, which actually means all the top-notch action sequences are merely icing on the cake."
To see the remaining five awards and our state of the industry wrap-up, please read the full 2011 Golden Gavel Awards ('http://www.dvdverdict.com/
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