- Eraserhead's leap to DVD was cause for celebration in '06.
Eraserhead (Absurda/Subversive) -- Finally available on DVD, David Lynch's debut film is as captivating and frustrating as it ever was. The print looks great in its own weird way, and the feature-length doc shows Lynch speaking more clearly about his art than his normally cryptic style allows.
A History of Violence (New Line) -- Critics tried to paste a lot of meaning onto this spectacular gorefest, but it's mostly just good, dirty fun. The special features are a hoot -- especially the split-screen comparisons that let you see just how many times a head wound can spurt before the ratings board gets queasy.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Limited Edition (Fox) -- Proof that George Lucas isn't deaf (he just writes dialogue that way), the Star Wars mythmaker went back to the vaults and gave fans the begged-for theatrical versions of his original trilogy. Unavailable since the heyday of VHS, they're shorn of the dinky digital excesses. And, yeah, Empire's the better movie, but dig the amateur-hour charm of the '77 original.
Dazed and Confused (Criterion) -- Of the many estimable Criterion releases of 2006, this double-disc rendition of a classic-rock standard tops them all. There are docs that rock and audition tapes that kill, and a 72-page book worth putting down the bong for. But Richard Linklater's second (and best) movie remains the essential draw: a clear-eyed look back at a red-eyed yesterday.
Homicide: The Complete Series Megaset (A&E) -- Got a spare two weeks? Dig into this 100-hour box, crammed with seven seasons, a feature-length movie, and enough special features to choke a mule. Based on a book by David Simon (also of HBO's The Wire), Homicide went deeper and artier than Law & Order; what looked like a weak sister back then makes for fabulous viewing now.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (HBO) -- Spike Lee's doc about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is the best movie of the year, hands down. It accomplishes everything great art sets out to do: It illuminates and infuriates, it aggravates and agitates, it makes you laugh a little and cry a whole lot, and it demands your complete attention throughout its four hours. Brave, bold reportage from a filmmaker only now hitting his stride.
The John Wayne/John Ford Collection (Warner Bros.) -- This 10-disc set -- like a buffet made entirely of ribs and sloppy joes -- may be a little too ripe with macho pleasure for some. But Wayne and Ford basically defined the western -- particularly with 1939's Stagecoach and 1956's The Searchers, both of which get a bonanza of special features.
Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection (Universal) -- In an age when the performer rules Hollywood comedies, this long look back at writer-director Sturges is a welcome change of pace. The rapid-fire dialogue and screwball antics make this the best value of the year when measured in laughs per dollar.
Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition (Warner Bros.) -- Fourteen discs in all, with two of them absolutely essential: the Richard Donner original and his long-awaited cut of Superman II, which makes far more sense and carries far more weight than the theatrical version. It's the DVD revelation of the year -- proof that yesterday's mistakes aren't beyond fixing today.