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Best DVDs of 2004

In presenting my picks for the best DVD releases of 2004, Iíve leaned heavily toward multi-disc collections, which appears the direction into which the industry is moving.

10. The Simpsons, Seasons 4 and 5. The golden age of this animated classic. Some of the episodes in these two collections released in 2004 are absolutely delightful.

9. Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2. A priceless assortment of 60 cartoons restored to their full glory. A worthy successor to the excellent Volume 1.

8. The Office, Seasons 1 and 2 and Special. Bloody brilliant British comedy with a perfect cast. Hilarious.

7. Live Aid. This gem on four discs is a time capsule of pop music in the summer of 1985. The Live Aid double concert in the U.S. and the U.K. was equivalent of Woodstock for the MTV generation. I missed seeing the original broadcast, as I was far from a television set, immersed in my first teaching job on the campus of St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, but later that summer I wore through a VCR cassette of the action in Wembley and Philadelphia. The clear highlight for me: U2ís breakthrough performance.

6. Da Ali G Show: The Complete First Season. I stumbled on this show in the late spring almost by accident. A friend had loaned me a bootleg copy of the first season shows on HBO before the disc had been commercially released. It sat next to my TV for a couple of months before I started to feel guilty I hadn't given it back to her. So I popped it in the DVD player on a quiet weekend night while on duty in the dorm. After fifteen minutes in which I was trying to figure out what this was all about, the laughs came: fall out of the chair, gasping for air, deep belly laughs. At their best moments, Sasha Baron Cohenís characters--Ali G, Borat, and Bruno--made me laugh as hard as I've ever laughed.

5. Alias, Seasons 1, 2, and 3. This is a bit of a cheat to lump all three seasons together as one item on my list, especially as not all were released in 2004. But I watched them all this past year and 2004 is when I got hooked on the series. Season 1 was a February obsession, Season 2 took up more of my spring break than I'd care to admit, and then I got up to date with the release of the third set in September.

4. Seinfeld, Seasons 1 & 2 and Season 3. I went for the collector's set, with the Monk's Cafť salt and pepper shakers and the annotated script. I usually steer clear of these fancy packages, but I this case it seemed like the cheapest way to get all three season at once from Amazon. I got to watch a slew of Season 3 episodes with some colleagues while we traveled to a school function on a bus and was reminded just how very funny this show was at its peak.

3. Freaks And Geeks: The Complete Series, Deluxe Edition. This package, delivered in a replica of a high school yearbook, wonderfully captures my days as a teenager. The setting of the show lines up nearly perfectly with my era. And the deluxe set has just loads of material. What a terrific soundtrack, too. I missed the show when it originally aired, but it's a treat to see it in this wonderfully complete DVD package.

Tie, 2. Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogy boxed sets. These offerings from Lucasfilm contain some of my all-time favorite movies plus a bunch of nifty behind-the-scenes extras. They look and sound great. The DVD versions were well worth the wait. But they could have slid into the top slot, had (a) we been offered the original theatrical releases of the Star Wars flicks (we know Greedo did NOT shoot first!); and/or (b) Spielberg had broken down to give us director's commentaries on the Indy movies.

1. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Version). The conclusion to Peter Jackson's magnum opus winds up at the top of my list in part because the original film was so well made, but more because Jackson shows the rest of the film industry just how good the DVD format can be in presenting a film. The extended versions of all three LOTR movies reflect tremendous care in their assembly and probably will be regarded as the "definitive" versions of the these films in years to come. When put together, the three extended version packages comprise an epic that spans almost 12 hours of film. And it's all utterly gorgeous. But what makes these collections so exquisite is the sheer volume of extras. The additional materials reflect the same sort of attention to detail that was typical of the movies themselves. An A+ release.

Honorable mentions and near misses: Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seasons 1 and 2, if for nothing else than for the "Beloved Aunt" episode; The West Wing, Seasons 2 and 3: the good old days of Aaron Sorkin dialogue, snappily delivered by one of televisionís best ensemble casts; and Spider-Man 2, a movie that was deservedly a box office smash in the summer.


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