As has more or less been established here, I very much enjoy watching movies on physical media, whether Blu-ray or DVD (depending on what’s available). Of course, with some Blu-ray releases, I also enjoy getting to see the movies restored and looking better than they have in years! So, with regards to the many movies released on physical media in 2020, here’s my list of what I think are some of the best releases for the year! Again, my thoughts are coming ONLY from what I have been able to see myself. I do NOT receive screeners of any kind (nor, quite frankly, would I want to), these are all movies I myself bought. These are chosen from among the 2020 releases I have seen, as of 11/25/2020. Admittedly, the list only includes stuff released up through October 2020, as my budget (and Christmas getting closer) didn’t leave me room for any November releases (or December, since, as I said before, I don’t get any screeners and therefore could not see any of those releases before their official release date). So, this list is what it is (but, I will give a shout-out to some of the others afterwards). And if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie titles to use my affiliate links to go to Amazon and buy them!
- Sergeant York (1941) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- Gary Cooper stars in this classic biographical film about World War I hero Alvin York. With the original camera negative long gone (possibly as far back as the 1950s), this movie hasn’t looked that great for some time. But, the good people at Warner Archive have put in a lot of effort and time (more than a year, from the sound of things) to get this movie looking better than it has in a LOOOONNNG time! And of course, it’s a wonderful movie, too (has to be, for a big musical fan like myself to claim it as the best release of the year over a number of other big musicals that I also like)! Full review here.
- Show Boat (1936) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
- The 1936 version of Show Boat, starring Irene Dunne and Allan Jones is considered to be the best version of the three. This year, it made it out on Blu-ray, featuring a new 4K restoration. That restoration brings this wonderful film to life, with its wonderful music, fun comedy, and all-around great performances from the cast. This new release was a treat to see, and certainly comes with some of my highest recommendations for the year! Full review here.
- Love Me Tonight (1932) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- The third of four movies pairing Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald (and the first to make it to Blu-ray), this pre-Code has Maurice as a tailor who has to impersonate a baron to get money owed him, but falls in love with the princess, played by Jeanette. The new Blu-ray from Kino looks fantastic with its new 4K remaster, and it’s extras are also quite interesting. A film I’ve looked forward to seeing after hearing it was coming, and neither the movie nor the presentation disappoints! Full review here.
- Girl Crazy (1943) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10) (Full review here) &
- Strike Up The Band (1940) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 9/10) (Full review here)
- This year, we finally got two of the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” team-up movies on Blu-ray! Strike Up The Band features Mickey Rooney as a high school orchestra leader, with Judy as a singer, and Girl Crazy features Mickey being sent out to a Western college to get away from girls (and, wouldn’t you know, Judy just happens to be the only one there). Both films are wonderful (obviously, everybody will get different mileage out of them), with wonderful new transfers that leave them both looking better than they have in years! I’d certainly suggest grabbing both of them (especially if you want to see at least their other two “let’s put on a show” films make the jump to Blu-ray, along with some of the other films they worked together on)!
- Pat And Mike (1952) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10) (Full review here) &
- Without Love (1945) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 9/10) (Full review here)
- Here we have another pair of films featuring a classic screen team, and this time, it’s Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn! In Pat And Mike, Katharine is a rising golf and tennis player, and Spencer Tracy is the sports promoter who helps her to get into all the tournaments where the big money is. In Without Love, they play a pair of scientists who decide to try a marriage without love, while they work on some stuff for the government. Both films give us that classic Tracy and Hepburn chemistry, and both films have been given new transfers that are sure to wow! Again, if you want more of the Warner-owned films they made together (or apart), I would certainly recommend looking into this pair of Blu-rays!
- Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- Esther Williams stars in this biographical film about Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman. It’s considered one of her best films (partly because it doesn’t require as many plot devices to get her into the water), and I would definitely agree! And, of course, it’s been restored for Blu-ray, allowing us to see the color and detail in those swimming sequences even better now than before! One I think is certainly worth consideration! Full review here.
- Holiday (1938 and 1930) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Ratings: 10/10 for 1938 and 6/10 for 1930)
- With this classic 1938 film, we have the third of the four films pairing up Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Here, he plays a self-made man now engaged to one of the elite, but has to face off with their way of living as it clashes with his own ideas. The 1938 film has been restored for this release, and I’ll say that it certainly looks fantastic! And among the extras is the 1930 version (which, along with the 1938 film, features Edward Everett Horton as part of the cast)! See review for 1938 film here, 1930 film here and my comments comparing the two films here.
- Africa Screams (1949) (Classicflix, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 9/10)
- This Abbott and Costello film is a must on this list, in my opinion. While the film may not be Bud and Lou at their absolute best, it’s still close enough, especially with this newly restored Blu-ray or DVD! After a successful Kickstarter campaign in December 2019, this public domain film was restored by Bob Furmanek and his team the the 3-D Film Archive, and it looks better than it has in years! Throw in a host of fun extras, and this really is one of the best releases of 2020! One last note, though: this is a limited edition, and I’m hearing that this one is getting close to sold out, so, if you want it, don’t delay, or you’ll regret it! Full review here.
Special Honorable Mention:
Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1 (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray)
While not a set of movies, this collection is still a lot of fun. It includes nineteen shorts directed by animation legend Tex Avery, with nine of his one-shots alongside series including Screwy Squirrel, George & Junior and Droopy. All of the shorts have been given restorations from 4K scans of the best available elements, with the results juts about as good as you can hope for! And, just as good, Volume 2 has just been announced, so if you haven’t got the first volume yet, be sure to look into it (and be prepared to laugh at all the screwball antics)! Full review here.
Honorable Mentions: Kentucky Kernels (1934) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), Romance On The High Seas (1948) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), Murder, He Says (1945) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
While 2020 has been a very tough year because of the pandemic, for classic film fans, it has been a great year of releases on physical media! For me personally, the pandemic hitting certainly forced me to step back and re-evaluate the types of movies I was willing to look into. In my mind, Warner Archive Collection won the year again, after a somewhat slow start (that admittedly did have a few titles that I was glad to see make it out on Blu-ray). They really upped their output of pre-1954 films, throwing in three-strip technicolor movies, musicals, and other big, long-awaited classics on Blu-ray. As I said, I can only claim to have seen some of this year’s releases up through October, but November has a few that I look forward to seeing, including Libeled Lady and the finally restored to its original glory The Pirate with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. And, oh, what a December it will also be, with a few Christmas holiday classics coming, like The Shop Around The Corner, It Happened On Fifth Avenue and Holiday Affair, plus The Harvey Girls (I don’t think they’ve released enough Judy Garland on Blu-ray this year, do you? 😉 ), Mister Roberts (1955), and more! With all their musical output this year, I’m certainly a happy camper (I wish Fred Astaire could have been represented, but they said in one of their podcasts earlier in the year that they were working on one of his films, so I guess that gives me something to look forward to in 2021)! And, while it’s not a title I myself am interested in, due to its genre, I do want to plug Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release of the 1933 film The Mystery Of The Wax Museum. A film originally made in the Two-Color Technicolor process but considered, for a time, to be lost, it has been restored in collaboration with UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Foundation (and is the only way to see the restoration, as Warner Archive’s reissue of the later 1953 remake House Of Wax still includes the old transfer as an extra, and not the new restoration).
And Warner Archive were hardly the only label to have a good year of releases, either! Kino Lorber has been digging further into Universal’s catalog, both through films licensed through a second deal, as well as a few releases that they worked on remastering/restoring from the first one, all of which resulted in a number of three-film boxsets featuring various actors and actresses and a couple different film genres, like noir and westerns. Criterion has, through their licensing deals with all the studios, managed to get a few wonderful releases out, including two Warner-owned Buster Keaton silent comedies, as well as one Show Boat, plus a number of other big films. And Classicflix has been busy, releasing many Hal Roach streamliners (movies with shorter runtimes, usually about an hour) on DVD only, along with their Blu-ray and DVD releases of Africa Screams, Zenobia (1939) and the Marx Brothers film A Night In Casablanca. Despite the pandemic, 2020 has been filled with MANY wonderful releases on Blu-ray and DVD (and not enough funds to get them all), and I can only hope that 2021 manages to be better yet (both in terms of getting past the pandemic and getting more classic movie releases on disc)!