By now, I think it’s safe to say that most of you know that I enjoy watching classic movies via physical media like Blu-ray and DVD (I’m not trying to knock streaming necessarily, it’s just that most of what I like is more readily available on disc). 2021 has been another really good year for seeing fantastic movies given the bump up to Blu-ray, so here’s my list of what I personally think are the best releases of the year! As usual, I must remind everyone that I do NOT receive screeners of any kind (nor, quite frankly, would I want to, as I prefer to support the movies I like in the hopes of more of them being made available), so I can only work with what I have seen. I am making this list from all the 2021 releases I have seen as of 12/1/2021. Much like my list for 2020, I am working mainly from movies released on disc through October 2021 (due to my own constraints of budget and time, plus the fact that, without being given screeners, I have no way to comment on December releases ahead of time). So, this list is what it is (but, I will give a shout-out to some other releases afterwards). I’m experimenting by changing the format a little this year, so if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie on the left side to use my affiliate links to go to Amazon and buy them (or, if you want to read the reviews, click on the movie titles to go there)!!
- Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy star in this last entry of the Broadway Melody series. A case of mistaken identity results in the wrong member of a dance team getting his big chance on the Broadway stage (but, when the team is two men and Fred Astaire was the other partner, you KNOW that he’ll get his chance as well). Working from a 4K scan of nitrate preservation elements, the good people at Warner Archive have given us a new and improved transfer that shows off this film’s detail and really allows us to enjoy these spectacular dancers looking better than they have in a long time! Great movie, great transfer!
- San Francisco (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- In this film that teams up Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy, we have a nightclub owner (Gable) who runs for town supervisor to help the people on the Barbary Coast, while falling for his new singer (MacDonald) (and all ahead of the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake). Another Warner Archive release, making use of a French-dubbed nitrate fine grain second generation element (and some domestic elements as well), which amounts to this movie looking better than it has in a long time! Throw in the original 1936 ending (with the 1948 reissue ending as an extra), and this is one release that is well worth it!
- Show Boat (1951) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- In 2020, we got the 1936 version of Show Boat (from Criterion Collection). For 2021, we got the 1951 version with Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner and Howard Keel. Kathryn Grayson stars as the daughter of showboat owner Cap’n Andy (Joe E. Brown), who falls for riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel). Long in need of restoration (as much as the film relies on its Technicolor imagery), Warner Archive created a new 4K master from the original three-strip Technicolor negatives, and it looks SUPERB!! Compared to how it has looked before, I still think this is the restoration of the year, making the Blu-ray well worth it for fans of the film!
- Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly star in this classic musical! The returning baseball champs find themselves with a new owner (Williams), with two of the players falling for her. Warner Archive has given this movie a new restoration, and it looks to be one of the best-looking examples of the three-strip Technicolor process, as the color just pops, revealing all the wonderful details of the picture!
- A Night At The Opera (1935) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- In the first Marx Brothers film from MGM, the trio find themselves helping a couple of operatic singers to make it big in America. The film was cut for re-release during World War II (removing references to Italy), with the deleted scenes supposedly destroyed. Warner Archive haven’t located any of those deleted scenes, but they’ve given us a 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements, and this film looks great! Until any of the deleted scenes are found in any usable form (if that ever happens), this is the best release one can hope for on this film!
- In The Good Old Summertime (1949) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- Judy Garland and Van Johnson star in this musical remake of The Shop Around The Corner. They play the bickering co-workers who are unknowingly falling for each other as pen pals. Another Yuletide classic featuring Judy singing the holiday tune “Merry Christmas!” Working from 4K scans of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives and preservation separations, this film looks great, and is a wonderful movie to watch around the holidays (or during the summer, too, I suppose 😉 )!
- Annie Get Your Gun (1950) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- Betty Hutton and Howard Keel star in this film version of the Broadway show (with music by Irving Berlin)! In this movie, Annie Oakley (Hutton) rises from a nobody to being an internationally renowned sharpshooter! This release features a 4K scan of most of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives (with two reels’ worth coming from positive safety separations due to those reels being burned in the infamous Eastman house fire), which brings out the color and detail!
- Bringing Up Baby (1938) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- In 2021, one of the biggest and best-known screwball comedies FINALLY made it to Blu-ray! In this movie, Cary Grant is an engaged paleontologist who accidentally gets mixed up with a flighty young woman (Katharine Hepburn). Madcap adventures ensue, including panthers, buried dinosaur bones, and jail time! The original camera negative may be long gone, but this transfer came from 4K scans of a 35 mm nitrate duplicate negative (from the British Film Institute) and a 35 mm safety fine-grain positive, resulting in a better transfer than what’s been available for a long time (and is certainly worth recommending)!
- Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- Screen legends Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are paired up for the third and final time, with Melvyn Douglas joining. Grant plays an advertising executive who wants a full-sized house for his family (instead of a cramped apartment), but when he remodels his new place, the costs start to skyrocket! Working from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, Warner Archive has another superlative release on their hands with a fantastic transfer!
- After The Thin Man (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
- After releasing the first film in the Thin Man series on Blu-ray in 2019, Warner Archive has finally continued the series, starting with that film’s (kinda-sorta) direct sequel! William Powell and Myrna Loy return as Nick and Nora Charles, who have arrived in San Francisco, only to find themselves trying to solve the murder of Nora’s cousin’s husband! Warner Archive made use of a 4K scan of safety fine grain film elements for this transfer, and it looks quite good! Certainly a worthy follow-up release after the first film was treated so well on Blu-ray!
Special Honorable Mention:
- The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3
- For the most part, my list tends towards movie releases, as those are the vast majority of what I buy. However, as you may have seen, I also enjoy looking into various theatrical short collections. In 2020, ClassicFlix announced (via crowdfunding campaign) their desire to restore the Hal Roach-owned Little Rascals shorts. While their campaign fell short, they went through with their plans anyway. They now have three volumes of Little Rascals shorts available on Blu-ray, uncut and fully restored. I’ve seen the first two volumes, which each contain eleven shorts starting with their first talkie, and continuing on from there. The shorts in these first two volumes look absolutely fantastic, and while I haven’t gotten around to the third volume yet, I’ve heard it looks just as good (if not even better)! With more on the way, I have a hard time not wanting to call these sets the releases of the year!
Honorable Mentions: Another Thin Man (1939) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), Dinner At Eight (1933) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), (tie) Mad About Music (1938) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray), (tie) Nice Girl? (1941) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray)
While the pandemic has still been raging on in places throughout 2021, physical media enthusiasts have had quite a good year! I would have to say that, once again, Warner Archive has won the year amongst the various labels. They continued to release a slew of musicals (with actress Doris Day getting well-represented), three-strip Technicolor films and various other classics, finally digging into more of Errol Flynn’s filmography (including the public domain Santa Fe Trail from 1940) and continuing the Thin Man series! Like I already said, I haven’t gotten any farther than their October releases, but November releases include the second-to-last film in the Thin Man series (The Thin Man Goes Home), another Doris Day musical (Lullaby Of Broadway), a Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code (Ladies They Talk About), a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin film (Some Came Running), National Velvet and several others, with December seeing the long-awaited Angels With Dirty Faces (previously held back from being released because of right issues that popped up within the last decade) and Ivanhoe. Personally, I’m thrilled with their musical output for the year (especially with TWO Fred Astaire musicals represented). Honestly, the only complaint I have is that there was a rumor that at least one of the Astaire-Rogers films would be coming (but nothing showed up). I know, I know, internet rumors and all that, but when the source of that rumor claimed that there would be some Arthur Freed musicals (there were), some Val Lewtons (again, there were) and some Marx Brothers (and we got one), it’s disappointing that what I wanted most of the bunch was what DIDN’T come out (but, hopefully 2022 will bring at least one of them out on Blu-ray). Like last year, I want to throw in a plug for a film that, while I personally am not interested in it due to its genre, certainly is appealing for others: the 1932 horror film Dr. X, which, like 2020’s release of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum, was filmed in the Two-Color Technicolor process, with those elements nearly gone. But, in collaboration with UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Foundation, the film has been restored in the process (and the black-and-white version is included as well) for the Blu-ray release, which, from what I have heard, is highly recommended for those interested in that aspect of film history!
Personally, I would say that, apart from Warner Archives, I have mixed feelings about this year. Kino Lorber has been continuing to make deals with Universal and MGM, bringing out a lot of films (some of which they have remastered/restored themselves). I’m thrilled to see more W. C. Fields movies (four this year) that came from them (especially after having seen their Insider talking on multiple forums in the past about how their previous W. C. Field releases weren’t great sellers), with three more being worked on for next year (plus a few other non-W. C. Fields titles that were announced but are getting new 2K or 4K remasters that have pushed them into next year). We also got more Bob Hope from Kino, although I’m disappointed that their release of Nothing But The Truth was missing some of the film’s footage that had previously been included on Universal’s DVD, and the missing stereo sound on Thoroughly Modern Millie (for its overture, entr’acte and exit music) is also disappointing (and there have been a handful of other releases from them with a few mistakes this year as far as I’ve heard). And while I’m disappointed that Kino’s three-film set of Deanna Durbin films from the previous year was a poor seller (enough so that they dropped the other six films of hers that they had licensed, which I can’t say as I blame them for doing), I was thrilled to see Universal step up with their own MOD Blu-ray releases and release all six of those films (plus one more that I didn’t see coming!), along with the likes of State Of The Union and a Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection in what was their most appealing lineup (to me) since their first year of releasing anything on Blu-ray via that line! Criterion has finally gotten into the UHD game, but (since I haven’t upgraded to that technology yet), they’ve really only had two releases this year that appealed to me (Bringing Up Baby and High Sierra). To be fair, with their higher prices, I don’t mind, given how much Warner Archive and others have been releasing. ClassicFlix has mainly been focusing a lot of their time, money and effort in their restorations of the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts, but they’ve also finished out their DVD-only run of Hal Roach streamliners, along with a few other DVD-only films (due to lack of decent film elements), along with their Blu-ray and DVD of International Lady (they also announced a Blu-ray and DVD release for the 1949 Black Magic that was originally scheduled to come out this fall, but has since been delayed into next year). Overall, I think that 2021 has been filled with a great many releases on disc (too many in my book, both in terms of budget and time to watch everything), and what I’m hearing/seeing coming in 2022 looks to be just as good (if not better)!