Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Girl Crazy (1943) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10) (Full review here) &
  5. 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)!
  6. Pat And Mike (1952) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10) (Full review here) &
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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)!

Previous years:

2019

2018

WOIANRA 2020 & Original Vs. Remake: Holiday (1930 Vs. 1938)

We’re back now for another edition of “Original Vs. Remake” (and in some respects still staying “What’s Old Is A New Release Again,” since both the movies were released together) with the 1930 and 1938 versions of the movie Holiday!

After going on a holiday to Lake Placid, Johnny Case (Robert Ames in 30, Cary Grant in 38) comes home engaged to Julia Seton (Mary Astor in 30, Doris Nolan in 38). He is surprised to find out she is an heiress, the daughter of a rich banker. Her sister, Linda Seton (Ann Harding in 30, Katharine Hepburn in 38) takes to him, and blesses the marriage, with her brother Ned Seton (Monroe Owsley in 30, Lew Ayres in 38) being indifferent. However, her banker father Edward Seton (William Holden in 30, Henry Kolker in 38) is wary, and looks into Johnny’s prospects. Linda wants to give them a small party to celebrate their engagement on New Year’s Eve, but Edward decides to give a big party for all his society friends. Linda opts not to come to the party, instead staying in the playroom. There, she entertains Nick (Edward Everett Horton) and Susan Potter (Hedda Hopper in 30, Jean Dixon in 38), along with Johnny, who tells her of his dream to quit work and go on a holiday while he tries to figure life out and enjoy it before returning to work when his money runs out. When Edward and Julia come up, Johnny tells them his dream, except they are both disturbed by it, resulting in Johnny leaving. With Linda developing feelings for Johnny while still trying to support her sister, what will come of all this?

Obviously, being that both movies are based on the Philip Barry play, it’s altogether too easy to mention the similarities (including a rare instance of the same actor playing the same part in two different versions, since Edward Everett Horton plays Nick Potter in both films), so we can skip right on to the differences. Of course, sticking with Edward Everett Horton, we find one of the big changes between the movies. In the 30 version, his Nick Potter is one of the rich, although he is Linda’s friend. In a change reflective of how long the Depression had gone on, he became a professor at a university for the 38 film, as well as being Johnny’s friend (and making him much more a “man of the people”). Another point being some of the portrayal, as Horton hadn’t yet fully developed his screen persona at the time he did the 1930 movie, but by 1938, he had become more established as a character actor, and that was reflected in how he portrayed Nick Potter for that film.

Of course, there are different events that happen in the two movies. The 30 film starts off with both Johnny and Julia arriving at her mansion together, while the 38 version has Johnny stopping off at Nick and Susan’s place to leave his things before meeting Julia. One major difference between the two movies is how much Julia’s cousin Seton Cram (Hallam Cooley in 30, Henry Daniell in 38) and his wife Laura Cram (Elizabeth Forrester in 30, Binnie Barnes in 38) have to do with the story. In the 1930 movie, we meet them on the first day that Johnny meets Julia’s family, and Laura has as much to do with planning the New Year’s Eve party as does Edward Seton. We also see them at the wedding rehearsal (a scene that is in the 1930 film but not the 1938 one),, where Laura is as much trying to help plan the fashionable wedding, based somewhat off how THEY had gotten married. In the 1938 film, the two characters only really appeared at the party (still serving the same purpose there that they had at the party in the previous film). Of course, a lot of the events occurring at the party in the playroom changed, allowing for the different performers and their various screen personas.

As to how I feel about these two movies? I think my scores tell the tale:

My Rating for Holiday (1930): 6/10

My Rating for Holiday (1938): 10/10

For me, the acting is so much better overall in the 1938 film. Cary Grant embodies the role of Johnny Case so much better, and when you throw in his natural ability with screwball comedy plus giving him a chance to some of his tumbles and flips, it’s hard not to prefer his version of the character. As for Katharine Hepburn, I do find her way much better than Ann Harding. Both of them make references to the trapeze in the playroom, but, honestly, I find Katharine Hepburn’s version more believable as somebody who might have used it (and would now). Of course, it does help that the 1938 film does have her character doing at least one tumble with Cary Grant, even if Katharine may have had a stunt double do it (although I don’t truly know that for sure). Of course, my opinion of Edward Everett Horton is that he is great in both film versions. But at the same time, I also feel he draws out the weakness of the 1930 film. One line, uttered in both movies by Linda Seton (admittedly about Johnny Case but it applies to Edward Everett Horton here), is “Do you realize life walked into this house today?” Well, with the 1930 film, life walks in with him, and leaves when he does. I would guess his role is about equal in screen time between the two films, but it feels like less in the 1930 film because he isn’t backed up by the rest of the cast like he is in the 1938 film. As I have said, I’m not as fond of the acting by most of the cast in the 1930 film, so when he is on, it shows, versus the 1938 film where he is still good, but so is the rest of the cast. Don’t get me wrong, I like Mary Astor in the 1930 film (and I think she is better in the role than Doris Nolan), but her character is more dramatic in a movie that *should* be a comedy. I will readily admit, I enjoy both films, but the 1938 film is far superior in my mind, and the version I would recommend.

Of course, they were both recently released together, with the 1938 film as the main feature and the 1930 film as a bonus, on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. Of course, one extra on that set, featuring a conversation between filmmaker/distributor Michael Schlesinger and film critic Michael Sragow wherein they talk about the original play, the 1930 film and the 1938 one (mostly about the 1938 film). Easily a wonderful release, and one I would highly recommend!

The winner: Holiday (1938)

What's Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Holiday (1938)

Next up, we have the third Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant movie, that 1938 classic Holiday!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Popeye Meets Hercules (1948)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 3 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

(Length: 7 minutes)

In ancient Greece, Popeye takes on Hercules in the first Olympics. While it’s still typical Popeye vs. Bluto as they fight over Olive and try to one-up each other, this one was still fun. A lot of fun with then-modern gags being transported to ancient Greece. I can still see the formula getting tired, but I still enjoyed watching this one just the same!

And Now For The Main Feature…

After going on a holiday to Lake Placid, Johnny Case (Cary Grant) comes home engaged to Julia Seton (Doris Nolan). He is surprised to find out she is an heiress, the daughter of a rich banker. Her sister, Linda Seton (Katharine Hepburn) takes to him, and blesses the marriage, with her brother Ned Seton (Lew Ayres) being indifferent. However, her banker father Edward Seton (Henry Kolker) is wary, and looks into Johnny’s prospects. Linda wants to give them a small party to celebrate their engagement on New Year’s Eve, but Edward decides to give a big party for all his society friends. Linda opts not to come to the party, instead staying in the playroom. There, she entertains Nick (Edward Everett Horton) and Susan Potter (Jean Dixon), along with Johnny, who tells her of his dream to quit work and go on a holiday while he tries to figure life out and enjoy it before returning to work when his money runs out. When Edward and Julia come up, Johnny tells them his dream, except they are both disturbed by it, resulting in Johnny leaving. With Linda developing feelings for Johnny while still trying to support her sister, what will come of all this?

While this may have been the second time this story was filmed, it’s origins certainly go back a bit further. Nearly ten years earlier, during the Philip Barry play’s original run, Katharine Hepburn was the understudy for the role of Linda Seton. Only once did she get a chance to actually perform in place of actress Hope Williams, and Katharine’s performance was a disaster, as she mainly mimicked how Hope Williams had been performing it. Still Katharine used part of her lines when auditioning for what would be her first movie, A Bill Of Divorcement, with George Cukor directing. After that success, Katharine was under contract to RKO, but soon became labeled as box office poison. In 1938, Columbia Pictures planned a remake of Holiday, with George Cukor directing. They wanted Cary Grant to star, but the studio hoped to reteam him with Irene Dunne after the success of the previous year’s The Awful Truth. However, George Cukor wanted Katharine Hepburn. Still under contract to RKO, who had plans to star her in the B-movie Mother Carey’s Chickens, Katharine was able to buy her way out of her contract, and go to Columbia to do Holiday. The film didn’t end up being successful enough to remove the “box office poison” label, though, so she went back to the stage, where she would star, to great acclaim, in ANOTHER Philip Barry play, The Phildaelphia Story (and do the film version for MGM, reviving her career).

For me, this is a fun film, made very much so by its wonderful cast! Cary Grant just works so well as Johnny Case, especially throwing in his acrobatic abilities as a method for the character to put his troubles behind him. Katharine Hepburn is fun as the older sister Linda, who is trying to rebel against her father’s wishes while still caring for her siblings. Only problem with the two is that, once you see they are both in the movie, whether or not you’ve seen it before, you know they’re going to end up together (but I’m not complaining). And Edward Everett Horton is, well, Edward Everett Horton, which makes this movie worth it for him alone! A very fun film, and my second favorite of the four films that teamed up Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, only behind Bringing Up Baby (to be fair, I still haven’t seen all four, but I can’t imagine their first film together, Sylvia Scarlet, changing my mind)! Holiday is certainly one movie I would very much recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. The new restoration included on this release is fantastic! For the picture quality alone, this set is well worth it, and I can’t even begin to recommend it enough!

Film Length: 1 hour, 36 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #9 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020

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List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Bringing Up Baby (1938) – Katharine Hepburn – The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Bringing Up Baby (1938)Cary GrantOnly Angels Have Wings (1939)

College Swing (1938) – Edward Everett Horton – Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)