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

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Strike Up The Band (1940)

To keep the celebration of July as Clean Movie Month 2020 (as hosted by Pure Entertainment Preservation Society) going, we have that classic 1940 Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musical Strike Up The Band! Of course, before we get into that, I want to deviate a little and post my next poll:

As I stated a few weeks back when I reviewed Romance On The High Seas, I generally tend to be a bit further ahead in my movie viewing than the timing of my reviews would indicate. Having now had a poll to choose the Doris Day movies that I will review for January 2021, I am now doing the reverse and posting a poll to choose the “Star Of The Month” for February 2021 (and I will pick the movies). After this poll ends within the next two weeks, I will post another poll to choose the “Star Of The Month” for March 2021 (fair warning, though, that poll will have a completely different group of actors/actresses to choose from, so if you want one of the eight listed for February, get your vote in now). Now, back to the regularly scheduled program…

Jimmy Connors (Mickey Rooney) and his friends are bored with the band at Riverwood High School. So Jimmy gets the idea to form a modern dance orchestra (well, “modern” for that time, anyway). He takes the idea to the principal, Mr. Judd (Francis Pierlot), who signs off on letting him start the orchestra and do the school dance. With his friend Mary Holden (Judy Garland) helping out as a vocalist, the band proves to be a hit at the dance, and so Jimmy decides to try to enter the orchestra in a contest being held by famous bandleader Paul Whiteman. However, the contest will take place in Chicago, and they don’t have enough money to get the whole band there, so they put on a show for the Elks Club to make enough money. The show is fairly successful, but they fall short. Also causing trouble is the new student at Riverwood, Barbara Frances Morgan (June Preisser), who has set her sights on Jimmy, much to the consternation of Mary, who also likes Jimmy. Barbara’s attentions do bring some luck, though, as her parents hire Paul Whiteman (of course, played by himself) and his orchestra for her birthday party, and Jimmy and the members of his orchestra are invited as guests! At the party, while Paul Whiteman and his orchestra take a break, Jimmy and his friends admire the instruments, and decide to start playing. Listening in, Paul Whiteman is impressed, and offers Jimmy a job as a drummer. At first excited by the opportunity, Jimmy realizes he would be hurting his friends, who need him for the contest, and so he declines. Impressed, Paul Whiteman gives him the remaining money to finance the trip. The excitement soon ends, as one of Jimmy’s friends is sick from an injury and needs an operation to survive. Valuing his friend more than the trip, Jimmy gives the money to help his friend. All is not lost, though, as Barbara’s father is impressed and offers to use his railroad to get the band there in time for the contest!

After the success of Babes In Arms, MGM did what any self-respecting studio would do: give their audience more, and as soon as possible! So Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, picked out Strike Up The Band to bring back together Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and director Busby Berkeley. Technically, Strike Up The Band was the title of a Broadway show from 1930 with music by the Gershwins, but outside of the title and the song, the movie bore very little resemblance to the Broadway show. Still, the movie proved to be another hit, resulting in Babes On Broadway and Girl Crazy keeping the gang together.

Strike Up The Band was the second of the four films Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made together that are generally described by the phrase “Let’s put on a show” (or something similar to that). As for the movie itself, I enjoyed it very much. In some respects, the movie really focuses in on Mickey Rooney’s character here, which *almost* makes it seem like an Andy Hardy movie! Obviously, we have Mickey’s character with all the youthful enthusiasm, which gives him his drive, and we also have a parental figure (in this case, it’s his mother, played by Ann Shoemaker), who advises him and helps him to grow up more. But, it’s also more of a musical than an Andy Hardy film would be, which for me is most of the fun! I know some of the songs make me want to get up and dance myself, especially with the likes of “Do The La Conga!” I’ll admit, the show they put on in the middle of the movie, while fun, doesn’t really seem to fit, and could just as easily be removed. And, of course, the Busby Berkeley numbers are here, with all their ridiculousness intact (including the finale, which is very visual for what should be a radio program)! It is a fun movie, with Mickey and Judy making things work! It’s a good clean movie, with nothing I can think of to say against it as far as it being family friendly! With the kids showing respect to the adults (and being given the same respect back), it just makes you feel better seeing it! It might not be the best of the Mickey and Judy films, but it’s certainly a treat to see, and one I have no trouble recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection. This new release touts a 4K restoration from the best available archival elements, and it looks fantastic! While I personally can’t speak to how it may have looked previously, it does look pretty darn good here! As visual as director/choreographer Busby Berkeley could be, especially in his musical numbers, the details are really brought out here, and make this release well worth it! The movie itself is two hours in length.

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

*ranked #5 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) – Mickey Rooney – Girl Crazy (1943)

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) – Judy Garland – Little Nellie Kelly (1940)

Coming Up Shorts! with… Wedding Bills (1940)

(available as an extra on the Strike Up The Band Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 9 minutes, 42 seconds)

A Pete Smith comedy short on a man getting married and trying to account for the bills. First short I’ve seen from the Pete Smith series, and it was definitely a bit of fun! The action in the background is silent while Pete Smith narrates, but his comments could be quite funny! It was something new and different for me, and I think it was worth seeing! Admittedly, on this set it’s not restored, but it doesn’t have to be to be this enjoyable!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Romeo In Rhythm (1940)

(available as an extra on the Strike Up The Band Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 8 minutes, 17 seconds)

As part of a show, two crows are attempting to woo each other, but keep getting interrupted by others. A little bit of fun, especially with some of the interruptions, as well as a few familiar tunes from other MGM films, such as “We’re Off To See The Wizard” and “You Were Meant For Me. Admittedly, this does seem a bit stereotyped with some of the “jive talk” and other issues. Again, not really restored here, but it was fun just the same to give it a try!