The Shelf Space Awards: April 2012

Fred Topel hands out our monthly awards to all the best, worst and weirdest Blu-ray releases of the month.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The Shelf Space Awards are back to reward this month’s Blu-ray releases that are worthy of space on your movie shelf, and present a few snarky ones to steer you away from duds!


The Four Way Tie For New Releases 

To acknowledge all the new releases that hold up in top HD quality, we award a four-way tie to Shame, We Bought a Zoo, The Iron Lady and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. See the team’s full reviews for more details.


The Sloppy January Award

To contrast the high quality new releases, it’s important to point out that some look pretty lazy. The January hit Contraband comes to Blu-ray with tons of digital noise in lots of scenes. Did they even try? They probably just figured it was a January movie anyway, just dump it.


The Steven Spielberg Award

War Horse is currently the best looking Spielberg movie on Blu-ray. Of course Saving Private Ryan, A.I., War of the Worlds and Minority Report all had that washed out look he was going for, and Jurassic Park was oddly noisy, so we haven’t seen his best work in HD yet. War Horse is nice and crisp with lush colors though so it’s even better than the Sony Close Encounters Blu-ray. I’ll be perfectly happy to give Raiders and Jaws this award when their Blu-rays are finally released.


The 3D Makes 2D Better Award

While I prefer not to watch movies in 3-D in theaters, I have enjoyed the benefits of watching those movies on 2-D Blu-ray at home. Whether native or post-converted 3-D, the Blu-rays tend to look extra awesome in HD. So too does The Darkest Hour, that movie about electro-aliens in Moscow. The streets of Moscow look like a crisp, clear travelogue, alternating from colorful to gritty. The clarity is above standard new release, perhaps the benefit of combining two polarized images into one so it’s double the information? I don’t know how it’s actually done, it just looks great.


The Detention™ ‘90s Time Capsule Award

My love of Detention only makes me appreciate the seminal ‘90s movie Clueless even more. The new Blu-ray looks stunning, with a crisp clear picture and bright colors. Film grain creeps into a few scenes but only looking authentic. It’s a whole new way to reflect on the ‘90s classic. This actually streets May 1 but you can preorder it now.


The Black and White Award

The Universal 100th anniversary release of Abbott and Costello’s Buck Privates is a stunning black and white HD Blu-ray. Even in classic 1.33:1 frame, the sharpness and clarity is top notch, and the crisp shadings make it actually black and white, not just gray.


The Before They Were Stars Award

Sarah Jessica Parker, Academy Award winner Helen Hunt and Shannen Doherty starred in the teen dance comedy Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. The New World movie doesn’t have super high production values, but the Blu-ray holds up okay. You see lots of film grain but sometimes it clears up in a past post-processed way. Another contender is Road Racers, more for director Robert Rodriguez before he did a real movie. Disney gives the film a reasonable transfer. Noise flares up but they’re able to preserve a lot of the detail.


Crusty Detail Award

I always like noticing the weird details apparent on Blu-ray. Some would call them ugly, some maybe gritty, but it’s what reminds me I’m seeing more than usual. The Innkeepers set in its old decrepit half-remodeled inn has plenty. You see the texture of the paint on doors and the chips in wood paneling. Certainly adds to the creepy atmosphere of Ti West’s smooth shots in HD clarity.


Indie Movie Award

Focus Features’ Pariah was made with no frills on the streets of New York, and they manage to get a clear studio quality picture with lots of colors. As does Some Days Are Better Than Others. Of course Pariah was shooting 35mm and Some Days used the RED, but props to indie go getters who play in the big leagues.


The No, Not That Titanic Award

An ABC miniseries from the producers of Downton Abbey came to me this month. Titanic looks like a BBC series (not surprising with that pedigree). The picture is clear and well lit so you can see all the production design. Even the dark ocean night remains clear and sharp, and the modest TV-level special effects look convincing. I believe there is a sinking boat in the background.


Mardi Gras Beads Award

"Treme: The Complete Second Season" has an overall clear yet gritty Blu-ray. There are occasional flare ups of digital noise, but usually a solid picture and bright colors from the New Orleans atmosphere, hence my classy thematic award.


The MILF Award

I’m sorry, it’s all I can think of for the Mother’s Day remake. I’ve loved Rebecca DeMornay for 30 years and she looks fabulous as the protective matriarch. The picture actually looked slightly fuzzy to me, but maybe it’s because I’ve been watching Blu-rays all night. It’s still a standard HD picture. Maybe I could have included it in the first section, made it a five-way tie and not offended anybody.


The IMAX Denial Dishonor

We should give Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol a demerit for not opening up to full frame for the Imax sequences. The Dark Knight includes the IMAX scenes. Don’t you want to be cool like The Dark Knight?


The Early May Award

Lionsgate was kind enough to get me my copy of Haywire early, and this is certainly going to be the Blu-ray to get next month. The picture is clear above average for HD, because that Soderbergh sure knows how to use a camera. He captures international locations beautifully and those colored light sequences he likes give off a nice HD glow. I also got Rampart early and there’s a case for making it a tie. That movie also looks perfectly clear and stunning, with a slightly grittier tint and more saturated colors, but still equally beautiful. I also got W.E. and Albert Nobbs already, two pretty period pieces, though Nobbs has such total clarity you can see the peach fuzz on Glenn Close. W.E. flares up with some grain and digital noise in the quick cuts Madonna (as director) mashed up.


Also in May:

I look forward to reviewing The Tim Burton Collection, About a Boy, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Grey, Chronicle, Hell On Wheels: Season One, Man on a Ledge, Gone, Red Tails and out of necessity, The Devil Inside.