LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Best Media 2012: Best Video

Old wine in new bottles is a recurring theme in LJ film reviewer/Fast Scans columnist and DVD sommelier Jeff T. Dick’s annual best-of list, as restored versions of older films—many debuting on Blu-ray—make up an increasingly larger part of the year’s top 20 discs.

Classic Film

The Gold Rush. 2 discs. b/w. 72/88+ min. Charlie Chaplin. Criterion Collection. DVD ISBN 9781604655896. $29.95; Blu-ray ISBN 9781604655889. $39.95.
Including both a reconstruction of the original 1925 silent and a restoration of the 1942 sound version of Chaplin’s most iconic film, this features-laden release showcasing the Little Tramp trumps inferior public domain copies.

The Grapes of Wrath. b/w. 129+ min. John Ford. 20th Century Fox. Blu-ray UPC 024543773160. $29.95.
Henry Fonda embodies Tom Joad in this moving 1940 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel. Surprisingly faithful save for an upbeat ending, this masterwork really flaunts its expressive lighting in this Blu-ray debut.


Lawrence of Arabia. color. 227+ min. David Lean. Sony. Blu-ray UPC 043396169906. $26.99.
Although home screens cannot do justice to the epitome of epic filmmaking, this sweeping 1962 biopic of enigmatic British officer T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) offers a dazzling degree of hi-def resolution in its desert scenes.

Rosemary’s Baby. 2 discs. color. 136+ min. Roman Polanski. Criterion Collection. DVD ISBN 9781604656527. $29.95; Blu-ray ISBN 9781604656510. $39.95.
Time has been kind to this restored 1968 horror picture, where suggestion not graphic depiction is the rule. A waifish Mia Farrow exudes vulnerability as the newlywed whose neighbors take an undue interest in her pregnancy.

Sunset Boulevard. b/w. 100+ min. Billy Wilder. Paramount. Blu-ray ISBN 9781415767658. $24.99.
Aging silent-film queen Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is ready for her Blu-ray close-up in this gleaming restoration of the timeless 1950 Tinseltown fable of faded dreams. Plentiful extras solidify its place in the celluloid ­pantheon.


Chasing Madoff. color. 91+ min. Jeff Prosserman. MPI. DVD ISBN 9780788614972. $24.98; Blu-ray ISBN 9780788615009. $29.98.
Cribbing stylized reenactments from master documentarian Errol Morris, this offbeat exposé reveals the protracted efforts of melodramatic financial analyst Harry Markopolos to uncover Bernie Madoff’s lavish Ponzi scheme. (LJ 6/1/12)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi. color. 82+ min. David Gelb. Magnolia Home Entertainment. DVD UPC 876964004732. $26.98; Blu-ray UPC 876964004749. $29.98. Rated: PG.
Like orchestrating the movements of a symphony, 85-year-old sushi chef Jiro Ono conducts exquisite three-course meals for only ten patrons in his top-rated Tokyo restaurant, leaving his dutiful sons a reputation to uphold. (LJ 9/15/12)


Marina Abramovi: The Artist Is Present. color. 106+ min. Matthew Akers & Jeff Dupre. Music Box Films. DVD UPC 741360538061. $29.95.
A performance artist whose medium is the human body, Abramovic´ puts on a career retrospective where other artists reperform her controversial works as she gazes across a table into the eyes of patrons, one at a time, for months.

Project Nim. color. 93+ min. James Marsh. Lionsgate. DVD UPC 031398149538. $19.99.
More compelling than most fiction, this examination of a groundbreaking 1970s-era experiment to raise a chimp as human—even teaching him sign language—shows the misguided hubris of fooling with the natural order.


The Queen of Versailles. color. 100+ min. Lauren Greenfield. Magnolia Home Entertainment. DVD UPC 876964005043. $26.98; Blu-ray UPC 876964005258. $29.98.
Time-share mogul David Siegel, 74, and his former beauty queen wife, Jackie, 40, struggle to downsize their opulent lifestyle during the Great Recession in an impartial look at conspicuous consumption that shuns schadenfreude.

We Were Here: The AIDS Years in San Francisco. color. 90+ min. David Weissman. New Video. DVD ISBN 9781422918524. $29.95.
Five witnesses—four gay men and a straight female nurse—who were at the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic 30 years ago reflect on a tragic time of confusion, loss, and hope when a beleaguered community came together. (LJ 10/1/12)


Beasts of the Southern Wild. color. 94+ min. Benh Zeitlin. 20th Century Fox. DVD UPC 024543839804. $29.98; Blu-ray/DVD UPC 024543824787. $39.98.
A six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (amazing non-actor find Quvenzhane Wallis) from the southern Delta sets out to find her estranged mother amidst a world on the brink of apocalypse in this Sundance Film Festival charmer.

Bernie. color. 99+ min. Richard Linklater. Millennium Entertainment. DVD UPC 687797135292. $28.99; Blu-ray UPC 687797135261. $29.99.
Based on a true story, this disarming dark comedy tells the story of a Texas undertaker (Jack Black) with the patience of Job whose relationship with a mean-spirited widow (Shirley MacLaine) finally pushes him over the edge.

Rashomon. b/w. 88+ min. In Japanese w/English subtitles. Akira Kurosawa. Criterion Collection. DVD ISBN 9871604656541. $29.95; Blu-ray ISBN 9781604656534. $39.95.
Differing versions of a woman’s rape and her husband’s murder demonstrate the elusive nature of truth in this landmark 1950 film that introduced the term Rashomon effect into the lexicon. Digitally restored, with fine ­extras.

Take Shelter. color. 131+ min. Jeff Nichols. Sony. DVD UPC 043396394971. $30.99; Blu-ray UPC 043396394940. $35.99.
Michael Shannon turns in a haunting performance as a small-town man tormented by apocalyptic visions. To protect his family, he obsessively constructs a backyard storm shelter in the face of a scornful ­community.

Umberto D. b/w. 89+ min. In Italian w/English subtitles. Vittorio De Sica. Criterion Collection. Blu-ray ISBN 9781604656268. $39.95.
Alone except for his beloved dog, a poor but proud pensioner faces eviction from his apartment, struggling to survive while maintaining his dignity. Set in postwar Italy, this 1952 neorealist masterpiece makes its Blu-ray debut.


American Experience: Death and the Civil War. color & b/w. 90 min. Ric Burns. PBS.
DVD ISBN 9781608837595. $24.99.
The daunting Civil War death toll estimated at 750,000 people (2.5 percent of the nation’s population) is brought home in this exemplary outing of the excellent PBS series. Based on Drew Gilpin Faust’s 2008 This Republic of Suffering.

Cinema Verite. color. 90+ min. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini. HBO. DVD UPC 883929201112. $19.99; Blu-ray UPC 883929206278. $24.99.
This meticulously dramatized making of the original reality-TV series An American Family (1973) exposes the corrupting process of capturing the gradual marital breakup of Pat and Bill Loud (Diane Lane, Tim Robbins).

Downton Abbey: Season 2. color. 556+ min. Ashley Pearce & others. PBS. DVD ISBN 9781608836055. $44.99; Blu-ray ISBN 9781608836062. $49.99.
The Emmy Award–winning miniseries ups the dramatic ante in its second season, as the upper-crust Brits and their stalwart servants take on wartime casualties while personal stories run the gamut from the comic to the tragic. (LJ 3/1/12)

The Dust Bowl. color & b/w. 360+ min. Ken Burns. PBS. DVD ISBN 9781608837182. $24.99; Blu-ray ISBN 9781608837199. $29.99.
The preeminent documentary filmmaker behind The Civil War makes the story of another chapter in American history—the drought of the 1930s—come alive with his amalgam of archival footage, interviews, and voice-overs.