First off, choosing must-have DVDs is entirely subjective. You have to love the material — in any format — before you begin. If you’re behind the curve, USA TODAY home-movies columnist Mike Clark suggests these 10 lovely mixes of content and presentation to start a basic DVD collection — one for repeated home viewings over a lifetime:
(1994, Warner, unrated, $180)
With 10 discs and 142 chapters, you can navigate to just about anywhere in the game’s history with Ken Burns (news)’ definitive 18 1/2-hour treatment. Disc 10 has about four hours of bonus material, including several interviews by talk-show host Charlie Rose of former diamond stars and observers (including a couple of beauts with Bob Costas).
(1941, Warner, unrated, $27)
You can’t see Orson Welles (news) actually breaking his finger playing Charles Foster Kane in the newspaper magnate’s climactic tantrum, but stunning visual clarity all but lets you see the makeup on the actors’ faces. Plus, you get separate commentaries by Roger Ebert and Peter Bogdanovich (news), and also the Oscar-nominated 1996 documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane.
(1963, Criterion, unrated, $40)
Federico Fellini (news)’s definitive film about film gets a Terry Gilliam (news) introduction, a voice-over commentary, 22 pages of essays on the filmmaker, a 52-minute Fellini documentary, a 48-minute documentary on composer Nino Rota and illuminating interviews with production personnel and famous fans. (Does Criterion know how to do foreign films or what?) The definitive French spectacle, Children of Paradise (1945, unrated, $40), gets a comparable two-disc treatment.
(1996, Columbia TriStar, rated R, $25)
If the movie could talk to the DVD extras, it would say, ”You complete me.” The best of them — in fact, it’s better than most movies — is seeing Tom Cruise (news), Renee Zellweger (news), Cuba Gooding Jr. and writer/director Cameron Crowe (news) dressed informally and delivering hilarious commentary from what looks like your neighbor’s comfy lawn furniture.
(1963-64, Classic World Productions/Pioneer, unrated, $120)
Once stigmatized as a CBS Sunday-night ratings failure, Garland’s TV series presented her in peak vocal and quipstering form, with guest stars running the gamut from daughter Liza Minnelli (news) to Peggy Lee (news) to Count Basie to Soupy Sales. This four-disc box is the most elaborate of several Garland-show DVDs, and it’s impossible to believe that the original broadcasts ever looked as good as these gorgeous tape transfers do.
(1956, Warner, unrated, $20)
The VistaVision/Technicolor pigments of Monument Valley (heavy prejudice toward orange) took me back to 1956 again. And who wouldn’t want to see the greatest John Wayne/John Ford collaboration again and again? Included on a great disc for the money are promotional mini-documentaries about the film’s location shooting, aired at the time on ABC’s Warner Bros. Presents.
(1960, Criterion, PG-13, $50)
A couple of thousand warriors yell ”I am Spartacus” to oppressive Roman tyrants, but you also get a five-person voice-over commentary, shots of Kirk Douglas (news) at the premiere, a side-splitting interview with Peter Ustinov (an Oscar winner here) and selections from the tie-in Spartacus comic book which, at the time, was the gladiatorial equivalent of a prized baseball card.
(1982, MGM, rated R, $27)
On a voice-over commentary, music’s most lightweight heavy-metal group harps mercilessly on the movie’s director, Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner (news)). An hour of extra scenes includes a showstopper in which the boys begrudgingly make a radio appearance that turns out to be a sports call-in show. Also worthy if you can find it: an out-of-print Criterion DVD alternative.
(1962-92, www.johnnycarson.com, unrated, prices vary but around $80)
Ed Ames throws the tomahawk and Bette Midler (news) sings Johnny goodbye. This three-disc set has everything the massive VHS/laser disc anthologies from a decade ago contained, plus a backstage Tonight Show tour and the outstanding 1982 prime-time documentary Johnny Goes Home (to Norfolk, Neb.).
(1995-99, Disney, rated G, $70)
There are no weak spots here because Toy Story 2 may be the only animated sequel ever to have matched the original. Each movie gets its own disc full of audio commentaries, outtakes and interviews. A third bonus disc is geared toward the completist, with posters, abandoned concepts, TV commercials and even a guide to the movies’ hidden jokes.