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Ten Favorite DVDs of 2006

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[1] Playboy After Dark

Take a ride up the elevator and a trip back in time to party at the Rumpus Room with Hugh, the playmates, and hip guests including Lenny Bruce, Ella Fitzgerald, Linda Ronstadt, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joe Cocker, and LeRoy Neiman. The booze was flowin' and the cigarettes were smokin' during this late-night variety/talk show/dance party that was on the cutting edge at the time, and still seems fresh and a little subversive today. They sure don't make 'em like this anymore, folks… and that's a damn shame. Please keep 'em coming, Hef! (Definitely skip the insufferable interview "bonus feature," though…)

[2] Cecil Taylor: All The Notes

The iconoclastic avant-garde pianist really chews up the screen in this meandering yet engrossing documentary film. However you feel about Taylor's galvanizing music, he's a fascinating and defiantly eccentric character to follow around for a while, and the filmmaker clearly knows he's hit paydirt with this guy. Cecil sings, Cecil dances, Cecil drinks, Cecil swears, and Cecil even plays a little piano now and then. "If they say boo, I'll give them something to REALLY boo about!" Nothing to boo about here, though.

[3] Star Trek: The Animated Series

Boldly go where the cast is mostly the same as it was in the Original Series, the sound effects and music sound vaguely familiar (but the opening theme song seems upside-down and backwards), and Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty look like botoxed, barrel-chested two-dimensional versions of themselves. Yes, ST:TAS, the red-headed step-child of the Star Trek franchise, has finally arrived on DVD! It may not be official Trek "canon," and the choppy animation is more Scooby-Doo than Spirited Awaybut it's still way more fun to watch than The Next Generation or any of the other recent spin-offs. Hey, if it looks like Trek and it sounds like Trek…

[4] Police Squad!: The Complete Series


"Yes, I know…"

How many times can that be funny? Plenty, apparently. There are just as many rapid-fire sight gags, groaner puns, and deadpan jokes packed into each of the six half-hour Police Squad! episodes as you'd find in any of the (more dated) feature-length Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker movies. Ahead of its time in more ways than one, if this criminally short-lived series were shown on HBO or BBC today it would be hailed as a satirical comic masterpiece.

[5] Homicide: Life On The Street [Complete Series Megaset]

Sweet baby Jesus! Thirty-five DVDs, 122 episodes, plenty of juicy bonus features… it's all seven seasons of Homicide for less than the price of two, all packaged in a super-cool faux filing cabinet. This is one of the most critically acclaimed TV series of all time, and for plenty of good reasons. Warning: You will never want to watch another episode of CSI again. (You can thank me later.)

[6] Dazed and Confused [Criterion Collection]

The often underrated and overlooked cult classic coming-of-age flick affectionately directed by Richard Linklater and featuring a stellar cast of no-name actors (including Parker Posey and Matthew McConaughey "before they were stars") gets the deluxe Criterion treatment it richly deserves. Plenty of great extras are included, of course — especially interesting is the director's commentary detailing the behind-the-scenes budget struggles during the making of this film, his first "major studio" release… which sound rather quaint by today's standards.

[7] Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Fifth Season

Larry David seems to be running on empty during much of Curb's fifth season, but there's still plenty of histrionic neurotic behavior and cringe-inducing social ineptitude to enjoy here, and the final payoff episode, The End, is an undisputed classic (and apparently this series is not quite at "the end" yet after all).

[8] Wordplay

An irresistibly breezy documentary surveying the subculture of New York Times crossword puzzle enthusiasts who worship at the temple of Will Shortz. Clinton, Dole, and Jon Stewart are along for the ride as we follow a handful of obsessive puzzle-solvers on their way to the American Crossword Puzzle Championship. Generous special features also, including five actual "unforgettable" dead-tree crosswords and a DVD featurette about each one.

[9] Boston Legal: Season Two

This maddeningly uneven David E. Kelley series really hit its quirky stride during its second year (and then lost it again during the current season). If you can sit through the ponderous political pontificating, revolving-door cast of forgettable minor characters, and pointlessly jittery camerawork, you'll be rewarded with plenty of infectious rapport (or is it courtship?) between Shatner and Spader, bizarre fourth wall violations, curious Star Trek references, memorable balcony scenes, and — best of all — the dance.

[10] Penn & Teller: Bullshit! The Complete Third Season

Rude, crude, and sometimes lewd… yet consistently hilarious and righteously reasonable. Never before have sacred cows such as gun control, the Endangered Species Act, and, yes, even circumcision been slaughtered so gleefully. Prepare to be offended, provoked, and/or enlightened.

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