Check out our Top 11 List of The Best, most informative and entertaining Movie Commentaries.
For film geeks like myself, nothing beats a good DVD or Blu-ray movie commentary track.
A great commentary gives insight into the creative process; how cast and crew solved conceptual problems, salvaged happy accidents, and willed their vision into being.
And for those film’s who’s creators have long since passed, a knowledgeable critic/historian can offer fascinating trivia and production history.
11. Zodiac (2007)-David Fincher
David Fincher’s underrated treasure is all about obsession, be it from the killer, or the men trying to decipher his ominous letters. Fincher’s commentary illuminates his own OCD nature, so the story must have been very attractive. And personal; he grew up in the Bay are at the height of Zodiac paranoia.
He discusses the painstaking choices in location, wardrobe, and casting. He even offers his own armchair detective work in many of mysterious circumstances of the unsolved case.
Fincher has been accused of being a soulless technician, but this commentary proves the passion behind his relentless perfectionism.
*If you want more info on Fincher’s commentary, check out Soundonsight.org His commentary on Se7en is also excellent.
10. Sideways-Thomas Hayden Church and Paul Giamatti (2004)
Sideways is a comedy equally pretentious and profane, showing two men at their most charming and repulsive.
The commentary by co-stars Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church follows suit, with the duo riffing on their aging physiques and insecurities; The width of my head is only equaled to the circumference of my belly, says Church, followed by I’m working on a pair of perky man breasts by Giamatti.
Giamatti notes how his infamous downhill wine chug was; the perfect mix of clumsiness and doughiness!
Their hysterical commentary illuminates how both the fictional characters and their real life counterparts share humorous self loathing.
9. Citizen Kane (1941)-Roger Ebert
Film Critic Roger Ebert’s knowledge of Orson Welles’ classic is staggering, and his commentary is engaging. Whether discussing how Welles was the first filmmaker granted final cut by a Hollywood studio, or Greg Toland’s ambitious cinematography, he perfectly cements why Kane remains a high-water mark in cinema.
He also debates the rumored real life meaning of the classic phrase: Rosebud.
8. Psycho (1960)-Steven Rebello
Rebello penned the book Alfred Hitchcock and The Making Of Psycho, which inspired the 2012 biopic ‘Hitchcock‘ (which I reviewed last year). He lends his impressive production knowledge to the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray. He explains why Psycho was so ahead of its time in its use of sexuality and dark subject matter (and toilet humor; it was the first American film to show (and) flush one on camera).
Rebello informs that the original novel featured a slovenly obese killer, but the screenplay by Joseph Stefano made Norman Bates attractive and angelic, making his crimes all the more shocking. Perkins understood this and many of his mannerisms were of his own making, not at the behest of script or direction.
The infamous shower scene is discussed in-depth, and Hitchcock’s delicate ballet between appeasing the censors and his artistic vision is genius. Most shocking, is that he wanted the scene without music. But composer Bernard Herrmann convinced him otherwise. A wise choice given its iconic sound!
7. Evil Dead (1981)-Bruce Campbell
Actor Campbell’s commentary about his role in the cult horror classic is high-level snark. He spares no-one, not even himself. Upon the film’s opening, he intones:
So…let’s sit back and watch some fine acting.
Perhaps, most hilarious is his background info on the hideous magnifying glass necklace that his character Ash gives his girlfriend Linda:
The magnifying glass…was going to actually be used in a scene…where the morning sun was going to come through the window and refract through glass and hit the Book of the Dead and burn it and save the day…
But that concept sort of changed and we just wound up with an incredibly ugly necklace that no boyfriend would ever give any girlfriend unless he didn’t like her.
He also comments on the infamous tree assault which polarized audiences:
Now this is a very difficult scene…at this point in the movie, we lose about 30% of the women in the audience, and I have no idea why?
Of particular note, is Campbell’s disdain for his own character.
After Ash yells: You bastards why are you torturing me like this, why?!
Campbell responds; because you’re so stupid.
**The commentary in Evil Dead 2 where he’s joined by director Sam Raimi is also worth checking out.
Check out where Evil Dead ranks on my Grossest Horror Movie Scenes List.
6. The French Connection (1971)-William Friedkin
William Friedkin proves in this commentary why he’s one of Americas most fearless directors.
He explains that his work as a documentary filmmaker resulted in the movie’s gritty feel, as his vision called for more authenticity and less artifice.
His recollection of shooting the famous car chase is shocking. Most of the traffic and pedestrians were real folks completely unaware of the production. Stunt drivers had numerous collisions (many of which appear in the movie). It was amazing no one was killed.
Hackman’s car could top out at 90, while the highest speed a train could reach was 50. Friedkin explains that made the sequence plausible.
He atones for his blatant disregard for safety:
I had no reservations about doing it then, because I was a callow, heedless youth, he says But I wouldn’t do anything like this now.
But hey, it worked, right?
*Friedkin’s commentary on the original cut of ‘The Exorcist‘ is also excellent.
5. Cannibal The Musical (1993)-Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Dian Bachar, Jason McHugh and Andy Kemler.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone pre-South Park project showed their early grasp on parodying the movie musical format.
Their commentary is a hilarious drunken ramble. They start off trying to figure out a drinking game, but quickly give up.
TP: We’re drinking scotch wine and beer tonight’…if anyone at home would like to drink with us…we’ll try to keep up when we take shots here…I couldn’t think what there was an every time on, so I think I’ll just drink.
Parker then discusses getting jilted at the alter, which inspired the movie:
TP: So this film was made when I was engaged to this girl Lianne, …and about a month before the wedding she decided to sleep with this guy…I really wrote this movie for her about a horse named Lianne, who leaves him.
Towards the end of the film, Parker apparently still can’t let Liane off the hook:
And now she’s with the manager of Foley’s. Ooh! Hi, I’m worth $7 million, and she’s with the manager of Foley’s. Whoops!
At one point he perfectly sums up their aesthetic:
We weren’t interested in making the best movie we could make. We were more interested in pissing people off.
Check out more Cannibal quotes courtesy of Film School Rejects.
4. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)- Michael McKean, Harry Dean Stanton and Christopher Guest
This commentary keeps the cast in character as David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls and Nigel Tufnel from the clueless metal group. It occasionally even rivals its source material for chuckles.
The band see the commentary as a chance to rebuke those who they claim made them look foolish.
Take the opening scene where director Martin Dibergi’s (Rob Reiner) introduces his film by saying : I make a lot of commercials.
Guitarist Nigel Tufnel responds: You make a lot of shit!
Or discussing their cross-eyed egomaniacal tour manager:
NT: Even if you look in his eyes, you can’t tell if he’s lying.
DSH: Well you don’t know which eye to look into.
They continually reference the increasing body count that hovers around them like a black cloud.
DSH (In regards to Small’s comment on the death of a hotel staffer)
You’re just assuming everyone’s dead except us and it’s not fair!
DSH: Anyone remember (musical rival) Duke Fame?
NT: Well he is dead actually.
DS: If you look into his eyes he was dead at the time.
As the film fades to black, they note how it resembles the cover to Smell The Glove.
This commentary goes up to 11 in awesomeness!
**Speaking of hilarious commentaries, click here to heck out my list of the top 10 best Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, and click here to read my new interview with Joel Hodgson!
3. The Conversation (1974) -Francis Ford Coppola
Coppola’s commentary proves how prophetic his dark tale of surveillance truly: If any of these personal moments are really personal…or if someone else is sharing them, looking at them–possible wanting to use them against you…as we move into the computer environment and ultimately the internet….more and more questions of where the real barriers of people taking our personal info and where they really are.
Coppola reveals that due to a union dispute, collaborator Walter Murch couldn’t be credited as sound editor so he made his own title: Walter said to credit him as sound design, and this became a legitimate title that’s used to this day.
And Coppola refuses to answer if Harry’s apt was bugged or if he was merely paranoid; The truth is I don’t know where the microphone is.
*His commentary of The Godfather is also excellent.
2. Alien (1979)-Ridley Scott
Scott’s commentary on his sci-fi horror classic, illustrates the foundation of his visionary genius.
He explains that the visuals trump all other content. He admits the dialogue is at times superfluous: It’s all gobbledygook but it sounds like it makes a lot of sense.
The fact that he didn’t have a huge budget forced him to be innovative. He put his own children in space suits to make the ship and the planet look larger in scale.
He had a hand in everything, including inside the Alien egg; it was his hands that made the fluttering facehugger movements.
Without the advantages of CGI or advanced prosthetics, he raided a butcher shop to show the innards of the facehugger (shellfish) and egg (stomach lining from a cow.)
Scott really lights up as he chuckles about scaring the cast during the chestburster scene. It was done all in one take and no one knew exactly what to expect.
Scott discusses his prophetic concept of The Company; which put profit over lives : I figured at that time…the world eventually is obviously gonna be run by companies and organizations ….that’s where we’re headed but it was speculation at the time.
*Blade Runner and Prometheus also feature engaging Scott commentaries.
1. Escape From New York (1981)-John Carpenter and Kurt Russell
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell praise and poke fun at their post-apocalyptic classic in equal measure.
They clearly enjoy reminiscing, and Kurt Russell may have the most contagious laughter you’ve ever heard.
They reveal that most of the film was shot in St. Louis, Missouri, where they shot a downtown that suffered massive fire damage.
Carpenter on Snake Plissken’s appeal: His lines indicate that he doesn’t know who’s President, he doesn’t know what’s what, or where he’s going, and he doesn’t care, nonetheless. He’s the kind of a guy after my own heart.
Both comment on Plissken’s lack of gallantry when he fails to rescue a woman from a group of seedy creeps.
JC: A traditional American hero would of course say ‘now you can’t treat a lady like that!’…but what does Snake do? Mind his own business.
KR: He’s got to help her!…No he doesn’t (laughing).
Russell talks about The Duke Of New York’s (Isaac Hayes) sweet ride:
If you’re gonna be stuck in that situation for the rest of your life, why not put some chandeliers on your car? (Laughing).
Russell even references Carpenter’s ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau’s prominent cleavage:
I always felt that in that shot anybody could’ve been walking with Adrianne…and we could’ve been doing cartwheels or throwing knives and nobody would’ve been noticing.
After Russell explains how his fight with wrestler Ox Baker was too realistic for his liking, Carpenter chimes in; You’re doing a great job of saving your own life!
The most refreshing moment comes from Carpenter:
I would like to say to the audience, rather than being pretentious, this is really the way a director and an actor talk. It’s really not a whole lot of laying on of themes and pretension. It’s really straight-forward. That’s the way we love to make films, and I think that’s the way we should.
And that’s why this commentary is such a pleasure.
*All their dual commentaries are gold, so check out The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China as well.
So that wraps up my Top 11 Best Movie Commentaries. Agree? What are your favorites? Comment below.
And fans of comedic commentary; be sure to check out my list of Best Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episodes