The Best Film of 2023 Is Now On Disc: May December

Until last year, I was beginning to fear Todd Haynes' best days were behind him.  In fact, not even "beginning to."  Don't get me wrong, all his movies are worth seeing once.  Dark Waters feels kind of like a made-for-TV remake of A Civil Action, but it's still an involving drama with a good message.  His actual remake of Mildred Pierce was... okay.  But for a long time - really since Far From Heaven two decades ago - it's felt like the magic of his early run of brilliant works like Safe and Velvet Goldmine, or his crazy early works like Superstar, Poison and Dottie Gets Spanked, had faded.  So when Netflix debuted May December, I was thrilled to see that Classic Haynes was back; and watching it a second time now on blu-ray from Via Vision was a relieving confirmation that I hadn't just over enthusiastically willed it into existence psychosomatically; it really is immaculate.
May December was nominated for one Oscar, but it should've been nominated at least for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Score, Best Original Screenplay (the one it actually was nominated for), and won half of them.  Of course I know it's silly to put that much credence in the stupid Academy Awards.  But my point is that this film got just a taste of the attention and accolades it should have received.  As I initially wrote on Letterboxd, "[t]he performances - not just Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, but Charles Melton, wow, what a triumph; I think his career's about to ascend - are superb."  And the swings this film takes, going so dark and then so melodramatic, near camp, all while being unusually real.
Of course, like the best crime films, it helps that it's at least indirectly based on a true story.  Sadly, there's been any number of such disturbing cases to draw from (and they're not stopping).  But this story is also very much its own thing, adding a whole other layer of Hollywood art and performance, and examining that relationship to our inner lives.  It's like Ingmar Bergman started off from a first draft by John Waters.  And maybe the discomfort all of that entails is why audiences have been a little reluctant to fully embrace this film.  You've got to be the kind of cinema goer who's ready to tackle the unsettling and weird.  But if you're here on this site, I'm guessing that's a lot of ya.
So May December has just been released (or in some cases: is about to be released) in various territories throughout the world on BD this season.  The naturally English friendly ones are the UK blu from Dazzler Media and the Australian one from Via Vision.  I've gone with the latter, and from online reports I've been reading, it sounds like I made the right choice.  Yikes.  I hadn't heard any of that back when I ordered my copy; I just knew I trusted VV to do good work and had barely heard of Dazzler.  So you can follow those links to hear what people have to say about the UK disc; now let's have a look at what we got from AUS.
2024 Via Vision BD.
Via Vision presents May December in 1.85:1 on a dual-layered disc.  This film was shot on digital, but there's clearly film grain on this transfer.  I'm not sure if that's because they took this scan from a film master, or if the filmmakers applied "fake" grain as an aesthetic choice, but I just fired this up on streaming, and it seems to have it, too, but much less well resolved (to be clear, I'm saying it's much sharper and better defined here on the blu).  This movie has a deliberately hazy, low contrast look (just look at that nighttime street scene), but detail is still sharp when it wants to be.  One of the users criticizing the Dazzler disc cited the floor in the classroom scene as "just a blocky mess."  Well, the screenshot just one paragraph higher is of that classroom scene, and I don't see any problems with the floor.  So whatever might be wrong with that disc doesn't seem to be an issue here.

Audio-wise, we're given the option of 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, both in DTS-HD with optional English SDH subtitles.  The only extra is the theatrical trailer, but that's still more than the Dazzler disc provides.
So barebones or not, Via Vision looks to be the ideal import, at least for English speaking audiences.  And importing's the only option unless you're holding out hope that Criterion will come through with a special edition sometime next year.  It did occur to me to wait and see, but it's not like they've been able to come through for all of Netflix's critical darlings.  Ask anyone still requesting The Ballad of Buster Scruggs six years later.  And I don't see them topping Via Vision's presentation in 1080p; they'd have to do a UHD.  Admittedly, a 4k with some high quality interviews would make me regret this purchase in the long run.  So we'll see what the future brings, but in the meantime, this is the way to get your May December fix.

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