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In xmonad, for me, mplayer will go fullscreen without any issue, but for VLC I just move it to its own fullscreen workspace (using "noBorders Full" as a layout), which then works fine -- without fullscreen, it is a full maximized window but with toolbars etc. visible, and going to fullscreen just hides the toolbars. This is definitely a weird interaction with xmonad's tiling and not a VLC bug (though obviously VLC's fullscreen feature is not as independent as mplayer's -- VLC relies on the window manager for help while mplayer does not). There may be a more clever workaround with xmonad+VLC but I just have "noBorders Full" as a layout option and I just cycle to it when needed.
FWIW, I just tried it with i3 (also a tiling WM) and VLC behaves like it should do, rescaling the video to the maximum size that is possible with keeping aspect ratio when going fullscreen, so this seems really to be an issue with Xmonad.
Slackware 14.0 32 bit, Slackware -current 64 bit, i3 compiled from git (2013-03-13), VLC 2.0.5 from AlienBob