Ran this series last year and I plan to keep it going. I am always excited to see what wonderful films my compadres have dug up throughout the course of each year. I am assembling my list presently, but I thought I would kick things off in style with a list from the fantastic Mr. Lars Nilsen. His Alamo Drafthouse Weird Wednesday series is an institution of glorious celluloid oddities. Lars himself is a man of unrivaled tastes, so when he speaks of movies that he's taken with, I listen. You should too. Keep checking back through this month and January for more of these lists! (Also have a look at Lars' list from last year!)
A SKY FULL OF STARS FOR A ROOF (1967)- I was knocked out by this subtly comedic Spaghetti Western starring Giuliano Gemma and Mario Adorf as an endlessly scheming con man and his somewhat willing dupe who always manage to stay one or two steps ahead of the psychopathic father and son murder team that pursues them across the west. Full of generous, graceful little character notes, it has the feel of a picaresque novel. Gemma and Adorf are excellent. Giulio Petroni made this one between DEATH RIDES A HORSE and TEPEPA.
BANDITS VS. SAMURAI SQUADRON (1978) - Astonishing major outlaw samurai epic. As brilliant as the many big setpieces are, the film is ultimately a showcase for the great actor Tatsuya Nakadai, playing an exiled samurai (and a damn good one) who becomes chieftain of a band of thieves in opposition to a corrupt power structure. When he decides to retire, he proposes one last score, a really, really big one.
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946) - I had somehow never seen this William Wyler classic. I expected it to be good, but it is very, very good. All about 3 GIs who return from WWII to find that everything is different. Pretty wrenching at times, with excellent performances from Dana Andrews, Fredric March and the disabled veteran Harold Russell. Teresa Wright gives a virtuoso performance, as always.
DEADLY PREY (1987) - I was expecting this very cheap, straight-to-video action movie to be humorously inept, but it's actually surprisingly well executed. It is funny, but director David Prior really understands action films, which makes this film kind of a functioning skeletal model of an action movie.
MADE IN U.S.A. (1966) - Watching this, I realized I don't watch as many Godard films as I should. People are quick to criticize Godard for indulging in fashionable ideas, but at least they are ideas, not last years cliches dusted off and wearing a new hat. The sheer photographic beauty of his films is worth it, and the three or four days you'll spend thinking about the ideas presented in his movies is a bonus.
MORNING OF THE EARTH (1971) - The psychedelic culmination of the surf movie cycle that began with the square surfari films. This is loaded with druggy effects, full-on cosmic consciousness and the perfect soundtrack. It's a surfing travelogue, but it's also one of the best movies I've seen about transcendence.
NOTHING LASTS FOREVER (1984) - Wow! Tom Schiller (SNL's SCHILLER'S REEL) made this one-of-a-kind black and white feature, which exists in an alternate universe New York in an indistinct time period - scenes seem to take place in the '40s, '50s, '60 and '80s. Zach Galligan plays a young man who wants to become an artist, but has to be licensed by the restrictive Port Authority occupiers. A simple kind deed brings him into contact with the secret subterranean gods of New York art. He takes a bus ride to the moon, falls in love, and becomes an artist. I left out a lot of stuff. Really unusual movie. Featuring Bill Murray as a total dick.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) - Another big classic I had missed. It's difficult to believe Hollywood ever had this much respect for an audience's intelligence, literacy and humanity. Hard to imagine anything like that ever happening again, but without performers of this caliber (Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant), it couldn't be done anyway. The story is a bit overbulky in places and a bit skimpy in others, but there's so much pure spun gold here, who could complain?
THE STOOGE (1952) - Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in a period story about a vain Vaudeville star and his stooge, who actually sells the tickets. Lots of gags but mostly this is a serious drama and Martin and Lewis are really good at both comedy and drama. The best Martin and Lewis film I've seen yet.
'W' IS WAR (1983) - Clearly somebody wanted to get some MAD MAX style postapocalyptic images into the trailer, but they weren't making that kind of movie, so you get a movie about a solitary cop versus a gang of marijuana growers who just happen to look like warriors of the wasteland, with vehicles to match. Brutal and absurd, with a shocking castration scene.