Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Matt Lynch's Favorite Older Films Seen 1st in 2011 ""

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Matt Lynch's Favorite Older Films Seen 1st in 2011

Matt Lynch works at the venerable Scarecrow Video, a veritable paradise on earth for cinephiles. He is a man who eats, sleeps, lives and breathes movies. He watches quite a few of them each year. I very much enjoy following his film watching exploits on twitter(also on his tumblr). He's written up a lovely list of favorites for you so please enjoy:

I just watch movies. Other than work & the minor daily business of
life, that’s for the most part my sole activity. I simply don’t really
want to do anything else, so I don’t. It also happens that I work at
Scarecrow Video in Seattle, which has the distinction of being,
basically, the largest video store on Earth, with almost 115,000 unique titles, to which I have virtually unlimited and free access. While many folks, including myself, have been busy of late preparing their lists of the best or their favorite films of 2011, I was asked to come up with a list of some of the best films I watched at home this year that were new to me. Given my access to the rarest of rare jewels, you might expect this to be chock full of obscurities, but that’s not the case. And so with no more ado, here is that list of 15 (which could have easily hit 30).

I Know Where I’m Going (1945) & The Tales of Hoffman (1951) d. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Two films by the legendary Powell & Pressburger. The first is a
romantic drama that plays like some sort of phantasmagorical travelogue, about a headstrong woman on a journey to a remote Scottish island to marry a wealthy man whom she does not love. The second is an adaptation of the opera by Offenback, but make no mistake, it is no mere filmed opera; it’s possibly one of the most visually resplendent films you’re likely to encounter. At times it became so overwhelming it felt like it might spiral into some apocalyptic nightmare, something out of the control even of its creators.

Black Zoo (1963) d. Robert Gordon

Michael Gough as a mad zookeeper who suffers from a crumbling marriage and generally miserable life due to his membership in an animal-worshipping cult, not to mention a marked propensity for using his caged beasts for murderous purposes.

The Big Country (1958) d. William Wyler

Recently released on a superb blu-ray, this is easily one of the greatest westerns I’ve ever seen. Peck (who claimed this was a Cold War parable) plays a wealthy, almost stubbornly righteous lawyer who marries into a vicious clan feud. Burl Ives won an Oscar for his dignified work as the head of a rival family, but it is Charlton Heston who is the film’s soul; his pre-dawn fistfight with Peck, shot almost entirely in huge wide shots, dwarfing the brawling men, is going to change your life.

Save the Tiger (1973) d. John G. Avildsen

Jack Lemmon drinks too much, cheats on his wife, worries about all those damned liberals, and hires a guy to set fire to his textile warehouse for the insurance money. A great examination of a strain of American masculinity in spiritual crisis, suddenly bemoaning the loss of values that may never really have been there in the first place.

Mandingo (1975) d. Richard Fleischer

Somehow this film unfairly became a joke over the years; likely due to its (to put it mildly) unsentimental and delightfully exploitative depiction of slavery in the Antebellum south. Sure to be a main point of reference for Tarantino's Django Unchained.

The Ten Commandments (1956) d. Cecil B. DeMille

"The story takes three hours and thirty-nine minutes to unfold. There will be an intermission." -- from DeMille's own introduction to the film. Can you believe I'd never seen this? Spectacular.

Dumbo (1941) d. Samuel Armstrong, others

Can you believe I'd never seen this either? Actually, I have never watched most of the classic Disney animated films, and have made it a point to view them as they've been slowly appearing on blu-ray. Suffice it to say that this one lives up to its formidable reputation. Not to many people get to experience "Pink Elephants on Parade" for the first time at 33.

The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1973) d. Ivan Dixon

An incredible, truly subversive and very funny blaxploitation gem, rarely seen. The CIA decides it's got an image problem and decides to diversify. They hire one token black dude. They make him the copy boy and assign him the job title "Top Secret Reproduction Center Section Chief" and promptly ignore him. He secretly learns everything and foments revolution. I insist that you see this film.

Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) d. Richard Robinson & David Worth (Worth also co-directed Kickboxer btw)

I cheated a little with this one. I actually saw a terrible VHS copy of this years ago in college. The new blu-ray from Cultra, though, is a revelation. This astoundingly sleazy rape-revenge film is far more expressively photographed than you'd expect from something so diabolically nasty. Leslie Uggams stars as a singer who takes a road trip as a brief respite from the pressures of fame, only to suffer a breakdown in the sticks and find herself set upon by a bunch of rednecks led by Shelley Winters and Ted Cassidy (Lurch from the original "The Addams Family" TV show). It seems young Eddie wants her all to himself.

Flooding With Love for the Kid (2010) d. Zachary Oberzan

A man made an adaptation of the David Morell novel upon which First Blood is based. I must stress that this is not a remake but an adaptation of the same source material. It cost 97 dollars. He filmed it entirely in his tiny studio apartment and plays every part. While it may look cheap, Oberzan never pokes fun at his characters or his story, and this film is surprisingly, brilliantly moving. I interviewed him for the Scarecrow Video podcast:

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976) d. Ruggero Deodato

There's a long history of buddy cop films about mismatched cops who play by their own rules taking down the bad guys, but all roads may in fact lead back here. These two guys are responsible for way more destruction than anything caused by the criminals they ruthlessly hunt down and casually murder. This film was written by the legendary Fernando Di Leo, one of the kings of Italian crime cinema, and directed by the infamous Ruggero Deodato of Cannibal Holocaust fame, and so it is appropriately and gloriously morally rudderless.

To Be Twenty (1978) d. Fernando Di Leo

This should be the back half of a double feature with Live Like a Cop. Di Leo directed this one, a bizarre sex "comedy" about two horrible, promiscuous witches who shamelessly flaunt their incredible beauty and youth to get moronic lustful men to do whatever they want. I'll not suggest that the comeuppance they get is in any way deserved (or even appropriate viewing), but it is as radical a tonal shift in a film as you're likely ever to see. Make sure you check out Raro Video's uncut DVD, which includes the radically recut and much tamer version for comparison.

Fear Is the Key (1973) d. Michael Tuchner

Another cheat; I actually saw this in 2010, but it is significantly rare and awesome and therefore here you go. Barry Newman, Kowalski from Vanishing Point, stars as a man who, at the film's start, is on trial. He grabs a gun, shoots a guard, kidnaps a girl and steals a car, leading the police on an incredible Bullitt-rivaling car chase before...well, I won't say more. But I didn't know, for one second, where this stunning action film was going to take me from one moment to the next. There's an amazingly cheap R2 PAL DVD of this, and you should just buy it.

A Star Is Born (1954) d. George Cukor

There is something about this film that is almost mathematically perfect. It's a closed loop; every theme cleanly & subtlely articulated, and as such every performance is calibrated for maximum effect without spilling into the histrionics that one might (wrongly, I must add) expect from a Judy Garland musical. This story has been told dozens of times (my favorite version, other than this, is Showgirls), but never has it been told so cleanly and so honestly.

Remember to support your local video store, if you have one, and save 35mm. Have a happy and safe 2012.

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