Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Brian Salisbury ""

Friday, February 8, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Brian Salisbury

Brian Salisbury is the writer of Film School Rejects' Junkfood Cinema as well as a writer for Fandango,, and the co-host of Remote Viewing on

Tiger Cage(1988)
Outside of John Woo, I sometimes find it difficult to get into 80s era HK action films. I don’t know what it is, but they never seem to grab me. 1988’s Tiger Cage, didn’t just grab me with its opening scene, it wrapped chain around my neck and flung me over the balcony into oncoming traffic. Directed by legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, Tiger Cage’s opening is a brutal, garish, over-the-top whirlwind and the rest of the film is dotted with cops-and-robbers intrigue as well as more bare-knuckle viciousness. Look out for a young Donnie Yen.

Of all the action heroes of the 80s/90s, the one who often left me feeling as cold as a day-old Belgian waffle was Jean-Claude Van Damme. I loved Street Fighter as a kid, but the majority of his other flicks missed the hard target of this apathetic genre fan. Then, an Alamo Drafthouse event called Van Dammage changed my perception of a handful of his films that I had seen before, but never truly experienced until that night. It also introduced me to what is now far and away my favorite JCVD flick: Lionheart. It is essentially Van Damme’s Rocky, a scrappy bum from the streets works his way up to become a champion fighter in order to support his brother’s family. Great fights, great editing, and all the delightfully cheesy accoutrement we’ve come to expect from The Muscles from Brussels.

Walking Tall(1973)
Always heard good things about Walking Tall, but only just locked eyes on it. This is a tremendous piece of socially motivated southern-fried revenge. It sounds like paltry praise to compliment Joe Don Baker for actually acting in a movie, especially considering how many films he headlined, but he is outstandingly sympathetic and quite believable as a good ol’ boy badass. There are moments of the movie that are genuinely heartbreaking. The real story surrounding Sheriff Buford Pusser adds an extra fascinating layer to the mythos of the movie.

The Driver(1978)
Goddamn but I loved this movie. Walter Hill takes a bare bones story about a professional getaway driver and applies an adept artist's eye in his cinematography that remarkably enhances the material; as do the performances of Ryan O'Neal and Bruce Dern. The phenomenal car stunts harbor the cool roar of 70s crime thrillers, and each nonchalant piston registers as music in my ears. I know Nicolas Winding Refn didn't write the script for Drive, and that he claims he hasn't seen The Driver, but Refn's writer definitely has. The entire opening of Drive is almost wholesale lifted from The Driver.

The French Connection(1971)
Ashamed of myself that I was nearly 28 before I saw The French Connection. It was a revelation, and watching it this late felt like waking up from a coma. Friedkin redefines action set pieces and especially unhinged, smash mouth photography. What’s remarkable about The French Connection, apart from the mesmerizing chase sequences (both car and foot), is the gritty, pragmatic police grunt work depicted; uniquely humanizing Doyle and Russo. Brilliant film from start to finish.

Some Like It Hot(1959)
I'm often struck by how well the truly great classic comedies hold up upon contemporary viewings. Even their most dated humor can elicit a chuckle if the story is well conceived and the performers are skilled. Some Like It Hot is a sterling testament to the longevity of pure funny. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon feel like a seasoned troupe that has been performing together for years, the story brings elements of classic Warner gangster cinema, and it is not at all difficult to understand how America fell in love with Marilyn. I adore this movie.

Full Circle(1977)
Bizarre gem of a horror film, and I have the good people at the Fantasia Film Festival to thank for showing it to me. Mia Farrow plays a woman whose child dies during a freak choking incident. The guilt of what happened drives a wedge between her and her husband, and finds her living on her own in a house with an ugly history. Seriously creepy movie boasting incredibly unnerving atmosphere and a perfectly off-putting performance by Farrow. It’s not fully a dream logic horror film, but when push comes to shove supernaturally, things do get rather foggy. The score is glorious (Casio meets Philharmonic), and the ending is such a punch-in-the-gut.

The Boys Next Door(1985)
A couple of years ago I discovered the distinctive brilliance of filmmaker Penelope Spheeris. Knowing her only as the director of Wayne’s World, I had no idea of the counterculture heroine she really was until I saw 1987’s Dudes. I fell in love with that underground modern western immediately and was ecstatic to see another film from her this year. The punk rock spirit that defines Spheeris' catalog flourishes in The Boys Next Door, about two lost teens on a cross-country crime spree. Scrapping the suburban fa├žade, she finds a seething, violent, and aimlessly brutal youth culture. Great film.

Once Upon a Time in the West(1968)
I had never seen Sergio Leone's watershed western, but in the realm of best environments for my first viewing I don't think I could have done much better than an Alamo themed feast. The movie is a gorgeous, sweeping Samurai haiku to revenge. Henry Fonda as the villain is absolutely inspired. Every single frame of film involving Charles Bronson is perfect, but the opening, with his near dialogue free potboiler, is downright transcendent.

Slaughter’s Big Rip-off(1973)
A fitting sequel to one of my all time favorite blaxploitation films. While certain set pieces retain the lovable silliness of this exploitation subgenre, Jim Brown is impressively all business. Definitely grittier than its predecessor, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off is so violent that it feels like an Italian Poliziotteschi film; darker, bloodier, more personal fight with the mob. Gotta love the fact that Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s faithful Tonight Show co-host, plays the villain.

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