Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Everett Jones ""

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Everett Jones

I ran across Everett on Letterboxd - you should follow him there. Dude has great taste:

Tom Noonan’s directorial debut is one of the smallest movies imaginable, taking place entirely in one Manhattan apartment between just two actors, Noonan and then-Hal Hartley mainstay Karen Sillas, playing law firm co-workers on what cries out to be described as a “first date from hell.” It’s much more than another indie “dark” comedy about awkwardness and humiliation, though, conjuring up a truly unsettling atmosphere before arriving at an ending that really does deserve to be called “devastating.” What made this my favorite discovery of 2012 was how little I expected this movie to take me through far more emotional territory than most 3 hour+ plus epics. Also, it’s a great cautionary tale for anyone who’d like to be, or likes to consider themselves, a writer.

An Australian New Wave musical from 1982 might sound like another XANADU in the making-which wouldn't be all bad, of course, but this Gillian Armstrong follow-up to MY BRILLIANT CAREER is much too self-aware and unique to ever be as dated or kitschy as it probably should have ended up being. Its aspiring pop star-heroine, played by the sadly little-seen-since Jo Kennedy, could have come from one of the bleak post-punk movies of the time, like BREAKING GLASS or THE FABULOUS STAINS, except that her story plays out with the pure joyousness of the best of the MGM musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The cotton-candy colors are perfect, and the songs are memory-imprinting.

A NEW LEAF(1971)
Unlike the movies above, I wasn’t too surprised to love this as much as I did, but it’s worth including just as a film that only recently became relatively easy to access. Probably each title in Elaine May’s tiny filmography has some right to be called her masterpiece, but this has to be the most purely, consistently enjoyable. Not only does it have the brilliant miscasting of Walter Matthau as a spoiled trust fund baby, but there are the added bonuses of plenty of screentime for character actor great Jack Weston, and a treasure trove of lines that deserve to be as quoted, over-quoted, and misquoted as anything from THIS IS SPINAL TAP.

For some reason that I now can’t understand, before this year I never paid much attention to Albert Brooks beyond his work acting for other people. Seeing MODERN ROMANCE has changed that for good. If the soundtrack to STARSTRUCK has been pretty consistently stuck in my head since I heard it, the same is true of innumerable moments from this movie- “or if he were a bird he’d love you…”, “You know nothing!”, “You wanna run broke?” Not unlike with May, it can be hard to accept as a “great” filmmaker someone who rarely seems interested in doing anything particularly “cinematic”- until I consider just how perfectly realized, on their own terms, nearly every scene and moment in this film is, and then seeing Brooks as a great director becomes a lot easier.

Starting from the simplest of premises-a man (Gerard Depardieu) wants his wife (Carole Laure) to be happy again-this Bertrand Blier movie proceeds into the most unexpected territory, some of which I can barely imagine getting into a movie today, before finding a beautifully twisted “Happily ever after” of an ending as if that’s where it had intended to go all along. Blier’s obsession with misogyny, either as a theme or just a worldview, probably explains why he doesn’t get as much attention now as back in the bad old ‘70s, but the more movies of his I see, the more he looks like a major director. Maybe not one I’d necessarily want to know too well, but GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS doesn't feel nasty or arbitrary, as other movies of his sometimes do, but instead like a surreal, very French and very '70s, modern fable.

A haunting story about how one particular counterculturel odyssey reaches a very strange, very dead end. With Rita Hayworth in one of her last roles, and Robert Walker, Jr. looking very similar to his late father- not to mention 12 ANGRY MEN juror Ed Begley, Sr.- there’s also a feeling of old Hollywood ghosts floating around this beautifully-made European film that keys into the post-EASY RIDER era in an absolutely unique way.

This Jodie Foster vehicle sometimes feels a bit like a TV movie writ just a little bit larger than usual, but mostly it just serves as a test case for why people like us keep going back to the ‘70s even after the most obvious classics have been exhausted. Foster, all of 12 and appearing around the same time as her role in TAXI DRIVER, commands the screen for every minute she's on, even up against adult co-stars of the likes of Martin Sheen, giving one of his more memorable performances here as a floppy-haired, puppyish and thoroughly creepy predator.

It's fascinating to see the nearly-all female cast allowed to be as hard-boiled as any gangster or private eye, while the workmanlike John Cromwell's direction can easily stand up against legends like Sam Fuller and Robert Aldrich at their most gloriously lurid and pulpy. Anyone with the taste and the stomach for cinema's seamier side, particularly from the Roger Corman exploitation school, should see this evil little piece of noir, the wicked stepmother to the women-in-prison film and undoubtedly one of the least '50s movies of the '50s.

James Woods and James B. Harris’s first collaboration together, before the interesting if deeply flawed Ellroy adaptation COP. Woods has one of his best leads here as a venal, none too sharp, but, under the circumstances, basically likeable prison guard. The movie itself feels a bit like his character: laid-back and just a little bit sleazy, coming off as a cross between a great mid-century Hollywood movie, like HUD or SCARECROW, that tried to show us some of America’s less explored byways, and a great drive-in movie from the same time, which would just try to wrest some trashy fun from those same less-traveled roads.Tim McIntire also turns in a great performance as a calculating prisoner, leading a very enjoyable supporting cast that includes M. Emmett Walsh, Kay Lenz, and Susan Tyrell.

I've loved most of the Spanish horror movies I've seen, including more straightforward examples like THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED and THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE, but this movie is less easily categorized, more of a cross-genre mutt. Its story, about a very odd young man who's released from an insane asylum back to the provincial little town where his wealthy family lives, simultaneously looks at decidedly non-horror titles like HAROLD AND MAUDE and DEEP END, with their morbid, pranksterish "man-boy" lead characters, and ahead to Almodovar titles like TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! I'm not sure how well this would hold up on subsequent viewings, but on the first it was consistently unpredictable and wonderfully weird.


Ned Merrill said...

A NEW LEAF was one of my new favorites this years as well! Saw a very well-preserved 35mm print. A joy.

Ah, FAST WALKING and THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE...two of my all-time favorites.

I like Harris and Woods' COP alright, but I don't think it stands up to their first collaboration, either. Could not get over the the casting of some of the key supporting cast--Warren, Haid--and the idea that they were supposed to be several years younger than Woods--and it's a key factor in the script--when both Haid and Warren are, in fact, older than Woods.

I'm often anal about this kind of thing, whether it's Mickey Rourke playing a guy 12-15 years older than his actual age in YEAR OF THE DRAGON or Lee J. Cobb playing elder adversaries--as in a generation older--to Richard Conte in THIEVES' HIGHWAY and Gary Cooper in MAN OF THE WEST, both of whom are older than Cobb.

Everett Jones said...

Speaking of miscasting on the basis of age, I recently saw 1973's KID BLUE for the first time. An interesting period curio, for sure, but it's hard to get around Dennis Hopper playing "the Kid," and every other character treating him as if he was Bruce Davison, as opposed to someone who looks like he's already ingested several decades' worth of bourbon.