Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Everett Jones ""

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Everett Jones

Follow Everett on Letterboxd: I've gotten many good film recs this way. Here's his great Underrated Dramas list from 2012: 

And here's his equally cool Underrated Horror list from 2012:

1. THE DEVILS (1971)
Sometimes it can seem like there are no more unquestionable, canon-worthy masterpieces of filmmaking left to discover. Then you see a film like THE DEVILS. I’ll admit it, I’m not the biggest Ken Russell fan in the world.Some of his films just strike me as exercises in Ken Russell-ishness, but here he’s working with enough themes and ideas-about religious hypocrisy and political powerplays, to start with-to fuel a whole HBO series. And that’s alongside Russell’s unmistakable style, equal parts psychedelia and music hall-flavored campiness. Oliver Reed is as charismatic as he can be, Derek Jarman’s production design for a white, pristine medieval world is brilliantly counterintuitive –it’s enough to make me grateful for whatever decision by Warner Bros. brass have made this transgressive nightmare of a movie largely unavailable for the past forty years. After all, it’s good to know that there are still movies left to discover.
2. SAFETY LAST! (1923)
Before 2013, all I really knew about Harold Lloyd was the famous still from this movie of the comedian hanging from a clock hand over a city street. I’d like to think that plenty of other cinephiles were guilty of the same. With the Criterion Collection’s release of a practically-immaculate transfer of SAFETY LAST! this year, though, any excuse I might have had for my ignorance was definitely gone. Lloyd may not quite have the sense of poetry of Chaplin or Buster Keaton, but for the sheer amount of invention andfun packed into every minute of running time, this at least deserves to  be considered popcorn filmmaking at its best.With the modern-day triumph of pixels over celluloid, the closing scene-from which that famous image is taken-is not just hilarious but thrilling in a way I’d almost forgotten action scenes could be.

Olivia De Havilland’s movies with Errol Flynn were some of the first classic Hollywood films I saw as a kid, and I’ve nursed a crushed on the actress ever since. It’s been a pleasant surprise, then, as I’ve seen a wider range of old films to discover what an accomplished actress she could be outside of damsel-in-distress roles.She’s particularly good in THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE, but then the film as a whole is something pretty special too. It’s a period piece set in the 1890s, featuring James Cagney as the first-generation son of Irish immigrant Alan Hale (who was 7 years older than him), whose own particular American dream is to become a dentist. It also includes a beautiful blonde (Rita Hayworth), despite the signs that her bluestocking brunette BFF (De Havilland) might be the more apt match. Raoul Walsh tells a story aboutdisappointment, corruption, and tragedy, not to mention plenty of “hilarious” drunken brawling, that nonetheless remains almost impossibly funny and charming throughout (he pulls off the same trick for Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim, which I also saw for the first time and is set in the same period).

A film I had never heard of before it played NYC’s Film Forum this year. All of the films I’d seen previously from its director, Jacques Becker, are crime movie, and superb ones too (Touchez Pas Au GrisbiCasque D’Or, Le Trou), but this is not. It’s the story of a working-class Parisian couple- the husband works in a publishing plant, the wife in a drugstore-and an exploded view of the world they navigate every day, from friendly Metro ticket-takers to lecherous neighborhood grocers. The narrative ingenuity is worthy of an O. Henry short story, the brisk storytelling of a Warner Bros. pre-code, and a certain narrative gambit ofDeep Red-era Dario Argento.

5. JUDEX (1963)
The stranglehold of superheroes on Hollywood doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon, making this very different vision of costumed crimefighters even more intriguing. Georges Franju (Eyes Without a Face) subverts and complicates the genre before Christopher Nolan was a twinkle in his father’s eye, offering a superhero who has to rely on the putative damsel in distress and acquire a sense of humility into the bargain. We’re used by now to modern-day comic book movies drawing on the gee-wiz spirit of old-school American pulp fiction, but Franju’s frame of reference is practically turn-of-the-century, evoking the very first days of filmmaking to create a strange, oddly peaceful world for his heroes and villains.

Another Olivia De Havilland film, this directed by the great Robert. In a split-screen performance, De Havilland plays twin sisters, one good and innocent, the other a murderess-the trouble for detective Thomas Mitchell and psychiatrist Lew Ayres is proving which is which. Since The Master, this period’s pop psychology-themed movies seem doubly fascinating, and the na├»ve sincerity of the ideas espoused byAyres’s character, combined with the well-done but inherently unconvincing special effects used to place two De Havillands onscreen simultaneously, makes for an entertainingly campy experience. However, no apologies have to be made here for De Havilland or for Siodmak, whose visuals are as eerie as in his classic noirs (Phantom LadyCriss Cross). Their sincere commitment to somewhat silly material makes for a great piece of pulp filmmaking.

7. LES MAUDITS (1947)
Rene Clement is probably best-known for the canonical World Cinema classic Forbidden Games and glamorous thriller Purple Noon, but I find his movies, even the most obscure, to be reliably fascinating. This early effort of his, just re-released in 2013 by the Cohen Film Collection, might be one of his best. It’s a submarine movie, a “guy movie” standby, but with a difference; the claustrophobic setting isn’t a showcase for heroism and professionalism, but a viper’s nest of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers escaping Europe at the end of WWII. Clement’s staging of scenes inside the sub is seriously impressive, looking ahead to Wolfgang Petersen’s direction on Das Boot three decades later in the mobility of his camerawork and the convincing narrowness of the sets.

8. WILD ROVERS (1971)
Quite a revelation-a movie I’ve rarely seen discussed outside the context of Blake Edwards’ ‘70s career woes, it might be one of the best Westerns of its decade. Along with the James Coburn-starring, Michael Crichton-writtenmedical thriller The Carey Treatment, it was an enjoyable reminder of Edwards’s versatility beyond the comedies he’s best known for.  Though, unmistakably, slightly indebted to the then-recent example of The Wild Bunch, what’s most interesting is how Edwards applies his experience with the clockwork pacing and construction of farces to a loosely woven story about the hard lives of cowboys (Ryan O’Neal and, per Peckinpah, William Holden).
9. MURDER, HE SAYS (1945)
How many 1940s comedies could remind you of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? I have no idea, but I would be surprised if the answer was more than one. Since seeingDestry Rides Again, I’ve started digging into the filmography of its director, George Marshall, and have been pleasantly surprised to find a filmmaker, not someone ever regarded as an auteur, with a real gift for mixing humor and straightforward genre thrills. Murder, He Says features Fred MacMurray as a census taker who, while surveying a backwoods area, finds himself in a large, crumbling and irradiated house inhabited by a moonshine-running familyalmost as deadly as a certain power tool-enthused Texan clan. It’s in the vein of Arsenic and Old Lace, but I think maybe better than it, because Marshall creates a real sense of danger alongside all the harmless zaniness.

10. CRIME WAVE (1985)
Director/writer/star John Paisz’s debut could be described as a homebrewed Canadian mix of David Lynch and the Coen Bros. (and not just because they co-wrote a Sam Raimi movie of the same title that year), but it has a unique feel all its own, equal parts charming and creepy –it’s not just quirk by numbers. It’s the story of Steven Penny, aspiring “color crime movie” movie, as narrated by the grade school age girl (Eva Kovacs) whose parents’ garage he lives above, as if she was giving a classroom presentation. Paisz sidesteps a low, low budget by givinghis film the handmade, flat look of a postcard or 1950s educational filmQuite a hard film to see, but it is availableon Redbox’s instant streaming service.

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