Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Imogen Sara Smith ""

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Imogen Sara Smith

Imogen is the author of Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy and In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City and I recently heard her on The Cinephiliacs podcast (where she discussed IN A LONELY PLACE). Check all of these things out!

Razzia sur la Chnouf (1955)
I watched a vast number of Jean Gabin movies for a profile I was writing, and this was the revelation: a riveting, cold-eyed portrait of the drug underworld in Paris, made shortly after the much better-known (and justly celebrated) Touchez Pas auGrisbi. This is a perfect demonstration of Gabin’s minimalist power—he dominates through absolute simplicity and calm confidence as he moves through the seamy, violent, desperate world of smugglers, dealers, addicts and hired killers. The film is neither preachy nor amoral, and it is also a rare instance in which a last-minute twist enriches what came before.

The River’s Edge (1957)
The Allan Dwan retrospective at MoMA was the big film event of the summer in New York, and while I saw a lot of excellentsilents and rarities, my favorite film remained The River’s Edge, which I had discovered earlier in the year. This is one of Dwan’smany triangle-based movies, here stripped down to the basics, with a woman and two male rivals isolated in the wilderness.With wonderfully complex, shifting relationships between the characters (and a stand-out performance by Anthony Quinn as a man of unexpected cunning and ambiguous motives), The River’s Edge illustrates Dwan’s greatest strength as a filmmaker, his commitment to the view that, as he said, “Any story worth a damn must be intimate. It must be close to you. It must move you.”

Hard to Handle (1933)
This was the least surprising of my newfound favorites. I knew I would love this movie; I loved this movie. Pre-Code Cagney is one of cinema’s most dependable delights, and this was one of the few major entries I hadn’t seen. Cagney, full of his usual beans, plays a promoter—of dance marathons, treasure hunts, grapefruit diets (wink, wink), and “reducing cream.” Ruth Donnelly almost steals the movie out from under him as the grasping, squawky, yet ultimately loveable mother of Cagney’s girlfriend. I can’t wait to see this again.

All I Desire (1953)
Douglas Sirk called this “that insignificant little movie,” but I call it melodrama at its very best, and Barbara Stanwyck’sperformance is film acting at its very best. Her acting is so simple, direct, yet deeply felt; she draws you so fully inside her character’s thoughts and feelings. The role is one of the most balanced between her tough, wisecracking side and her emotionally vulnerable side, as she plays an actress who abandoned her family and comes to visit years later, to confront all the regrets and resentments her leaving caused. Richard Carlson is unusually good too as the stuffy husband who still passionately loves her.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
I know this is not new to anyone besides me, but I’ve been coming very late to classic 1950s sci-fi. A lot of it is much better than it should be, but this was my favorite; the combination ofdreamlike tone with an amazingly credible presentation of a bizarre premise, and the mood at once sorrowful, suspenseful, and grotesquely comic, with an ending that comes darn near transcendence with its vision of the irreducible value of existence.

Antoine and Antoinette (1947)
I wish someone would mount a Jacques Becker retrospective; his films have never disappointed me and this was no exception. Much lighter than the dark crime dramas for which he’s known,this film had the same trademark focus on in-between moments, when we see people just being. Half of the film simply establishes the lives of an ordinary working-class Parisian married couple, with a marvelous sense of freshness, spontaneity, and elegant simplicity. Then a plot develops about a lottery ticket, which throws the randomness of these ordinary lives into high relief. Lovely.

The Late Mathias Pascal (1925)
One of my discoveries this year was Films Abatros, a production company founded in France in the 1920s by Russian expatriates, and the intense, mercurial Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine, who was the company’s biggest star. Of all the things I saw, the best was this gorgeous, epic adaptation of a Pirandello novel, made by the avant-garde French director Marcel L’Herbier. The surreal plot about a man’s search for freedom and identity moves through several ravishing European locations, and is anchored by one of Mosjoukine’s most detailed, grounded performances, while still showing his soaring range and capacity for the unexpected.

Brainstorm (1965)
This late-period noir has a wonderfully gripping ambiguity: the hero’s “brainstorm” is to feign insanity in order to get away with murdering his lover’s sadistic husband, but you gradually come to question how sane he really is. Jeffrey Hunter proves he’s more than just a pretty face, and Viveca Lindfors is excellent as an equally cryptic psychiatrist who is either his ally or his nemesis. Taut, engrossing, and one of the most intelligent noir takes on psychoanalysis.

The Last Wagon (1956)
I find Delmer Daves a mixed bag, but this was a knock-out: jaw-dropping landscapes, exciting story, and a magnificent performance from Richard Widmark at his most charismatic and raffishly appealing. He plays a white man who considers himself a Comanche, and the theme of racial prejudice against Native Americans is woven into the story much more subtly and powerfully than in the better-known Broken Arrow. I saw this as it needs to be seen, on the big screen, and wallowed in it.


Justin Bozung said...

Big fan of Brainstorm (1965).

Ned Merrill said...

Had to go back and re-watch the scene where Cagney breaks out his Yiddish in HARD TO HANDLE. Priceless! Cagney was a shabbos goy as a kid, so his knowledge was real.