Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Adam Jahnke ""

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke is a Senior Editor and columnist for The Digital Bits, one of the leading DVD/Blu-ray websites on the net. Among other things, he's responsible for the annual Hell Plaza Oktoberfest horror-thon and, most recently, Burnt Offerings, a weekly column devoted to Manufactured On Demand DVDs from Warner Archive and other studios.  

The Best Of Youth (2003, Marco Tullio Giordana) – This sprawling Italian epic, following the lives of two brothers over the course of more than 30 years, requires a significant investment of time (over 6 hours) but it’s worth every minute. It sucks you in slowly but completely, fully investing you in the lives of these characters. It’s a truly remarkable accomplishment and the closest thing I’ve seen to a cinematic novel in a long, long time. I’m surprised this movie isn’t more well-known. It seems like it should have ranked near the top of everyone’s Ten Best Films of the 2000s list.

Gypsy (1962, Mervyn LeRoy) – I wasn’t expecting much from this one, despite the fact that I actually do enjoy musicals. But Hollywood seemed to forget how to make them in the 60s and the star trio of Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood and Karl Malden seem to be an unlikely recipe for musical success. But this is a wonderfully entertaining movie with enthusiastic performances and great songs by Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne. Despite my misgivings, I was totally won over within the first 15 minutes.

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971, John D. Hancock) One of the greatest horror movie titles of all time and also one of the most misleading. Lots of horror movies try to get the audience to wonder if maybe all the creepy stuff that’s happening is just in the main character’s head. This is one of the few to play the game successfully. Zohra Lampert is phenomenal as the haunted and mentally unstable Jessica. This is a real sleeper and just about as creepy as horror movies come.

Our Man In Havana (1959, Carol Reed) – Alec Guinness is recruited by British Secret Service agent Noel Coward to be a spy in pre-revolutionary Cuba and develop a network of informants. Unfortunately, he has no connections and no information, so he just starts making things up, which leads to him developing a reputation as one of the Secret Service’s best operatives. The amazing cast also includes Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O’Hara and Ralph Richardson. An underrated gem from the fruitful collaboration between director Reed and writer Graham Greene.

Seven Chances (1925, Buster Keaton)  I revisited a lot of silent films in the second half of 2013 and one of the great pleasures of the year was rediscovering the genius of Buster Keaton. I’d never seen this one before and I have no idea how it managed to stay off my radar for so long because it’s one of his best. I’m guessing the premise was time-worn even in 1925: Buster stands to inherit a fortune if he gets married by 7PM. But as the saying goes, it’s the singer, not the song. This is a masterpiece of comic escalation. If you’ve never seen a Buster Keaton movie (and shame on you if you haven’t), this is a great place to start.

Song Of The South (1946, Harve Foster & Wilfred Jackson) – I’m not at liberty to say exactly how I was finally able to see Disney’s most notorious and elusive movie but I’m glad I did. Technically, it’s a bit of a marvel with some of the most seamless blending of live-action and animation I’ve ever seen. And while there is plenty here to be offended by, it pales in comparison to other movies of the 30s and 40s. Of course, those other movies aren’t made for kids, which is why Song Of The South remains locked in the vault. I still think Disney should figure out a way to release this on disc aimed at collectors rather than families. The movie has a great deal to offer, not least of which is James Baskett’s performance as Uncle Remus. Baskett won an honorary Oscar for the role and died just two years later, leaving behind a too-brief filmography. It’s kind of insulting that the performance that should be his greatest legacy can’t be seen.

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