Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Scott Nye ""

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Scott Nye

Scott Nye is a film critic and blogger, writing for CriterionCast.com, BattleshipPretension.com, and RailofTomorrow.com. He’s a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and lives in Los Angeles.
On Twitter:
https://twitter.com/railoftomorrow 


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Applause (1929) - Made virtually at the advent of sound, Rouben Mamoulian’s debut film would still feel wildly, dizzyingly energetic had it been released in 1939. Hell, it still leaves one dazed now.


Lady Killer (1933) - Nobody used Cagney as well as Roy Del Ruth, and here he is absolutely unleashed as a con man turned movie star. Few films will give you a lead character who cackles maniacally as wild animals wreak havoc on his mansion.


The Merry Widow (1934) - Just when you think your love of Lubitsch cannot deepen anymore, this comes along. This gleefully bawdy, obscenely ostentatious freight train of music, charm, sex, and desire is Lubitsch Unbound, given perhaps the largest budget he’d had to date (it certainly appears to be), a parade of extras, and the two leads that had pretty well defined his cinema to that point - Jeanette MacDonald and the great, the singular, the irreplaceable Maurice Chevalier. One of those films that gets more laughs from pure joy than exact jokes.


Libeled Lady/Easy Living (1936/1937) - Two absolute machines of classic romantic comedy, densely interwoven and still light as a feather.

Suddenly, It's Spring (1947) - War has ended, and couples are reunited - even those who had planned to divorce! But you see, Paulette Goddard had spent some time counseling other couples facing the difficulties of army life, and so she has decided to give her relationship with Fred MacMurray another go. Unfortunately, he's found himself another woman, and if he could only summon the courage to ask her to sign the divorce papers, all of this would be cleared up. Suffice to say few movies this year made me laugh as much, and those that did certainly didn't bring me so close to tears.


Uwasa no onna (1954) - Thanks to Masters of Cinema’s new Blu-ray release, I caught up on a lot of Mizoguchi at the end of the year, and while Ugetsu and Sansho still stand atop that particular filmography, I’d be more than happy to place his tremendous Uwasa no onna very close to them. Unlike his more outward polemic in Street of Shame, which becomes hampered by too many characters meant to solely insist on the degradation that comes with prostitution, Uwasa no onna assumes you know it’s an awful scene, and proceeds from there, gradually showing how even someone most opposed to it can become an intrinsic part of its operation, all within a very touching melodramatic framework.


Female on the Beach (1955) - Joseph Pevney’s real claims to fame are some of the more-lauded episodes of the original Star Trek (including “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “Arena,” and “Amok Time”), but this picture is really indicative of his considerable talents. Joan Crawford plays a widow who, while staying at the beach house they once rented to a woman who died under mysterious circumstances, has to gradually face her grief in the form of a half-murder-mystery/half-haunted/house thriller. Filled with dozens of hauntingly resonant images and a perfectly-tuned, melodramatically-unhinged performance by Crawford, whose iciness gives way to truly uncomfortable passion, it’s one of those films that feels less the result of careful design and more pure instinct, as inexplicable as it is casually masterful.


Funny Face (1957) - I hope, by now, we’ve moved past the stage of looking at Stanley Donen merely as Gene Kelly’s sidekick, or the guy who mimicked Hitchcock quite well, or whatever else, because this film is utterly astounding, and ever-flowing fountain of joyous expression and passion. The opening minutes alone are formally explosive, leaving the possibilities for the rest of the picture endless.


Imitation of Life (1959) - The temptation with these discoveries list is to dive for the most obscure stuff you caught, but there’s no denying Sirk’s densely-layered dramatic achievement. Maybe the greatest last film ever made?


The Devil's Eye (1960) - You hear about these sort of “lesser Bergman” titles and you always expect to be disappointed but then you see them and find that they’re actually really wonderful, totally in tune with his body of work and deeply melancholic all their own. Or at least I do. That this stars Bibi Andersson, one of the most compelling women to ever grace the screen, is no small reason for this, I am sure.


The Errand Boy/The Patsy (1961/1964) - Amazing what can change in just a few short years. Jerry Lewis’s The Errand Boy is not without its satirical elements, but it still largely rests on the idea that the motion picture business is essentially what it presents itself to be - the place where dreams are made. The Patsy is as much an evisceration of all that as any smarmy early-90s insider-y dark comedy, a total send-up of the very system that made Jerry Lewis so successful. Both are indelible and wall-to-wall hilarious.


Marnie (1964) - This instantly leapt to top three Hitchcock. So unwieldy and fueled by the horror of interior unraveling, it’s the filmmaker’s most incisive study of a broken mind outside of Vertigo.


Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969) - Fierce, funny, a little indecent, but more than anything, a really tense, perfectly-constructed motion picture in which the meditation on racism is imbued into the narrative, rather than vice-versa.


The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) - It took me about three years to finally work through Criterion’s great America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set, but I really wish I had rushed to this sooner. It seems to be in every way the equal of the more-praised entries therein, with a final shot that gutted me unlike any other.


The Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter (1983) - I had intended to see many more Shaw Brothers films during Cinefamily’s spectacular retrospective, but illness and cancellations got in the way; luckily, I was able to catch this freaking fury of punches, kicks, and, eventually, a good dose of teeth removal via staff.


Days of Thunder (1990) - Tony Scott’s first great film sets the template for everything that was to come. It’s the movie many thought Drive to be, only less insistent on its elliptical, ethereal nature.


He Got Game (1998) - Spike Lee’s tremendous modern melodrama takes to task the culture of professional sports while still upholding the joy of the game. He uses one-on-one matches like fight scenes or dance numbers, developing character and story through action in ways words never could.

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