Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Spenser Hoyt ""

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Spenser Hoyt

Hello everyone, I’m Spenser Hoyt. I used to work a lot at world famous Scarecrow Video. I don’t work there as much as I used to but I still take piles of movies home all the time. Right now I’m going through a mountain of video tapes all on the Private Screenings label for use in an upcoming VHS compilation night at the infamous Grand Illusion Cinema. A lot of what I watched in 2013 were the direct result of a couple of swell books that I recommend highly: Bleeding Skull and The Best Film You’ve Never Seen. You can follow me on twitter, my handle is @hoytoid and I swear I’m gonna use Letterboxd to keep track of what I watch this year. I mean it!

Man For All Seasons (1966)
I put this off for a long time cuz I was afraid it would seem like homework but I was wrong. On paper the movie sounds pretty dry as it’s based on a play about a politician who stubbornly stays true to his religious beliefs. But the picture is immensely entertaining and fascinating, with wonderful performances and confident direction from the underrated Fred Zinneman.  Robert Shaw nearly steals the show with what might be the definitive interpretation of a young Henry VIII.  

Ogroff The Mad Mutilator (1983)
I had vaguely heard about this crude wacko French slasher in the past but thanks to Bleeding Skull I simply had to sit down with some Ogroff! I was not disappointed by the no-budget, Super 8surreal weirdness that unfolds in the tale of a masked madman attacks random people (and cars) with an axe, then falls in love, then fights some zombies. While Ogroff is like a lot of other movies nothing is quite like Ogroff.

Female (1933)
nifty pre-code treat that was originally directed by William Wellman, then Michael Curtiz did some re-shoots. The film stars Ruth Chatterton as strong willed business woman who runs a successful automobile company. Though the picture ends with our heroine in a typical relationship the film presents her as a very progressive female character who is confident both in the boardroom and the bedroom. As a bonus the art deco sets and evocative photography are absolutely delectable.

Beast of the City (1932)
More pre-code greatness, this one is about a tough police chief(Walter Houston) who wages a brutal, nearly-single handed war on crime. Beast of the City is surprisingly violent with a lot of frank sexual situations and risqué dialogue. It seems like a lot of movies from this era focus on the criminals, this one emphasizes the cop’s perspective. W.R. Burnett has become my go-to screenwriter for top-notch noir and underrated westerns and, once again, he came through.

Some Came Running (1958)
Vincente Minnelli does a melodramatic Rat Pack movie in the Douglas Sirk (or maybe William Inge) style. Frank Sinatra plays a depressed, alcoholic, washed up writer who returns to his hometown after a stint in the army. He hooks up with a depressed, alcoholic, degenerate gambler (Dean Martin) and is pursued by an alcoholic floozy (Shirley MacLaine) who isn’t depressed but has plenty of problems of her own. As you can guess, small time life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and tragedy ensues. While things goa bit over the top at times (which is appropriate, I guess) it’s an engrossing film anchored by a solid Sinatra whose role is nicely complimented by one of Martin’s best performances.

Elmer, the Great (1933)
I’ve long pigeonholed Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III from Some Like It Hot but 2013 was about damned time to watch some of his vintage comedies. Brown is a singular comedian known for his goofy faces, giant mouth and distinctive voice. He starred in a couple of very similar baseball comedies in the mid-thirties that were about oddball outsiders who become star players for the Chicago Cubs. While 1935’s Alibi Ike is a very enjoyable 75 minutes and often regarded as the superior film, I really dug Elmer, The Great and highly recommend it to those who like their comedies thirties style.

The Fortune Cookie (1966)
Speaking (indirectly) of Billy Wilder, watching The Fortune Cookie is another oversight I corrected in ’13. Walter Matthau is one of my favorite actors and he won a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as an ambulance chasing lawyer who convinces his brother-in-law (Jack Lemmon) to exaggerate an on-the-job injury in order to pull an insurance scam. It’s another solid Wilder comedy (sprinkled with a little social commentary)whose screenplay still seems fresh today.

Nightfall (1957)
Here’s another discovery that left me wondering why the hell I didn’t watch it years ago. Directed by one of the best, Jacques Tourneur, shot by a master, Burnett Guffey, and based on a book by the incomparable David Goodis it’s a unique entry in the film noir genre. Foremost is the film’s atypical casting that puts gruff Aldo Ray in a vulnerable, sympathetic leading role and features Brian Keith (who I always think of as the loving father in Family Affair) as one of the bad guys. Also employed by the filmmakers are intriguing, contrasting locations. Part of the film takes place under the gaudy neon of Hollywood Boulevard and the other part takes place in remote, snowy Wyoming. Did I mention young Anne Bancroft co-stars as a semi-femme fatale?Nighfall is sometimes regarded as minor noir but I absolutely loved it.

Payroll (1961)
This is a taught British caper that’s a little difficult to track down but well worth the hunt. Some hoodlums plan on robbing the payroll of a Newcastle factory. Their first effort is a failure and the company ends up using an armored car for the next payday delivery but the gang stubbornly makes another go of it. Predictably, things go from bad to worse. Payroll is a solid entry in one of my favorite genres and it shares a lot with classics likeT he Asphalt JungleThe picture also offers a few unique touches like a gritty Northern England blue collar setting plus considerable attention is given to its peripheral characters, many of whom end up contributing to the crime’s ultimate implosion.

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