Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Battleship Pretension ""

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Battleship Pretension

David & Tyler run the excellent Battleship Pretension Podcast, which I can't recommend highly enough. 

Below find both of their film discoveries lists:
(also, see their lists from last year: --------------
Putting in as much time as I do being a semi-professional (but still mostly amateur) film critic, I spend most of my movie-watching time keeping up to date on the newest releases. But after being asked last year to participate in this venture, I made sure to make a little more time in 2013 for older fare, fitting it in where I could. Most of my list is still made up of either home video releases I had to review or things that were screening at film festivals I attended. But I look forward to seeing even more older films in 2014.

10 & 9. Last Summer Won’t Happen(Peter Gessner, 1968) & Chronicle of a Summer (Edgar Morin & Jean Rouch, 1961)
It’s interesting to ponder that the culture we talk about when we talk “the 60s” is actually only a very small part of that decade. Chronicle of a Summer, which looks at Paris in the summer of 1960 and Last Summer Won’t Happen, which looks at New York City in the spring of 1968, provide bookends of a sort to the period. Both are documentaries that follow a loose assemblage of fringe, counterculture, antiestablishment types. But where Chronicle is cautiously hopeful in its depiction of varied outsiders coming together (immigrants, workers, socialists, etc.),Last Summer surveys the hangover from 1967s famous “summer of love,” showcasing bitter activists coming to terms with the fact that it may have represented their peak and, as the title insists, won’t happen again. Together, the two films tell the story of a journey from peace and love to irony and cynicism, all in less than a decade’s time.

8. Two Men in Manhattan (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1959)
Jean-Pierre Melville’s only film shot in the United States (the exteriors are, at least) is the perfect encapsulation of what a hip European’s fantasy version of New York City would look like. There’s a story as well but that’s not important. What’s vital here is the depiction of two French journalists apparently attempting to occupy every taxicab and barstool in the city before the sun comes up and, if they happen to find whatever it is they’re looking for, all the better. Melville himself plays the more buttoned-down of the two leads, perhaps betraying his own insecurities in and about the fabled metropolis. But, again, this sort of heady stuff doesn’t matter. Time travel doesn’t exist and even if it did, this version of New York never existed either. Let the movie be your time machine.

7. Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973)
With Amarcord, Federico Fellini displays one of the trademarks of true filmmaking talent. He’s able to make unappealing content not just tolerable but transfixing. Fellini’s somewhat autobiographical film is stuffed full of bawdiness, most of it stemming from the clueless, blindly horny nature of adolescent boys. It also contains what is frankly a pretty shockingly offensive characterization of a promiscuous woman. But with the whole thing bobbing gently on a sea of Fellini’s natural humanity and the verisimilitude lent by his memories, it becomes something both magical and immediately recognizable.

6. The Marriage of Maria Braun(Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979)
What immediately vaults The Marriage of Maria Braun over Amarcord is that it also concerns a woman who could perhaps be described as promiscuous. The difference is that Maria is not defined by her promiscuity. She is a woman before she is anything else and a difficult, challenging woman at that. 35 years after this film was made, we still live in a culture that almost subconsciously categorizes determined, aggressive and ambitious women as “bitches.” Maria’s singular focus and drive can occasionally make her unpleasant but that’s her decision. Fassbinder starts his film where far too many stories about women end, with the wedding. Maria’s marriage may indeed be the most important piece of her identity’s foundation but it remains just that. It’s a piece of who she is and not an endgame. She has plenty of other goals.

5. Black Sabbath (Mario Bava, 1963)
Horror anthologies are totally in right now, right? Maybe that’s what drove me to finally check out Mario Bava’s triptych, Black Sabbath. Or maybe it’s the fact that it shares a name with one of the greatest bands of all time. Or maybe I just needed to finally educate myself a bit about giallo. Though the long story that makes up the middle of the film most embodies the rich, almost garish, color palette and meticulously overstuffed production design of the subgenre, the real scares come in the more minimal first and third sections. Both of those tell stories about young women being terrorized in their apartments by entities or forces that they can’t quite see. They’re sharply intense and, especially in the third tale, display a mastery in the building of terror. The subtext is about the vulnerability of young women in a world of predators but the main text is content to just creep you the hell out. Oh, and also to convince you never to take jewelry from dead bodies.

4. Wild Style (Charlie Ahearn, 1983)
Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style should, for best results, be viewed on a large screen with a loud sound system and in the presence of a whole bunch of people who are really into it. It’s just as much a documentary as a narrative but, more than that, it’s a party. It’s a survey of a subculture that, in many ways, became American popular culture in the years that followed. It’s about graffiti and hip-hop. It’s also about the ways that those things could and would be taken and commodified by the wealthier, whiter establishment, even the hip ones (Glenn O’Brien appears as an arrogant version of himself or, perhaps, just as himself). Still, it manages to never be a bummer. The story that serves as a frame has been told before and with more skill but it’s only there to give a backbone to what is, without qualification, one of the most exuberant, lively and satisfying cinematic experiences available.

3. Sabata (Gianfranco Parolini, 1969)
Holy cow, do I wish I had seen Sabata when I was a kid. Instead of using tree branches in the backyard to pretend I was Michael Dudikoff inAmerican Ninja, I’d have been jumping around, acting like Lee Van Cleef, stoically shooting every damned thing I please with the occasional smirk. The gunplay inSabata is so cavalier it would be downright irresponsible if it weren’t such an innocent fantasy. Sabata the character is a better superhero than any of those on screens today and the movie is never boring for a second. I can’t wait to watch the sequels.

2. Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959)
Let me get up on my soapbox for a second. It’s remarkable to think that John Cassavetes Shadows, almost inarguably one of the indispensable landmarks of American independent cinema (on par with, if not better than, Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop) would be dismissed by  many as “mumblecore” were it made today. That horrible and horribly persistent term is more than just lazy and myopic. It’s goddamn disrespectful to the art and simple power of the cinema. Cassavetes’ simple tale about twenty-something New Yorkers, both black and white, didn’t require whatever base level of production value is apparently required today. All he needed was all any film needs: a point of view, a camera and something true to point it at.

1.  An American Werewolf in London(John Landis, 1981)
Okay, I know that I should have seen this by now. But really, you should be blaming, as I am, my friends who had seen it and neglected to tell me how thoroughly up my alley it is. Its pitch black sense of humor dances on the border of being too absurd to take seriously but always manages to keep its head. And despite the word “werewolf” in the title, it only truly fits that genre at the beginning and the end. The bulk of the film is about a man having visions of unfiltered violent mayhem that are so excessive as to be sickeningly hilarious. The question of whether he’s losing his mind or becoming his true self flows under the film. It’s a film about mankind’s existential struggle to reconcile its more civilized present with its beastly past but, to the same degree, it’s also a film about demon wolf Nazis gunning down children.

Honorable Mentions:

Another Parolini spaghetti Western, If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death, stands out for its awesome title and what amounts to little more than a badass cameo by Klaus Kinski. And Kino’s release of 1932’s Hell’s House proves that even a groaningly stupid morality story can’t stop Bette Davis from being Bette Fucking Davis.


In my capacity as film critic for Battleship Pretension, I have been allowed the opportunity to see several films I otherwise wouldn't have.  Some are new and some are old.  Many are bad, but some are wonderful.  Certainly, there are always movies that I've heard good things about and I am surprised to discover how far they exceed my expectations.  However, there are often other films that I know literally nothing about, only to be delighted by their content and execution.  Among some of the more notable films I saw and enjoyed are Frankenstein's Army, a found footage film that is one of the most stressful experiences I've ever had while watching a movie.  If you'd like to walk through one of those haunted mazes, but don't want to leave the house, I'd recommend watching this film.  I also loved The Ballad of Narayama, a heartbreaking meditation on aging performed in the style of traditional Kabuki theatre.  Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear was an efficient, effective suspense thriller with a few off-kilter touches thrown in for good measure.  There were a number of other notable films I watched in 2013, and it was very difficult narrowing it down to ten, but I've done just that.


10. Sansho the Bailiff (1954)
Kenji Mizoguchi's Dickensian tale of a brother and sister torn from their parents and sold into slavery.  This is a deeply affecting film, particularly in the way it examines our reaction to evil and corruption.  We can choose to be practical and go along with it, grabbing whatever happiness we can, or we can make the difficult choice to stand up against it.  Sansho the Bailiff argues that it can be very difficult for one person to make a difference, but that fact shouldn't stop us from trying.  A wonderful film.

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
When revisiting films from the Silent Era, we tend not to expect the kind of vibrant energy seen in modern movies.  However, that is exactly what we get in Carl Theodor Dreyer's  The Passion of Joan of Arc.  The familiar tale of a brave young woman charged with heresy- a crime punishable by death- comes to breathtaking, heartbreaking life through its use of extreme close-ups and quick cutting.  It is hard not to be engaged when watching a film as inherently emotive as this one.

8. The Wicker Man (1973)
Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man takes several different genres and rolls them up into a most unlikely film.  In many ways, the film is a simple detective story, with a pious detective investigating the disappearance of a young girl in a pagan community.  However, the further into the customs and beliefs of these people the detective digs, the more disturbing it all becomes, leading to a harrowing conclusion.  And, all the while, the director engages in an unblinking exploration of the unusual nature of belief.

7. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
A film that is both disturbing and hilarious, L.Q. Jones' A Boy and His Dog tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world in which a young man and his telepathic dog roam the wasteland, looking for food and, perhaps most importantly, sex.  What results is an off-the-wall look at the cravenness of humanity, solidified in a most cynical ending.

6. Solaris (1972)
Andrei Tarkovsky's meditative space film does everything good science fiction should do: it uses genre trappings to explore something undeniably human.  A man studying a living planet is surprised to find his dead wife back with him, forcing him to choose between the truth and his desires.  Anybody that has experienced loss- or maybe just yearns for the past- can sympathize with his struggle, even though it takes place in deep space.

5. Little Fugitive (1953)
What a pleasant surprise this was.  Directed by Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin, Little Fugitive tells the story of a young latchkey kid tricked into believing he killed his older brother.  He runs away to Coney Island, where he finds comfort in the games and rides.  As his brother eventually comes to look for him, the ensuing search is both funny and touching.  A real delight to watch.

4. Tokyo Story (1953)
Yasujiro Ozu's quiet tale about an aging couple in Japan who travel to Tokyo to visit their children, Tokyo Story will feel all too familiar for those like me who long for a simpler time in their lives, when the family was together and everybody enjoyed themselves.  Eventually, life pushes in and people get jobs and move away, and we are left fractured and alone.  The older couple's incessant positivity and accommodation of others only adds to the heartbreak.

3. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
This complex film seems to have simple, easy-to-understand themes, but its director, R.W. Fassbinder, muddies the waters, to great effect.  The film is ostensibly about prejudice, as a lonely older woman abruptly marries a much-younger Moroccan worker, drawing suspicious and judgment from her friends.  These two give each other strength in the face of this adversity, only to discover that they aren't so perfect themselves.  A beautiful, frustrating portrait of loneliness and connection.

2. My Dinner with Andre (1981)
How could a simple dinner between two friends be so damned engrossing?!  Somehow Louis Malle manages to make it so.  Featuring a casual conversation between Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, My Dinner with Andre quickly escalates into an invigorating discussion of the intersection of experience and philosophy.  Eventually, every point that is made feels like a call to action for the audience, demanding that we not only decide whom we agree with most, but why we ourselves hold the beliefs that we do.  So simple, yet surprisingly exciting.

1. Three Colors (1993-1994)
I can't say that I was necessarily surprised that I enjoyed Kieslowski'sThree Colors as much as I did, as I fully expected it to be a wonderful achievement.  And yet, somehow, even with my expectations as high as they were, Kieslowski managed to exceed them by a wide margin.  Individually, these three films are great, with each one not only exploring a different theme, but with a different artistic tone.  Together, however, they somehow form a detailed snapshot of the human condition.  Love, death, romance, loneliness, humor, anger, sadness, happiness; it's all here in this sensitive, brilliant series of films that I cannot recommend highly enough. 

No comments: