Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Austin Vashaw ""

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Austin Vashaw

Austin Vashaw is a technology and new media professional in Overland Park, KS (a Kansas City 'burb). A consummate film yakker, wisecracker, tact lacker, and BK Stacker snacker; he fills Twitter with movie chatter and discusses films of all stripes on Letterboxd.

When a group of old pals is reunited after many years by the suicide and funeral of a mutual friend, it creates an uneasy rush of emotions - rage, sadness, nostalgia, rekindled passion, and a heightened sense of mortality. THE BIG CHILL grabbed me by the heart and didn't let go. I'm grateful to Edgar Wright for including it in his watch list for THE WORLD'S END. It’s a compelling and powerful film, and probably one that would've continued to fly under my radar without that little push.

The 90's are for me the golden age of NBA basketball, but despite starring turns from Shaq and Penny, I never caught BLUE CHIPS in its heyday. Perhaps it's better that way, as the collegiate cheating plot probably would've been lost on lil’ 13-year-old me.

Nick Nolte is outstanding as an increasingly frustrated, washed-up coach faced with enormous pressure to win at any cost. Hating himself every step of the way, he gets drawn into the dark world of unethical recruiting practices to attract star talent for his squad. It's not just riveting movie, but a sobering morality tale that's still absolutely relevant.

Several recognizable players appear in the film, adding another layer of fun if you're a fan.

When bad guys kill her man and try to terrorize her into submission, Sugar Hill doesn't waste any time in summoning Baron Samedi, the Voodoo Lord of the Dead (gleefully played by Don Pedro Colley in an award-worthy performance), to aid her quest for revenge. He agrees - for a price - and allows her to make use of his zombie army.

There's a lot to love here. The zombies are of the classic Haitian tradition rather than the modern type, and unlike many older zombie movies they still look fantastic with their dusty and strikingly bug-eyed appearance. This is undoubtedly an underseen classic that deserves way more love than it gets.

I enjoy Hammer's classic horror films, but for some reason this one clearly stood above the rest to me. I think it's simply the enormous entertainment that it exudes from start to finish. The plot is simple, the camp is enjoyable, and the titular twin beauties are absolutely lovely. My own lovely beauty, who rarely goes in for my taste on anything pre-Star Wars, wandered into the finale and said, "Wow, this looks like a really fun movie. I'd like to watch it sometime". The praise don't get no higher than that, folks. Believe.

MANIAC COP 2 (1990)
Maniac Cop 2 is damn good, a rare sequel that outshines its predecessor. Maybe watching it theatrically influenced my reasoning, but my expectations for something that looked and felt like a low budget romp were completely blown away. Even though our titular villain is a ghoulish bogeyman, he actually gets some sincere character development and an unlikely partner. The action direction and stunt work are superb: MANIAC COP 2 holds its own against any of the big action pictures of the 80’s or 90's, and Bill Lustig has proven to me once again that he's one of the greatest - and most criminally underappreciated - treasures of genre filmmaking.

Fresh out of prison, Ugo Piazza tries in vain to convince everyone - friends, enemies, cops, even his girlfriend - that he doesn't have a huge stash of cash from his last job hidden away somewhere. ...But does he?

There's a great supporting character whose story arc may be even more interesting than Ugo's, and the score by Luis Bacalov and Osanna is crazy good and weirdly ahead of its time with heavy rock infused with the swelling orchestral melodies. To cap it off, the film's last few minutes are - well, I'll say it like this - scenes like this are the reason we watch movies.

Last summer challenged myself to watch every Kubrick film in order (more or less), as there were several I just hadn't gotten around to yet. Seventh in that lineup was PATHS OF GLORY, his first - and possibly greatest - masterpiece. I can't think of another film that has made me feel the characters' rage and helplessness so palpably, making it my #1 film discovery for the year.

Thanks for reading!

An even longer version of this list is available on Lettterboxd with many additional films:


KC said...

I'm so happy to hear someone else praise Sugar Hill. I also loved those dusty, silver-eyed zombies. The whole thing was way more entertaining than I expected. It had this great energy and "I'll do what I want!" feel. It's almost cathartic!

Unknown said...

Dan Zukovic's "THE LAST BIG THING", called the "best unknown American film of the 1990's in the film book "Defining Moments in Movies" (Editor: Chris Fujiwara), was recently released on DVD and Netflix by Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently debuting on Cable Video On Demand. Featuring an important early role by 2011 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nominee Mark Ruffalo ("The Avengers", "Shutter Island", "The Kids Are Alright"), "THE LAST BIG THING" had a US theatrical release in 1998, and gained a cult following over several years of screenings on the Showtime Networks.

"A distinctly brilliant and original work." Kevin Thomas - Los Angeles Times
"A satire whose sharpest moments echo the tone of a Nathaniel West novel...Nasty Fun!"
Stephen Holden - New York Times
"One of the cleverest recent satires on contemporary Los Angeles...a very funny sleeper!"
Michael Wilmington - Chicago Tribune
"One of the few truly original low budget comedies of recent years." John Hartl - Seattle Times
"'The Last Big Thing' is freakin' hilarious! The most important and overlooked indie film
of the 1990's!" Chris Gore - Film Threat