Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Everett Jones ""

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Everett Jones

Follow Everett on Letterboxd: I've gotten many good film recs this way. Here's his great Film Discoveries list from 2013:

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)
Most movies directed by Alan Rudolph that I’ve seen have left me more intrigued than fully satisfied, but there’s something ideal about how his 1994 biopic of Dorothy Parker combines his distinctively jazzy, detached style-which elsewhere can seem like an an affectation-with rich true-life material. So many real people are included in this Robert Altman-like group portrait of the Algonquin Round Table that there isn’t time to name or fully introduce most of them-which makes the actors seem all the more believable. Also ideal is having Jennifer Jason Leigh play Parker-her own mix of affectedness and Method-y emotional  rawness is perfect for a woman who’s both a hardworking writer in private and flamboyant performer in public. I couldn’t be more pleased that Leigh will be returning to the spotlight next year, for Quentin Tarantino no less-except by having discovered one of her’s, and Rudolph’s, best works, over 20 years after its, inexplicably tepidly-received, first release.

La Roue (1923)
A massive silent epic set in the railyards of Paris from Abel Gance, who’s sort of the French D.W. Griffith, best-known for the first chapter in his projected, never-completed series of films about Napoleon. At four hours-plus, this is not the most welcoming prospect for viewing, but, having sat through all four hours-plus of it, I can also say it’s an incredibly rewarding one, with a cumulative emotional effect that’s kind of overwhelming.

The Magic Box (1951)
With cinematography from Jack Cardiff, and a fan in Martin Scorsese, this seems like it should be a Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger film. Instead, it’s from the interesting, but much less famous, Boulting brothers, Roy and John. Their look at filmmaking’s early days seems to have influenced Hugo’s, but it’s far less rose-tinted; the cinematic pioneer shown here, William Friese-Greene, never much gets much profit out of his (disputed) claim to having helped develop motion picture cameras. Without being sentimental, it’s very moving, and has one of Robert Donat’s relatively rare leading performances, outside his iconic ones forThe 39 Steps and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

Il Bidone (1955)
A Fellini film that I’ve seen make appearances on Coen brothers top ten lists, not surprisingly, since it’s about a gang of con-men (Mike Nichols’ The Fortune also tends to show up). Otherwise, though, this is surprisingly unacknowledged in Fellini’s filmography, at least in the U.S., where it’s never received a quality DVD or Blu-ray release. I’d assume rights issues are to be blame, because this deserves to be ranked alongside the movies it’s already chronologically sandwiched between, La Strada and Nights of Cabiria,

Cluny Brown (1946)
Another great movie from a great director that’s been oddly AWOL from American distribution. This 1943 Lubitsch comedy maybe doesn’t approach perfection as much as some of his other films from the same period-NinotchkaThe Shop Around the CornerTo Be Or Not To Be, but I think its somewhat rougher edges (if a rough-edged Ernst Lubitsch film isn’t an oxymoron) add to its particular magic: because the parts don’t fit together so neatly, you often can’t tell where it’s going from scene to scene. To sum up, it’s a sort of Rules of the Game/Upstairs Downstairs/Downtown Abbey kind of story in WWII-era Britain, with Charles Boyer as a political refugee and Jennifer Jones as the world’s unlikeliest plumber; but I don’t want to say any more than that; it really is best seen knowing as little about it as possible.

Images (1972)
This isn’t nearly as forbidding, and is a lot more fun, than its reputation-for being one of Robert Altman’s art house experiments (along with Brewster McCloudThree WomenQuintet)-made it seem. It is that, playing with subjective POV in ways that most movies, and moviegoers, wouldn’t catch up to until Fight Club and Memento, three decades later. But it’s also one of Altman’s sly genre riffs, in this case on psychothrillers. Shirley Knight’s children’s book author, we learn from the outset, is prone to terrifying hallucinations, but, as we also come to learn, some of the terrifying things she sees are real. Thanks to cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and some stunning Irish landscapes, one of Altman’s best-looking movies.

Ryan’s Daughter (1970)
Lawrence of Arabia might be the one movie most responsible, above any other, for turning me into a cinephile, so I’ve been reluctant to see the film that’s generally considered David Lean’s biggest mistake. I shouldn’t have been, because I thinkRyan’s Daughter is a kind of masterpiece, if a very flawed one. Flawed by Lean and scripter Robert Bolt’s tone-deaf treatment of Irish politics, which comes off as complacently pro-English, and by the lead casting of Christopher Jones, next to whose inexpressiveness, Channing Tatum looks like Nicholas Cage. But all of Lean’s talents are here too; despite the overscaled scenery and spectacle he loves, the filmmaking is always controlled and precise, and always focused on character in a way that the average epic, whatever their directors may say during press junkets, aren’t. And despite Ryan’s Daughter’s reputation as a prettified fossil of old-guard filmmaking, it can be stark as a Lars Von Trier movie at times, and as erotic as a Bernardo Bertolucci one at others, when showing the sexual forces that can play havoc with people’s lives.

Christine (1983)
A reputation as a far-hire assignment, a by-the-numbers Stephen King adaptation, taken to rebound from The Thing’s commercial disappointment, I suppose is the main reason for this omission in my knowledge of John Carpenter’s career. And while I expected to enjoy it when I finally got around to it, I didn’t expect to findChristine perhaps Carpenter’s best-directed film. It’s true, it doesn’t seem particularly personal to him, but that didn’t bother me as much as I expected, since King’s voice comes through so clearly instead, with the story’s mix of unknowable supernatural terror and the typical white middle-class American male’s mundane obsessions (here, high school and cars).

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)
Robert Zemeckis is certainly one of the more talented directors to flourish in the Hollywood system at any recent point in time, but I’ll admit, I find something off-putting about a lot of his work, a mean streak, I suppose. His 1978 directorial debut, about teenagers in 1964 trying to crash the Beatles’ American debut on Ed Sullivan, doesn’t have the stylish pop of pretty much all his subsequent work, but it’s the one Zemeckis film that seems to be both entirely his and entirely likeable. It’s as witty and inventive as Used Cars or Back to the Future, but also, in an unforced way, sweet-natured. It’s one of the few movies not directed by Preston Sturges that seems like it could have been.  (It might also be, along with Gremlins, one of the best movies produced but not directed by Steven Spielberg).

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Based on seeing blurry, public domain-quality clips on public television, and on slogging through Erich Maria Remarque’s original novel in high school, I had mentally consigned this 1930 movie to the dusty broom closet of film history. Seeing Universal’s beautifully restored Blu-ray of the film disabused me of that notion-it’s a visually stunning piece of work, and as genuinely gripping and enjoyable as later antiwar classics like Apocalypse Now andPaths of Glory. It’s also a good entry point to the film’s director, Lewis Milestone, who, though never successful in topping this early high point, is a lot more interesting than his relative neglect would suggest.

1 comment:

highwayknees said...

I think you meant to say, "Susannah York's children's book author..." In Altman's IMAGES ,not Shirley Knight.