Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - John D'Amico ""

Monday, February 9, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - John D'Amico

John D'Amico is a New York City based filmmaker and theorist who
writes for and On Twitter @jodamico1.
He did a list of underrated Action/adventure films and westerns for my previous series which you should have a peek at:

Sambizanga (1973)
I made a point last year of seeking out films from non-traditional perspectives, and this political thriller directed by an Angolan woman definitely fit the bill. It’s a sprawling yet intimate character study of a woman trying to figure out what happened to her husband after his arrest during the Angolan War of Independence. It’s hard-eyed and honest, an intense and haunting portrait of Africa still trying to escape the throes of colonization. Essential.

Salomè (1972)
A swirling vomitorium of neon, human flesh, and degradation. Picture something like Fellini in his prime doing a historical epic in the style of Spring Breakers. It’s religious ecstasy as something vital and overwhelming and profane, the way only the Italians do. The thought of watching this one again is exhausting, but I’ll never forget it.

Tiburoneros / The Shark Hunters (1963)
Mexican cinema on the whole has sort of an uninspiring visual style, awash in the flat lighting and unremarkable sets of 1950s television, so it’s wonderful to find a film of such rawness as the location-shot Tiburoneros, which takes full advantage of the harsh beauty of the Mexican coastline. It’s something approaching neorealism, a story of a citydweller who travels to the country for work and realizes he prefers it there. There’s a real life to Tiburoneros, one of those rare movies that feels like it extends beyond the frames, like its world goes on all around you. It’s funny and sad and moving and, most importantly, painfully honest.

Northern Lights (1978)
An intimate look at the formation of a labor union in North Dakota, this is 1970s American filmmaking so frozen and so weary that looks and feels like it could be the steppes of Kyrgyzstan. You don’t get this kind of look at America much, it’s a treasure to have true independent cinema from such uncharted depths. A captivating story, great cinematography, and sweet humane performances elevate it. The second ever Caméra d'Or winner at Cannes, I’m kind of surprised to see how completely forgotten it is now. I only stumbled on it by chance.

Unknown Valley (1933)
Just absolutely CRAZY GOOD for a 70 minute long no-budget weird western. Got dusty location photography like Poverty Row doing Greed and a story crammed with oddball characters and plenty of twists. I don't even want to spoil the plot (how many westerns can you say that about?) save that Buck Jones plays a man searching for his father, who went missing. The only clue is his father's partner, left raving mad with a gold bullet inside him. you definitely need a tolerance for the creaky dialogue and stilted performance style of the genre in the era, but that kinda just makes the odd stuff even more punchy. One of the stranger finds of the year for me.

Addams Family Values (1993)
I dodged this one for, I guess, 21 years, because I didn’t like the first movie, but man, what a testament to the power of slight refinement. There’s something so infectious about the deadpan Gothic style, something to it that makes me smile before I even realize I’m doing it. It’s the career high for nearly everyone involved (Christina Ricci and Anjelica Huston were born for it), and the surprisingly progressive and intelligent bent to the comedy helped it age better than most of its contemporaries. Best Thanksgiving scene in anything, by a country mile.

Bimujang jidae / The DMZ (1965)
This would be a must-see if only for the fact that it’s the only movie ever filmed within the Korean DMZ. Luckily it’s not just historically interesting, it’s a damn great story about two kids on the run. Sensitive, small, and revealing. Great stuff.

Blue Collar (1978)
By all accounts this film almost killed Paul Schrader, who didn’t get along with any of the three stars. It’s worth it. This is three of the best actors in the world - Yaphet Kotto, Harvey Keitel, and Richard Pryor - all at the absolute tops of their game, and Schader’s second-best script behind Taxi Driver. Like most films about the working class, it’s obsessed with money. Like few of them, it's remarkably attuned to the grind.

Iphigenia (1977)
Intimacy is sort of a theme on this list, and Iphigenia has that to spare. Probably the most accessible story of all the Greek myths, Amamemnon’s sacrifice of his young daughter Iphigenia makes for one of the most purely emotional historical dramas I’ve ever seen. The simple injustice of the premise and harshness of the setting punch through thousands of years of distance, without any need to contemporize. Director Michalis Kakogiannis made a handful of very good films based on ancient Greek sources (and Zorba the Greek!), but this relentless little actor’s showcase is far and away the most powerful, mostly thanks to magnificent central performances from Irene Papas and a 13 year old Tatiana Papamoschou. Unforgettable.

Faraon / Pharaoh (1966)
A Space Age Polish epic about Ancient Egypt sounds dubious at best, but I promise it's a keeper. Stunningly beautiful and occasionally very evocative of a bygone era, despite the the miles of brownface and hamfisted Soviet propaganda sprinkled about. Like Iphigenia, it pulls you into the day-to-day of a lost world, but unlike that one, which is too focused for digressions, this epic has space enough to revel in the weird details of the Egyptians' religious and political lives.

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