Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Eric Hillis ""

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Eric Hillis

Eric Hillis is a freelance film critic and editor of
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HEALTH (1980; Robert Altman)
A classic but sadly overlooked Altman ensemble piece set over a weekend at a hotel hosting a health food convention. Not in the same league as Nashville, but follows a similar structure. I saw a lot of this in this year's The Lobster. Reagan said it was the worst movie he ever saw. Impossible to find except for a dodgy pan and scan rip on YouTube. Somebody release this on Bu-Ray!!!

BLACK SHAMPOO (1976; Greydon Clark)
Bonkers blaxploitation cash-in on Hal Ashby's Shampoo has nothing in common with that movie save for its hair dressing milieu. Some very queasy statutory rape and an insanely violent climax. The very definition of a grindhouse movie.

A giallo thriller filmed and set in my hometown of Dublin. The plot is all over the place and Luigi Pistolli is the most unconvincing Irishman before Tom Cruise, but it's got a twisted charm all of its own. Despite the Irish weather, every cast member wears sunglasses. Non-Irish viewers will be alarmed at the appearance of Dublin's infamous Swastika launderette.

GAS PUMP GIRLS (1979; Joel Bender)
Before Porkys set the teen comedy on a downwards spiral towards mean spirited bullying of minorities and the overweight, we had charming comedies like this great little pseudo musical. A bunch of teens hook up to save a Mom and Pop gas station from the threat of the corporate behemoth newly opened across the street. The tagline - 'You'll love the service they give...' - sells it as a sleazy piece of sexploitation, but take away the nudity and you have an old-fashioned 'let's put on a show' movie.

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975; Andrea Bianchi)
I haven't laughed so much at any other movie this year. Old school Italian sexism at its most hilarious in a giallo more interested in exposing flesh than penetrating it with a knife. Nino Castelnuovo is great as cinema's sleaziest photographer, Edwige Fenech is stunning as always as the beauty who bizarrely falls for his dubious charms. The closing scene has to be seen to be believed. For better or worse, they sure don't make 'em like any more, and likely never will again.

THE SEVEN-UPS (1973; Philip D'Antoni)
French Connection producer Philip D'Antoni turned director for this gritty cop thriller, and what a great job he did. Roy Scheider, one of American cinema's real treasures, delivers a trademark performance as a vengeful cop. One of the best car chases of the '70s can be found here and I think I may actually prefer this over Friedkin's film.

DESERT FURY (1947; Lewis Allen)
Not all Film Noirs are black and white. Leave Her To Heaven may be the most famous color noir but this one deserves to be in the conversation. Burt Lancaster and John Hodiak fight over Lizabeth Scott, while Wendell Corey seems more interested in Hodiak in a subplot very brazen for its era. Scott, who sadly left us in 2015, is simply fantastic here. Why isn't she better remembered?

CHOOSE ME (1984; Alan Rudolph)
Alan Rudolph has to be America's most under-appreciated filmmaker, too often reductively labelled as a poor man's Robert Altman. While his '70s films owe a clear debt to his mentor, Rudolph found his own voice in the '80s with modern classics like Trouble in Mind, The Moderns and this gem that, while a hit at the time, has been largely forgotten now. Keith Carradine might be at his career best here as a mysterious and enigmatic drifter who arrives to disrupt the lives of Genevieve Bujold and Lesley Ann Warren. Rudolph and Carradine are as good a director-actor partnership as Scorsese-De Niro or Ford-Wayne. 

I START COUNTING (1970; David Greene)
This grimy British thriller captures the end of the swinging sixties in wonderfully melancholy fashion. A fantastic early performance from Jenny Agutter, who never quite got the roles she deserved, as a smitten schoolgirl who attempts to protect her older step-brother from the police when she comes to believe he's the man responsible for a spate of murders of young women. Mini-skirts, murder and miserabilism make it perfect for a double bill with Sidney Lumet's The Offence.

THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949; Jules Dassin)
2015 was the year I discovered screenwriter AI Bezzerides (see also Desert Fury above), who adapted his own novel for director Jules Dassin. The wholesale fruit trade doesn't sound like the most exciting setting for a thriller, but you'll never look at an apple the same way after this. David Lynch claims this to be his favorite movie and modelled Isabella Rossellini's Blue Velvet look after Valentina Cortese here. Available on a stunning blu-ray from Arrow Video, which I reviewed here:

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