What a year for film. I've been trying to catch up with old films, TV movies, new films and anything and everything in between, so coming up with a definitive list of my own, first time watches, film discoveries list was pretty daunting. I think I finally came up with a list that I'm seriously happy with to share to the masses. There is no order. All of these need to be watched.
Nightmare Weekend (1986) - Vinegar Syndrome does such wonderful work. From their sleazy films, to their action insanity, to their artistic pornography, we have a company who are doing great things, especially in the world of film preservation. So coming up with a film from their catalog this year was seriously tough. I have to say Nightmare Weekend takes the cake when it comes to batshit insanity that I love. Metal spheres either kill people or make them into killer psychos? A puppet controls a computer? Who is bad? Who is good? Who cares. This film is a mile a minute and doesn't let up until the credits at the end. Mind you, I still need to check out their other film Demonoid, but that's for 2016.
The Art of Dying (1991) - If you know me, you know I love Wings Hauser. So much so, I've been going through his older stuff, especially his PM Entertainment output from the late 80's, early 90's films. This one is the pinnacle, at least to me. Wings sitting on a beach, getting drunk while hanging out with a bunny, one in which we never see again, made me realize I was seeing cinematic gold. And he's against a crazy guy who wants to videotape people in the throes of death, makes for a creepy vibe throughout. Especially the overacting from the director (Gary Werntz) and his accomplice Latin Jerry (played by Mitch Hara). This was also directed by Hauser and written by the godfather of PM Entertainment Josephy Merhi.
A Cold Night's Death (1973) / The Death Squad (1974) - This is a bit of a cheat, but it's because these two are shorter TV movies from the 70's and definitely deserve so many more viewers. I have something I've been hoping to get out there called Small Screen Cinema, which I sometimes post about on Facebook, where I would love to cover Made for TV movies that deserve a second chance at life, which I feel like people forget were some of the best things going on back in the day. These two are prime examples of simple and effective films. A Cold Night's Death is such a chilling film, pardon the pun. It takes place in the middle of a polar station, where a colleague has dropped dead for unknown reasons, so two scientists go to investigate, played by Robert Culp and Eli Wallach. Two great actors, going back and forth with one another, where nothing is what it seems. Who is crazy? What's with the chimps? Will they freeze to death like their colleague? All told in an hour and 14 minutes, it's two powerhouse performances where you really don't know where it's all going to end up.
Then you have the tight cop film The Death Squad. When Death Wish was big, we started getting more entertainment where criminals were being killed by someone who was a vigilante. This time, it's petty criminals being killed by a group of cops, nicknamed The Death Squad, getting at criminals the justice system couldn't. Robert Forster is a former cop who gets back on the force to find out who is doing the killings. Claude Akins becomes his partner, but is also one of the main members of the squad, and it's a battle to the finish as to who will survive and who will be going down. It's a fun one, with some great scenery in Los Angeles.
The Catered Affair (1956) - Here's one of three films on this list that I saw on TCM randomly while I was away in Florida for a friend's wedding. One of the nights, I was just sitting in my hotel room, looking at what was on the television after a long day and night out. Luckily I found TCM, a lifesaver when you're somewhere where there's nothing to do. And I stumbled upon this fantastic drama that drew me in. Of course when I saw it was based on a play by Paddy Chayefsky and adapted by Gore Vidal, starring Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Debbie Reynolds and Rod Taylor, I thought to myself, "Why haven't I ever seen this film before?" Directed by Richard Brooks, who also directed Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and Elmer Gantry, this is a tale that is very relatable, about two great young people in love who are getting married, and Ralph's (Rod Taylor) parents have given their daughters grand weddings while Jane's (Debbie Reynolds) parents, Davis and Borgnine, can't afford much. But it escalates to where her mother is forcing her husband to give all of his savings, money he's put aside for 12 years so he could buy his own taxi and medallion so he can go work on his own, to give it all up even though nobody even wants this whole shebang. It's just wonderful acting from everyone, a lot of emotion and what seems to be a loveless marriage at the heart of it all. It's a rollercoaster ride where tears will flow, but hopefully happiness will prevail.
The In-Laws (1979) - The third and final film from my trip, here's one that I had thought I had seen. Yet when it came on and was playing, I realized a few minutes in that I hadn't at all seen it. And I'm glad I finally did. Peter Falk and Alan Arkin are hysterical in this. When dentist Sheldon's daughter is about to get married, he decides to meet Vince, the groom's father. Vince is a bit eccentric, a bit too much for Sheldon to handle, and claims to be a government agent and drags Sheldon on a chase covering different countries. It's a laugh a minute film, where it's little things that make you laugh and then insane chases and a scene that wouldn't play so well today, sadly, with a firing squad, that is just amazing. It makes me scared to even consider watching the remake, because how could you properly remake this amazing film? Arthur Hiller directed it, who made the amazing films The Hospital, Teachers and See No Evil, Hear No Evil).
The Ambulance (1990) - Eric Roberts is the fucking man. Not only is that statement true, but the podcast by the same name is also fantastic. And somehow when I heard they were covering this film, one in which Roberts plays an artist at Marvel Comics who gets involved in a kidnapping of a woman he was trying to pick up on the street, who is taken by a mysterious ambulance to god knows where, it makes me wonder how I never saw this film on WPIX Channel 11 here in NYC. Written and directed by the one and only Larry Cohen, that was the other reason as to why I was confused this never came upon my radar. I've seen every film of his, or so I thought, so this film was one I had to seek out. And in a span of 2 days, I watched it 3 times and I fell in love with it's insanity. Eric Roberts' hair alone deserves an Academy Award, as well as James Earl Jones' chewing of scenery (which there's one scene in particular that he's actually chewing away that has to be seen to be believed). Red Buttons is awesome in this film as a patient at the hospital who helps out Roberts try to get to the bottom of the ambulance and the creepy doctor (played by soap actor Eric Braeden in a great turn).
Fingers (1978) - Finally, here's a film that I had heard about for years from a writer/director who I've always respected, even when I wasn't a huge fan of his work. James Toback's Fingers was his debut film, and what a debut it was. Harvey Keitel is electrifying as Jimmy Fingers, an aspiring concert pianist who just wants to play Carnegie Hall, but is torn between his Italian father who is connected to the mob and his Jewish mother who had a nervous breakdown and is now in an institution. He does side jobs for his father consisting of collecting money that is owed to him. And when a new mobster comes to town, he's pushing Jimmy's father out of control. Toback forms this world of family loyalty with a man who is also a bit mentally disturbed himself, from an upbringing that probably wasn't the healthiest one around, two parents who have given this guy a mixed up mindset on life. Jimmy is an amazing pianist, but there's a scene when there's so much going on in his life and he gets to finally perform the piece he's perfected throughout the movie that made me so nervous and cringe because of what was going on screen, it's played to perfection by Keitel. His father is played by the great Michael V. Gazzo, who has some of the best lines in the film (which I won't repeat, because you need to hear them to believe he says them). Jim Brown is chilling as the boyfriend/pimp/not sure exactly what his career path is to the woman Jimmy is really interested in, played by Tisa Farrow. Danny Aiello plays a thug who is employed by the mobster going into the territory, Gino (Ed Marinaro). I had the pleasure of seeing this in 35mm at Nitehawk Cinema here in Brooklyn, as part of the monthly series The Deuce. If you're ever in Brooklyn, you need to come to one of these screenings, because they give the backstory behind it and in this case, James Toback himself was there to talk about the film and how he got it made and why it didn't light the world on fire when it came out. It's a minor masterpiece that I'm surprised more people don't talk about.