Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - John D'Amico ""

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - John D'Amico

John D'Amico is a New York City based filmmaker and theorist who
writes for SmugFilm.com and ShotContext.blogspot.com. 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:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2014/07/underrated-actionadventure-john-d.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2014/03/underrated-westerns-john-damico.html

Also, here;s his Film Discoveries list from last year:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/02/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2014-john-d.html
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The Halliday Brand (1957)/ The Hanging Tree (1959)
I watched a handful of very powerful character-based 1950s westerns last year, but among a strong crop, these two films, both about outsiders haunted by a lynching, stuck out. The Halliday Brand stars the great Ward Bond, Joseph Cotten, and Viveca Lindfors bouncing off each other with nervy energy and as much open filial hatred as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Joseph Losey directs it like he directed his noirs, with an eye for oppressive atmosphere and intimidating composition.

The Hanging Tree is just a dark but pitched more towards sadness than Halliday anger. It sees the unsung Delmar Daves plumb the depths of loneliness and melancholy that would overwhelm his Criterion-approved Jubal and 3:10 to Yuma. The Hanging Tree is every inch the equal of those films and I hope it gets its due in the years to come, as we rediscover just how deep the bench of great westerns was in the ‘50s.
A High Wind in Jamaica (1965)
Jenna, the co-host of my podcast, got me to read Richard Hughes’s novel A High Wind in Jamaica last year because between the shipwrecks and the moral decline it’s almost cartoonishly up my alley. Throw Anthony Quinn (one of my favorites) onto the pile, and the movie has a hell of a pedigree. It really couldn't work quite as well as the book, so much of which is steeped in a kind of fraught sexual discomfort that’s totally unfilmable, but the actors are just so good and the pacing so rollicking that it's damn near as good. Surprisingly, it’s not Quinn but the underrated James Coburn who walks away with the movie as the beleaguered straightman,
One Hundred Days After Childhood (1975)
This Soviet comedy-drama about a teen in summer camp who tries to reframe himself as a tragic Byronic figure to impress his crush is everything Wes Anderson has been striving for his entire career, from the deadpan delivery to the symmetrical bare wood sets. It’s difficult to rate movies so different from each other but I’m pretty sure this one, which is so funny, beautiful, and pinpoint accurate about the seriousness and indignity of first love, was my favorite discovery of the year.

QB VII (1975)
In purely visual terms QB VII is an utter failure. It’s true to the unfortunate stereotypes of ‘70s television films — plenty of unforgivable sloppiness in the camerawork. At times, especially in the first half, it drops to below the standards of student film. But the story is just so good. It’s a captivating mystery, jackknifing you along its opposing viewpoints as ably as a Breaking Bad. A handful of extremely good performances lift it above its visual failings, particularly Anthony Hopkins, allowing his inscrutable professionalism to erode little by little. The courtroom ending is a career high for Hopkins, who dominates his little witness box set like a great prizefighter dominates the ring.

Roar (1981)
Werner Herzog was busy dragging a ship over a mountain while this hit theaters, and his brand of reckless insanity for its own sake was echoing through my head during every frame of Roar, though even Herzog never literally threw his wife and children to the lions. The dialogue is whack and the tone is wildly inappropriate (look at all the times it laughs through an actual lion attack), but I just cannot imagine ever seeing another movie like this and for sheer visual intensity it's totally unparalleled. The tagline was “There's never been a film like ROAR - and there never will be again!” and, this one time, it’s the gospel truth.

Tiburoneros (1963)
Beautifully composed slice of Mexican neo-realism by Luis Alcoriza, longtime Buñuel screenwriter. Captures the fishermen (tiburoneros means shark hunters) on the shores of Tabasco, a bygone life as difficult as it is simple, colliding with the flourishing modernity of Mexico’s cities. Sharply realized characters, moving story, and lovely camerawork. For my money it's every bit the equal of neo-realist favorites like The Bicycle Thieves and Rome, Open City.
The War of the Roses (1989)
I hope Danny DeVito directs again because he has a savage eye. War of the Roses is beautifully formalist, wide lenses drifting over marble floors. Saul Bass even did the title sequence! All the elegance belies the escalating rage at its heart. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner remind you just how good they can be, shedding layers of decorum like snakeskin until their shattering marriage is all out war. Bitter, smart, and always extremely funny, this is one of the best comedies of the ‘80s.

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