Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Kristen Lopez ""

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Kristen Lopez

Kristen writes for a multitude of publications regarding classic film including ClassicFlix and Awards Circuit. She’s also the owner/found ofJourneys in Classic Film. You can check out what’s she watching onLetterboxd.
She is on twitter @Journeys_Film.
The Thrill of It All (1963)
This was the year I discovered James Garner. Yes, I know he had a long and extensive career before passing away, but this was the year I realized the man was a great actor and incredibly easy on the eyes! Garner oozes charm and, most importantly in this film, sex! The Thrill of It All is meant to be a showcase for Doris Day, an actress I normally shy away from her because of her annoying cutesy-ness, but Norman Jewison's exploration of women in the workforce and what it does to marriages is biting, funny, and gives us a Doris Day we're not used to seeing – one who has a husband she actively wants to get with! It's been said that if there was any woman James Garner would have left his wife for, it was Doris Day and their chemistry here proves it. On top of all that, it's a hilarious film looking at male inferiority when women start making their own way in the world.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Twilight Time put out a beautiful Blu-ray for this 1985 Woody Allen tribute to classic cinema. And while I was ecstatic to see it was screened at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival, I wasn't able to fit into my schedule when I attended. Either way, I love Woody Allen when he's opining about media, whether it's studio-era Hollywood here or the joys of the radio in last year's discovery, Radio Days (1987). This one tells the story of a down-on-her-luck woman (Mia Farrow) whose allure causes a character in a movie (Jeff Daniels) to actually leave the screen to be with her. Questions about fantasy and reality abound, but the strongest elements are how the characters remaining in the movie within the movie react to being forced off-script. Edward Herrmann (RIP) is in perfect Edward Everett Horton mode, and it wins for having the best line I've heard all year: "You know what they get for rape in a small town? Especially by a man in a pith helmet?"

Gorillas in the Mist (1988) 
This year was all about commanding female heroines and I don't get why there isn't more love for Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of ape activist Dian Fossey? Gorillas in the Mist is a heart-wrenching tale, especially if you're an animal lover, as well as a tale of one woman's blind determination to make a difference until the end. The film certainly takes the time to portray Fossey's complexities, particularly once those in her employ believed she was going too far with her actions, but Weaver always remains sympathetic and her interactions with the apes are fantastic. (Just the way they created the apes, with actors in costumes, is worth watching because you never doubt you're watching real animals.)

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
I kick myself daily for not having seen every film directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The Red Shoes is one of my favorite movies of all time, and yet it took me till 2015 to watch A Matter of Life and Death. This war-time tale sees David Niven as a pilot who, through a bureacratic mix-up, isn't claimed by Death when he should be. Part of my love for this stems from its similarities to Heaven Can Wait (the Warren Beatty film), but there's a lot of deep complexity in how the afterlife is depicted here – one not necessarily based around good or bad deeds, and internationally diverse. Powell and Pressburger also employ the idea of filming the scenes on Earth in brilliant Technicolor and leaving Heaven to get the dull black and white treatment, a reminder to audiences already decimated by war to appreciate their earthly existence. The set-pieces during the trial sequence are worth watching on their own. And don't forget the always amazing Marius Goring as Conductor 71, responsible for bringing Niven's character to trial that becomes, you guessed it, a matter of life and death. 

Kiss Me Kate (1953) 
I saw Kiss Me Kate on a whim at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival with little knowledge beyond "it's a musical." And what a musical it is! Kiss Me Kate tells the story of a squabbling Broadway couple (Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson) playing a squabbling couple in a Broadway production of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Suffice it to say, a lot of hijinks happen, love triangles are made and broken, and Anne Miller says "dick" a lot (this caused me and my movie buddies to bust up laughing and crying in the theater). The songs are amazingly catchy and, as evidenced by that Anne Miller line, are pure Cole Porter delights. Keel and Grayson are fantastic, and Anne Miller and Bobby Rall are beyond charming. This is a great gateway musical for those who don't believe studio-era films ever got snarky or risque. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) 
Can you tell I LOVE musicals? 2015 marks the year I fell for the work of director Jacques Demy, specifically his films with Catherine Deneuve (I recommend checking out Donkey Skin after watching this). Demy's whimsical blending of fantasy, fairy tale, and music creates some incredibly nuanced films. These aren't just romantic movies; they're operatic encapsulations of epic romance in mundane circumstances. Umbrellas tells the story of a young couple torn apart by war, class, pregnancy, you name it, all discussed via song. Deneuve is so gorgeous it hurts, and the final sequence packs a wallop. 

U Turn (1997)
This is another excellent Twilight Time release as well as an underrated neo-noir. Surreally comedic, U Turn sees a dark stranger (Sean Penn) stumble into a small-town that he, for various reasons, can't escape. The town itself is home to a host of bizarre denizens including a femme fatale (Jennifer Lopez) and two Bonnie and Clyde teens played by Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix. To say anymore about the film would be to spoil some of the intriguing twists and comic turns that seem a bit too much like something out of Twin Peaks but work. I recommend it purely for a near exasperated Sean Penn asking if everyone's on drugs.

Dangerous When Wet (1953)
2015 was the year of Esther Williams! I had never seen the Million Dollar Mermaid in anything and this was the gateway into a bizarre world of bathing beauty films that charm and entertain. Dangerous When Wet sees Williams playing a woman trying to swim across the English Channel. The usual Williams shtick is there – obvious swimming sequences and songs, but this one comes off as somewhat less contrived than her other films. The songs here are amazing; I still find myself singing "I Got Out of Bed on the Right Side" in the morning. There's also a wonderful animated sequence where Williams swims with Tom and Jerry that's very fluid and integrated for 1953. Williams also has great chemistry with leading man Fernando Lamas, unsurprising since she would go on to marry him a few years later.

Cria Cuervos (1976)
I had read a book referencing the work of director Carlos Saura which happened to coincide with TCM showing the exact film referenced. Cria Cuervos follows three orphaned sisters dealing with life in the hands of their rather cold aunt. The young child, Ana (Ana Torrent) grapples with questions about life and death, fantasy and reality, and how we perceive our parents as both children and adults. (The adult Ana would be played by Geraldine Chaplin.) I'm not one for child actors but I was left devastated by the young Ana Torrent. She has one of the most expressive faces I've seen; her eyes are gigantic pools of emotion that drag you to the highest highs and the lowest lows. This is a film that I can't necessarily explain why I enjoyed it; it's more of the feeling one gets while watching it that makes it worthwhile. A slow-burn that will leave you questioning mortality and adulthood with whole new eyes. If anything, this should inspire you to watch more of Torrent's work.

Far From Heaven (2002)
I feel terrible for waiting this long to watch Todd Haynes' loving ode to the work of Douglas Sirk. After watching this, and considering it one of the best movies of the last 15 years, I hate that I missed out on seeing this in a theater. Julianne Moore stars as a 1950s do-it-all housewife who discovers her husband is gay and enters into a burgeoning friendship (possible relationship) with her African-American gardener. Considering Sirk was hindered by the Production Code, Haynes becomes more overt with his story, allowing him to examine 1950s repression of both women, minorities, and homosexuals more closely. This is also one of the most beautiful films ever put to celluloid, and Elmer Bernstein's score is lusciously exquisite.




1 comment:

JonL said...

Thanks for passing this on! My whole family loved Dangerous When Wet (1953) also, even got the kiddo singing "I got outta bed on the right side!". Great goofy classic film.