Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Travis Woods ""

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Travis Woods

Travis Woods is a freelance writer whose bylines have included Bright Wall/Dark Room, The L.A. Times, Paste Magazine, ScreenCrave, and others. He spends way too much time thinking about movies. He also has an Elliott Gould tattoo.

You can read some of his work here: https://traviswoods.contently.com
Or you can just yell at him on Twitter: @aHeartOfGould

BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY YEARS (1979; Richard Lester; discovered on 35 mm)
Let’s be real: BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY YEARS isn’t exactly a lost classic, nor does it come close to the undeniable perfection of the original. So, why include in my list? For the unique experience of it:. Seeing the film in vivid, light-shot 35 mm on the re-opening night of the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles (after an entire year of the revival theater being closed for renovations) was something very special—and not just because it’s my favorite place on Earth. We all know how the original BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID ends: our smartass anti-heroes die bloody at the hands and guns of a world that has passed them by. So, to watch a film about those two doomed bankrobbers as younger men—despite already knowing how their story will end—just for the sheer cussed aesthetic pleasure of it…It reminded me of why we go to places like the New Beverly Cinema in the first place. We know the world has (mostly) passed projected film by, that digital has won, etc., and yet we return to theaters like this to watch the past revived, to see it come to back to life at 24 frames per second before our very eyes. We return to see our heroes come back to life, despite knowing how it all will end, and we get to do it on film. That’s the magic of seeing a movie (including this one) on 35 mm, and that was the magic of seeing Butch and Sundance ride out together, one more time.
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CRISS CROSS (1949; Robert Siodmak; discovered on DVD)
A doomed love affair, an impeccably-planned heist, gorgeous monochrome photography of 1940s Los Angeles, and a grimly determined Robert Lancaster weave together into a razorwired cable that binds Robert Siodmaks brutal film noir about pasts-gone-bad and plans-gone-wrong. The gist: A smaller-timer (Lancaster) pitches a mobster on the perfect crime, all while planning a sub-heist of stealing his ex-wife back from the boss. Shockingly bleak and fogged with an impenetrable fatalism that’s nearly as thick as the smoke that clouds the film’s gasmasked heist, CRISS CROSS more than lives up to its title—in addition to the chain of flashbacks crisscrossing back and forth in time that form the film’s narrative backbone, the plot is an ever-escalating series of double-, triple-, and quadruple-crosses to escape the past and outpace the present, climaxing with noir's most perfect, most ironic lament for a future that will never come: "I'll know better next time."
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INSIGNIFICANCE (1985; Nicholas Roeg; discovered on FilmStruck)
It’s probably fitting that I discovered Nicholas Roeg’s INSIGNIFICANCE on FilmStruck just one week before the director’s death and two weeks before FilmStruck’s demise (all within the apocalyptic vibe of 2018 in general), as this is a film consumed by endings, by death, by annihilation. A smirking and stinging cubist portrait of one fictional night in a New York City hotel in 1954, Roeg’s typically time-fractured film finds Albert Einstein (Michael Emil), Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell), Senator Joseph McCarthy (Tony Curtis), and Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey) running wild throughout the building, alternately interrogating and debating the nature of love, sex, guilt, and death. DiMaggio stresses over marriage, McCarthy sweats over secrets, Monroe questions the nature of the physical universe, and Einstein strains over the guilt of Hiroshima, all while Roeg interrogates midcentury Americana with its own iconography and exquisitely ends things with a big bang and a bigger smile.
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JERICHO MILE (1979; Michael Mann; discovered on Blu-ray)
Michael Mann’s first feature-length effort (originally a TV movie for ABC) is as lean and to-the-bone as its main character, a long-distance runner and Folsom Prison inmate who endlessly sprints the sole-worn dirt track just inside the prison’s perimeter. The proto-loner of Mann’s long line of ascetic, acidic men unswervingly dedicated to a single effort, Larry “Lickety Split” Murphy (Peter Strauss) is not only a convicted murderer, he just may be the fastest miler in the United States and a potential asset to the nation’s Olympic hopes. Shot on location in Folsom amidst clashing rivals like the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Guerrilla Family, and the Mexican Mafia, Mann’s hard-edged verité style thrives as he presents an aggressively compressed microverse of American society, with one man running desperately within its center to survive.
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THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (1949; David Lean; discovered on FilmStruck)
Doing press for his exquisitely sexy/beautiful/weird PHANTOM THREAD in the waning weeks of 2017, Paul Thomas Anderson repeatedly mentioned the influence of this somewhat lesser-seen Lean upon his own film (the wonderful hotshots of PURE CINEMA PODCAST have also repeatedly sung its praises); at the time, I made a mental note to check it out and then promptly forgot about it, content to watch PHANTOM THREAD over and over and over again like any other sane human being. Nearly one year later, emerging from my THREAD fog to find that the simply too-good-to-be-true FilmStruck was coming to an end, I chose THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS as my final viewing of the streaming service on its closing night. An achingly beautiful, complex, and bittersweet inquiry into the nature of adult romance, the film is set within a love triangle in which a woman loves both her husband and the married man she’s secretly seeing. Gorgeous Swiss vistas and tortured inner landscapes ensue. And in the end, it was a fitting choice for the streaming service’s last call—the film’s gorgeous melancholy mirrored the mood of the moment, in which the sweetness of having something as wonderful as FilmStruck was tinged by the sourness of its loss.
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1 comment:

Chris said...

Really interesting picks. Going to try and track down a couple of them