Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - John Armino ""

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - John Armino

John Armino Listens to Black Metal, tweets about Muppets. Follow him on Twitter here:

2018 was a landmark year for me in film, whether that be in terms of new movies, movies I discovered, or in the way I engaged with my fellow cinephiles. In fact, all of my "Top Five Favorite Pre-2000 but Seen for the First Time in 2018" films hold that position because I was moved to watch them due to a podcast, or interaction with like-minded cinephiles through social media. See? Social media can be used to spread the joy of discovering great art, not negativity. That's pretty great!

All About Eve (1950)
Long one of my Great Cinematic Sins as having gone unseen for so long, All About Eve is a showcase for the acting talents of Anne Baxter, George Sanders, and, of course, Bette Davis, who all sink their fangs into the venomous dialogue of writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This is Oscar Bait of the highest order, containing some of the best takedowns and soul-crushing insults ever heard or seen on screen. The story revolves around a young ingenue actress obsessing over her idol (Bette Davis), the young woman's scheming to replace Davis, and the inevitable downfall of all involved. The story itself is rather simplistic, but it is told with such alacrity and skill, the characters are so well-drawn (even if they easily fit into types), that the film seems miraculous. All About Eve is people smarter and more beautiful than us, with malformed psyches to match, making decisions that will ruin their own lives, and it is impossible to look away. This is brilliant filmmaking that lives up to its reputation.

Suspiria (1977)
This one is a little bit of cheat, as I have actually seen it before. However, that was only once when I was under 20 years old and an asshole (or just someone with less discerning taste in film), so it was high time I reevaluated Dario Argento's gorgeously lurid Horror classic with fresh eyes. This time (this new first time) I absolutely loved it. Suspiria is an experiment in pure tension and nightmare, with little attention paid actual plot, and all of Argento's narrative energy geared towards aesthetics, both visually, manifested in the film's rainbow-colored glory, and its score, rent into reality out of some dark dimension by the band Goblin. The score is something that has stayed with me even when I held the film in less regard, and it is truly a work of sonic terror. Jessica Harper plays Suzy (more of a cipher than an actual character) as simultaneously an out-of-her-depth innocent, and as a young woman determined to overcome both the supernatural and the bizarre power structure of her surroundings. She will survive at all costs, even if she gets maggots dropped on her face. For some reason. Suspiria is a film that will sear images and sounds into your brain for years to come. Or it will obliterate them, if only you are open-minded enough to see and hear. I wish I was opened minded enough when I was younger.
*Poster artwork by James Rheem Davis.

V (1983/1984)
Yes, I know this was a miniseries and not a movie, but it was honestly the biggest surprise for me this year. I had known of this "Miniseries Event" for years, but had written it off in my brain as cheesy 80s schlock (because, having never seen it, I had the right to judge it I guess?). Anyway, this series' capacity to create believable and well-drawn characters in a single scene enabled it to tell a tapestry of interconnecting stories that we, in the so-called Second Golden Age Of Television, should admire. The immediacy of being able to relate to a family descended from a holocaust survivor, an African-American factory worker, or a Mexican gardener smuggling his white employers across the border guarded by collaborators with SPACE aliens is positively astonishing in his narrative efficiency. Sure, there IS 80's cheese aplenty, certainly in the special effects, but as we move further and further away from the science fiction franchisesV influenced (most notably Independence Day), the power of this pair of miniseries (V, followed by V: The Final Battle), especially its ability to make insightful social commentary in the guise of a sci-fi epic, is more impactful than ever.

The Hidden (1987)
A science fiction hidden gem (har har) that sees the enigmatic Kyle MacLachlan truly emerge as a smart, handsome, yet enigmatic leading man. Despite his youthful visage, MacLachlan somehow is able to project an air of authority, wisdom, and dependability, which makes his alien/FBI agent character immediately believable, and it is only that ineffable combination of features and talents that allows this film to work. Of course, the film is also violent, smart, and unabashedly entertaining. It's imaginative in its approach to its alien invasion/possession story, utilizing its premise for both cultural commentary and characterization. The Hidden is also, somehow, able to be a great 80s cop movie, combining the best of genres and aesthetics 80s films did so well. A mash-up with all the right ingredients and proportions.

Broadcast News (1987)
Broadcast News is a movie that drew me in with storytelling artistry so subtle, I was under its spell before I knew what was happening. The film has no real antagonist and the plot, such as it is, revolves around which one of the three main characters, all smart and successful people, will be the most smart and successful. However, with the writing and directing brilliance of James L. Brooks, along with the acting talents of Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, and William Hurt, what emerges in a profound character study that makes just as salient a commentary on the role of news media in modern America as it does about how ambition and a lack of perspective can affect our personal relationships, as well as our own self-worth. The supporting cast is dynamite, every performance is believable, and the characters are so nuanced that even if they act in obnoxious or objectionable ways, we can still fall in love with them. Broadcast News is a film that is just as smart as it is accessible, and downright bold in its willingness to be subtle.

No comments: