Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2019 ""

Friday, December 13, 2019

My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2019

Discovering new (old) movies is one of the things I truly live for. In 2019, I watched tons of films for both of my podcasts (Pure Cinema and Just the Discs) -- many are based on things I saw first for podcast topics, New Beverly Calendar programming and Blu-ray debuts that I came to during the year. I found some interesting stuff (for me anyway) ranging from higher art to lesser, but all of it enjoyable for what it is.

Also, check out the Discoveries lists I did for 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015:

And so, away we go with my 2019 list:
LET IT RIDE (1989; Joe Pytka)
Gambling movies can be tough. You often find yourself twisted up in knots hoping that the gambler at the center of the story will just stop his compulsive and destructive behavior, but that's kind of what these often tragic stories are all about. With this kind of thing, I am always weary of the vibe that the main character might get onto some kind of "lucky streak" because you are just left to bite your nails and worry about if the streak will happen and when will it end. LET IT RIDE knocked me over though and is definitely my favorite discovery of the entire year. The Richard Dreyfuss / David Johansen sidekick combination is one for the books and the ensemble cast is top notch:  Teri Garr, Jennifer Tilly, Allen Garfield, Robby Coletrain, Richard Edlund, Cynthia Nixon Mary's spectacular. 
It might make a fun double feature with CALIFORNIA SPLIT.
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PUSHOVER (1954; Richard Quine)
Stellar underseen noir with Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak at the center. I'd say it lives somewhere between DOUBLE INDEMNITY and STAKEOUT (bringing back the Dreyfuss again), but with no comedy. Got to see this one via the crackerjack Columbia Noir collection that the Criterion Channel featured as part of their first month of programming and loved it. That collection is gone now, but the film is still part of a Columbia Noir DVD Box if you wan't to catch it.
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MODEL SHOP (1969; Jacques Demy)
We talked about this one a lot on Pure Cinema this year. Elric first brought it to my attention with our Twilight Time Tribute episode and then it became even more essential when we realized that it had been a possible influence on Quentin Tarantino and ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Truly a piece of observational art. Gary Lockwood drives around Los Angeles in his about to be repossessed MG (much like the MG that Roman Polanksi and Sharon Tate drive in OUATIH) and tries to get his friends to give him a little money so he can keep the car. A remarkable snap shot of L.A. in 1969. When you watch Gary Lockwood driving, think of Brad Pitt driving as Cliff Booth.
Buy the lovely Twilight Time Blu-ray here:
Watch on Amazon here:

F.M. (1978; John A. Alonzo)
This excellent little tale of a Los Angeles Radio station that is on the verge of dealing with corporate overlords and how the staff is coming to grips with it is another of my favorites for sure. I've been calling it a cross between USED CARS and WKRP IN CINCINNATI and that may be overdoing it a bit. By that I mean that this is kind of wild and wooly like USED CARS, but it doesn't quite reach the screwball heights of that one and wants to position itself as a little more laid back and a little more character drama. It's really great though and I'd been meaning to get to it for years based on its reputation as a "soundtrack movie". It most certainly does have a killer soundtrack (which I believe may have hindered it's Blu-ray release until now) and I love how even the smallest scenes play with big songs running as a background chorus underneath them. It makes the film feel real in it's atmosphere and sucks me all the more because of it. Great Arrow Video Blu-ray of this one that is the recommended way to check it out.
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BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958; Richard Quine)
Wonderful love story with witches. Kim Novak, using her raspiest, sexiest voice and her magical cat, does her best to seduce her upstairs neighbor James Stewart - who has a lame fiance (don't they all though?). It's delightful to watch Novak and Stewart in scenes together for sure, but the supporting cast of Elsa Lanchester (as another witch), Jack Lemmon (as a warlock) and Ernie Kovacs (as a supernatural "expert") really go a long way to make this an unforgettable gem. Sadly out of print on Blu-ray at the moment, but I do hope it gets re-issued soon!
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THE STALKING MOON (1968; Robert Mulligan)
File this under "thought I had seen" but hadn't and boy am I glad I did. Tarantino programmed this one as part of a wonderful month long tribute to actor Robert Forster at the New Beverly Theater after Forster's death in October. The film has a little bit of a slow start, but there is a great mystery to it that I liked. The second half (and especially the last thirty minutes) are some of my favorite tension filled cinema I saw all year. I won't give away any specifics, but it's a western and kind of becomes a siege movie at the back. So good.
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A MAN ALONE (1955; Ray Milland)
Ray Milland directs for Republic Pictures - takes his credit as “R. Milland”. This was his directorial debut and it’s a strong one. He made about 5 features total (plus some tv) - stuff like LISBON (also on kino Blu), THE SAFECRACKER (which I want to see), PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO (his most well-known directorial effort) and something called HOSTILE WITNESS.
Within first few minutes, Milland has to shoot his horse — ends up walking through the desert tons town. I’m reminded slightly of THE TALL T where Randolph Scott ends up losing his horse and having to walk. Something so powerless about a man in the old west with no horse. The film has an excellent 10 minute wordless opening. I love this stuff. Milland himself doesn’t speak until maybe 15 minutes after that least. It’s almost an exercise in seeing how long they can go without the character talking. The movie definitely has a thing about sound. Things like Milland giving himself away when he’s trying to hide because of random sounds also demonstrates this. Beyond that, I love that there's an essential tiny but essential bit with a spittoon in both this film and one of my favorites, RIO BRAVO. Kino put out a nice Blu-ray of this one this year.
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THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945; Robert Siodmak)
Opens with nice overhead shot of spiral staircase on a stormy night - fun moodsetter. Story based around a woman who has lost her voice and is now mute - in a small village where there have been some murders - the most recent a strangulation. We see the killer - dressed all in black - black hat too - very gialloesque in a way. Stars Elsa Lanchester (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), Dorothy McGuire, George Brent and Kent Smith - who was in Val Letwon films like CAT PEOPLE and CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE - this film shares a bit of a vibe with those, but is even more slasher-y. The idea of a character who can't scream is quite suspenseful. This killer going after girls who have some kind of handicap, so we know she's a probable. Fun and moody B&W "killer on the loose" mystery movie. Shot by Nicholas Musuraca - who worked on several of Val Lewton’s best films (CAT PEOPLE, CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, THE SEVENTH VICTIM). Score by Roy Webb who also did music for Lewton films.
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MURDER AT THE GALLOP (1963; George Pollack)
Discovered this while I was on a tear of murder mysteries in the wake of KNIVES OUT. My first Miss Marple film and I enjoyed it a lot. Completely charming little film. Definitely going to dig into a few more in 2020 I think.
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TICKLE ME (1965; Norman Taurog)
Fun if dorky - Elvis works at a workout/fitness/dieting camp with a bunch of ladies and sings these lascivious songs to them. He REALLY seems to be irresistible to the ladies there - they can’t control themselves - even Julie Adams who runs the place - tries her hand at an Elvis seduction.
Quentin Tarantino had mentioned this one being very SCOOBY-DOO I believe and he's so right - haunted hotels, dudes monster masks and everything.
I must say though, Jack Mullaney as Jerry Lewis knockoff side kick - not so great.
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DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1995; Taylor Hackford)
I had avoided this one for years due to my not being a huge MISERY fan (don't get me wrong, the performances are good - I just DO NOT enjoy watching the film). I definitely prefer this in terms of Stephen King adaptations starring Kathy Bates. It's truly captivating to see the mysteries of the film unfold and Taylor Hackford's use of same scene flashbacks very much reminded me of some of the ones you see in John Sayles' LONE STAR - very very well done. Warner Archive released a Blu-ray this year for it.
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BOOM! (1968; Joseph Losey)
All I can say is John Waters was right. He has for years claimed BOOM! as a favorite and I can now completely see what he sees in it. It is bizarre and unexpected but worth the ride without question. Ah the days when a film like this could get made - I do miss them so!
Definitely check out the Shout Factory Blu-ray of this one (how I saw it) as it includes a John Waters commentary that you really need to enjoy for yourself.
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MORTUARY (1983; Howard Avedis)
This one is just strange enough to stand out (for me) as a fun slasher film discovery. I talked about it a bit as part of our "Horror All-Nighters" episode of Pure Cinema so have a listen there for some more detailed thoughts:
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WAR OF THE SATELLITES (1958; Roger Corman)
I finally caught up with this one in the wake of the great Dick Miller's passing early in 2019. We all love him and he's become known for a certain kind of role that he often shows up for (in Joe Dante movies and so forth) and I love that persona, but his character here is a little bit crankier and more serious here. It's a sci-fi movie too so the idea of having Dick Miller in a space thing really works for me somehow. 
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