Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Kevin Sharp ""

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Kevin Sharp

Kevin hosts the comic creator interview series “Between The Panels” at Fanbase Press. You can find more of his work at, and find him on Twitter @thatkevinsharp.

Ranked in order of the point on the calendar — which felt about five years long — at which I saw them…

SOMETHING WILD (1961, Jack Garfein)
I knew literally nothing going in, other than that it starred Ralph Meeker and carried the Kim Morgan seal of approval. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t this: a movie that tilts the Earth as soon as you think you have your feet under you, as quintessentially a New York piece as SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (I can imagine these events taking place across town at the same time J.J. Hunsecker is holding court in his booth at “21”). What really sticks with me all these months later are the dialogue-free scenes: Carroll Baker on the subway, wandering the city streets, in her flophouse room — all captured by director Jack Garfein as if he stumbled onto the scene by mistake but somehow knew exactly how to compose every shot. There’s a wonderful cognitive dissonance humming just under the surface the whole time, with Baker playing a young student who seems like an older soul than any of those around her. The ending makes both no sense and perfect sense.
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THE CANDY SNATCHERS (1973, Guerdon Trueblood)
I still don’t know how to sum this up, so I’ll offer a timeline of my reactions as it unfolded: “Oh, it’s this kind of movie.” “Wait, what?” “Wait, WHAT?” “HOLY SHIT, WHAT?!?!?”
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THE HEARTBREAK KID (1972, Elaine May)
My defense for taking so long on this one is that I was patiently waiting for an “official” home video release and/or a revival house screening. Patience finally ran out this year, though, and I’m grateful it did. Scene after scene, moment after moment is honed with such precision — courtesy of the May/Neil Simon pairing —that I found myself laughing out loud in a room all alone. Of the numerous riches on display here, my favorite may be a four minute encounter between Charles Grodin, Cybill Shepherd, Audra Lindley, and Eddie Albert seated around a restaurant table, that ranks among the best — not just funniest, but pound-for-pound best — scenes I’ve seen in any comedy from any era. Even if the third act doesn’t reach the rarified air of the first two, this is an all-timer. Now can we pleeeeeeeease get a blu-ray already?
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THE LUSTY MEN (1952, Nicholas Ray)
Tumbleweeds. Empty rodeo arenas. Dusty roads. Trailer parks. These are the fleeting images I recall, as if I dreamed the whole story. Nicholas Ray and Robert Mitchum is a match made in black and white heaven for me; even so, I wasn’t fully prepared for this elegy I found every bit as moving as THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. The movie’s landscape is a graveyard populated by men and their dreams, where the dead haven’t gotten the word yet that it’s time to move on.
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JESUS’ SON (1999, Alison Maclean)
So as not to bury the lede: this adaptation doesn’t capture the screaming heart at the center of Denis Johnson’s masterful story collection. But there are glimpses — scenes, lines, moments — when it gets close enough to hurt. The bullpen of American character actors brings the heat, thought it’s Samantha Morton that still haunts me. On paper, she seems totally wrong for her role; through sheer willpower and talent, she consumes it, burning off the frame like an incandescent phoenix.
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WHITE LIGHTNING (1973, Joseph Sargent)
A few thoughts came to me at the conclusion of a movie that was far better than it had need to be…

1. I might show WL to a novice — even before DELIVERANCE or SMOKEY — to explain the pure good ol’ boy essence of BURT.
2. What a low-key great supporting cast, from the big names like Ned Beatty and R.G. Armstrong to the unforgettable one-scene stealers.
3. What a pleasure to soak in the milieu: dirt roads, country sunsets, jugs of moonshine, sweat-slick faces.
4. Damn, I wish I’d seen this for the first time at a drive-in theater.
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THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976, Arthur Penn)
Sometimes feels like THE LONG RIDERS, sometimes McCABE & MRS. MILLER, sometimes THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG. Jack Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton are so delightful together I wish this had launched a buddy movie series with the two of them roaming the West. Marlon Brando seems to be channeling Richard Harris, with a wardrobe that’s worth a four-star rating all by itself. A score I wouldn’t have associated with John Williams if I had 10 guesses. I’m not sure it’s entirely successful, but it’s sure fun to watch.
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A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948, Billy Wilder)
Second-tier Wilder is still pretty damn good. Almost all the elements are here: post-World War 2 Berlin (with Harry Lime perhaps roaming the ruins somewhere nearby); a love triangle in which two thirds are made up of Marlene Dietrich and Jean Arthur. It’s the remaining third that doesn’t cut pass muster. John Lund is… fine, but the whole time I kept thinking about how Cary Grant could’ve elevated this thing. Or if less megawatt star power was called for, then Robert Montgomery or Joel McCrea. When Lund and the other men are out of the picture, and it briefly, delightfully becomes a Dietrich-Arthur two-hander, the movie sings.
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WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979, Fred Walton)
This one is on the list not because it’s a great movie, but because it may have been my biggest surprise of the year. I vividly remember the “Have you checked the children?” TV commercials from childhood; I’d always wondered how the filmmakers could sustain that babysitter-in-peril premise for the entire runtime. As it turns out, that’s only the first 20 minutes before it becomes a Charles Durning (!!) P.I. movie. It’s all surprisingly low key, even (dare I say?) realistic at times. Easy to imagine this made in the next decade, under the Cannon Films banner, starring another Charles and probably akin to something like 10 TO MIDNIGHT.
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