Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - James David Patrick ""

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong moviewatching habit. His current projects include #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project (thejamesbondsocialemediaproject.com) and Cinema Shame (cinemashame.wordpress.com). Follow him on Twitter at @007hertzrumble.

Check out his list from last year here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2019/01/film-discoveries-of-2018-james-david.html

This list of Film Discoveries from 2019 spans the years 1927 through 1989 and feels fast and loose and scattered to the wind. It reflects my film festival travels and my year-long #Watch1989 movie marathon. According to my Letterboxd profile, I logged more than 70 entries from the year 1989 and you're all just lucky this list doesn't feature those movies exclusively.

Many of these movies totally took me by surprise. Maybe that's part of the reason they resonated. Those unexpected joys always seem to take precedent over expected greatness. It just goes to show that great movies pop up in all shapes, sizes and colors - we just have to be ready to receive their advances. May you find a new favorite among the following eight movies that wooed me to verbosity.

Wild Rovers (Blake Edwards, 1971)
Edwards tells a sensitive, gripping story about two outlaw cow-punchers in a big way. Wild Rovers is one of the great unsung Westerns of the 1970s, and I'm already looking forward to revisiting this film on the new Warner Archive Blu-ray.

This might be William Holden's greatest performance. Might be. I'm not committing, but it's at least in the conversation. Also, the deeper I dive into Ryan O'Neal's catalog the more impressed I become with his ability to play off all manner of performers. He's a remarkable supporting on-screen partner for the varied and often flashier talents of Barbara Streisand, Tatum O'Neal, Burt Reynolds, William Holden, etc. His seemingly aloof approach props up all these actors, providing the sounding board for some of their best work.

Bittersweet and bleak with a steady currently of understated humor, Wild Rovers rambles and indulges a few transgressions, but Edwards rewards the viewer's patience with emotional resonance not found elsewhere in his catalog.
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Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985)
A movie I'd caught in fits and spurts on cable over the years. It never made sense in Lunchable-sized bites but seemed more or less perfectly pleasant. I finally sat down with the Blu-ray of Seidelman's film and I'm smitten in ways I never expected. Her use of light and artificial color palettes enhances the knowingly eccentric 1985 style and on-screen pop-culture. In some ways it reminded me of Wim Wenders' use of color in Paris, Texas.

The mood. The music. The Madge. I'd laud the wonderful Roseanna Arquette, too, but she lacked the "M" alliteration to make it more magical. I think I loved this film. For all those moviewatchers who think they've seen a film because they've caught bits and pieces on TV over the decades, do yourself a favor and give some of them a proper rewatch. You might be shocked to learn that movies are often better as a whole, unified experience.
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Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
Not so much a proper discovery as an affirmation. Sunrise has long lived on my Cinema Shame Watchlist as one of those masterpieces of early cinema. TCM programmed it during the 2019 TCM Film Festival so not only did I have a chance to view it, but I had the chance to see it big and wish an enthusiastic crowd.

F.W. Murnau's "one wild night" confirmed all those suspicions. It's lovely and sinister and equal parts light and dark and elicits an entire array of emotions in 94 minutes. (Modern filmmakers should pay attention to how efficiently Murnau tells his rambling tale.) The oddly structured film pushes the boundaries of narrative and the limits of silent cinematography. Some classics require a little extra legwork to truly appreciate their place in cinema history. Murnau lays it all out on screen. Further investigation would only deepen your love affair with Sunrise.
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Open Secret (John Reinhardt, 1948)
Another TCMFF viewing, but this one wasn't exactly on my radar. It was just a short movie I could fit in between other movies I wanted to see. This surprisingly efficient (and unusually relevant) little potboiler about Nazis living among us makes excellent use of its 68-minute runtime and clear budgetary limitations. John Ireland and Jane Randolph give engaging performances as a couple looking for a friend who's gone missing under suspicious circumstances. The leads amplify tension without carrying the barebones script into hokey melodrama.

Open Secret features some cringey acting in supporting roles and a wonky narrative structure, but these elements contribute to an overall package of effective and memorable low-budget filmmaking. It's not always the perfect films that most resonate.
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Pushover (Richard Quine, 1954)
If door openings and closings are your fetish, this movie just became your wet dream. A Double Indemnity reworking that creates a critical mass of tension as our anti-hero's lies pile up. He's driven to obsession and loses sight of the reasons he endeavored to get the girl in the first place. (1954 Kim Novak casts a spell in a form-fitting sweater so I get it.) Lust becomes greed and greed becomes a third act comeuppance.

Fred MacMurray wears this role like an old glove. Dorothy Malone and E.G. Marshall stand out in supporting roles. Like other movies on my list this year, Pushover unfurls at an unusual pace but the rough edges only add to its appeal as an entertaining slice of Noir that stands out in a sea of similarly stark crime dramas.
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Counsellor at Law (William Wyler, 1933)
My favorite discovery at the 2019 Nitrate Picture Show. Wyler's film is a complex emotional dramedy about a defense attorney for the people who finds himself in hot water over a fabricated alibi used to acquit an innocent man. Barrymore looks like he's still memorizing lines and delivers a top-notch "profile" performance as a man watching his supposedly idyllic life fall apart around him.

Manic office machinations approach the screwball cadence of His Girl Friday. Not every subplot lands on its feet, but the ones that do pack a punch. I wouldn't be surprised if Aaron Sorkin had internalized this film on his way to creating the "walking and talking" subgenre of political/social drama.
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Vampire's Kiss (Robert Bierman, 1989)
What the hell is Nic Cage doing? What is this accent? What is this laugh? It's almost as bizarre as his creative choices in Peggy Sue Got Married - but that was an otherwise straight movie. This? It's hard to tell. In Vampire's Kiss, Cage's performance feeds a perversely entertaining movie about a schmuck in a business suit who thinks he's a vampire. He eats cockroaches and chases pigeons with fake vampire teeth to satisfy his blood lust. Just another day in corporate America.

The movie plays so dumb you don't see the final narrative shift coming. Vampire's Kiss gets "smart" when you least expect it because Nicolas Cage's highwire histrionics have all served Bierman's nimble misdirection. It's easy to see why some would label this a bad performance, but this mad, deranged, untethered Nic Cage perfectly serves the material that owes more to Bret Easton Ellis than any particular vampire mythology.
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Previously mentioned on my Underrated '89 list: The Mighty Quinn

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