Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Jeffery Berg ""

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Jeffery Berg

Jeffery is a longtime contributor here at RPS and also runs his lovely blog JDB Records:

1. Opening Night (1977, John Cassavetes)
This was one of Ben Sher’s picks for the Ghost Movies episode I did with him and Meep on Meep's Retro Movie Love Podcast. It’s definitely a ghost film, both haunted and haunting, but not one you may think of one at first glance. Gena Rowlands is utterly compelling (those cigarettes and shades!) as a tortured actress. With a performance at the center that's so wild and roaming, it's always good to have an anchor. That anchor would be Joan Blondell, excellent and specific in a supporting turn, as a world-weary playwright; it might be one of my favorite performances I've seen this past year. Beautifully rendered by director John Cassavetes, the mood and feel of the film is so singular.
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2. 1979 Double Feature: Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, Joan Micklin Silver) / Saint Jack (1979, Peter Bogdanovich)
These were two films I saw for the first time, thanks in part for Meep’s 1979 podcast. I had heard about Chilly Scenes for quite some time, and finally tracked it down and absolutely adored it. This slow-burn character and relationship study is in my wheelhouse. Joan Micklin Silver's direction and script are outstanding. Definitely one of the more underrated films of the decade, though it seems to have fervent advocates who have drawn attention to it in recent years.

Saint Jack is a curious, Singapore-set, lesser-talked about film in Peter Bogdanovich's oeuvre, but one of the more interesting, compelling and peculiar ones of his I've seen.

I liked the quietly charismatic Ben Gazzara in the lead and Denholm Elliott, fabulous in supporting role. They are the kind of defined character acting you don't see too much in films--and it's so fun to watch! I recommend the Projection Booth episode on this movie for great in-depth information and discussion.

Opening Night, Chilly Scenes of Winter, and Saint Jack all show a sensibility of 1970s film-making and character-driven drama that began to wane a bit in the 1980s. In fact, the troubled backstory of marketing Chilly Scenes of Winter, shows how worrisome changes and Hollywood priorities seemed to be afoot.
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3. Bitter Moon (1992, Roman Polanski)
I was completely engrossed in Roman Polanski’s romance drama. A riveting watch. Complex performances. At times, very twisty and disturbing. The limitations and wreckage in the wake of obsession observed to the core. The eclectic soundtrack was wonderful too, including Bryan Ferry's well-used "Slave to Love."
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4. Malice (1993, Harold Becker)
This is one of those early 90s movies I remember from my teen years being heavily advertised that I never got to at the time and one that quickly became forgotten. I did a blind buy of it from Kino Lorber and I do not regret! It’s so devilish and deliriously entertaining. It helps that Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman are so dishy in their roles. Engaging supporting spots come up as well (including a young Gwyneth Paltrow and a wonderfully salty Anne Bancroft). Aaron Sorkin may be acclaimed for his more serious-minded works, but the neo-noir script (with hints of Out of the Past) is pure thriller fun, and fits perfectly with his tendency towards excess. The film is gorgeously shot too by Gordon Willis, establishing its sleepy college town Massachusetts setting so well.
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5. Scalpel (1977, John Grissmer)
This is another twisty, morbid thriller about dueling identities. Salt-of-the-earth Robert Lansing, who I love from Empire of the Ants, is excellent as plastic surgeon who models a prostitute (Judith Chapman) to look like his missing daughter. Lush Georgia settings add to the Southern Gothic atmosphere. I used to go to the Six Flags captured in the film! Beautiful Blu-Ray release from Arrow.
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6. Three Days of the Condor (1975, Sydney Pollack)
A simultaneously glossy and gritty quintessential New York City in the '70s picture. The harrowing opening is dynamite and the thrill ride between the attractive movie star leads (Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway) is certainly appealing. Loved her Brooklyn Heights digs. She's pretty much neighbors to The Sentinel house! Also quite an ending--that 70s paranoid unease that feels pertinent to our times.
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7. Foxes (1980, Adrian Lyne)
As a fan of coming-of-age movies, the work of the underrated Adrian Lyne, Giorgio Moroder (who penned the disco score and Donna Summer's "On the Radio" theme song), I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to this one. The mostly female cast is distinctive; I was especially moved by Marilyn Kagan's turn. 1980 feels--that stasis of youth culture caught between disco and punk. It was a satisfying watch that I immediately watched again for a second time with Lynne’s usual fascinating director’s commentary.
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8. Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968, Jonathan Miller)
Was looking up some notable ghost movies and stumbled across this beguiling 1968 BBC production. Super eerie and atmospheric. I also love when frustrating ghost-doubters are proven wrong!
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9. The Midnight Man (1974, Roland Kibbe & Burt Lancaster)
I grew up in a small town near Clemson, South Carolina and this is one of the few features I can find that was shot in the area. Very bizarre, slightly pulpy drugstore paperback type of movie. Can only be attributed to the early 1970s. Burt Lancaster, who also co-directed, stars as a watchman on a college campus, twists and turns emerge, when a coed is found murdered. Another gem from Kino Lorber.
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10. Some of My Best Friends Are... (1971, Mervyn Nelson)
Released by American International Pictures in 1971, this is not a perfect movie, with some harsh moments, but a fascinating one night-into morning look at a cluster of characters huddled in a Greenwich Village gay bar. That they are gathered on Christmas Eve shows who their decided company is on a traditionally “family” holiday. Many great turns including Rue McClanahan and Candy Darling. I watched this one streaming on Amazon. Hoping it gets a restoration down the line. I think it’s deserving of a closer look and conversation from a historical perspective as well.
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