The film industry's corpse is so withered, it's a miracle that it's still reeking. Luckily, there's over a century of real movies for us to discover, and I spent almost all of 2011 flipping off the newies while sweating to the oldies. Here are my ten least depressing discoveries of the year:
1) DANGEROUS MENDir. John S. Rad / 2005 It took over five years to finally see this notorious homemade rager, and it was well worth the wait. The late John Rad's directorial debut AND swan song, Dangerous Men is like no other experience in the universe. Decades in the making, it eschews every convention of storytelling to instead dazzle with antilogical insanity in the guise of a seedy action thriller. I don't want to reveal anything and ruin the purity of your first viewing, but I do want you to "get down on the ground, rub my knees and lick my bellybutton."
2) NO MORE EXCUSESDir. Robert Downey Sr. / 1968 Lord knows I hate all that "art" shit. And the hilarious work of Robert Downey Sr. is often buried in the same accolades that are usually reserved for meaningful, symbolic triumphs by Europeans in sweaters. I'd like to think that Pops Downey would just as soon clear a clogged nostril on the Louvre carpet as make a respectable surrealist masterpiece. No More Excuses is basically just dumping ground for his overactive brainpile, as he attacks bestiality, obesity, time travel and the swingin' singles scene with all the composure of a burning infant falling down a well. If Downey's an artist, he's using a banana peel for a paintbrush.
3) THE PALM BEACH STORYDir. Preston Sturges / 1942 Everyone has the movies that they shoulda coulda woulda watched earlier, and this is the year's top shame-maker for me. Sturges was a brilliant and fearless filmmaker, capable of balancing slapstick comedy, scathing dialogue and -- most impressively -- a perfect blend of contempt and sympathy for his idiotic fellow man. The Palm Beach Story is Sturges at the peak of his abilities, before his confidence was undermined by the constant interloping of Hollywood studio buttholes. Watch this movie, murder Judd Apatow, and maybe big screen comedy will stand half a chance. But I doubt it.
4) CAT DANCERSDir. Harris Fishman / 2008 This documentary covers an untold story so subtly bizarre that you almost doubt its authenticity, but it's 100% on the level. 1960s newlyweds Ron & Joy Holiday embark on a lifetime of Vegas style wild animal entertainment, building a modest empire of white tigers and sequined jumpsuits. But as the years pass, depression and doubt take hold, eventually leading to cataclysmic tragedy. The story is told by Ron Holiday himself, as he weeps, wrings his hands and velcros various enormous wigs to his bald head. Incredible.
5) SOME CAME RUNNINGDir. Vincente Minnelli / 1958 For the most part, I can leave Frank Sinatra's acting along with his singing. Ol' Blue Eyes has never cast a spell over me, and neither has studio director Vincente Minnelli. So I was pleased n' shocked to be completely swept up by his heavy-handed ode to failure and loneliness. Dean Martin joins Sinatra, a couple of luckless heels on the whiskey-scented road to misery. It's like Minnelli lined up the heaviest, drunkest egos in the industry and beat them into total submission on camera. The great Shirley MacLaine gets called "a pig" multiple times by her co-stars. But her career has outlasted their livers so ha ha ha.
6) THE LOVE BUTCHERDir. Don Jones / 1975 Thanks to my pal Lars Nilsen for sharing this one. Exploitationeer Jones unleashes a grimy love letter to schizophrenic obsession in this sweaty-palmed drive-in nightmare. Actor Erik Stern shoulda been given a chocolate-filled Oscar for his portrayal of Lester/Caleb, a split-personality gardener with a proclivity for lady removal. This wildly impressive performance is the type that would be eternally praised by film history wimps if they had the guts to watch movies made by the welfare set.
7) A THOUSAND CLOWNSDir. Fred Coe / 1965 Jason Robards declares war against the world in this heartbreaking comedy that pokes gaping holes in business, religion, romance and -- above all else -- the shittiness of being an adult. Robards is Murray, the zanily immature single father of decidedly im-immature Nick. The 12-year-old is played by Barry Gordon, whose performance is so strong that I actually (and incorrectly) theorized he was a middle-aged little person portraying a child. The two spend their days goofing through New York, avoiding school and employment, and moving swiftly towards the inevitability of their separation. When a pair of Child Welfare officers intrude on their happy home, Murray and Nick explode in a flurry of self-sabotaging hijinks in an effort to go down swinging. One of the most unpredictable and haunting studio films I've ever seen.
8) DOCTOR DEATHDir. Webster Colcord / 1989 Not to be confused with the 1973 horror film Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls, this annihilation mini-epic was shot on super-8 by a bunch of Oregonian 15-year-olds, and may be the single most entertaining post-apocalyptic action movie since The Road Warrior. Homemade lazer effects, radiated creatures and claymation monstrosities prove that yesterday's tenth grader is an infinitely better filmmaker than today's J.J. Abrams. Throughout Doctor Death's 18 minute runtime, the viewer will witness the following objects explode: two human heads, one mutant head, one school bus, one dog, two cars, and the entire world. Writer/director/star Colcord would grow up (booooo!) to work on major Hollywood releases including Iron Man, but at least he has this movie to be proud of. (NOTE: Can be seen on Colcord's Youtube Channel HERE)
9) ROAD TO SALINADir. Georges Lautner / 1970 A kaleidoscopic, dreamlike emotional holocaust to the ultramax. A young wanderer (Robert Walker) is pulled into the psychosexual armpit of the scorching desert, where everyone desperately wants to mistake him for a different man. The type of movie that makes you want to take a shower in your clothes. Mimsy Farmer stars alongside big screen veterans Rita Hayworth and Ed Begley Sr. Thanks again to Lars, who ranks this among his favorites of all time.
10) MALONEDir. Harley Cokliss / 1987 I'm gonna keep this brief because I just posted a big smelly Valentine to this movie over on BadassDigest.com, and I'm frankly surprised to see it land in my Top Ten. But here it is. Burt Reynolds straps on a bulletproof toupee and goes shotgun-wild on a crew of high-rolling backwoods militants, including the late, great Cliff Roberston as the race war's ringleader. Macho, hammy and conscience-free...secretly souped up by the great screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer....brazenly unleashed on the '80s action landscape long after its star's relevance had faded...slam-packed with fractures, detonations and exit wounds...the final frontier in middle-aged man testosterone fantasy: M A L O N E !!!
Honorable Mention!) PATTERNSDir. Fielder Cook / 1955 This would easily rank in the year's Top Three if it wasn't for the fact that it's a TV special rather than a movie. Either way, it's one of the most jarring, masterful works of melodrama that you'll ever see. It was also the hour of power that put young Rod Serling on the Hollywood map and eventually made it possible for him to unveil The Twilight Zone. Patterns follows a young executive (Richard Kiley) through the venomous pitfalls of the professional world. Innocent to the heartless darkness of big business, he watches helplessly as all humanity around him is drained away. This incredibly innovative assault on capitalism should be viewed by the CEO of every corporation in America, and then they should each be shot in the head. PS: Anybody hiring?
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