Saturday, December 29, 2012

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Jenni Lee

Jenni Lee (jenni7283 on Twitter) is an art historian, graphic designer, project manager, and lover of film from Austin. She especially loves musicals and horror movies. Her current film project is watching all of Frank Sinatra’s movies in 2012. She’s also a tallyteer, you can follow her schizophrenic movie watching at http://letterboxd.com/jenerator/.



Wake in Fright, Dir. Ted Kotcheff (1971, 35mm)
Originally screened at Cannes Film Festival and one of only two films to screen at Cannes twice, Wake in Fright is a crushing view of the lives of those who live life on the edge of the outback in Australia. You will either want a beer or feel completely blotto without drinking a drop after the movie has ended. Recently, Drafthouse Films bought the rights to distribute this film and actually saved what is believed to be the last 35mm copy from a fiery destruction. This film is beautiful and moving it is a must see for any cinefile. It is currently making the rounds in theaters, but is available for Blu-ray and DVD pre-order now from Drafthouse Films.


The Sentinel, Dir. Michael Winner (1977, Netflix)
Every year I spend the month of October watching new-to-me horror movies, as well as some old faithfuls. This year while doing research on Netflix I stumbled on this gem. The star studded cast is nothing to baulk at and none of the actors give anything less than 150% to their role. The one performance viewers should lookout for is Beverly D'Angelo. She is by far and away the performance that will shock and amaze.


Cabaret, Dir. Bob Fosse (1972, 35mm)
Sometimes there is that film that you will talk about for the rest of your life. Cabaret is that film. It follows the shenanigan filled life of an American cabaret singer in Weimar Republic era Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party. The Technicolor film processing gives the already hyper stylized imagery a unity that is singular to Cabaret. All performances are mind bendingly absurd in their clarity and focus. If you have the chance see it in a film format at a theater, see it that way, if not, you should still check it out on DVD.


Anchors Aweigh, Dir. George Sidney (1945, DVD)
I’ve been watching all of the movies of Frank Sinatra this year and by far this is one of my new-to-me favorites. Anchors Aweigh stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as two young men on shore leave during World War II. This film is more than just a musical where Sinatra croons at every high point, but rather a look into the naivety of young men going off to war. The highlight is Gene Kelly’s famously delightful dance with a certain cartoon mouse.


La Haine, Dir. Mathieu Kassovitz (1995, DVD)
After a young man is beaten by police in 1990’s Paris, France the youth in his neighborhood riot. Shot in black and white, it is a moving commentary on the hate within not only your community, but ourselves as well. It’s stark and very real. Just see it. It will make you see the world in a completely different way. Also, there is a documentary introduced by Jodie Foster called “Ten Years After La Haine,” which is also a must watch.


Chinatown, Dir. Roman Polanski (1974, Netflix)
Say what you will about Mr. Polanski, but when it comes to making films that hook you in until the very last, he is the man. This crime drama mystery is a deep multilayered film noir into L.A.’s real history of water disputes from the early 1900’s. As a hired detective, Jack Nicholson’s character J.J. Gittes, pulls away the layers of surveillance he’s been performing and he finds there is much more to the story.


Secret Ceremony, Dir. Joseph Losey (1968, 35mm)
When watching trailers for Fantastic Fest this year there were a collection of repertory screenings highlighting House of Psychotic Women. Secret Ceremony’s trailer had me hooked at Liz Taylor, but when you add in Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum into the mix you have a trilogy of crazy. What really sold me on seeing this film was the inclusion of a full on slap across the face of Mia Farrow delivered by Liz Taylor. Each of the main actors works out their co-dependent psychosis in a very unexpected way.


Battle Royale I/II, Dir. Kinji Fukasaku (2000/2003, Blu-ray)
42 ninth graders are forced to do battle against each other on an island by mandate of the government issued “Battle Royale Act.” They have three days to have a winner or everyone dies. Make it a double feature with Battle Royale II where the failed Battle Royale Act has a new mission: kill international terrorist Shuya Nanahara.


The Signal, Dirs. David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry (2007, Amazon Video)
I love AJ Bowen. There. I said it. I didn’t need any lengthy explanations as to why I should see it. I needed to see it right then and Noah Lee (another lister) confirmed I just needed to put it in my eyeballs. It’s the story of a murderous signal that is being transmitted through media turning everyone against each other. The Signal is three part story told from different perspectives.


Rebel without a Cause, Dir. Nicholas Ray (1955, 35mm)
Oh James Dean, you are so dreamy. I had never seen a James Dean act, nor had I ever seen a Nicholas Ray film, but I can say without hesitation our world is a much less talented place without either of them in it. Just a week or so before I had seen the documentary VITO (2011) that chronicles the life of Vito Russo who wrote The Celluloid Closet. In the documentary they discuss the portrayal of gay persons on screen and specifically discuss Rebel without a Cause. Armed with that knowledge it probably made me love Rebel without a Cause that much more. It’s a beautiful commentary on how family life was hidden from the prying eyes of neighbors, as well as the things teenagers will do if they are pushed to lose control.


S.O.B., Dir. Blake Edwards (1981, DVD)
The master of the ensemble cast is Blake Edwards when it comes to comedy writing and directing. S.O.B. is not an exception. It stars Julie Andrews as your typical wholesome Hollywood starlet who sheds her clothes for a down on his luck movie producer trying to obtain the elusive next big hit.


The Loved Ones, Dir. Sean Byrne (2009, PAL Blu-ray)
Brent is teen in Australia dealing with the death of his father, but is also the object of affection for Lola. And when Lola is rejected by Brent as his date to the prom she plots revenge in the most extreme ways. If you can, see the original cut.


Rope, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock (1948, TMC)
Two young men murder a classmate because they feel he is inferior and then invite his family and friends to a party where not only the murder took place, but also where the body is hidden in an attempt to prove how superior they are. This film has a great performance from James Stewart and it has a short 80min runtime.


The Great Dictator, Dir. Charlie Chaplin (1940, DVD)
I’ve tried to start this synopsis about 6 times. It is just one of those films that you should see. A few items to note. This is Chaplin’s first talkie and his highest grossing film. According to the BBC Documentary The Tramp and the Dictator (2002), if Chaplin would have known the extent of the crimes that the Nazi’s perpetrated he would have never made The Great Dictator. World War II started in 1939 during the filming of Chaplin’s film and he used newsreels and Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will, the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, in which Adolph Hitler addresses 700,000 Nazi supporters to mimic his speech patterns and movements.


The General, Dir. Buster Keaton (1926, DVD, Live Piano Accompaniment)
I am in love with this silent movie. I also happened to see it with live piano accompaniment so there was some special flare thrown in during the more tense scenes. It’s a story where boy meets girl and is in love with her... and his train. When he decides to enlist for the Civil War to appease his girl, they reject him because he is such a good engineer, and in turn she rejects him as well feeling he’s not trying to enlist. Totally adorable.


Miami Connection, Dir. Y.K. Kim (1987, 35mm)
Ninjas, motorcycles, Dragon Sound, and cocaine. An 80’s fueled action flick from Y.K. Kim that has just been released from Drafthouse Films is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and limited VHS. Do yourself a favor and try for the VHS. You won’t be disappointed.

3 comments:

Thomas Duke said...

I saw Wake in Fright two years ago in a coffee shop of all places, and was blown away, although the roo violence was hard to stomach. It maintained a thriller like tension for me despite not overtly being a thriller. I will definitely be picking up the Blu.

Ned Merrill said...

WAKE IN FRIGHT is brilliant...glad you included it on your list. It was actually restored by the Australian National Film & Sound Archive in 2009 after the original negative was tracked down--after years of searching--in a storage facility in Western Pennsylvania; it had been slated for destruction.

Drafthouse Films bought the U.S. distribution rights, but as far as I know, they did no further "saving" or actual restoration work.

I, for one, hope that the U.S. Blu-ray isn't as slathered with digital noise reduction, as the Aussie Blu-ray is. It's great to have the film on Blu-ray and DVD, but the current disc doesn't look much like a FILM from 1971.

Hal said...

S.O.B. is a mess at times, but a really glorious one. The line that has stayed with me 30 years came from Dr. Robert Preston, correcting Loretta Swit's namecalling:

"A shyster is a disreputable lawyer. I'm a quack!"

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