1. D.C. CAB (Joel Schumacher, 1983)
Easily one of the most thoroughly enjoyable viewing experiences of 2012. Approximately thirty people gathered together at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on a Sunday night in December -- all for the sake of D.C. CAB. This was one of those magical screenings where people walked out of the theater with eyes wide open, gesticulating wildly about this moment or that moment in the film. D.C. CAB's premise is pretty simple, but the execution is off-the-wall and fueled by a decade of cocaine. Mr. T, Gary Busey, and The Barbarian Brothers alone provide enough raging, stand-up and shout moments that as a viewer, I hardly had a chance to catch my breath before the next wacky stunt, gag, or crackpot line from Busey. My favorite line: "Just doin' some intestinal yoga."
2. KAMIKAZE 89 (Wolf Gremm, 1982)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's final onscreen role, before his sudden and shocking death only a month before the film's release. Upon watching it, I initially described it as (despite overall plot dissimilarity) the result of trying to make a movie in the visual style of BLADE RUNNER with only $10 and a roll of duct tape. I think the gut reaction still holds true, but I must stress that I mean that as a compliment. This film is similarly off its rocker, but only in the most delightful of ways. Fassbinder is a detective whose signature is his leopard-skin blazer and matching gun. The story is hard to follow and doesn't make much sense, but might on a potential second (or third) viewing. The stars of this movie, other than Fassbinder, are threefold -- the impressive, although uniformly cheap, visual style of the film; the soundtrack by Edgar Froese (of Tangerine Dream fame); and, finally, Franco Nero, in a bizarre cameo. Fassbinder also humps an astronaut.
3. MESSAGE FROM SPACE (Kinji Fukasaku, 1978)
My doctor tells me different, but I'm 100% certain that I actually, physically require Sonny Chiba movies to stay alive. It might not be my very favorite Chiba film, as he plays more of a supporting role here, but the movie as a whole is pure fun and pure entertainment. This is Fukasaku's attempt to capitalize on the space craze that followed the 05/25/77 release of STAR WARS. The major plot elements are copied in a later Chiba/Fukasaku film, LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI, which more or less just sets the story on earth rather than in space and exchanges stormtroopers for samurai. Both movies are great, but this is another in the category of cheap, genre exploitation. Back in these days, folks like Fukasaku made the impossible come to life on the big screen with minimal budgets. Such limitations forced filmmakers to find creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable tasks. Such is the spirit of this movie.
4. SOME CALL IT LOVING (James B. Harris, 1973)
Almost certainly my favorite discovery of the past year, James B. Harris' SOME CALL IT LOVING is an ode to excess and loneliness that it breeds. Zalman King plays Robert Troy, a man whose musical prowess has meant for him limitless success and wealth, but a man who otherwise has nothing to show for his triumph in the eyes of society. He quite literally inhabits a castle that despite its accoutrement, seems consistently empty. He craves contact and human warmth, but keeps himself at a distance -- always watching, never participating. As such, the relationships that do manifest in the narrative are perverse transactions -- like the objects that adorn his home, he similarly collects people by purchasing them (or their favor). Richard Pryor turns in the most upsetting and remarkable performance of his career as Troy's "best friend," Jeff, a junkie in the process of losing his mind. The first scene with Pryor is terrifying and totally heartbreaking. The thrust of the story, however, is on a sleeping beauty carnival act that Troy purchases from an unsavory character, who then becomes his curious love interest. I won't say more, because to reveal any further details would be to spoil the experience of watching the film. Only available on VHS or on 35mm (if you can find it). An absolute must-see.
5. TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE (Norman Mailer, 1987)
Mailer's late-80s "pastel noir" (Evan Husney, Director of Drafthouse Films, came up with this perfect term) is from another planet altogether. It's a murder-mystery set in Provincetown, MA wherein Ryan O'Neal, Isabella Rossellini, Wings Hauser, Lawrence Tierney, Penn Jillette, and more, play out an odd farce. Everything is saccharine and nothing is sacred, but every moment in this movie is completely sincere. For me, this is another one of the most memorable Drafthouse viewing experiences of the past year, part of our AGFA Deep Tracks screening series.
6. EUREKA (Nicolas Roeg, 1983)
As with SOME CALL IT LOVING, Nic Roeg's EUREKA is a cautionary tale about wealth and happiness -- how one does not by necessity come with the other. This movie also boasts (nearly) all of my favorite actors together for the first and last time: Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Mickey Rourke, and Joe Pesci. The story is about Jack McCann (Hackman) who spends fifteen years searching for gold in the arctic wilderness. A man too proud for his own good and powered by greed, he sacrifices everything of himself and all human contact for the pursuit of wealth. Little does he realize that his pursuit is ultimately an empty one, that the reward was the journey to find the gold and not the gold itself or the wealth it brought to him. The tagline from the original trailer was, "The moment Jack McCann discovered gold, he died. And that moment lasted a lifetime." Far too often overlooked or dismissed.
7. THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY (Hubert Cornfield, 1968)
Nobody knows or has ever heard of Hubert Cornfield, but to my mind he was one of the best B-level directors of the classic studio system, a man who squeezed pennies into art. THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY is no exception. A slow burn kidnapping tale starring Marlon Brando, this austere drama plays out over a brief, but undeniably tense, 93 minutes.
8. LE MAGNIFIQUE (Philippe de Broca, 1973)
This movie will charm the pants off anybody who sees it. It is a cartoon come to life, with Jean-Paul Belmondo as its star. Belmondo plays a struggling espionage-novel writer, who in real life is more or less a schlub, but imagines himself as the suave, Bond-like character of his novels. His upstairs neighbor, Jacqueline Bisset, just happens to be a fan of his novels and so works her own way into his stories. It is imaginative, a true delight, and the moments of transition between real life and his daydreaming are particularly noteworthy. A sound or object from real life (or sometimes both) will begin to invade Belmondo's fiction, such as a vacuum suddenly appearing out of nowhere on a beach, in the midst of a firefight. Pure, goofy, and wonderful.
9. SLEEPWALK (Sara Driver, 1986)
Nobody does deadpan dialogue and action like Sara Driver. We showed a brand new 35mm print of this film back when I was still at UCLA and an audience of folks who had never seen the film before got a kick out of every scene. Steve Buscemi has a small, if incredibly memorable, role. The story is a strange one -- a woman (Suzanne Fletcher) begins to translate a Chinese manuscript and finds that it begins to influence her daily life. SLEEPWALK turns New York City into a haunted dreamscape, a world of fog and wonder, where absolutely anything could be around the next corner. No movie in the past year has made me both laugh outright and alternately gasp for air -- SLEEPWALK is something worthy of rediscovery, a forgotten 1980s gem.
10. THE TELEPHONE BOOK (Nelson Lyon, 1971)
The only X-rated film on my list of favorite discoveries. Honestly, the tagline says it all: "The story of a girl who falls in love with the world's greatest obscene phone call."