Adam Jahnke is a contributing editor to The Digital Bits, which(among many other wonderful qualities) has the best dvd release list out there.
Writing a list of your year’s best older film discoveries is a bit of a double-edged sword, especially if you have any kind of reputation as a voracious movie lover. On the one hand, it’s always nice to turn the conversation away from the past year’s releases and focus on older titles again. But you also reveal the blind spots in your personal movie-watching history. A lot of the titles on my list aren’t going to seem like “discoveries” to a lot of people. I imagine the reaction will be more like, “You hadn’t already seen that? What kind of monster are you?”
Well, mea culpa. Maybe 2013 will be the year I finally get around to watching Top Gun or The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, just to name two extremes of movies I still haven’t seen. Until then, here are ten movies, some legendary, some obscure, that I had the pleasure of seeing for the first time in 2012, presented in alphabetical order.
American Pop(1981) – I have a lot of respect and admiration for Ralph Bakshi, despite the fact that I don’t think he’s ever made a truly great movie. His 1981 animated cross-section of popular music is, like a lot of his work, sprawling and uneven. It’s also incredibly ambitious and a visual marvel. A flawed but deeply felt movie in a medium that doesn’t exactly encourage personal visions to shine through.
Basket Case 3(1992) – Watching this gonzo sequel reminded me just how badly I miss seeing new movies from Frank Henenlotter. This isn’t quite at the same level of deranged masterpiece as Brain Damage or Frankenhooker but it’s certainly no cookie-cutter cash-in sequel. I’m not sure I enjoyed any single scene more this year than Granny Ruth leading her bus-load of freaks in a singalong of “Personality”.
Gambit(1966) – Just when I thought I’d seen all the best the heist movie genre had to offer, this utterly wonderful 1966 caper appears in my life. I’m curious about the remake, since a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen always gives one hope, but I’m sure it won’t hold a candle to the original.
Hard Times(1975) – Charles Bronson stars as a depression-era street boxer promoted by James Coburn in the directorial debut of Walter Hill. The boxing scenes are fantastic but the movie’s also surprisingly smart with an impeccable sense of place and time. Prior to this, I had mostly seen Bronson’s rather dire 1980s output. This is the first movie that made me think I need to watch more Charles Bronson films.
His Kind Of Woman(1951) – Any film noir with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell at her sexiest is bound to be at least mildly entertaining. But they aren’t even the biggest reasons to watch this 1951 Howard Hughes production. That would be Vincent Price, having the time of his life as a hunting-obsessed actor who finally gets the chance to play the hero in real life.
The Princess And The Frog(2009) – Not a particularly old film but unlike most Disney movies, this one seemed to come and go without making much impact. I can’t imagine why not. It’s terrifically entertaining, has some great music and some of Disney’s finest animation in recent memory.
The Red Shoes(1948) – As much as I love every single Powell/Pressburger movie I’ve seen, I was never in much hurry to watch yet another ballet movie. I’m an idiot. This is THE ballet movie. All others are pale imitations. Every great thing you’ve ever heard about this classic is true. One of the most spellbindingly beautiful films I’ve ever experienced.
Return To Oz (1985) – I vaguely remembered seeing most of this on television when I was a kid and wondering what the hell I was watching. Watching the entire thing as an adult, the movie was even weirder than I remembered. Arguably the darkest, strangest movie the Disney studio ever produced, I’m kind of surprised they didn’t shut this down after seeing the first week’s worth of footage.
Ride The High Country(1962) – I’d never paid much attention to Sam Peckinpah’s pre-Wild Bunch work before. Don’t make the same mistake I did or you’ll miss this fantastic, elegiac 1962 western with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. It’s a terrific summation of the genre up to that point, before folks like Leone and Peckinpah blew it wide open a few years later.
Starstruck(1982) – Gillian Armstrong directed this infectiously fun Australian musical about a young working class woman who dreams of becoming the next big pop sensation. This movie deserves a much bigger cult following than it currently has.
Woman Of The Year(1942) – Tracy and Hepburn as reporters for the same newspaper, falling in love and doing that Tracy and Hepburn thing they do so well. Not quite as good as Adam’s Rib but the scene with Hepburn attempting to make breakfast while a bemused Tracy looks on is a comedy classic.
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