Jeremy Kirk is a Film critic for FirstShowing.net, co-host of the Golden Briefcase podcast (found weekly on FirstShowing.net), and also contributes to Film School Rejects. This is Jeremy's third year contributing a list to this series. Check out his 2011 list here:
and his 2010 here:
Twisted Nerve (1968) - What I knew about this UK film from 1968 was only that Quentin Tarantino used the main, whistle-centric theme song in Kill Bill Volume 1, an inclusion I've always loved but never sought to find. I'm glad I did this past year. What I got was a psychological and very unnerving thriller with a first-rate lead performance from Hywel Bennett. He plays Martin, a young man who pretends to be simple-minded to become friends with a young woman, played by Hayley Mills. The film turns violent and serves as both a thoroughly uncomfortable thriller and a finely written character piece. The whistled theme plays throughout, so be a fan of it if you're going in, and all-in-all the film delivers on its suitable title.
Wake in Fright (1971) - One great sources for hidden gems of the cinema's past is through Drafthouse Films. The theater-chain-turned-distribution-company has a knack for finding the perfect blend of new and old titles to release under their banner, and Wake in Fright is a phenomenal discovery. Gary Bond plays an Australian teacher stuck in a rural mining town of drunkards and a very strange Donald Pleasence. Director Ted Kotcheff's grimy atmosphere is perfection. The dust seems to get under your nails from this movie. The film builds its unnerving intensity well, and the most disturbing things Wake in Fright have to offer have nothing to do with very real and very brutal kangaroo hunt filmed for the movie. Be sure to find this gem, and crack open a cold one to enjoy along with it.
The End (1978) - Right after Smokey and the Bandit, just before Hooper, Burt Reynolds starred in this strange, dark comedy about a man who learns he has cancer and decides to end it all on his own terms. He ends up in a mental institution, and enlists the help of Dom DeLuise, who gleefully takes on the part of a deranged mental patient who promises to do Reynolds' character no matter what. The comedy breaks out of control once Reynolds decides he wants to live, and DeLuise isn't having any of it. Sally Fields also co-stars, re-teaming with the Bandit, and the whole trio turns in comedically top-notch performances. Reynolds served as director on The End, one of only a handful of films he helmed and his only comedy. Its resulting laughs make him a director of comedy I, for one, would have liked to see more of.
Kiltro (2006) - More than just a film discovery, I discovered a man in 2012. Marko Zaror is a Chilean martial artist with only a handful of films to his credit in his native country. He's already breaking over to the states in Machete Kills later this year, but Kiltro, the first of his films I had the fortune to watch, is a fast, fun, often hilarious action movie. Zaror stars as a muscle-head who is in love with a girl. To win her heart, he takes it upon himself to beat up any man who turns a keen eye towards her. The laughs in Kiltro are usually ridiculous and play more to the Looney Tunes crowd than Bruce Lee fans. The fantastical element to Kiltro is a nice turn, and Zaror's charisma make him an excellent protagonist to watch take his arc. Also check out Mandrill for some more amazing action starring Zaror, and watch for him when Machete Kills on the screen.
Altered (2006) - Not following the careers of Daniel Myrick and/or Eduardo Sanchez after The Blair Witch Project, this indie horror flick Sanchez directed in 2006 passed me by, but I'm glad I finally caught up with it. A group of friends who were abducted by aliens 15 years ago find their way to some payback after they are able to capture one of the extraterrestrial creatures. Ably atmospheric and drenched with a sense of campy fun, Altered does a fine job entertaining its audience with alien-centric thrills while never falling victim to its low budget. As with The Blair Witch Project, Sanchez does a fine job hiding any financial shortcomings his film has, and both the movie's scares and jokes are effectively pulled off. Check this one out on Netflix Instant.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974) - One resolution I made in 2012 was to watch more Hammer Productions. I've always loved their colorful and energetic style while playing with a sense of camp in the chintzy effects and elaborate set design. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, one of only a few Hammer films I caught up with last year, is absolutely no exception. Horst Janson stars as a roaming vampire hunter, aided in his quest to rid the world of the undead by his hunchbacked assistant. Writer/director Brian Clemens stepped behind the camera for the first and only time, but his effortless handling of the quintessential Hammer style and wicked storytelling makes it one for the ages.
The Escapist (2008) - Yes, Rupert Wyatt's recent handling of Rise of the Planet of the Apes was what drove me to find his earlier works, particularly The Escapist. Brian Cox stars as a man spending life in prison who learns his daughter has become a drug addict. No longer accepting his surroundings, he forms a crew to break out. Wyatt's writing and direction are stellar, moving at a breakneck pace but never getting ahead of the viewer. The cast of escaping inmates is another plus for the film, highlighted by performances from Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, and Liam Cunningham. Lewis, in particular, shines as a ruthless convict with little in the way of morals. The Escapist hasn't gotten the credit it's due, but hopefully the recent and future success of its director will have audiences seeking it out. You definitely should.
Fat Girl (2001) - There is one constant you can always count on when it comes to French film in the last 30 years. You never know what the HELL is going to happen before the film ends. Fat Girl, a 2001 film from Catherine Breillat, is no exception. A story of two teenage sisters vacationing with their family, the film explores a young woman's sexuality, telling a highly intriguing coming-of-age story while infusing the screen with realistic depictions of adolescents learning about themselves. And then the ending. It's best to not even hint at what occurs when it's something as out-of-left-field as what Breillat has concocted in Fat Girl, so I'll just say it's a doozy. French cinema continues to shock and surprise in the very best of ways, even a decade after the film as been released. A very good reason to seek out foreign films of yesteryear.
The Calamari Wrestler (2004) - Okay, here's a new idea. Let's have a giant squid become a professional wrestler. An idea only those geniuses in Japan could pull off, The Calamari Wrestler is another odd tale from Minoru Kawasaki, the writer/director behind Executive Koala. This film is just as sweet as it is strange, telling an engaging story of a young man who must battle in the ring to reclaim his human form. And then things get really weird. If you can get past the production values, often a challenge with crazy, Japanese films, there is really a lot of fun to be had these films. The Calamari Wrestler would make a great double feature with Big Man Japan. Check that one out, as well, if you haven't already.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) - A sad, reflective gangster movie, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a nice change of pace for movie-watchers bogged down by rip-roaring, let's-whack-everybody-and-take-the-cannoli gangster flicks we've come accustomed to. It's no surprise Eddie Coyle is based on a novel by George V. Higgins, the novelist who gave us the inspiration for 2012's Killing Them Softly. It's also no shocker this film has amazing performances from both Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle, the former being the title character, an aged, low-level hood who's facing jail time for his last job. The film doesn't play it safe, but neither does it slip into the ridiculous. Instead, director Peter Yates moves the film at a deliberate pace and tightening a tough grip on its lead character all the way to the end.
Inserts (1974) - One of the earlier films I discovered through Netflix Instant this past year, Inserts stars Richard Dreyfuss as a young director of silent films who resorts to shooting pornography when sound takes over the art. Bob Hoskins and Veronica Cartwright provide stunning, supporting performances, the latter playing a heroin-addicted porn starlet. She and Dreyfuss play effectively against type and do John Byrum's screenplay - He wrote as well as directed the film - a suitable justice.
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