The Alamo Drafthouse programming team watches a LOT of films in a given year. These are our favorite cinematic discoveries made in 2013, so maybe you can go out and discover them too.
ALABAMA’S GHOST (Fredric C. Hobbs, 1973)
This is more a happening than a traditional movie. As with his Godmonster of Indian Flats which he made the same year, I'm not sure what writer/director/producer Frederic Hobbs was trying to do, but I'm sure glad he did it. I hate when people describe movies as "_______ on acid," but this is perhaps best described as a poverty row magician thriller on acid. A psychedelic Chandu complete with long scenes of hippie funk bands jamming, gaudy swami costumes, bizarre magic stage shows a vehicle that wouldn't be out of place at Burning Man, and a climax that evokes Altamont. The main character runs down the street repeating, "Mama. Dada. Mama. Dada." and complains to his mom about racist ghosts. Also there are vampires and an elephant. This is something special.
THE CHASE (Arthur Ripley, 1946)
Loopy noir that's so slippery every time I thought I had a grasp on where it was going, it got away from me. Steve Cochran and Peter Lorre steal the show as a pair of sadistic sociopaths who share an ambiguous relationship and a gift for witty retorts. Its bizarre structure, arrhythmic dialogue, oddly stylized sets, and droll humor must have seemed bananas at the time of its release. Hell, it still seems a bit bananas. The twisty narrative games do no service to the pacing, and it kind of ends in a whimper, but it's one unique ride when it's firing on all cylinders.
EMMA MAE (Jamaa Fanaka, 1976)
Underrated writer/director Jamaa Fanaka takes the urban black social problem film and injects it with enough levity and action to make it more populist (and fun!) than his UCLA contemporaries, yet he retains enough humanism and naturalism to keep it from tipping over into exploitation. It's a miracle of a balancing act that makes this movie as unique as it is unpredictable (and fun!).
A HEROIC FIGHT (Chung-Hsing Chao, 1986)
A zany Hong Kong action-comedy that features punk children lip-syncing Madonna at a McDonalds, a fight scene in which a BMX bike is used as a weapon, and many jokes about movie-making and stunt men. Sounds like fun, then it gets really dark too. Guaranteed crowd pleaser.
THE NUDE VAMPIRE (Jean Rollin, 1970)
A libidinous, psychedelic-poster-art fever dream that recalls the shadowy cityscapes of Feuillade while invoking the cultural clashes of the late 60s
SMILE (Michael Ritchie, 1975)
It's almost unbelievable that so gentle a satire can land with such an emotionally powerful wallop. The ambition seems to be nothing short of deconstructing the "American Dream" by detailing how its pursuit has emotionally crippled an entire small town and corrupted the values of contestants in a beauty pageant. Somehow it achieves all of this while still remaining consistently funny and never resorting to mean-spirited mockery. Bruce Dern hides a world of pain and sadness behind the eyes of one of his most memorable characters: "Big" Bob Freelander, the used car salesman who just wants to do what's right.
THE TELEPHONE BOOK (Nelson Lyon, 1971)
A wild, riotously funny sex comedy that through a series of skits pokes holes in taboos and has fun with the very idea of what a sex comedy could be. The writer/director went on to write for Saturday Night Live.
THIS IS AMERICA aka JABBERWALK (Romano Vanderbes, 1977)
Italian pseudo-documentary filmmakers turn their prying eyes onto the United States with hilarious results. Assertions such as demolition derbies are our national sport are made and the whole thing is narrated with such odd, flowery language and bombastic fervor. At one point it is suggested that therapy is available for those who suffer from " pernicious impotence in a group setting." I hope this was believed to be a common problem in the USA circa 1977.
THE WHIP AND THE BODY (Mario Bava, 1963)
A Gothic horror whodunnit bathed in the primary colors of a horror comic and peppered with just enough S&M to justify the sensational title. An underrated classic from master director Mario Bava. Che piacere!
THE WITCH’S MIRROR (Chano Urueta, 1962)
This Mexican horror movie has everything. There’s, as the title promises, a witch and her mirror, but there’s also infidelity, murder, a haunting, a mad doctor, grave robbing, experimental surgery, bloody revenge… it’s a supercut of Gothic horror plot points rolled into a delicious 75-minute burrito. With all of that incident packed into such a short running time it risks coming off as episodic and potentially slipshod, but in the end all of the narrative conflict is resolved with such satisfying finality that any questions one may raise become moot.
BEVERLY HILLS COP II (Tony Scott, 1987)
I have no idea why this movie was never in front of my eyes before. Scrolling through titles to watch one night this popped up. I thought, “why not” and didn’t realize I made one my best decisions of 2013. Directed by the late, great Tony Scott, the film just looks and works better than the original, from the directing to the story to Eddie Murphy. This is his best Axel Foley.
DRIVE, HE SAID (Jack Nicholson, 1971)
I was going through the BBS films and eventually got to Jack Nicholson’s directorial debut. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was surprised how much this incredibly strange Vietnam era coming-of-age story worked for me. It’s 100% a product of the BBS movement and defies usual conventions throughout, but it’s also strangely affecting. And Bruce Dern is the best basketball coach in film history not named Gene Hackman.
GO WEST (Edward Buzzell, 1940)
I was going through all the Marx brothers movies from the beginning and was surprised the most by GO WEST. It’s obviously second-tier Marx, but from the opening scene the energy the three of them put on screen makes up for the lackluster setups. The long opening sequence in particular is Groucho at this best.
GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971)
Part of our Beasts vs. Bots programming. This ‘70s anti-pollution message film/abstract psychedelic experiment/straight Godzilla movie is pretty special. When Godzilla becomes the hero of the day don’t resist the urge to cheer!
HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE (Mike Marvin, 1986
Dick Butkus as the head of Hamburger University? Yeah, I was pretty sure I’d like this movie. Part of our Video Hate Squad series, HAMBURGER is kinda like an ‘80s boner jam, but it’s really an ‘80s BURGER jam. Overall, it’s the best kind of silly and the audience was way into it. “Hamburgers for Americaaaaaa!”
A NEW LEAF (Elaine May, 1971)
Elaine May’s 1970s romantic comedy about a rich bachelor (Walter Matthau) who loses his money and decides to marry into a fortune through a nerdy, unsuspecting botanist (May) is a great example of a film that’s both subversive and classic. The film was part of programmer Cristina Ciacoppo’s Mixed Nuts series. It felt like the female version of a Hal Ashby movie. It’s really funny, kind of sweet, a little dark and about as entertaining as a movie can get.
RACE WITH THE DEVIL (Jack Starrett, 1975)
Satanists. A Winnebago. Peter Fonda. Warren Oates. Why had I not seen this movie before Zack screened it at Terror Tuesday? A film that really racks up the creepiness and tension until a climax that’s appropriately creepy and tense.
SON OF BLOB (Larry Hagman, 1972)
This was a last minute add by Weird Wednesday programmer Lars Nilsen as a tribute to Larry Hagman. I really had no idea what I was getting into, which turned out to be the best way to watch this completely indescribable film. Even Lars’ great, informative intro did not prepare me for what unleashed on the screen. In short, this sequel/non-sequel to THE BLOB doesn’t give a shit what you think and, scene after scene, just does what it wants.
THE WAR ROOM (D.A. Pennebaker, 1993)
Being a huge political nut it’s a mystery why I hadn’t stumble upon one of the greatest political documentaries of all-time. D.A. Pennebaker’s groundbreaking look into the Clinton campaign is engrossing and when you have a star like James Carville it’s hard not to make a good movie.
THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER (Timothy Carey, 1962)
This was part of Zack Carlson’s going away screenings earlier in the year and it was the one I was most excited about. I knew of Timothy Carey, but really knew nothing about him. Good thing Zack gave a primer history of the actor/writer/producer/director/fart enthusiast. What sprung from his mind in SINNER is a movie that’s obviously deeply personal, if not altogether coherent. You sense the emotion and energy on screen throughout, but there’s also a great feeling of freedom that allows the film to go wherever Carey wants it to.
CHARADE (Stanley Donen, 1963)
So many people told me how good it was and I think I somehow avoided this movie because I never wanted to be let down by it. Then I finally got to see it on the big screen courtesy of a Mr. RJ LaForce and I instantly fell in love. I got to check another Stanley Donen film off my list and witness the pure chemistry of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in an absolutely impossible to let you down classic.
COBRA (George P. Cosmatos, 1986)
I did a Stallone marathon this year and much like with any marathon I mosey on over to Vulcan Video and grab a stack of videos and lock myself in my house until I have seen all there is to see before making any programming decisions. COBRA had always evaded my eyes but after seeing it I wanted to shout from the roof tops. It's mean, it's dirty and it's cool as shit.
HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE (Mike Marvin, 1986)
I had no knowledge of this movie before going to see it. Zack Carlson only told me I should watch it with him because he thought I would like it...AND MAN! Zack stepped out on stage and fired a hamburger canon into the audience and I was all smiles from there. HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE is like POLICE ACADEMY for hamburger makers and features a raging soundtrack that no one has dared to equal.
IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (Stanley Donen, 1955)
Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in a Stanley Donen jam. I'd been doing my best to catch up on as much Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies as I could and stumbled across this one that I had missed and WOW..what a picture. This movie is packed to the gills with impressive stuff but Cyd Charisse's boxing dance is something I will remember forever.
THE LADY EVE (Preston Sturges, 1941)
When it came time to put our Tough Ladies month together, Tommy Swenson instantly shouted this title out. I'd seen some Preston Sturges movies, but had always managed to miss this one. Barbara Stanwyck will completely blow you away and Henry Fonda will have you doubling over with glee in this romantic tale of liars, double crossers and cheats.
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Charles Laughton, 1955)
We regularly do a thing called Alamo Film Society where a programmer gets to strap the rest of the company down to a theater seat and subject them to something the programmer is passionate about. Lars Nilsen made sure it counted and showed me this miraculous Robert Mitchum classic. You can have all your scary horror movies you want because Night of the Hunter will haunt me forever.
RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (George P. Cosmatos, 1985)
WHAT?! How have I not seen First Blood: Part Two? I know. I was the film school guy who managed to not see the Godfather until well into schooling and I'm the action movie lover who somehow managed to miss this James Camera scripted time bomb of pure excellence. It's an incredible and fun piece of action film making and it made me enjoy UHF more for seeing it.
RHINESTONE (Bob Clark, 1984)
Stallone Zone research led me here. I'd seen Stop or My Mom Will Shoot and almost every other controversial Stallone pick, but I'd never seen Rhinestone. I'd seen the trailer countless times and so I figured I owed it to myself to give this movie a fair shake. I really actually like it A LOT. Stallone goes completely for broke in a script he wrote for himself where he is the butt of all the jokes. His heart is on his sleeve here and I think his performance is really great. Dolly Parton fills out all his musical shortcomings to really make the picture work. And all I can say is...if you've never seen Rhinestone...or you think it's that shitty movie with Stallone as a country western singer in it..give it a try. It's really something special.
SABRINA (Billy Wilder, 1954)
My mom had always popped the Harrison Ford version into our VCR when I was growing up and so I somehow felt like I had been there, done that until I finally got to see this Billy Wilder classic. After seeing so many Billy Wilder movies I should have known better but I somehow missed this horribly charming picture starring William Holden, Humphry Bogart and Audrey Hepburn.
TOP HAT (Mark Sandrich, 1935)
On my quest to fill my Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly blind spots I had this glaring omission. For whatever reason I had remained consciously stupid enough to have not seen this and once I did, I couldn't believe I lived this long without Top Hat in my life. This movie instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are INCREDIBLE in this.
THE LADY EVE (Preston Sturges, 1941)
Rather than make a whole list of titles, I'm just focusing on one, because I loved it THAT much. My best discovery of the year was, hands down, THE LADY EVE. This is the third Preston Sturges film I've seen, and it is by far my favorite thanks to a fantastic performance by Barbara Stanwyck. She's cunning, she's fierce, and she's spectacularly sassy. In a time when only men are allowed at the table, her character (Jean) still holds the cards and plays them very, very well. Her dialogue is sharp, and her wardrobe is even sharper. The rest of the cast, including a daft but lovable Henry Fonda, enhances Stanwyck's radiance, and the humor of the film sizzles just as much as it did in 1941.
BEYOND THE FOREST (King Vidor, 1949)
A completely over the top, campy noirish melodrama with Bette Davis as a bitter young woman who’ll do anything (including murder, blackmail, ABORTION, etc.) to escape life in a small Wisconsin town and live it up in Chicago. Greedy, self-centered, evil and awesome, Davis' character raging against the world is a true inspiration and my new number one hero. “If I don’t get out of here, I hope I die and burn.”
DESCENDANT OF THE SUN (Yuen Chor, 1983)
Before I watched this universe-ending epic of over-the-top kung fu wizardry, Laird Jimenez described it to me as a sort of Shaw Bros Superman. I had no idea how true, or incredible, that could be. The hero comes from another world (Fairy Kingdom), is raised by kindly farmers, gains superpowers from the Sun, has a bumbling secret identity, is in love with a woman who thinks he’s pathetic but is obsessed with his superheroic alter ego, and he saves the world from ultimate evil. But unlike American Superman, this guy knows kung fu and can shoot lasers from his hands.
THE FACE WITH TWO LEFT FEET (Neri Parenti, 1979)
WOW. A bunch of tittering faux-Richard Lester disco pixie goofballs realize their friend Gianni looks just like John Travolta. And that's it! That's the whole movie. A rare story about a male makeover with a heaping wallop of unfortunate homophobia. But still actually one of the funnier Italian comedies I've ever seen. Catch John's Fever! PS: Actual translation of original title is The Lonely Destiny of John Travolto. Thanks Weird Wednesday!
MASSACRE OF PLEASURE (Jean-Loup Grosdard, 1966)
Indisputably the best 80 minutes of my year. I wish I could remember them. This French New Wave-“inspired” backyard erotic crime odyssey takes you for a wild ride and leaves you in a ditch. Lingering visual impressions include a woman convulsively dancing in her apartment for a drugged out gangster, a man talking into a shoe like a phone and a chiaroscuro shootout on a boat that’s slowly sinking into a swamp (and is also a nightclub). This somnambulant Truf-faux thriller most closely resembles the movies Jean Rollin made under the “Michel Gentil” pseudonym like SCHOOLGIRL HITCHHIKERS. Desperate young women being chased through the French countryside by eye-patch wearing heroin dealers who live in a shed. All traces of plot or exposition have been removed to offer only the most ecstatically potent moments of Euro-art-crime hysteria. I need to see this movie one hundred more times. Thanks again Weird Wednesday!
MURDER AT MIDNIGHT (Frank R. Strayer, 1931)
Nothing makes me feel alive quite like pre-code poverty row pulp mysteries. They live in their own universe full of mysterious murders, occult societies, ancient curses, goofball hobo grampa humor, and usually an ape. This movie features about five radically different styles of acting, each totally confounding and fascinating. Early sound acting needs to be reappraised and appreciated. It's not a deficient version of the acting styles that took its place. Nor is it just a needless hindrance to silent film acting. It's its own weird thing that gives you two performances in one: a larger-than-life physical pantomime coupled with bizarrely modulated vocal rhythmics. Half the cast here seem like they all keeping seeing Medusa and are perpetually turning into stone before your eyes. The main detective moves and speaks like he's drowning in a bathtub full of melted wax. One character is constantly consuming peanuts. There's also some incredible depth photography with super impressive low angle stuff and good mysterious atmosphere all around. The very existence of movies like this feels so tenuous. Like they only exist through some sustained force of will and might just suddenly turn to dust or phase out of reality if you stop believing. If you have any tolerance for creaky early ‘30s whodunnits set in old dark houses, this is a good one.
NEXT OF KIN (Tony Williams, 1982)
This eerie, classically composed, completely engrossing Ozploitation horror movie strings you along for most of its leisurely paced, atmosphere-building run time with a very austere mix of ghost story, psychological thriller, giallo, and general Australian weirdness before tearing off your skin and strapping you to a rocketship in its explosively major climax. Featuring a perfect score from Tangerine Dream genius Klaus Schulze.
OGROFF THE MAD MUTILATOR (N.G. Mount, 1983)
A troubled French child made a slasher movie on a roll of toilet paper and it accidentally destroyed the world.
THE SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY (Larry Spangler, 1973)
A thundercrack of a sequel to THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY that builds on the original’s righteous anger and gives it a more ambitious scope. SOUL is like THE ROAD WARRIOR to LEGEND's MAD MAX. Everything’s souped up and given a mythic sheen. The violent radicalism remains. Self-freed slave Charley (Fred Williamson) and his comic relief sidekick Toby (D’urville Martin) are now legendary folk heroes in Reconstruction era America. They get involved in busting up a nefarious Mexican slave trade scheme perpetrated by a monstrous Southern General. There isn’t a single white person in this movie who isn’t human garbage, so A+ for realism. This movie’s main message, that the struggle for black freedom in America will never truly end, is depressingly on point. Williamson and Martin are a great screen team. I wish this series was ten movies long. Unfortunately the third one, BOSS NIGGER, in which Williamson becomes a small town sheriff, is the last.
TENEMOS 18 ANOS (Jess Franco, 1959)
Pals Lars Nilsen, Bryan Connolly, Laird Jimenez and I have begun a multi-life-long endeavor to view the entire works of prolific jazz enthusiast, pornographer, and cinematic poet extraordinaire Jess Franco in roughly chronological order. So far all his early films have been completely eye-opening and totally masterful. This is his first and it turns out Franco’s unique cinematic talents were pretty fully formed right from the beginning. It’s in no way surprising that Fritz Lang liked his stuff and that Orson Welles wanted to work with him. I’ve always liked Franco’s unique movie world, full of mad doctors, haunting women, criminals, spies, sordid nightclub acts and horrific mutilations. But the more I see, the more I find to appreciate. His whole career is an ongoing improvisation on a few basic melodies that he’s able to twist and stretch into extreme abstract realms like a great free-jazz solo. But this first movie is more like bebop: quick tempo, eccentric rhythms and weird harmonic dissonance.
TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS (Duke Warne, 1919)
A silent cliffhanger rescued and released by the tireless heroes of The Serial Squadron, this pulpy potboiler features a medium who can swap bodies, a masked killer Monsieur X, a disembodied pair of floating eyes, an Asian supervillain named Wang Foo, a mystery involving nine crooked daggers, a detective named Carter Holmes, and the secret of the Devil’s Trademark! Just the fact that “The Octopus” is a criminal and not a cephalopod doesn’t stop them from putting an amazing rubber Octopus in the opening titles.
JOSEPH A. ZIEMBA
DAS BUCH DER BLUTIGEN GESCHICHTEN (Michael Kahlert, 1987-91)
A stop motion, ultra-gore Super 8 epic that stars STAR WARS action figures instead of humans should never be compared to Steven Spielberg -- that would be an insult to DAS BUCH DER BLUTIGEN GESCHICHTEN. The sincerity of this self-contained universe overpowers everything. Boredom never enters the picture. The thrill of seeing these gory, absurdist visuals, combined with a sense of awe for Kahlert’s work ethic, leads to constant entertainment. It’s inspiring and mesmerizing. I didn’t want it to end.
CUADECUC, VAMPIR (Pere Portabella, 1971)
On paper, this is an experimental documentary about the making of the late Jess Franco’s COUNT DRACULA. But in reality, it’s an alternate version of COUNT DRACULA, one with meta-enhanced imagery, synthesizers that sound like airplane engines, and smeary, 16mm black and white photography. It's an intoxicating mood piece.
THE FACE WITH TWO LEFT FEET (Neri Parenti, 1979)
Giuseppe Spezia looked kind of like John Travolta. Then he had surgery so that he would look more like John Travolta. Then someone made this comedy about a group of happy, disco-dancing idiots who can't believe how much Giuseppe Spezia looks like John Travolta. This movie is fictional.
FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969)
If Jean Rollin and Stanley Kubrick watched LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, then decided to make a semi-documentary on the gay underworld of 1960s Japan, it would be called FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES.
GIANTS & TOYS (Yasuzô Masumura, 1958)
Space-age design aesthetics combine with beautiful photography and goofy characterizations to create a gentle indictment of the advertising world. I've never seen an episode of MAD MEN, but I'd bet ten samolians that this movie is better than that show.
THE INCIDENT (Larry Peerce, 1967)
Taking place almost entirely on a NYC subway car at night, this is the grittiest, most emotionally violent character study that John Cassavetes never made. When it was over, I felt bad for every character who appeared in the movie. I probably won't watch it again, but I'll never forget it.
JUDEX (Georges Franju, 1963)
This movie most likely escaped from the beyond during a French séance at midnight. It's dreamy, spooky, and hallucinogenic, expanding on the fantasy worlds established by old super hero serials. The good guys wear black. The bad ladies wear cat suits. I'm happy that it was filmed in black and white.
A NEW LEAF (Elaine May, 1971)
With this movie, Elaine May created the last great screwball comedy of the twentieth century. She also has cool glasses.
NIGEL THE PSYCHOPATH (Jim Larsen, 1994)
This is a shot-on-video horror movie from Texas that was made by kids. Real kids. In fact, the oldest humanoid in this movie appears to be sixteen because that is how old you need to be to drive a Chrysler LeBaron. It might be repetitive and plotless, but it’s still more entertaining and realistic than Harmony Korine’s script for KIDS. This is the real thing. It’s pure, energetic, and ridiculous.
RANCHO NOTORIOUS (Fritz Lang, 1952)
I don't like westerns. But I loved this movie.
Did you make any incredible film discoveries in 2013? Lay 'em on us in the comments.