Discoveries of 2015

Many believe that I watch too many movies, while enjoying few. Also, I've already seen all the Great ones. There's nothing left to Discover. Here are experiences that say otherwise.

American Madness (1932)
Frank Capra already has 6 films on my list of Essentials, but this was the one I didn't see coming. I selected it for Walter Huston and Pat O'Brien, but Capra makes them just two parts in a mosaic about the banking industry 70 years ago that still speaks to today's fragile economy. Capra has always been a master of taking important subjects and making them about great people and this is right up there. Huston also proves to be a perfect fit for the idealistic Capra hero.

Home From the Hill (1960)
Selected for Robert Mitchum, he's perfectly cast as an uber-macho, neglectful father who returns to find his son has become a "mama's boy". Mitchum aims to set the boy straight in this melodrama from Vincente Minnelli. I'm not a fan of Minnelli, but putting him at the helm of a masculine vs. feminine deathmatch is perfect. Mitchum gets to be ultra-Mitchum while every action he takes is reframed for us as questionable.

Blues in the Night (1941)
This is my current tastes in a single film. It's a great musical, a great noir, with great dialogue and some great performances from personal favorite Llloyd Nolan to the dependable Jack Carson to Betty Field, who is the year's femme fatale discovery.

Hachi: A Dog's Tale (2009)
I put this one off for years because it sounded so sad and from Lasse Hallström I expected more mawkish heart pulling. This is not a typical tearjerker. The dog isn't abused or injured and if it dies it's going to be of old age. Instead the dog becomes a symbol for all of us who ever had to deal with something bad happening that we can never quite wrap our heads around. We may never understand it, while we keep to our routine day after day, waiting for things to get right.

3 by Basil Dearden (1959/1960/1962)
A great night at the movie. What began as one planned viewing turned into a triple feature from a director I was largely unfamiliar with. The Eclipse Set Basil Dearden’s London Underground covers three popular Noir sub-genres, a racially charged murder mystery, a heist film and a jazzed up version of Shakespeare's Othello. All 3 are different enough from each other while capturing a particular feel for Britain during this time period.

Mistaken For Strangers (2013)
Initially funny, ultimately emotional documentary of two brothers. One is a confident rock star, while the other continually screws up to avoid facing his constant doubt in himself. This says more about family than any fictional tale of family dysfunction.

The Heartbreak Kid(1972)
I am not a fan of director Elaine May, but I really liked The Heartbreak Kid for all the reasons why people like May's type of awkward comedy. "The Office" created a lot of great uncomfortable comedy, but nothing is as hilariously, uncomfortably awkward as some of the highlights here.

A Walk In The Sun (1945)
A war picture that emphasizes the waiting but isn't tedious because there's a lot of conversation (provided by the great Robert Rossen). A great ensemble, but the standout is Richard Conte who jumped from outlier to major star in my mind. I watched a lot of his films during Noir-vember because this had me wanting to see more.

Ghostwatch (1992)
A proto-Paranormal Activity from Britain is like a modern War of the Worlds. Builds nicely to some creepy and scary moments that are hard to shake off.

Burn Witch Burn (1962)
Like Village of the Damned, this British chiller takes a new turn every few minutes so you're never quite sure what's coming, though you're certain that damned eagle statue is going to be a part of it.

Orphan (2009)
Something is wrong with Esther, alright. From a pulpy premise, the script and director go classy. Good performances keep the screws tightening for almost two hours. A horror film that plays the long game rather than trying to jolt you with scares every 5 minutes. That's what makes it such a find.


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