Friday, December 14, 2012

The Year of the Dragon’s Best New Old Films—As Well As 2012’s Best Films Seen—Before the Mayan Apocalypse Resets the Clock of Infinity!

Is this list too early?
Well, I seriously doubt I’ll be seeing anything truly impressive in a movie theater or on DVD or via streaming before the end of the year, and anyway, by posting this before the end of 2012, I’m throwing down a gauntlet to the cinema godz:
Now they will be forced to put a truly awe-inspiring film into my path…

And then, I will be glad to go back and revise this post!
(Because do you think I’m actually going to get to see Zero Dark Thirty or The Man With the Iron Fists or Holy Motors in a theater this year? More than likely I’ll catch ’em on DVD from the public library sometime in 2013…)

On the other hand, LERNER INTERNATIONAL could be posting this list ahead of any Mayan Apocalypse that could be roiling our way…
Besides, Cthulhu and his buddies are always lurking around the corners…

An explanation of this post’s title:
It was an idea I’d had for a long time, whose thoughts were codified by the fab film site, Rupert Pupkin Speaks
The Best New Old Film Discovered This Year.

Generally I hate having to limit my “Best of YEAR” to only the flicks released that specific year.
Fuck that noise.
But the BNOFDTY enables one to differentiate between old- and new-schools, as well as giving ourselves another list to play with…

But while working on that list, I realized I might as well scan over all of 2012’s flicks—so much of what I watch is of the past anyway…
Y’know, kill two birds with one stone…

To start:
The Top Ten Best New Old Movies Seen For The First Time This Year:
(In order of appreciation…)

The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968; Michael Elliott; written by Nigel Kneale) is the best science fiction film you’ve never heard of.

A BBC television-film, don’t let its sub-Doctor Who budget deter you: like all of author Nigel Kneale’s best work, this is about provocative socio-political-philosophical ideas, and the cheap sets allow you to fill out this horrible future world much better.
The flick’s lack of funds also allows for a greater suspension of disbelief—it’s a fantasy, not hard-core science-based fiction—and the picayune details of how this world works are not bothered with, as they aren’t germane. And since your brain is already working, it becomes much easier for the film’s controversial themes to sink in.

More like Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451 than Children of Men or 1984, The Year of the Sex Olympics examines a “soft totalitarianism” world: keeping the excess population calmed to the point of nullification is the goal, and TV (and drugs) is the method—not a “boot to the face.”

The shocking thing about this film is how damn accurate it was in predicting not only the rise of ubiquitous pornography (and what do you think Victoria’s Secret ads are anyway?), but the cruel and rotten “reality” shows like Fear Factor, Survivor or Big Brother, where “regular” people are debased routinely for the masses’ entertainment—
and control: if everybody’s in front of their TV on Thursday night, it’s one less thing for the security patrols to worry about.
When we glimpse the “audience” of Year of the Sex Olympics through the control room’s monitors, they look like blobby ghosts, or fat ghouls.

The film is also prescient in its depiction of a total surveillance state that is unquestioningly accepted—since the concepts of “family,” “home” and “love” have been eliminated, what’s “privacy”?
And yes, “Art” has been eliminated, as well.

This future (“Sooner than you think,” the titles warn) is so far-gone that the “controllers” have created “the Sex Olympics,” like some John Stagliano/John Leslie epic of fucking, where the world’s most beautiful people make love under the cameras—to distract the billions watching from doing more fucking themselves and overpopulating the world further. In the future this is “Apathy Control.”
But trouble’s brewing: the ratings indicate that the viewers are getting bored with the fornication marathons, and something will have to be done.

Since thinking has been discouraged (the chess machines play themselves, only to be watched), people in this world find it harder and harder to express themselves even if they’re given the chance. It’s a high-tech world full of humans that have the emotional maturity of Neanderthals—reflected in the almost incomprehensible torrent of slang-laden dialog spewed. (Smart sci-fi authors always recognize that language, especially colloquial slang, changes).

Then the on-air suicide of a distressed designer sends audience response through the roof, and the programmers realize they are on to something.
When two members of the ruling class also begin to question “The Way Things Are,” trouble and sorrow can only follow, especially after they allow themselves to be ensnared in the network’s next project…

Inspired by/concerned about the willful apathy of the later years of the Hippie movement, as well as the population explosion, author Nigel Kneale offers no solutions (except perhaps, “Turn off your damn TV and get out more often”), but this film is more of a warning—which seeing as it was ignored in 1968, has now come true.

Starring Kubrick regular Leonard Rossiter and an unbelievably young Brian Cox, The Year of the Sex Olympics was long considered lost due to the incompetence of the BBC, but now can be found on-line, or as a DVD via Sinister Cinema.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935; Leo McCarey) Grounded by a delicious performance by Charles Laughton, this film is an incredibly witty, sensitive and moving “fish out of water”/“mistaken identity” tale. An English butler is “lost” in a card game and must leave Europe for “Way Out West.”
Rightfully a classic, Ruggles of Red Gap gets a much more thorough going-over by me in an upcoming issue of Film International.

Inferno (1953; Roy Ward Baker) Man Vs. Nature, Part One: The Desert.
Robert Ryan is superb as a crippled man trapped in the Mojave with only his (quite formidable) brains to help him.
And you know what? Not only does he survive, he becomes a better person for it! A fantastic and inspirational film, it’s like the epic Jack London never got around to writing. [Reviewed HERE]

The Scarlet Empress (1934; Josef von Sternberg) Historical drama done as dark fantasy, with a fabulous Marlene Dietrich, both sweet and sultry, and ultimately psychotic: It’s The Wizard of Oz in Medieval Russia, where Dorothy becomes The Wicked Witch of the West. This is what “The Young Darth Vader Story” should have been! [Reviewed HERE]

Abandon Ship (1957; Richard Sale) Man Vs. Nature, Part Two: The Ocean.
Ditching his “nice guy/hero” image, headliner Tyrone Powers delivers a strong and brooding perf as a naval officer trapped in another epic Jack London never got around to writing: After their ship has sunk, Powers is in charge of a lifeboat built for 14—that’s overflowing with 27 people, many of them badly wounded. Some will have to go overboard.
Tough moral situations that will test the hardest men. Another inspirational, transformative movie. [Reviewed HERE]

Marat/Sade (1966; Peter Brook) Madness and politics play a brutal psychodramatic game of “chicken” over the merits of class warfare.
Brilliantly written, powerful stuff—Vive la Revolution! [Reviewed HERE]

The Red Shoes (1948; Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) Rightly considered one of the greatest films ever—at first, I didn’t like this film, and by the end, I was among its legion of fans. [Reviewed HERE]

Savage Messiah (1972; Ken Russell) Perhaps not his best film, but absolutely Ken Russell’s most personal: the biography of an iconoclastic sculptor as artistic manifesto. [Reviewed HERE]

State of Siege (État de Siège; 1972; Costa-Gavras) A revolution might get everyone’s hands dirty on both sides, but not everyone’s souls.
Shot in Chile, one year before the right-wing coup made this film come true. Chilling, but exciting stuff; Costa-Gavras makes wonderful left-wing thrillers. [Reviewed HERE]

What happened was… (1994; Tom Noonan) is the epitome of discomfort, as a bad dinner date gets worse and worse, but not in any goofy “rom-com” way, oh no.
This is very human, very painful drama, and you will feel like an eavesdropper on couple’s awful night. It’s the type of uncomfortable film that makes you want to leap into the screen and try and save these people: they’re not bad, just so damn misguided.

Best Old TV:
The Big Cast” Dragnet: Season One (1951; Jack Webb) The first episode/pilot of the 1950s Dragnet TV show, and the last time any decent acting was allowed on the show, with Lee Marvin providing the thesping chops as the first serial killer on modern television: “Some people wanna kill, that’s all…,” he drawls, “Not for anything special…”
Made before the show was completely codified, there’s a noir surrealism over the whole affair, with lots of crazy close-ups (dig Lee’s bugging eyes!), and by the end the staccato, purposefully repetitive and “dull” dialog, and bargain basement sets, help create a weeeeeeeeeeeeeird lunch scene. Honestly, I almost wish that this existed only as a 23-minute short, so its purity couldn’t be infected by the fascistic hard-on Webb had for the LAPD that was slathered over the rest of the series.

Runner-Ups (in no particular order):
Wake In Fright (1971; Ted Kotcheff) Ultra-intense and disturbing, calling this magnificent specimen of Savage Cinema “an Australian Deliverance” does not do it proper justice. [Reviewed HERE]

The Last War (1961; Shūe Matsubayashi; special visual effects by Eiji Tsurubaya) is a very earnest, very Japanese cry for peace.
Intercutting between a Tokyo-based “Ralph Kramden” type, a limo driver who plays the stock market based on the war-fears of his high-powered passengers, and the actions of thinly-disguised US and USSR forces, we watch the world march inexorably towards total thermonuclear war.
Between slices of “life attempting to be normal in the face of certain vaporization,” including young love blossoming and kids at school entertaining the elders, the viewer is treated to excellent monster-less miniature effects by FX deity Tsurubaya, presenting Yankee and Rooskie missile bases and weapons facilities preparing for combat.
Of course, the end comes—like a flaming fist to the face, and an almost hallucinatory special-effects overload is delivered as Tokyo is turned to molten slag, then global monument after monument is clobbered into radioactive dust. A wonderfully, bleak film given a dreadfully truncated, re-edited and pan-&-scanned airing on WOR-TV, Channel 9, ages ago, this is currently unavailable in the US in any home viewing format—
unless you have a good buddy like the Controller of Planet Zed Zee.

The Harder They Come (1972; Perry Henzell) is a simple story given great depth by an overload of local color and culture. The film has a much better soundtrack than the Reggae-centric album in every college dorm-room, covering the wide swathes of Jamaica’s society that the film delves into. [Reviewed HERE]

Crimewave (1954; Andre de Toth) is a simple story made into great noir by being completely shot on location (beautifully, in crisp B&W) throughout Los Angeles, and being perfectly cast, especially Sterling Hayden as a beefy he-man detective right out of a James Ellroy novel, a very young Charles Bronson as a brutal convict, Timothy Carey as a wild (possibly dope-fiend) henchman, and many other recognizable faces.
In fact, author Ellroy provides an informative, if salacious, commentary track on the DVD that’s absolutely worth a listen.
Meanwhile, director de Toth went on to direct one of my fave war/mercenary films, Play Dirty (1968), with Michael Caine and a gang of criminals behind Nazi lines in the African desert.

Rufus Jones for President [short] (1933; Roy Mack) is an excuse to string together a whole mess of old time Negro vaudeville-circuit performers to varying degrees of success. The songs, and the tap dancing of a seven-year-old Sammy Davis Jr. are wonderful, but your appreciation of the film’s humor will depend on your level of “cultural sensitivity.” The show can be caught HERE.

Quatermass and the Pit (1958; Rudolph Cartier; written by Nigel Kneale) The original, longer BBC mini-series, performed live on-air, later made into 1968’s Five Million Years to Earth: Humans are the result of Martian biological tampering on apes, and now our genetic overlords want to take over again!
Nigel Kneale returns to this list with one of the greatest science fiction tales ever written. Brilliant stuff, worth hunting down.

The Killing of America (1982; Sheldon Renan; written by Leonard Schrader and Chieko Schrader; produced by Leonard Schrader and Mataichiro Yamamoto) is Faces of Death for left-wing intellectuals.
While composed of very disturbing footage of people getting shot (culled from a variety of TV news stations), and a series of groovy interviews with by-gone psychos like Ed Kemper, the flick’s tone is often hyperbolic to the point of hysterics. Perhaps not as histrionic as Michael Moore’s films, but certainly more intense and critical of the US system.
The flick is wonderfully grim, gory and real, with many moments set in the late-1970s urban environment. It’s certainly a must-see for true crime fans.
The film is unavailable for home viewing (due to music issues more than anything else, I’d surmise), but can be seen on-line HERE, where I discovered it, while searching for information on producer-writer Leonard Schrader, Paul’s smarter brother.

Walkabout (1971; Nicolas Roeg) Stunning photography in the service of a tragic story of culture clash (and extinction).

Honorable Mentions:
The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968; Robert Aldrich) is an AWFUL movie literally saved in the last two minutes (I can say no more); if you like Ed Wood’s movies, this is a must-see. [Reviewed HERE]

Hell’s Angels (1930; Howard Hughes) Idiot savant filmmaking yields flying footage that’s still breathtaking and superior to much of what is being done today. Meanwhile, the genuine aerial photography is augmented by highly-detailed miniature work, financed by Hughes’ bucks, but also made to his exacting standards. [Reviewed HERE]

The Pit (1981; Lew Lehman)/The Gate (1987; Tibor Takac)
The Yin and Yang of the “monster-infested backyard dimensional gate playing havoc on pre-teen psychic confusion” genre (a genre of two films essentially)—in one, a boy does good; in the other, evil, lots of evil. Both are low-budget triumphs of intelligent, cost-effective filmmaking, utilizing every creative resource. [Reviewed HERE and Reviewed HERE]

Went the Day Well? (1942; Alberto Cavalcanti) And we come full circle (sort of)—it was via the fabulous Rupert Pupkin Speaks that I first learned about this terrifying, often disturbing “What If?” story about a Nazi invasion of a small English town.
Made as propaganda, the film (based on a story by Graham Greene) is beyond that, and is an effective and moving war movie that still holds up, with a dreadful sense that no one is safe. [Reviewed HERE]

And Now, The Best Films of 2012—
And Some That Are Not That New But Not That Old, Neither, So I Consider Them Contemporary Films As Opposed to the “Old” Films I Commented About Above:

Bastards of the Party (2006; Cle Sloan)
The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975 (2010; Göran Hugo Olsson)
Bronson (2008; Nicholas Winding Refn)
Carnage (2011; Roman Polanski)
A Dangerous Method (2011; David Cronenberg)
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011; Tsui Hark)
God Bless America (2012; Bobcat Goldthwait)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012; Joss Whedon)
The Parking Lot Movie (2010; Meghan Eckman)

Y’know, I certainly sees themes running through my favorites of 2012, strands of revolution and the quest for personal freedom, and the pressures of urban life on the less fortunate…Living in a tough world, but holding your head up high—what LERNER INTERNATIONAL is all about!

Best TV of 2012:
Sons of Anarchy
Breaking Bad
Parks & Recreation
Trailer Park Boys

May Your Stars Align Properly This Holiday Season!


  1. Always impressed by the eloquent stream of consciousness, as well as the lists of often obscure, yet (mostly) provocative movies. Gotta admit after a few shots of Old Grand-Dad, "The Year of the Sex Olympics" lost me to temporary slumber, but the concept is way ahead of its time. Just the description proves a telegraph of the 1982 porno-breakthrough "Café Flesh." You always unearth all but forgotten existential man versus environment adventures. After I finish "Sands of the Kalahari" then I gotta seek out "Inferno" (not to be confused with the nonsensical Argento masterpiece) and "Abandon Ship." I'm not as much a fan of the political films, but did you know Costa-Garvas' "Z" is at Film Forum today? Po-mo nostalgia is as ever fervent in my soul as it ever was, so "Best New Old Film Discovered This Year" makes sense (though this sentence does not, on purpose)!

  2. And when are you answering your own quiz, eh?

  3. Yeah, no sense in waiting for any other takers, so I will publish that soon. Just so many social obligations, and so little time.