Mr. John Gholson is a writer for Movies.com and runs GuttersAndPanels.com, a comic book blog.
John's 2011 Discoveries list is also recommended viewing:
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to mark anything made before 1990 as vintage, and thus eligible.
10. Black Sunday (La Maschera del Demonio) (1960)
It’s rare that a gothic horror from this time period remains this scary. Don’t get me wrong; I find a lot of gothic horror films highly entertaining, but rarely scary. The film’s arrival on Blu-ray in 2012 gave me the perfect chance, and the perfect medium, to watch it for the first time. The film is shot gorgeously and Barbara Steele, in dual roles, gives her most iconic performance as an undead witch who wants to swap bodies with a younger descendant.
9. Blood Bath (1966)
Jack Hill and Stephanie Rothman’s grim B-picture about a vampiric artist on the prowl for new models/victims provides a darker flipside to Corman’s similar Bucket of Blood. Everything about Blood Bath works, from William Campbell’s predatory lead performance to the film’s creep-out resolution. This is a cult film still looking for its cult, and for fans of vintage horror, a real hidden treasure. Seek it out.
8. The Tomb of Ligiea (1964)
I’ve mentioned before that I’m rationing out the Corman Poe films, and each one I’ve seen so far is just delightful. Firstly, Corman’s Poe adaptations just look great, with the director displaying an enthusiastic eye that has never really been evident in any of his other work. Secondly, these films are pretty much the Greatest Hits of Vincent Price’s career, and if you’ve ever been curious about the actor, this is the place to start. Here, Price is a rose-lensed recluse haunted by the spirit of his dead wife in a far away castle.
7. Serpico (1973)
Hey, I can finally get all of those references in Rushmore! There’s an air of sadness to Serpico, which is unusual because most underdog stories are uplifting. The doomed inevitability to the police corruption underscores Serpico’s victory at exposing it, and making the film into something that lingers after the credits roll. I was very late to the party finding this out.
6. Dirty Dancing (1987)
As far as slick Hollywood romantic product goes, Dirty Dancing is airtight. I expected sentimental cheese, and found instead a solid drama (albeit one with young love, a bad boy, and a scene at the “big dance”). It’s smarter - better written, acted, and directed - than it ever gets credit for.
5. Cash on Demand (1961)
One of Hammer’s non-horror efforts finds Peter Cushing as an overbearing bank manager manipulated beyond comprehension into a heist performed by Andre Morrell. The film is a little stagy, but still riveting. Cushing is delightfully anal, and the true feat of the film is in having you sympathize with him even after setting him up as a right proper arsehole. I’d like to think most of the credit there goes to Cushing, but the screenplay by David Chantier is near-brilliant.
4. Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)
I fell in love with this one at Ain’t It Cool’s Butt-Numb-a-Thon. As much press as the event (Harry Knowles’ 24-hour birthday party mini-film fest) gets for screening big ticket event films early, the real gems in the program are the vintage films that I’ve never seen (past favorites include Sahara and The Red Shoes). 2012’s winner was Broadway Melody of 1940 - a light musical comedy of errors about a dance team separated by an opportunity to shine on Broadway. Everything in the movie just clicks, from the chemistry of the cast (Frank Morgan!) to the heels of its stars - Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell. This is not a movie I would’ve sought out outside of BNAT, and when they say they don’t make ‘em like they used to, I’d present this film as evidence to back that claim up. They really don’t.
3. Birdy (1984)
Before he became the joke of the internet, Nicolas Cage was known as a fascinating, risk-taking young actor. I think he still takes risks; those risks are just in sub-par movies more often. Birdy is a great one to watch if you need a reminder of just how valuable Cage is as an actor. He’s best friend to Matthew Modine’s bird-obsessed wallflower - a character so traumatized by Vietnam that he believes he is a bird himself. This is the second time an Alan Parker film has shown up on my “film discoveries” list (Angel Heart made the cut last year), and it may be time for a broader critical re-evaluation of his work.
2. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
If you’ve ever wondered what kinds of movies I love...This. This movie is the kind of movie I love. Tura Satana is a force of nature. Jack Moran and Russ Myers’ screenplay is brutally funny and wildly unpredictable. There’s nothing quite like Faster, Pussycat and in that way, it feels a bit like lightning in a bottle - like accidental genius. Its reputation as an exploitation cult classic does the film a huge disservice. Sure, it may be cheap, but there’s more kinetic energy on display than in dozens of studio tentpole Summer films. This ride was more dangerous, more sexy, and more brazen than any new release I saw in 2012. I adored it.
1. Five Star Final (1931)
This forgotten Best Picture nominee provides a brisk, complex look at the collateral damage done by tabloid journalism. Edward G. Robinson is the editor of a newspaper looking to boost circulation by running a retrospective on a decades-old tragedy, and inadvertently disrupts the lives of everyone involved, beyond repair. Boris Karloff appears in a rare non-horror role as a duplicitous reporter with no moral center and is typically great. It’s certainly a product of its time (newspapers not being as significant a part of our daily lives anymore), but the film has an energy to it that feels positively modern. It’s also a film that isn’t afraid to bum you out, so if you’re looking for a good time, move on. Five Star Final remains a razor-sharp tragedy and a stern warning against putting profits over people.