10 “New” Films for a New Year

It’s the end of a decade, but it’s also the beginning of a new year, which means that it’s as good an excuse as any to kick off 2010 with a list of ten enjoyable (in their own way) “new” films you might want to watch this weekend…starting with this classic:

10. New Year’s Evil (1980): Any holiday worth its salt has inspired a slasher film, and the celebration of a new year is certainly no exception to that rule. The tag line for this Cannon Films classic is just as cheesy as it ought to be – “This New Year’s, you’re invited to a killer party” – and so is the cast, which is led by Roz Kelly, best known for playing Pinky Tuscadero on “Happy Days.” Roger Ebert deigned to review it upon its original release, describing the film as “an endangered species: a plain, old-fashioned, gory thriller. It is not very good. It is sometimes unpleasantly bloody. The plot is dumb and the twist at the end has been borrowed from hundreds if not thousands of other movies. But as thrillers go these days, ‘New Year’s Evil’ is a throwback to an older and simpler tradition, one that flourished way back in the dimly remembered past, before 1978.” For a slasher flick, that’s about as much of a rave as you could hope to get, really.

9. A New Leaf (1971): This was in my original draft of this list, but I yanked it because I couldn’t find a clip to use with it. When our man Bob Westal snuck a peek at the piece and cited it as an unforgivable omission, however, I dug a little deeper and found something that I could use. This was Elaine May’s directorial debut, and she also served as the female lead of this Walter Matthau comedy. Any film that’s loved by both Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby clearly has something going for it, so I’d say it’s more than worthy of making an appearance on this list, but, my, I had no idea that carbon on the valves was such a common mechanical problem…

8. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000): David Medsker swears by this Disney animated flick, and who am I to argue with him? Plus, this gives me an excuse to drop in an anecdote from Patrick Warburton about the flick. He assured me, “I love Disney as much as any straight man in the world can love Disney,” but then he told me about meeting up with Eartha Kitt, his “co-star” in the film, at the premiere and reminding her that they’d worked together before. “When I was in my very early 20’s – I was 21 or 22 – I had done a movie with her in South Africa that was absolutely horrible,” he said. “I got the impression that she probably didn’t want to hear that anything she had ever done was not good. You didn’t even have the right to say it if you were a part of it. She just looked at me and said, ‘I’m sure we had a good time, darling.’ I looked back at her and said, ‘Well, we didn’t have that good of time, Eartha.’”

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The New Centurions

This entry in Sony’s amusingly vague new “Martini Movies” imprint stars George C. Scott (“Patton”) at the height of his early seventies fame as Kilvinski, a humane cop nearing retirement who bonds with his new partner, a would-be lawyer rookie partner (Stacy Keach) going through some big changes of his own. Adapted from a bestselling novel by ex-policeman Joseph Wambaugh, “The New Centurions” often foreshadows later cop dramas, particularly eighties TV groundbreaker “Hill Street Blues” — right down to earthy pre-patrol briefings and actor James B. Sikking sporting what appears to be the very same pipe he parlayed to semi-fame as the affected, egomaniacal Lt. Howard Hunter. Still, while familiar faces from lighter fare show up (Isabel Sanford of “The Jeffersons,” Erik “CHiPs” Estrada, and the eventually dickless William Atherton of “Ghostbusters”), 1972 was a year when grim was in and even the most mainstream of Hollywood films were often deliberately under-structured. Taking place over what appears to be several years, there is no particular “case” and this is not really a story about crime fighting; it’s an investigation into the effects of police work on vulnerable human beings. Written by Stirling Silliphant and directed by Richard Fleischer (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Soylent Green,” and “Mandingo”), “The New Centurions” is slowed by overly novelistic/episodic pacing and a few too many contemporary mannerisms (including a wah-wah heavy score by Quincy Jones) but it works more often than it doesn’t because of its two first-rate lead actors and a great deal of sincerity. The film’s benevolent view of the quasi-militarist seventies LAPD may be iffy, but its depiction of the bigger truth here feels true enough: policemen are nothing more than human beings doing a job that can be as seductively destructive as heroin.

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