Critic's Picks: A December To-Do List for Film Buffs in L.A.

Trouble in Paradise Still 1932 - Photofest - H 2017

Among highlights on the Los Angeles retrospective and revival scene this month are a celebration of classic American screwball, a trio of essential film noirs and a program focused on a Nigerian director who remains little-known in the U.S.


In a truncated month for many of the city’s repertory programs, the UCLA Film and Television Archive is making the most of the first half of December with a number of excellent screening options. First, the expansive Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA series “Recuerdos de un cine en español,” a program highlighted in this space on at least two previous occasions, comes to a close with six more Latin American doubles features. Following this, a pair of rarities will send the year out on a high note: On Dec. 15, in collaboration with Outfest, Arturo Ripstein’s El lugar sin limites, a provocative early feature by the Mexican maestro that takes on homophobia in a hyper-masculine border town, will be presented on an archival 35mm print, followed the next evening (Dec. 16) by a 35mm nitrate presentation of Jules Dassin's Night and the City. One of the crucial mid-century noirs, Dassin’s detailed vision of London’s underworld brings together Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney and Googie Withers in a bleak tale of deceit and extortion that injected the crime genre with new levels of hallucinogenic fury. Of additional note for Ripstein fans: a new, uncensored digital print of his 1996 film Deep Crimson will screen at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Dec. 4 as part of the Academy’s contribution to PST: LA/LA.


Inspired by his friends and mentors Jean Rouch and Normal McLaren, Nigerian filmmaker Moustapha Alassane pioneered a unique fusion of ethnographic fiction and animation (largely of the stop-motion variety), styles which he applied for over 40 years to numerous socially conscious and indigenously-derived fables and satiric scenarios that boldly mixed the playful and political. On Dec. 4 at downtown’s REDCAT cinema, a program of Alassane’s rarely screened shorts will survey a sizable swath of his career, from his 1962 debut Aoure to the medium-length Western parody Le Retour d'un Aventurier to the vibrant animated allegories Samba le Grand and Kokoa. Alassane, who passed away in 2015, won numerous awards and featured in retrospectives worldwide, though his films have rarely, if ever, screened in L.A. This is an essential opportunity to familiarize yourself with this unique, one-of-a-kind hybrid talent.


A three-day celebration of Hollywood screwball comedy will close out the year at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica this month, beginning on Dec. 28 with a double feature of the Ernst Lubitsch classics Cluny Brown (screening in a new 4K restoration) and Trouble in Paradise (35mm), starring between them Charles Boyer, Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis. The following night, Dec. 29, is dedicated to director Howard Hawks; following a similar format, the evening will begin with a new 4K restoration of His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and follow with a 35mm presentation of the underrated Ball of Fire, with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in the leads. Carole Lombard is the star attraction of the final night’s festivities (Dec. 30), beginning with another underseen Hawks feature, Twentieth Century (4K digital), and concluding with Wesley Ruggles' early slapstick feature True Confession, starring Lombard as a fearless wife who purposefully admits to committing a murder in an effort to boost her husband’s fledging law career.


In a serendipitous complement to UCLA’s Night and the City screening, three mid-century film noirs fill out LACMA’s Tuesday Matinee calendar this month. On Dec. 5. Robert Siodmak’s Phantom Lady, a twilit mystery centered on a husband wrongly accused of murder and the elusive woman that holds the key to his innocence, will screen on a 35mm print, followed on Dec. 12 by a DCP presentation of Edwin L. Marin’s Nocturne,  the story of a detective (played by George Raft) who unwittingly becomes embroiled in a murder conspiracy. And finally, on Dec. 19, Robert Montgomery’s border noir Ride the Pink Horse, likely the best of the unfortunately few films directed by the journeyman actor (who also stars), will screen on 35mm, the ideal format to savor the pic’s beautiful sets and locations and to admire Montgomery’s preternatural command of the camera and the psychological complexities of a narrative that mixes cultures as vividly as it does genres. 


Leave it to the New Beverly Cinema to use the holiday season as an opportunity for some mischievous counter-programming. Of course, they’re not above the obligatory Christmas classic or two (see the double feature of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Scrooged on Dec. 21, and the pairing of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story on Dec. 22 and 23), but theater regulars thirsty for something a bit more subversive will happily look toward the Dec. 19 double bill of Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night, or the Dec. 20 pairing of Joe Dante’s Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. For everyone else, there’s the ongoing Afternoon Classics series, this month focused on actor James Garner and featuring the films The Americanization of Emily (Dec. 6), Duel at Diablo (Dec. 13), The Children’s Hour (Dec. 20) and Grand Prix (Dec. 27); a tribute to the late David Carradine (Dec. 8); double features of Victor/Victoria and Murphy’s Romance (Dec. 15 and 16), and The Maltese Falcon and The Black Bird (Dec. 17); and a New Year's Eve bill featuring the rare '80s German slasher films Der Fan and Christiane F. (Dec. 31), all screening on celluloid.