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

Crooklyn - Photofest - H 2018

SoCal cinephiles have a plethora of holiday options outside the multiplex, including screenings of works by Spike Lee, Stanley Kubrick, William Friedkin and Hayao Miyazaki.

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Certainly the most notable news for discerning cinephiles this month is the reopening of the iconic New Beverly Cinema, closed for the majority of 2018 due to renovations. We’ll wait and see how their programming takes shape after the holidays, but for now there’s plenty of seasonal favorites and New Bev-brand genre fare to suffice — and all on 35mm. Some immediate standouts include a Dec. 11 “Hong Kong Hitmen” double bill, featuring 1994’s A Taste of Killing and Romance, starring Chinese superstar Andy Lau, and 1997’s The Odd One Dies Young, a little-seen feature co-directed by the great Johnnie To; a Dec. 12 pairing of the Henry Hathaway films The Last Safari and Shoot Out, the latter featuring Gregory Peck in the lead; and a five-night run of gangster films, highlighted by the Charles Bronson vehicle The Family, the early Joe Pesci flick Family Enforcer (both Dec. 4) and, on the backside of a double bill with Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (Dec. 7), Giuliano Montaldo’s Machine Gun McCain, starring John Cassavetes alongside two of his longtime muses, Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands. In the mood for something a little more festive? Not to worry: The end of the month brings double bills of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Scrooged (Dec. 19 and 20), It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story (Dec. 21 and 22), and a Christmas day double feature of the 1934 Laurel and Hardy film March of the Wooden Soldiers and the early Marx Brothers comedy Horse Feathers.


As 2018 comes to a close, so, too, are a number of series presented by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Most of these have been spotlighted in past columns, but it would be remiss not to mention the final screenings of the Barbara Hammer and Gower Gulch retrospectives. On Dec. 8 and 15, two final Hammer programs, one centered on her more psychedelic experiments and one on her more reflexive works of portraiture, will be presented at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum, while on Dec. 8, the Poverty Row program “Down & Dirty in Gower Gulch” will finish its run at Raleigh Studios with one of its best: Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 oneiric noir Strange Illusion. Other December events at the Billy Wilder to note include a Dec. 7 presentation of Kartemquin Films’ newly preserved 50th Anniversary 35mm print of the singular street documentary Inquiring Nuns; a Dec. 9 Sunday matinee featuring Vincente Minnelli’s beloved musical comedy Meet Me in St. Louis; and a Dec. 14 nitrate presentation of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s savage midcentury romance, A Letter to Three Wives.


Two very different programs highlight the American Cinematheque's calendar at the Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre. On Dec. 8 and 9, the legendary Spike Lee will be on hand for a weekend presentation of four of his best films. Dubbed “4 from 40 Acres,” the series begins Dec. 8 with a free screening of his newest feature, BlacKkKlansman, and continues that same evening with a special 70mm presentation of his epic 1992 biopic Malcolm X. Not to be outdone, the Dec. 9 closing bill will feature 35mm prints of 1989’s groundbreaking Do the Right Thing and 1994‘s undervalued Crooklyn, one of Lee’s most personal and heartfelt films. The following weekend brings another short series, this one focused on Los Angeles-set film noirs. Beginning Dec. 14 with Karyn Kusama’s new film Destroyer, starring a de-glammed Nicole Kidman, the series looks back first to the 1980s, with a Dec. 15 double bill of William Friedkin’s To Live & Die in L.A. (screening on 35mm), featuring Willem Dafoe and John Turturro in two of their early onscreen roles, and Ivan Passer’s Cutter’s Way (DCP), with a young Jeff Bridges and John Heard. And closing the weekend, on Dec. 16, is a new digital restoration of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1946 feature Detour, a classic slab of low-budget genre filmmaking and a nifty exercise in narrative economy from one of the era’s great under-sung practitioners.


Over in Santa Monica, the American Cinematheque’s other flagship theater, the Aero, is hosting a pair of weekend series of their own, each also tied to a new release. With Peter Bogdanovich’s new Buster Keaton documentary The Great Buster currently in cinemas, the first weekend of the month will be dedicated to the beloved silent comedian. Following a Nov. 30 opening double bill of 1924‘s Sherlock Jr. and 1928‘s Steamboat Bill, Jr., the series continues with new digital restorations of 1926’s The General (Dec. 1), with Keaton performing one of his most iconic feats on the front end of a speeding train, and 1925’s Seven Chances (Dec. 2), an endearingly strange comedy of nuptial gamesmanship, before coming to close that same evening with The Great Buster. Meanwhile, the new documentary Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki is the impetus behind a mid-month program of classics by the Japanese animation legend. Presented entirely on 35mm, the series covers a good swath of Miyazaki’s career, beginning Dec. 13 with 1988‘s My Neighbor Totoro, and continuing on Dec. 14 with 2002‘s Spirited Away and Dec. 15 with a double bill of 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle and 1989’s Kiki’s Delivery Service. Never-Ending Man and a matinee encore of Totoro, meanwhile, close the series on Dec. 16.


With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, LACMA’s Tuesday Matinee lineup for December is truncated a bit. But they’re packing in three great would-be holiday classics to make up for it — and all on 35mm. First up, on Dec. 4, is Allen Baron’s 1961 feature Blast of Silence, a riveting aftershock from the golden era of film noir that follows a hitman over the Christmas holiday as he attempts to carry out a dangerous job. Following on Dec. 11 is Alfred Hitchcock’s most iconic film, Psycho, one of the first movies to turn December into a unexpectedly fruitful month for murder. And closing the year on Dec. 18 is Stanley Kubrick’s landmark final film Eyes Wide Shut, not a Christmas movie by any traditional measure but nonetheless one of the most haunting and erotic pics ever set over the holiday season — and one of the very best of any kind, full stop.