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With a flair and fervor that were all hers, Pauline Kael wrote lovingly of films and the places that screen them. They were tawdry, earthy places — “rotten movies in gaudy seedy picture palaces in cities that run together, movies and anonymity a common denominator.” To her, going to the theater was a spectacular mass, a commonplace escape. You never watch alone in a theatre: “you know there must be others perhaps in this very theatre or in this city, surely in other theatres in other cities, now, in the past or future, who react as you do.” In short, movie theaters are special. So, in praise of cinema houses and sharing the dark — a list, in no particular order, of some of the best theaters in New York. I’ll see you at the movies.
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209 West Houston St, West Village, Manhattan
Occupying one of the most fertile film corners in New York — nearby theaters include The IFC Center, Angelika Film Center, Sunshine Cinema — Film Forum stands out for its outstanding programming, a laudable yet lithe mix of new and old, independent and foreign, art house and horror, where retrospectives of Ozu and Jacques Demy share the calendar with Herzog’s and Murnau’s Nosferatu, Godard’s Contempt, and the family friendly and wonderfully film indoctrinating Film Forum Jr. series. My personal favorite all-purpose theater.
323 6th Ave, West Village, Manhattan
One of New York’s most versatile, eclectic theaters. There’s usually around a dozen films running on any given a day, offering the choices of a multi-plex within the welcoming, come what may hearth of an art house. Regular screenings tend to be new releases from the independent and foreign genres, but specials series like their midnight movies and weekend classics series shake things up, offering yet another chance to catch Eraserhead, The Holy Mountain, or Jaws.
Film Society of Lincoln Center
144/165 W. 65th St., Upper West Side, Manhattan
Lamentably, the Film Society sometimes gets tagged for being a far more stodgy and fusty space than it is; on the other hand, with a name like Film Society of Lincoln Center, maybe that should not come as a shock. Whatever the case, the truth is that the Society can be a really exciting, surprisingly fun house for films. Yearly festivals (New York Film Fest, LBGT NewFest, New Directors/ New Films), midnight movies (recently: Re-Animator, Pink Flamingos, Logan’s Run), new releases, and special series like the Cinema of Resistance unmask the Film Society as a serious and entertaining place, like one of your favorite, laid-back college professors.
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave, East Village, Manhattan
Another official, rigorous sound place, Anthology Film Archives does the responsible yet consuming job of preserving and presenting some of cinema’s best and most original independent, experimental, and avant-garde films. A rare bird among film’s flock, Anthology Film Archives is one of those exceptional places; a priceless space to view uncommon and hard (sometimes near impossible) to see films, almost always in their original formats.
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street, Midtown, Manhattan
Museums like movies too. And MoMA does more than a respectable job of curating a good movie series, especially for the film-goer looking for a college course load of movies to view and chew on. As authoritative as you might guess, and at least a smidgen more interesting. Go for a movie, and save the van Goghs and Monets for another day, or just after the credits roll.
Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Ave, Astoria, Queens
For Museum of the Moving Image, think MoMA, if you must, but more freewheeling. The See It Big! series, presenting recent and classic films on the big screen, always has a winner or two in it. One of the best parts is that many of the films come accompanied with winning introductions by filmmakers and critics. So the Halloween-time screening of Halloween is paired, of course, with with an introduction by an outstanding critic, this time Nick Pinkerton. Even better, daytime films tickets are free with museum admission while evening films entitle you to free museum admission, so either way you can—and should—stroll through museum’s astounding collection of movie lore props, clothing, and paraphernalia.
136 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Beer, food, and cinema — all under one roof. For many, this is a cause for joy. Confessionally, the servers delivering these foodstuffs — skulking around during the film —annoy me, but likely you’re not me and you want a bite to eat with your zombie apocalypse. Fair enough. Good thing is this: Nitehawk’s film schedule is quirky, inspired, and dependable; this is one of Brooklyn’s pilgrimages for a film, be it an indie flick, venerable classic, or trashy art.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
321 Ashland Pl, Fort Green, Brooklyn
Brooklyn’s institutional center of art also has a cinema—where they play cartoons and animated films and run Divine retrospectives. Usually, thought, they’re an earnestly reliable theater for the big-name independent and auteur films that sometimes pass by the big multi-plexs without incurring any interest. Currently, that means Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster. But then again, they too have that nastiest of films, Pink Flamingos, on their schedule, so either John Waters has really, really made it, or BAM is kinda cool or trying to be cool. Either way, it’s a win for everyone.
155 Freeman St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Light Industry is a spiritual cousin of the film spaces that used to linger in and around New York, spaces that outside of Anthology Film Archives, largely no longer exist. But Light Industry is a younger, wilder beast, springing from “the long history of alternative art spaces in New York as well its storied tradition of cinematheques and other intrepid film exhibitors.” An art house theater in name and agitation.
This list is by no means exhaustive or authoritative. New places may excitingly open up; existing ones may lamentably close down. All lists must have an end. Moving-going, however, doesn’t have quite the same mortality, so go to the movies. There’s always more ready to point the way through the dark.
147 Front St, DUMBO, Brooklyn
289 Kent Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Museum of Arts and Design
2 Columbus Cir, Upper West Side Manhattan