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Staff Picks: Movie Theatres
Movies about movie theatres.
Feature Presentation’s Staff Picks is not a best-of list. How do you even craft a list of the best of something as subjective as film? This is a list designed to highlight films (and occasionally television shows or other mediums of entertainment) of a certain theme or topic. It’s a watchlist, they are suggestions. Movies on this list will very in quality, length, genre, and home video or streaming availability.
This list’s theme: Movie Theatres
Nicole Kidman’s AMC Commercial (2021)
Let’s start it off with the only true way to start off a movie…
Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this.
The Majestic (2001)
Set in 1951, a blacklisted Hollywood writer gets into a car accident, loses his memory and settles down in a small town where he is mistaken for a long-lost son.
On paper, The Majestic is exactly what you would expect it to be. You can always tell where it’s going and it’s almost never surprising. But the power of the film is in that simplicity. It’s about community, love, forgiveness — and you’re never allowed to forget the power of those things to connect people. It’s also about the magic of the movies — and what brings us together better than that?
Overly sentimental perhaps, but played so well with such strong conviction that I couldn’t help but like it.
Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003)
On a dark, rainy night, a historic and regal Taipei cinema sees its final film: 1967 martial arts feature “Dragon Inn”. As the film plays, the lives of the theater’s various employees and patrons intersect, and two ghostly actors arrive to mourn the passing of an era.
Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a difficult movie to recommend for a few reasons. It’s not an easy film to track down on physical media as there’s no Blu-ray and the long out of print DVD is going for stupid amounts on eBay, while it’s all but non-existent on streaming services.
And I’m not necessarily sure I would recommend watching it at home anyway. The film is incredibly slow and with the distractions that being at home lends itself to, you probably wouldn’t be able to give the movie the attention it requires.
I was lucky enough to catch Goodbye, Dragon Inn at a local screening and watching this film about an aging repertory theatre at my local repertory house was a unique experience.
When you (and hopefully one day you can) watch this movie about the importance of revival cinema, the ghosts of a movie house, and the necessity of watching movies as a communal experience — while facing all of those things head-on in the darkness of your cinema’s auditorium, it’s quite a powerful experience. It’s a contemplative film and it requires your contemplation.
A showman introduces a small coastal town to a unique movie experience and capitalizes on the Cuban Missile crisis hysteria with a kitschy horror extravaganza combining film effects, stage props and actors in rubber suits in this salute to the B-movie.
It’s easy to love Joe Dante movies because Joe Dante loves movies.
All of his movies are homages in some way to 50s cinema, classic cartoons, and heightened genre offerings. You can clearly see that in Looney Tunes: Back in Action or his Gremlins films, but that love is perhaps most clear in Matinee.
It’s been a long time since movies were events (if it had been a long time 30 years ago, it’s been a really long time now) and aside from novelties like 3D or IMAX, the “gimmick” is all but dead.
Dante clearly loved the gimmicks brought to the public by the movie producers and hawkers of the 50s and basically made an entire movie showing how great going to the movies can be. The theatricality that’s now reserved for midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Room used to be something you could experience in your small town on a Saturday afternoon. In real life, William Castle tingled your spine with vibrating seats during The Tingler, while in the film, John Goodman’s Castle-inspired Lawrence Woolsey uses the Rumble-Rama audio experience or life-sized insect costumes to bring you into the performance that can be a film screening. It’s a lot different than your multiplex experience and I wish we had opportunities like that at theatres now. Dante does too.
Scream 2 (1997)
Two years after the terrifying events that occurred in Woodsboro, Sidney is now attending Windsor College in Cincinnati, and Gale Weathers’ best selling book on Sidney’s life has now been made into a major motion picture. When two college students are killed in a theatre while watching the new film ‘Stab’, Sidney knows deep down that history is repeating itself.
Scream 2 is not about a movie theatre.
But it is about movies and features one of my favorite movie theatre scenes.
The film opens at a premiere screening of Stab, the film-within-a-film based on the events that took place in the first Scream. This screening is absolutely bonkers and although it seems to be in pretty bad taste considering it’s based on a local tragedy, everyone is eating it up. The studio is handing out Ghostface masks and plastic glow-in-the-dark knives and everyone is running around losing their minds and getting totally into it.
When two new characters, Maureen and Phil, are murdered by the new Ghostface in the middle of the screening, the audience thinks it’s a part of the show. It’s one of my favorite horror scenarios, I find it to be so tragic and perfect for the commentary the Scream movies provide.
When we leave the movie theatre, that commentary on the film industry is just beginning. The Scream franchise is notorious for knowing their place in the Hollywood landscape (whether that be a teen slasher, sequel, or legacy sequel) and that appreciation of the tropes and cliches of horror and Hollywood make the film a favorite in my household.
Speaking of great horror movies, I really wish I could watch Stab. I mean come on — Tori Spelling, Luke Wilson, Alicia Silverstone, Vince Vaughn — sign me up for a midnight premiere!
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.