This has been the summer of the failed blockbuster. After Earth, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim, The Wolverine. All of them box office duds of such magnitude that, some industry wags hope, Hollywood studios may be forced to rethink their tired summer formula. Unfortunately for us moviegoers, things are likely to get worse this August, historically a dumping ground for generic blow-‘em-up-fare too brain dead even for prime summer opening weekends.
The good news for New Yorkers is that the city’s indie scene is healthier than it’s been in decades. Take your crush or better half out to the following art houses for fine alternatives to the mainstream dreck.
209 W Houston Street
The grand dame of the downtown art house circuit opened in 1970. It’s offered a master class in foreign cinema—Bergman, Kurosawa, Godard, Truffaut and Fellini are in constant rotation—ever since. Unfortunately, the notoriously uncomfortable seats also seem to have been in place since the Nixon administration. Still, romantic cineastes can’t ask for a much better date spot than this old school gem.
32 Second Avenue
Having miraculously survived the gentrification of the East Village—co-founder Jonas Mekas recently screened his documentary ode to the demolished Mars Bar, once across the street—Anthology may be the only place in town whose regulars dismiss La Nouvelle Vague as mainstream. Anthology is the place to catch movies you simply (and sometimes understandably) can’t see anywhere else. Silent, Underground and No Wave rarities dominate the programming.
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
The Lincoln Center of Brooklyn has an art house program to match. A Chaplin retrospective and series devoted to street art photographer Jamel Shabazz currently supplement standard indies Blue Jasmine and The Way, Way Back. Keep a look out for slightly irreverent series—Lena Dunham recently organized one—that give Kings County movie buffs one more reason to avoid Manhattan.
Uptown girls and boys can stay close to home with a visit to the movie wing of New York’s main art campus. New Directors/New Films and, of course, next month’s New York Film Festival are the highlights of the calendar. But especially in the recent wake of new screens popping up at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, offerings are consistently solid.
18 West Houston Street
Time has not been especially kind to the Angelika, which opened in 1989 at the dawn of the Sundance- and Miramax-induced indie boom. The theaters are long and narrow. Sound is atrocious. The subway constantly rumbles beneath your feet. And the offerings—this is ground zero for Oscar bait—are not as varied or eccentric as those at IFC or Nitehawk Cinema. Still, the café is pleasant; the large crowds provide a perennial buzz and the big league independents (e.g. Fruitvale Station) still swing through.
323 Avenue of the Americas
IFC Center moved into the former, beloved Waverly Theatre in 2005, and even the most nostalgic skeptic would laud the continued emphasis on off-kilter programming. Mumblecore, Dogma 95 and French Shock Cinema—Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void played for six months—have all found a (comfortable!) home here. IFC Center is also a leader in the midnight movie revival. That’s fitting given the major role Waverly played in The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s elevation to interactive cult movie status.
136 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn
Finally, an art house where (legally obtained) booze supplements the movies. Surprisingly unobtrusive waiters also deliver decent meals right to your seat. This being Williamsburg, the fare skews young and edgy: Only God Forgives should play here for weeks after exiting other theaters. Upping the hipster cred is a series done in conjunction with the ne’er-do-wells of Vice. Midnight screenings of dubious classics such as Frankenhooker and Donnie Darko further burnish Nitehawk’s cool kid bona fides.
289 Kent Ave, Brooklyn
With Nitehawk and a full-fledged multiplex (Williamsburg Cinemas) having landed recently, it’s easy to forget that Williamsburg lacked a movie theater for years until indieScreen opened in 2010. The neighborhood’s so-called creative class—or what’s left of it—haven’t embraced this one-screener as tightly as newer arrivals. But left-of-center programming (scope the upcoming CBGB and Brownfish Film Festivals) as well as not-ready-for-Angelika micro-indies keep local filmmakers happy.
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