I'm in a reflective mood with the turning of the calendar, and what I'm reflecting on is the beginning of the end of my long love affair with movies marinated in nihilism, cynicism, fatalism, cruel reality, contrived conflict, blood-soaked philosophy, righteous comeuppance and (the hardest to give up) withering jibes. My new year's resolution is to seek out and savor humanistic directors, who highlight common ground rather than differences, and regard empathy as a superior manifestation of strength. Jean Renoir, Yasujiro Ozu, Heddy Honigmann, the Dardennes brothers and Hirokazu Kore-eda immediately come to mind. Let's see who fills this bill in January, shall we?
Well, Charlie Chaplin, for starters. Cinema's ultimate everyman, Chaplin repeatedly gutter-dived into the harshness and heartlessness of the modern metropolis and emerged with a glowing ember of decency. Sure, he was prone to sentimentality, which might be defined as taking optimism to the breaking point. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival marks Chaplin's 1914 debut in moving pictures with three shows on Saturday, January 11 under the heart-swelling rubric, The Little Tramp at 100: A Charlie Chaplin Centennial Celebration. A program of timeless shorts gets the party started at 1pm, followed by The Kid at 4pm and The Gold Rush at 7:30pm, all with live music and all at the Castro Theatre. Wait a second, I've got something in my eye. For more information visit silentfilm.org.
Provocateurs are often narcissists, and the queer actor, writer and filmmaker Jack Smith answered to both names. (He was also a generous collaborator, so there.) It's hard to grasp exactly how bravely theatrical he was in the early '60s, flaunting the "norms" of gender and sexuality and, in so doing, sending a smoke signal to The Cockettes in San Francisco. Flaming Creatures (1962-63) was banned on obscenity charges; you won't find anything shocking about it today, just fun, fun, fun. Ravishing, Radical and Restored: The Films of Jack Smith also features new prints of Mary Jordan's kaleidoscopic documentary portrait Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, Smith's flamboyant satire No President (1967-70), the late Ron Vawter's acting tour de force Roy Cohn/Jack Smith (1995) and Smith's epic ode to Maria Montez, Normal Love (1963-65). The S.F. Cinematheque and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts co-present at the latter's house January 16-30, 2014. For more information visit ybca.org.
The Pacific Film Archive is a humanist's paradise this month, if only for The Brilliance of Satyajit Ray (Jan. 17-Aug. 31). Surely nothing in the long history of movies can align a viewer's values and adjust his or her priorities like the Indian director's profound yet unpretentious Apu trilogy: Pather Panchali, Aparajito and The World of Apu. The Archive also unveils a major humor retrospective with Funny Ha-Ha: American Comedy, 1930–1959 (Jan. 16-Feb. 22), and hosts the annual African Film Festival (Jan. 25-Feb. 26). Too much sweetness and light? Then you're ready for Jean-Luc Godard: Expect Everything From Cinema (Jan. 30-Apr. 13). If you need me, I'll be right here, sitting in the dark. For more information visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.
The sprightly and occasionally melancholy Berlin & Beyond Film Festival always seemed like a perfect match with the rainy season. So I'm exceedingly happy to report that after a couple of years of fall dates, B&B returns to its midwinter setting (Jan. 15-19 at the Castro, Jan. 20-21 at Goethe-Institut San Francisco). Whether you're in the mood for snowcapped landscapes with an undercurrent of existential malaise or resolute urban portraits of colorful culture clash, you'll find it here. For more information visit goethe.de.
I tried. I really tried. But I couldn't get all the way through the month -- one month! -- on a movie diet of unfettered cooperation, ingrained generosity and bemused appreciation for the human condition. My salvation (so to speak) is a festival whose motto this year is "It's a bitter little world." Now you're speaking my language. A rogue's gallery of beautiful losers awaits at the Castro as Noir City (Jan. 24-Feb. 2) goes international with double bills from Germany (including The Murderers Among Us, the U.K. (It Always Rains on Sunday and the original Brighton Rock), Japan (Kurosawa's Drunken Angel and Stray Dog), Argentina (Never Open That Door) and France (by now you should be reaching for your calendar and your flask). For my part, it's just a relapse. I'll be back on the humanist wagon in no time.
For more information visit noircity.com.