Our better angels have departed with the tree and the wrapping paper, or so I conclude from the Bay Area’s stalwart film programmers. It appears your New Year’s resolutions and self-improvement campaign, by and large, will receive little encouragement at the movies this month. Delectably flawed human nature is the main course, from Billy Wilder to noir villains to sarcastic Brooklyn bisexuals to chain-smoking German existentialists. Then again, for some of us these are protagonists of various genres of comedy.
Children and adults who didn’t get their fill of bright and shiny objects during the holiday season are encouraged to gorge on New Anime! at the intimate Yerba Buena Center For the Arts screening room. Film/video curator Joel Shepard, who was honored by the San Francisco Critics Circle last month with its coveted annual Marlon Riggs Award, presents three of 2014’s choicest animated Japanese adventures from Jan. 8-25. Welcome to the Space Show, Patema Inverted and potential Oscar nominee The Tale of the Princess Kaguya each screen three times. For more information, visit ybca.org.
The German cinema is one of the largest and most vital in the world, but American moviegoers have no idea on account of the ever-worsening state of U.S. distribution. A welcome exception is Dominik Graf’s Beloved Sisters (opening Jan. 9 at the Opera Plaza), an epic drama about the romantic entanglement of writer Friedrich Schiller with Caroline and Charlotte von Lengefeld that represents Germany's submission for the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Language Film category. For a broad and immersive survey of the best of recent German-language cinema, the annual Berlin & Beyond film festival returns Jan. 29 - Feb. 1 at the Castro and the Goethe-Institut in S.F., the Aquarius in Palo Alto (Feb. 2) and the California in Berkeley (Feb. 3). Festival director Sophoan Sorn’s selections encompass stylish contemporary narratives and risk-taking documentaries, and Austria and Switzerland as well as Germany. For more information, visit goethe.de.
The fiercest cosmopolitan to emigrate from Europe to Hollywood in the 1930s, Billy Wilder evolved into the most outrageous critic of postwar America. His inventive and beautifully structured movies, notably Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity, Ace in the Hole, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot and Sabrina, shine ever brighter every year in the pantheon of American film. Ready For His Close-up: The Films of Billy Wilder screens Jan. 15 - Feb. 28 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For more information, visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.
Shirin, the acerbic Iranian-American heroine of Appropriate Behavior, wants the same thing as every other gal in her 20s -- to be accepted for who she is. It doesn’t come easy, even in the melting pot of New York City, but it’s a time-honored recipe for comedy gold. Writer-director Desiree Akhavan, who also plays Shirin, makes her exceptional feature debut with an endearing romantic comedy about a bisexual woman looking for love (and generally settling for sex) in photogenic places. Her parents don’t know her orientation, which adds another kink to the screwball plot. Appropriate Behavior opens Jan. 16 at the Roxie in San Francisco. For more information, visit roxie.com.
Lust and betrayal are the high-octane catalysts for much of film noir, as every aficionado knows. Noir City boss Eddie Muller acknowledges that sordid truth by choosing matrimony as the theme of this year’s celebration of born liars, skilled seductresses, trench coats and tight blouses. The hottest ducats, without question, will be the new 35mm restorations of the San Francisco-set Woman On the Run (opening night) and The Guilty (Jan. 23), adapted from a Cornell Woolrich story. Only a mug would wait for the last minute to nab tickets. Noir City 13: ‘Til Death Do Us Part unspools Jan. 16-25 at the Castro in San Francsico. For more information, visit noircity.com.