Leap year. Election year. Even-numbered year. (Let’s go, Giants!) What familiar or fresh thrills and chills will 2016 bring? It has to be a better year for new films than the largely uninspiring 12 months we’ve just endured. But regardless of the state of world cinema, Bay Area filmgoers can count on a healthy diet of nourishing retrospectives, nutrient-rich revivals and out-of-the-way discoveries from our stalwart band of dedicated programmers. Let’s see what they’ve got for us in the way of hangover restoratives and courage tonics this month.
Jan. 1-7 at the Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
The Palm Springs International Film Festival (Jan. 1-11) strives to show as many of the 81 submissions in the Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards competition as it can. If you can’t make the hike to Bob Hope’s burg -- let alone take a trek abroad -- spend the week in Marin County. Beginning with Hou-Hsaio Hsien’s The Assassin (Taiwan), the Smith Rafael Film Center presents no fewer than 15 of the official entries between Jan. 1 and 7. The Rafael seeks out films that didn’t or won’t get a U.S. theatrical release, such as the galvanizing abuse-of-justice saga Court (Jan. 3) from India and the Mayan family drama Ixcanul (Jan. 7) from Guatemala. If your New Year’s resolutions include expanding your worldview, start here.
Jan. 4-8, Embarcadero Center Cinema, San Francisco
The remarkable stop-motion animated film Anomalisa is a collaboration between director Duke Johnson and the uniquely skewed and generally depressed Charlie Kaufman, who adapted his play into the screenplay. The movie opens Jan. 8 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema and spotlights the extraordinary voice talents of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan. Leading up to its release, and with the presumed goal of putting us in the proper mood (funk?), the ECC revives Kaufman’s previous films in a series of 1pm weekday matinees: Being John Malkovich on Monday, Adaptation on Tuesday, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind on Wednesday and Synecdoche, New York on Thursday. Am I actually recommending you launch your year by submerging in a Kaufmanesque pool of failure, inertia and self-pity? (Yes, yes he is. -- Ed.)
Jan. 14-20, Castro Theatre and Goethe-Institut, San Francisco
San Francisco’s rainy season and German films always struck me as the perfect match. Black-clad melancholy, postwar guilt and angsty affluence -- which, admittedly, don’t encompass either the depth of the Teutonic soul or the breadth of the Berlin & Beyond lineup -- are best-suited to a winter palette. Speaking of black and white and gray, ink in Jan. 17 for the restoration of Walther Ruttman’s stunning 1927 day-in-the-life portrait, Berlin, Symphony of a Great City. Brilliantly shot by the pioneering cinematographer Karl Freund (whose remarkable career included The Last Laugh, Metropolis, Key Largo and I Love Lucy), the silent classic is accompanied by the Berlin electronic and acoustic trio ALP making their U.S. debut. The festival runs Jan. 14-20, with actor Tom Schilling on hand opening night for the computer thriller Who Am I and sticking around for a special screening of his altogether wonderful 2012 film, A Coffee in Berlin.
Jan. 15, Paramount Theatre of the Arts, Oakland
Say what you will about Walt Disney, the man could recognize talent. Compelled to cut back after Pinocchio and Fantasia garnered disappointing returns at the box office, Disney entrusted his ace team of animators to deliver on a tight budget. They came through with Dumbo, a charming and timeless musical about the trials and travails of a young elephant and his irreplaceable friend, Timothy the Mouse. (I’ll assume a more detailed synopsis is unnecessary.) The shimmering Paramount Theatre of the Arts in Oakland revives Uncle Walt’s 1941 fairy tale, pink elephants and all, on Jan. 15.
Jan. 21-24, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
At the Roxie in 2014, ace local programmer Mike Keegan (now creative manager of the Alamo Drafthouse at the New Mission) scored an unlikely hit with the First Annual San Francisco Intergalactic Film + Video Feline Festival for Humans. The SFIFVFFH was so successful, in fact, that the program toured independent theaters around the country. Yerba Buena Center For the Arts jumps gracefully into the fur-and-purr sweepstakes with a 90-minute buffet of Vine videos, mini-docs and short dramas (!) compiled by Henri Le Chat Noir mastermind Will Braden and starring our secret masters. Screening seven times between Jan. 21 and 24, the frisky and playful ICVF just might fortify us for whatever lies ahead in 2016.