The tension is nearly unbearable as we jump into February. Will host Chris Rock come out in whiteface when the curtain rises on the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 28? Which presenters or winners -- black, white, Asian or Hispanic -- will acknowledge Black Lives Matter instead of Boycott Oscar? Who will be cited in the most jokes: Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Trump, Samuel L. Jackson or Han Solo?
Or perhaps, given Valentine’s Day on the horizon, your most pressing question is, “Will (s)he or won’t (s)he?” Either way, you’ll find provocative answers -- and more intriguing questions -- in the dark at a nearby theater.
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley
Feb. 11–March 19
The Pacific Film Archive and Berkeley Art Museum are in the midst of inaugurating their brand-new home in downtown Berkeley with a slew of special events. The temptations include Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Feb. 3) and Douglas Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels (Feb. 7), and visits by New York documentary master Alan Berliner (Feb. 10) and Winnipeg silent-film obsessive Guy Maddin (Feb. 12-14). The African Film Festival (Feb. 11-March 19) boasts an especially strong lineup this year, mixing classics like Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl from 1966 and the 1998 animated children’s film Kirikou and the Sorceress with the kinetic recent Ivory Coast thriller Run.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Feb. 13 and 14
Speaking of classics, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts curator Joel Shepard has booked a beauty for Valentine’s weekend. The Bride of Frankenstein (Feb. 13 and 14) is one of the great sequels in movie history thanks to the unexpectedly moving love story at its center. (Beauty and the beast, indeed.) James Whale’s moody 1935 film is one of 13 delicious nibbles in Gothic Cinema, a candy box of eerie, atmospheric tales of psychological obsession screening from Feb. 11 through April 10.
Vogue Theatre, San Francisco
San Francisco Chronicle film writer Ruthe Stein’s annual survey of recent films from the British Isles, Australia and India (the Empire strikes back, apparently) provides ample evidence of her ability to spot small gems. This year’s standouts include Tanna (Feb. 24), a fraught Australian-made love story that unfolds on the Pacific island of Vanautu, and Dark Horse (Feb. 23), a mood-enhancing doc about a Welsh working-class racing hero named Dream Alliance. Household names like Kate Winslet and Judy Davis propel the opening night film, The Dressmaker (Feb. 18), as well as the well-chosen oldies (among them The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, starring a young and forcefully seductive Maggie Smith) that dot the program, unspooling through Feb. 25 at the Vogue.
Castro Theatre, San Francisco
Feb. 24-March 30
In the early 1930s, the major studios agreed to a production code that banned the presentation (glamorization, in other words) of illicit and/or unpunished unethical behavior. However, they didn’t actually enforce their own rules -- censor films, that is -- until 1934. This laissez faire period known as the pre-Code era is rife with amoral tales of gangsters living large (Scarface, Feb. 24) and salacious sagas of bad girls getting ahead (Shanghai Express with Marlene Dietrich, Mar. 9). Elliott Lavine’s six-week series of double bills is naughty fun of a singularly adult nature.
Alamo Drafthouse, San Francisco
You’ve probably deduced that this is a good month for moviegoers who enjoy violating taboos -- or watching other people misbehave on a big screen in the dark. On that basis, the star attraction of the S.F. Jewish Film Festival’s annual offseason all-day showcase at the Alamo Drafthouse is Avishai Sivan’s uncompromising Tikkun (Feb. 27). The black-and-white film centers on a young ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jew who guiltily veers onto a path of risky and decidedly irreligious impulses after his father prays and coaxes him back to life after an accident. You also may be tempted to check out Natalie Portman’s feature directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, adapted from Amos Oz’s memoir. However, it won’t have the desired effect of serving as a pre-Oscars antidote to the odious self-congratulation, hollow self-deprecation and worthless platitudes to come. Tikkun, I promise, will inoculate you against all that.