The less-than-ideal ways in which we watch movies will only worsen in the year ahead. Hollywood is phasing out 35mm film prints in favor of digital projection. The pervasive streaming of movies to mobile devices will further threaten neighborhood (read single-screen) theaters. The ever-shrinking coverage of foreign and independent films, online as well as in print, requires discerning moviegoers to be diligently proactive in finding out what's worth seeing and getting to the theater during the typically short run. What won't change is how filmmakers of integrity and vision -- artful critics of the status quo -- choose and portray their subjects. Optimist that I am (couldn't you tell?), here's a sampling of movies with a conscience to begin 2013.
The radical Spanish surrealist and satirist Luis Buñuel is gone 30 years, and we're still waiting for his successor. (True, Almodóvar sticks the blade on occasion, but he sometimes seems more interested in set design than social commentary.) So we're grateful and excited for the restoration and revival of Tristana, Buñuel's 1970 parable of older male privilege (embodied by his favorite actor, Fernando Rey) and young female victimhood (the cruelly opaque Catherine Deneuve, post-Belle du Jour). The director's digs at the hypocrisy of religion and its adherents may seem a tad dated, but his depiction of the self-destructive pursuit of revenge is more uncompromising, more twisted and more harrowing than anything the immature Quentin Tarantino can muster. Tristana opens January 4, 2013 for a week at the Opera Plaza Cinemas in San Francisco. For more information visit landmarktheatres.com.
<br /A Million Colors
You can be forgiven for expecting the fifth annual Mostly British Film Festival, unspooling January 17-24 at the Vogue, to offer an array of tweedy accents, smirking love affairs among well-off Londoners and repressed dramas in period costume. Actually, you can't -- the British Isles are a lot more diverse than we think. The festival, which encompasses new and recent films from England, Ireland, Australia and South Africa (the latter countries still reflect a British influence), takes pains to present perspectives beyond the postcard views proffered by tourist bureaus. A trio of fact-based dramas are particularly intriguing: The new film A Million Colours (screening January 23, 2013) portrays the travails of a black couple in apartheid-era South Africa while Black and White (January 24), from 2002 and featuring the redoubtable David Ngoombujarra, Robert Carlyle and Charles Dance, revisits the heinous 1950s murder trial of an aboriginal man. The autobiographical political romance, My Tehran for Sale (January 23), follows an Iranian actress who hopes the Australian-Iranian she's just met is the door to a less constrained and dangerous life. For more information visit mostlybritish.org.
<br /The Law in These Parts
Is there a fresh way to examine the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire that might, you know, actually make a difference? Israeli filmmaker Ra'anan Alexandrowicz takes a determined stab with his challenging, hard-nosed documentary, The Law In These Parts, which played last year's S.F. International Film Festival and opens January 18, 2003 for a week at the Roxie. Through well-researched and probing interviews with judges and military lawyers, Alexandrowicz diligently traces the legal progression and justification for Israel's administration of the Occupied Territories since 1967. A shocking film, ultimately, and an essential companion piece to the higher-profile doc The Gatekeepers, opening February 22. For more information visit roxie.com.
<br /The White Rose
The Year of the Beats begins with Walter Salles' admirable adaptation of Jack Kerouac's influential novel, On the Road (opening January 18, 2013) [EDITOR'S NOTE: We just received notification that the opening date for this film has been bumped to March]. Trimmed by a few minutes since its premiere last year at Cannes, the film brims with life, period detail and small pleasures (Viggo Mortenson's cameo as a devilish William S. Burroughs, notably). However, it presents the protagonists as restless rather than rebellious, and doesn't articulate what they were rejecting about 1950s America. (Sean Penn's underappreciated Into the Wild, set in a different period, unambiguously expressed the sunny pall of middle-class materialism. In its own way, so did The Master.) For a true trip back in time, San Francisco Cinematheque offers a vintage program of short films at SFMOMA on January 31, 2013 in conjunction with the retrospective currently on view of local artist Jay DeFeo. The Eyes: San Francisco Beat Film 1958–67 features Bruce Conner's The White Rose, ruth weiss's The Brink and a few other wondrous and rarely screened works. For more information visit sfmoma.org.
The African Film Festival, Pacific Film Archive's annual survey of new movies from the most invisible continent (to Americans, at least), provides a wealth of unexpected perspectives from January 23-February 5, 2013. This marvelous mix of documentaries and features commences with Ahmad Abdallah's dynamic survey of Egyptian youth culture, Microphone. If you're more attracted to stories of the past -- especially when they have unforeseen repercussions in the present -- don't miss Black Africa, White Marble (January 27), about the 19th-Century Italian explorer Pietro Savorgnan di Brazzà. Real life on the big screen; what can top it? For more information visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.