The dimming of the winter solstice, the cacophonous echoes of holiday reunions, the tolling of the end-of-year bells—‘tis the season for remembrance and accounting, for taking stock and, post-New Year’s, taking measures. For a chunk of nostalgia steeped in melancholy, It’s a Wonderful Life (Thursday, December 22 at the Castro) provides the essential annual reminder, en route to the requisite Capracorny ending, that bankers are in it for themselves. (That is the moral, right?) For a delirious dose of elation steeped in melancholy, Purple Rain (Friday, Dec. 23 at the New Parkway in Oakland) preserves Prince’s astonishing exuberance, improbable metaphors and dubious fashion sense for all time. (And reminds us of all the great musicians we lost in 2016.)
I suggest venturing into the vaguely familiar darkness with L.A. montage-film essayist extraordinaire Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself). His latest work, The Thoughts That Once We Had (Thursday, Dec. 22 at the Roxie) is a mordant, mesmerizing trip through cinema history and the 20th century, inspired by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s writings on cinema. Andersen, a longtime professor at Cal Arts in Southern California, intercuts personally memorable moments with on-screen text from Deleuze as well as his own reflections. The resulting work is a unique combination of academic analysis, emotional response and unexpected humor. “I sought to have kind of an open film,” Andersen told an interviewer, “where people could make and see meanings in lots of different ways without my foreclosing those possibilities through interpretation.” Don’t tell anyone, but that just might be the quality I cherish most in movies.