New York is a movie town. Celebrities live and walk among us; nobody minds too much when a block is closed off to accommodate a shooting schedule, especially because you can sometimes sneak treats off the crafts services table. Most importantly, practically every movie released in the United States plays here, so there’s always something to see: from Bollywood imports to mainstream bromances to a way-past-our-bedtime screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For us, the best movie theaters have some combination of history, architectural impressiveness, comfy seats, excellent programming, and really good popcorn.
Gone are the famous theaters of yore like the Bleeker Street Cinema. But gritty realism hasn’t disappeared from the West Village’s Angelika, where the rumble of the F train next door occasionally obstructs the sound, a reminder of the days when the city was bankrupt and auteurs like Scorsese and Schrader ruled. The selection skews arthouse, with films like Restrepo and Blue Valentine opening. Frequently, writers, directors, or actors will pop in unannounced to introduce the very first showing and stay for a short Q&A. Excellent baked goods for sale in the cafe.
Prior to screenings, such as the latest movie by Kelly Reichardt or newly restored Lawrence of Arabia, Film Forum runs a short clip advertising its membership: It opens in 1970 and depicts a small room with a bunch of folding chairs, the very first incarnation of the now-legion indie cinema in the West Village. Here we’ve seen Susan Sarandon, Frances McDormand, and Ed Norton — not on screen, but in the audience, watching new releases and repertory classics like a double feature of The Searchers and Stagecoach. Despite the obstructed seating and salt-free popcorn, if we had to spend the rest of our lives going to the pictures in one place, this would be it.
Newly remodeled, the movie theater at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, has triangular sound paneling, plush stadium-style seating, and programming that’s happily focused on smaller movies, especially by international directors. Food or drink isn’t allowed, alas, but the admission lets you roam around the museum for a while, full of fascinating artifacts like the wig worn by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver and a marked-up shooting script for Citizen Kane. Kids will love the display of Star Wars action figures. We always make sure to play a few rounds of Donkey Kong in the upstairs video arcade.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music has some of the best popcorn in the city. This Fort Greene theater also shows a mix of old and new, with an emphasis on work by or starring minorities. Check the calendar for upcoming special events (a few weeks ago, for example, Alan Rickman introduced a screening of Die Hard).
The popcorn at the Ziegfeld isn’t so bad either, but we go to this Midtown palace to re-capture some of the glamor of movie-going gone by. Once upon a time, going to the movies was an event that required hat and heels, where you would perhaps suck discreetly on a mint, not gulp down 72 ounces of cola. The Ziegfeld — with its ginormous balcony, maroon drapery, and bathroom stalls featuring their own sinks — brings us back to that time, even as we’re watching a special screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark or the latest from Disney.
Late nights belong to IFC and Sunshine. It took years to convert the beloved, decrepit Waverly into the International Film Center, but the wait was worth it: soft seats, human-scale theaters, and programming devoted to the best of foreign and domestic arthouse. Showing mostly independents and imports, both theaters also screen cult classics for night owls. Recent offerings include The Shining (at 11.40 pm) and Rear Window (at midnight). Sunshine, once home to the Lower East Side’s happening Yiddish vaudeville, also has a weekly Rattle & Reel, an early afternoon screening, for hipsters and their toddlers.
If it’s glamor you’re after, stay at the Plaza New York City, close to the Paris Theater, a 60-something-year-old institution showing, as you might expect from the name, lots of French imports. For a chance to glimpse movie stars in the flesh, stay at The Bowery Hotel New York City.
–Jess and Garrett of We Heart New York
[Photo: Flickr/gsz (Garrett Ziegler)]