My Top 10 Movie-Going Experiences of 2010

I didn’t see enough new movies last year to do a top ten list. And I didn’t cover enough festivals to do a Festival Top 10, either.

So instead, here are my top 10 movie-going experiences of 2010.

Half of these were silent film screenings. This was a great year for silents–dominated by Metropolis and  The Passion of Joan of Arc. I saw two silent films accompanied by full orchestras this year. That’s as many as I’ve seen in my previous 40 years as a silent film fan. And this year, they were better movies.

The bolded film titles are links to my posts about the screenings.

10 Marwencol, Kabuki, May 2. Serendipity sometimes leads me to the best festival screenings. I saw this documentary about a brain-damaged artist only because was that it was in between two other docs I really wanted to see at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It turned out to be better than either of them, and the best new film I saw at the festival. I’m glad it got a theatrical release in the fall.

9 Mon oncle, Pacific Film Archive, January 20. Until last year, I’d never seen this particular Jacques Tati comedy. With this one screening, it instantly became my favorite, quite possibly the funniest visual comedy made since Charlie Chaplin reluctantly agreed to talk. Bright and colorful, it works both as a satire of modern materialism and a great collection of belly laughs. Too bad the PFA presented a print dubbed into English, although with Tati, ruining the dialog doesn’t do much damage.

8 Rotaie, Castro, July 17. There’s nothing like discovering an old, wonderful movie that you’ve never heard of. In this 1929 Italian drama, a young couple, broke but very much in love, find a huge wad of cash and start living the good life. We can see the character flaws that left them destitute in the first place, and will leave them that way again. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened the only known existing print, with intertitle translations read aloud and Stephen Horne accompanying on piano and other instruments. 

7 Cinematic Titanic: War of the Insects, Castro, August 3. I’ve been a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a long time. Here was a chance to experience it live. From the opening shot of an H bomb explosion, with Mary Jo Pehl’s comment, "Sarah Palin’s first day as President," the jokes flew thick and belly deep. There were times I couldn’t breathe.

6 The General, Oakland Paramount, March 19. I’ve seen Keaton’s Civil War masterpiece countless times, in classrooms, museums, theaters, festivals, and home. I once rented it on VHS, and have owned it on Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray. Yet this was probably my best General experience. Why? A great, 35mm print, terrific accompaniment by Christoph Bull on the Paramount’s pipe organ, and an enthusiastic audience of symphony goers who didn’t know what they were in for and were very pleasantly surprised.

5 The Gold Rush and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Davies Symphony Hall, April 16.  I finally saw Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush properly—a good print with live musical accompaniment–by the San Francisco Symphony, no less. The only problem: Davies Hall really isn’t built for movies.

4 Kurosawa All Over the Place. Akira Kurosawa was born in 1910, so last year saw a whole lot of retrospectives of my all-time favorite filmmaker. Naturally, considering my East Bay residence, I stuck to screenings at the Pacific Film Archive. I started my own personal retrospective, watching the films on DVD late in 2008. The PFA allowed me to finish them in 35mm, on a large screen, and with an audience.

3 Metropolis, Castro, July 17. Setting aside my own experiences, the restored "Complete" Metropolis was the motion picture restoration event of the year. I’d already seen it in New York before it played the Castro in the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, but the Castro screening was the better experience. Part of that was the theater itself. But more credit goes to the Alloy Orchestra’s very electric score, which brings out the film’s overall weirdness and the third act’s excitement better than any other Metropolis score I’ve heard. Too bad that score was not, as was announced at the festival, included in the Blu-ray release. (You can buy it separately from the Alloy Orchestra’s web site.

2 Three live presentations at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Castro and Kabuki, April and May. I’m putting these events together for brevity’s sake. Three of my top, living, English-speaking, cinematic heroes got a chance in the spotlight at this year’s festival, and the results were as entertaining and educational as any movies screened. Editor and sound designer Walter Murch gave the State of the Cinema Address. Screenwriter/producer/studio head/Columbia professor James Schamus answered questions from B. Ruby Rich and the audience as the winner of this year’s Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting. And Roger Ebert was honored with this year’s Mel Novikoff Award.

1 Voices of Light & The Passion of Joan of Arc, Oakland Paramount, December 2. This was definitely the greatest film/live music experience of my 40+ years as a silent film aficionado. It jut might be the greatest experience I’ve had sitting in an audience. Not only was it a brilliant film (and one I’d never seen before  theatrically), but it was accompanied by Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light, “An Oratorio with Silent Film,” and a great work in its own right. Mark Sumner conducted the 22-piece orchestra and approximately 180 singers from multiple choruses. The overall effect was powerful, entrancing, awe-inspiring, frightening, and beautiful.