As the calendar page turns to 2013, the question on movie-lovers’ minds is: How can it possibly top 2012?
Fans and industry observers alike agree that last year represented a high-water mark for the art and business of cinema. A healthy box office was matched by a cheering increase in attendance, suggesting that filmgoers haven’t given up entirely on pausing their downloads, getting off the couch and going to a theater to watch a motion picture. The consistently high quality of movies, from serious dramas such as “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty” to genre exercises and franchise installments such as “The Grey,” “Looper” and “Skyfall” proved that when Hollywood makes good movies, people will — gasp! — spend time and money to go to see them.
It should be noted that most of the best of last year came out during the fall, when awards season started heating up. With that release pattern well entrenched, spring has become a desultory movie season, a random catchall of sorta-good, sorta-bad, whoa-where-did-that-come-from films that have often, sometimes unfairly, faded from memory by the time Oscar nominations roll around.
This spring’s lineup features some promising titles: Anything by Steven Soderbergh is usually worth the trip (this year it’s a medical thriller called “Side Effects”), and Brian Helgeland is finally bringing the Jackie Robinson story to the screen with the long-awaited “42.” Two bona fide must-sees are on their way to local theaters: Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers,” about the Israeli security force Shin Bet, and “Stories We Tell,” Sarah Polley’s equal parts crafty and shattering film about the secrets that shadowed her family as she grew up.
For the most part, though, this spring is characterized by ho-hummers, including the 150th installment of “Die Hard” “The Hangover III” and its inebriated offspring, “21 and Over.”
The onslaught of meh means it’s a perfect time to give Hollywood a pass and delve into the local Washington film scene, a vibrant melange of festivals, one-off screenings and museum series that can keep serious film aficionados well watered through even the driest of cinematic dry spells.
By now, everyone should have their calendars marked for the Environmental Film Festival and Filmfest DC (in March and April, respectively), which have become cherished annual rituals that offer local filmgoers a chance to see of-the-moment documentaries and foreign-language films. (Just a few years ago, the Environmental Film Festival played host to “Gasland” helping launch that film on a remarkable grass-roots theatrical tour that wound up at the Oscars.)
But this year, why not put the DC Independent Film Festival on your dance card? Or catch up with the best of the city’s short-film festival at DC Shorts Wins, featuring past winners of that September celebration of 20-minutes-and-under?
Washington is blessed with so many museums, embassies and cultural institutions that it’s easy to take their film programming for granted. But thanks to these venues, cinematic locavores are privy to films and film series that pass by other American cities. Over the next few months, the National Gallery of Art will bring “L.A. Rebellion,” a program of films made by artists who, while studying at UCLA in the 1970s, helped define a new African American film grammar (one of those directors was Howard University's own Haile Gerima); the American Film Institute will introduce vibrant global film cultures to local audiences with the New African Films Festival and the DC Caribbean Filmfest; and the Goethe-Institut will present a series dedicated to films about the Mekong River.
But by far the most tantalizing trend this spring is an uptick in live musical performances at silent film screenings, one of the most transcendent experiences filmgoers can have, and only in a theater. The Freer Gallery of Art will play host to the Baltimore ensemble Boister as it performs its original score for D.W. Griffith’s 1916 classic “Intolerance”; later, the museum will present the Japanese vampire thriller “Sanguivorous” with live saxophone and percussion. The McLean Community Center will show a series of silent classics with composer Ben Model performing his original scores on piano. And the Smithsonian American Art Museum will bring in composer Andrew Simpson to perform his original score for the 1928 drama “The Wind” These are all reasons to celebrate Washington in the springtime — lovely outdoors to be sure, but just as glorious inside, in the dark.