In an era of digital streaming on any device—and already four decades since the introduction of the VCR and the home theater—I still love going to the movie theater. Though I can get annoyed by the noisy popcorn-chewing or loud whispers, and while I am that woman who will tell you to put your phone away, I find the movie theater to be a social sanctuary—not a sanctuary from society, but one that allows me to retreat into a social experience, even if the sociality of the event remains only implicit.
Oriental Theater, Milwawkee:
Appalling as the name is to a contemporary audience, it’s also a mark of its time: the golden age of the picture palace. Built in 1927, its main theater is extraordinarily expansive, and two small theaters sit upstairs, where the balcony once was. When I moved to Milwaukee, I fell in love with this theater and the drugstore next to it (complete with serpentine counter seating and the best breakfast in town). I thought to myself: “I can live in this city.”
Action Christine, Paris:
I go to Paris to walk, eat pastries and become steeped in the city’s film culture. In the 1920s filmmakers and writers tested the bounds of what constituted film. In the 1940s cinephiles banded together to secretly watch U.S. films in the midst of the Nazi occupation. The political uprising of 1968 began with a protest over the firing of Cinémathèque Française co-founder Henri Langlois. Action Christine regularly plays U.S. noir films of the 1940s, and there I saw Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944), with my new friend Jordan, a senior citizen who would get me into films for half price with coupons from the newspaper.
Landmark Sunshine Cinema, New York City:
Perhaps it’s not the most beautiful or the most accessible theater in town, but the Sunshine on Houston does show the best films. I saw Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke, 2003) with my friend Patty while she knitted beside me. I watched Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012) with my cousin Paul, astounded by the film’s fiercely intimate beauty. I went alone to see Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2004) and stumbled home, overcome with sadness.
Amherst Cinema, Amherst, Mass.:
An arthouse theater that actively serves its community, Amherst Cinema also serves wine, tea, baked goods and popcorn (with nutritional yeast on the side!). Its screening rooms are fully raked, so any seat, barring the first two rows in the smaller rooms (and the whole of the “studio room”), is perfect. I take my students there every semester, and 95 percent of them say they’ve never seen anything like it.
Living Room Theaters, Portland, Ore.:
One of the newest theaters in my hometown, the Living Room is the place to be on a Monday or Tuesday. All screenings are $5, and if you go for a matinee, you can get a lunch special for $6–8. The seats are plush, and you can see films that are not playing anywhere else in town. Home for the holidays, I snuck away one afternoon to see Things to Come, Mia Hansen-Løve’s film about a red-haired middle-aged philosophy professor—Isabelle Huppert’s less salacious 2016 role.