April showers are about to give way to May flowers both on the ground and on the big screen, where the first offerings of the summer movie season will soon pop up. In chronological order, here are the best film events in Denver this May.
10. Denver Silent Film Festival
April 28 through May 1
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
Silence is golden — especially when it comes to the original format that ruled the silver screen from the turn of the twentieth century until sound came roaring in like the MGM lion in 1927. Hundreds of films were produced during this golden era that continue to deserve examination, and that is the ongoing mission of the Denver Silent Film Festival at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. DSFF has picked a handful of these cinematic gems — from an epic retelling of Ben-Hur to nearly forgotten comedy classics and melodramas — and aligned them with great music as well as live discussions.
Asked to pick his fave of the fest, DSFF director Howie Movshovitz responds: “I hate to single films out, because [archivist] David Shepard and I put the program together with care and affection for all of the films, but we’re showing two films with Lon Chaney that give a good sense of his depth as an actor — and his weirdness: The Unholy Three and The Phantom of the Opera. Chaney had a lot of nerve as an actor. He seems to absorb himself into a character to an extent that in itself is unsettling. And for a good antidote to Chaney's strangeness, take a look at His Wooden Wedding in the comedy program — Charley Chase can be quite (delightfully) nuts. Here he plays a guy about to be married when the jealous best man slips a note in his pocket with some utterly ridiculous information about the bride that sends Charley into a tizzy. And one more suggestion, although I love every film we've chosen: Lois Weber, the director of The Blot, was the leading woman filmmaker in this country in the late 'teens and early twenties. She looked at the lives of women, set scenes in kitchens, back porches and grocery stores (places where those lives unfold) and took on major social questions.” Find the complete schedule and get tickets at denversilentfilmfest.org.
9. Arthouse Essentials
Wednesdays at 2 and 7 p.m., May 4 - June 29
Landmark Chez Artiste Theater
Leave it to the theater with the fanciest name in the Landmark group, the Chez Artiste, to build a series focused not on Hollywood classics, but on the foreign greats that first made this "arthouse" chain stand out. The weekly, two-month-long series starts with great French director François Truffaut and his youth-centered The 400 Blows. The international cinematic flight takes off from there to Sweden for Ingmar Bergman’s little-seen The Magician, then to Spain for Victor Erice’s haunting The Spirit of the Beehive and to Italy for Fellini’s heartbreaking La Strada, starring the great Giulietta Masina. Be sure to hold on to your passport for June’s showings of masterworks from Satyajit Ray (The Music Room), Powell & Pressburger (Black Narcissus), Rene Clement (Forbidden Games) and Jean Renoir (The River). Fasten your seat belts for a round-the-world adventure, and get tickets at landmarktheaters.com.
8. RSC Shorts Fest
Taking its first run at film programming, the Reel Social Club, the Denver Film Society’s young-professionals group, has curated a clutch of bite-sized entertainment for a solid weekend celebrating cinema’s “fun size” short film. Presented by LivWell, one of Denver’s best and biggest dispensaries, the fest has every kind of short lined up — documentary, animated, music video, dramatic, experimental and beyond — as well as a special Liquid Brunch on the last day of the fest. For passes and tickets, go to denverfilm.org.
7. Captain America: Civil War
Opens May 8
Various Denver Theaters
Now that the Marvel universe has expanded in dozens of directions and we’ve gotten a grasp on who’s who and why all the superheroes are pulling on their underoos to do battle all over the galaxy, we can start to look at the biggest hero of this Phase One rollout: Captain America. When Iron Man gives the Cap an ultimatum, it draws a line down the middle of the power group, forcing other members to pick sides. This, of course, promises to create one bombastic spectacle that will kick off the summer movie season with a superpowered “kapow.” Find theaters and tickets at fandango.com.
6. Film on the Rocks
Begins May 12
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
The seventeenth season of movies under the stars in the country’s best outdoor auditorium is starting early with Purple Rain, added the day after rock genius Prince’s passing. Tickets to this epic event sold out in under 24 hours — with an additional group of tickets selling out even faster — but if you weren’t lucky enough to grab your own, there are eight more great film programs, all featuring bands and local comedians. Offerings range from a sing-a-long version of Grease to true classic Citizen Kane, cult favorite The Big Lebowski, Ferris Bueller celebrating a special birthday, family fave The Sandlot, a David Bowie tribute with Labyrinth, the bloody comedy of Deadpool, and new hit Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A night at FOTR is like going to the most amazing drive-in theater, but without any pesky exhaust or buggy speakers. See the full schedule and get your tickets at denverfilm.org.
Keep reading for five more great film events.
5. Belladonna of Sadness
Opens May 13
Sie FilmCenter and Alamo Drafthouse
As the story was told at the 2015 Fantastic Fest in Austin, a few years ago the brains behind Cinelicious, a film-production house that restores classic films, asked the brains behind L.A.’s famed Cinefamily Theater what movie in the history of movies most deserved a restoration and re-release? The answer, somewhat jokingly, was Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness, a gorgeous 1973 watercolored and animated tale of a woman whose life is torn apart when she’s raped at the hands of a king and his court and given back, shamed and broken, to her husband — who cuts her loose and sends her right into the hands of the devil, who promises great power and revenge for the small sum of her soul. This animated film with a very mature subject shocked and enticed audiences, but it was soon lost, talked about in a small circle of cinephiles who, if they were lucky, passed bootleg VHS copies back and forth, entranced by the film’s breathtaking looks and story. Forty-three years later, Cinelicious took the Cinefamily suggestion to heart, and the result is a brand-new digital restoration of the animated classic, with a plan to put the movie back in movie theaters, where it belongs. For screenings at the Sie, click here; for those at the Alamo, click here.
4. Blue Velvet
Opens May 13
Thirty years ago, filmmaker David Lynch shocked film-goers with his dark and twisted vision of the evil behind the seemingly happy facade of every American city: Blue Velvet. Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern star as a sweet-as-apple-pie young couple whose romance goes sour when a troubled lounge singer (Isabella Rossellini) and a severed ear come into the picture — and it turns out that a nightmarish world of criminals and murder lie underneath the green grass of Anytown, USA. Now the film has been lovingly restored for its thirtieth anniversary and will hit the Sie for a week’s worth of screenings and, with any luck, Pabst Blue Ribbon specials. Get your tickets at denverfilm.org.
3. High Rise
Opens May 13
TBD Landmark Theatre
British filmmaker Ben Wheatley has quickly built a following with a series of hits that have exercised different muscles in his filmmaking mind: the thrilling Kill List, hilariously dark Sightseers, quizzically delicious A Field in England, and now High Rise. Based on the beloved cult novel by counterculture scribe J.G. Ballard, the film stars Tom Hiddleston as a well-off bachelor who moves into a state-of-the-art apartment complex in the 1970s and watches as class tensions begin to spread through every floor, slowly erupting in a battleground between the eccentric haves and the angry have-nots. With this film, Wheatley plugs into a Stanley Kubrick aesthetic and goes full-tilt boogie, creating a nasty space between A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Dr Strangelove. When the dust clears, you may never look at your neighbor the same way — but maybe you shouldn't have been looking at that neighbor in the first place. Bonus points go to trip-hop masters Portishead, who climbed out of exile to record a blistering cover of ABBA’s "S.O.S." that appears in the film just when it’s needed. Get tickets at landmarktheaters.com.
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2. The Nice Guys
Opens May 20
Various Denver Theaters
In the gamble that is Hollywood, it’s generally a safe bet to put your money on writer Shane Black, who created some of the wittiest, darkest and most satisfying screenplays for memorable films of the ’80s and ’90s: Lethal Weapon, The Monster Squad, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. In 2005 he stepped into a writer/director role with his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and then took a spin through the superhero universe with Iron Man 3. But originality has always been his strong suit, and now Black is back with The Nice Guys, a crime comedy that stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a pro hit man and very amateur PI who uncover a conspiracy in 1977 Los Angeles. Previews spill plenty of the expected Black wit, with Gosling taking on a bumbling role that seems to fit him like a glove; there's also a special cameo with Kim Basinger (reuniting with Crowe almost twenty years after their L.A. Confidential). Find theaters and tickets at fandango.com.
1. Scream Screen: The Films of John Carpenter
Saturdays, May 28 through June 18
Scream Screen, our Best of Denver 2016 winner for Best Recurring Classic Film Series, hosted and curated by Best Bloodthirsty Host Theresa Mercado, will return to the Sie FilmCenter in May with a big-screen tribute to horror master John Carpenter. The series will launch with a special 35mm presentation of Halloween, the film that put the filmmaker and producing partner Debra Hill on the horror-movie map. "John Carpenter co-invented the slasher genre with Halloween, alongside films like Bob Clark's Black Christmas and Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre," says Mercado. "He gave the world one of the greatest maniacs in the slasher canon with Michael Myers, created one of the first horror franchises, and gave scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis her first feature-film role — and that was all accomplished with one film." The tribute is being laid out like a cinematic red carpet to welcome the famed horror auteur, who'll be at the Gothic Theatre in late June for a rare performance of his new music and (let's hope) some of his great film soundtracks. After Halloween, the series moves on to showcase The Thing, Christine and his underappreciated Prince of Darkness. Add some chills to your summer heat and celebrate a talented filmmaker who played our emotions like strings for decades. Tickets at denverfilm.org.