It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas for moviegoers, with the year-end onslaught of “prestige” pictures prowling for gold statuettes well underway. To some, the Oscar bait films (along with the usual handful of pandering PG-13 comedies) provide a reprieve from those fraught holiday visits to the ancestral homestead. Consider, though, that most of us discovered movies through our parents. Going to the theater was a family outing; if you grew up in the home-video age, Movie Night on the couch in front of the VCR or DVD was likewise a communal event. (Unless those Orville Redenbacher commercials were a fantasy. Wait — please don’t tell me.) My modest proposal is that rather than going to the movies this season to escape your relatives, you go with them.

EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE! HOLIDAY SPECIAL! 2012! TRAILER! from Everything Is Terrible! on Vimeo.

A trend-oriented writer made some hay a few years back by arguing that Generation Whatever had coalesced into tribes, which served as surrogate families. Gather your tribe — or is the correct word now “posse” or “crew?” — and head down to the Roxie on Friday, December 7, 2012 for Everything Is Terrible! Holiday Special 2012! The Cataclysmic Transformation! Your allergies to exclamation points notwithstanding, this annual touring program of excavated and expurgated home videotapes offers a cathartic cleansing of family/holiday phobias through the recorded-for-posterity celebrations and psychodramas of total strangers. The Everything Is Terrible masterminds promise a stage show with puppets, sing-a-longs and Santa to augment the therapeutic and harrowing-slash-entertaining VHS treats. For more information, visit

Another perennial tradition, one that honors the innovation, technology, craft and art of early motion pictures, is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences show A Century Ago: The Films of 1912. The two-hour program, of pristine archival prints, curated and hosted by AMPAS honcho Randy Haberkamp with piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla (jetting up from L.A.) and featuring showman Jon Rinaudo with his restored 1909 hand-cranked projector, unspools Monday, December 10, 2012 at San Rafael’s lovely and comfy Smith Rafael Film Center. Attendees of previous programs have raved to yours truly, touting the evening as terrifically entertaining exposure to the evolution of film grammar and technique. For more information, visit Also of note, the Rafael presents a matinee screening of White Christmas (1954) on Sunday, December 9 with historian and visual-effects maven Craig Barron on hand to talk about the widescreen format VistaVision.

Like the Everything Is Terrible enfants terrible, collector and impresario Rick Prelinger traffics in citizen films from the past. But rather than reveling in bad behavior, his seventh annual Lost Landscapes of San Francisco show has a historical, architectural and sociological emphasis. This year’s collection, presented Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at the Castro, features rallies for China Relief in the ’30s and footage of the Western Addition when it was a Japanese-American enclave, as well as a slew of previously unscreened color film and crowd-pleasing shots of that eternal lost treasure, Sutro Baths. If you’ve never attended a Prelinger show, he openly declares that audience participation is an essential component. For more information visit

Secularists, skeptics, atheists, agnostics, pagans, heretics, cat worshippers and anti-capitalists understandably get cheesed off by the season’s religious and commercial aspects. Other Cinema serves that grog-swilling constituency Saturday, December 15, 2012 with Beyond Belief? Incredibly Strange Religion. This jaw-dropping survey of oddball dogma ranges from the 1972 Mormon short Ancient America Speaks to a 16mm chunk of the late Peter Adair’s amazing 1967 documentary Holy Ghost People. Along with a multitude of other impassioned invocations, the Other calendar lists “Satanic backward-masking abominations and free red wine.” Admission? $6.66. For more information visit

If your family resides in the Bay Area, or you’re hosting your far-flung family’s bacchanal this year, the Castro offers the definitive movie-magic, feel-good film: Singin’ in the Rain. Equal parts dance musical, romantic comedy and tongue-in-cheek homage to Hollywood history (the plot is driven by the risky, wrenching transition from silent films to talkies), the immortal 1952 showcase (playing Wednesday, December 26, 2012) for the extravagant talents and charm of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds will even make the Scrooge in your family — or tribe — smile. For more information visit

Home For the Holidays: 5 to Watch 8 September,2014Michael Fox


Michael Fox

Michael Fox has written about film for a variety of publications since 1987. He is the curator and host of the long-running Friday night CinemaLit film series at the Mechanics’ Institute,  an instructor in the OLLI programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State, and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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