It occurs to me that the celebration of major holidays, and the boisterously satisfying gathering of family and friends, isn’t about denying our existential plight and inevitable fate but grabbing it by the throat and laughing in its face. An element of relishing the joys of this season is shaking our fists at the darkness and renewing our vows to spread light and justice ever wider. (A thousand poets — and sitcom writers and greeting-card wits — have said it better, but you get my drift.) From a movie-going standpoint, we aren’t bamboozled or satisfied by gooey fairy tales this time of year, but ask instead that bad behavior be acknowledged — then rectified, punished and/or redeemed. Here’s a compendium of December picks in which (almost) everyone ultimately emerges a better person.

Still from <i>Polvo</i>
Still from Polvo

The Other Cinema spotlights its Mission District ‘hood on Dec. 6 with deeply personal work by three Latina filmmakers united as La Caca Colectiva (we won’t translate.) Dolissa Medina returns to her adopted city from Berlin to present the world premiere of The Crow Furnace, a poignant collage film mourning the displacement of longtime San Franciscans. Vero Majano revisits the Los Siete murder case via rare footage of the Mission in the ‘70s, and Angela Reginato screens her moving memoir Polvo. ‘Tis the season to contemplate endings, beginnings and the mixed blessings of memory. For more information, visit I’d be remiss if I didn’t also direct you to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for their survey of four new films from south of the border, New Waves in Mexican Cinema, playing Dec. 4-21.

Still from King Lear
Still from King Lear

Tom Luddy, longtime co-director of the Telluride Film Festival, is one of those guys whose extensive behind-the-scenes contributions to contemporary film — from introducing filmmakers from different continents to each other to making a call to open a key door for a talented unknown — are completely invisible to the public. Luddy downplays his influence and rarely makes personal appearances, but he returns to the Pacific Film Archive, which he headed many, many moons ago, on Dec. 12 to introduce Jean-Luc Godard’s modern-day riff on King Lear (1987). Familial betrayal may provide the hook, but Godard’s astonishing and audacious marriages of image and sound are the reward. For more information, visit

Home Alone at SF Symphony
Home Alone at SF Symphony

Home invasion is no laughing matter, unless your abode is equipped with an eight-year-old aiming his creative faculties and innate destructive streak against the inept intruders. The Christmastime classic Home Alone (1990) screens Dec. 12 and 13 at Davies Hall with the SF Symphony performing John Williams’ rousing score and local children’s choruses singing the carols. Relive those heady days before Macauley Culkin became a staple of the tabloids (and subsequently mounted a comeback), the gifted John Hughes died and the eminently likable Chris Columbus went totally soft and sentimental. For more information, visit

Still from O. Henry
Still from O. Henry’s Full House

One tried-and-true method for washing away the sins of the year just ending, and getting in the mood for another 12 months of vicarious malevolence, is with Noir City Xmas. Everyone’s favorite double-breasted impresario, Eddie Muller, takes the occasion to remind us that the annual January wingding of down-on-their-luck dames and luckless mugs is just around the corner (of the bar) by digging a double bill of seasonal treats out of the vault. This year’s show unspools Dec. 17 at the Castro and includes O. Henry’s Full House (1952), a little-seen anthology film of the author’s pinpoint short stories, including “The Gift of the Magi,” and Val Lewton’s The Curse of the Cat People (1944), the moody saga of a young girl with an imaginary friend. If you’re seeking something a tad more child-friendly at San Francisco’s movie palace, The Muppet Christmas Carol screens on Dec. 21. For more information, visit

The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz

Nobody would call The Wizard of Oz (1939) kid-friendly, would they? It’s a freak-show nightmare of exile, disorientation, flying monkeys and talking lions. Who spiked Frank L. Baum’s eggnog, anyway? I jest, of course, for there’s no more transporting, exhilarating film to pull back, then ring down, the curtain after this strange, distressing year. The Paramount Theatre in Oakland beckons on Dec. 26. For more information, visit

5 to Watch: Flickering Solstice Shadows 1 December,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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