Like, say, Fellini or Godard, Akira Kurosawa is one of those directors everyone knows is important but not someone whose films everyone (in this country, anyway) has seen. His work was groundbreaking, and plenty of the films he made were later remade (sometimes officially, sometimes not) into American pictures like, oh, Star Wars, A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven.
If you're interested in the originals, you're in luck. The San Diego Asian Film Festival is putting on a weeklong retrospective of the Japanese master's movies at the UltraStar Chula Vista. All six films star Kurosawa's leading man, Toshiro Mifune—even Hidden Fortress, the Star Wars inspiration. There's also Yojimbo (that'd be where Fistful of Dollars came from) and The Seven Samurai (you get the idea), as well as High and Low, Ikiru and the movie that planted Kurosawa firmly in the international spotlight, Rashoman, a deep investigation into the nature of crime, punishment and justice told via flashbacks from four different people, each remembering their version of the same crime. Tickets are $8 apiece. The complete lineup can be found at www.sdaff.org.
A Secret: French actor Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) stars as the patriarch of a Jewish family in Paris after World War II whose son discovers a devastating secret about how he came to be.
Cadillac Records: Adrien Brody is Leonard Chess of the legendary Chess Records, who introduced the world to the likes of Etta James (Beyonce), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright).
Hounddog: In the South during the 1950s, young Lewellen (Dakota Fanning) has had a horrendous upbringing, but she finds solace and meaning in the music of a young Elvis Presley. The movie's best known, however, for the Dakota Fanning rape scene. Ick.
Nobel Son: Young Barkley Michaelson has always lived in the shadow of his father, a brilliant, womanizing intellectual (ruthlessly played by Alan Rickman). So it's no surprise that when he's kidnapped for his dad's Nobel Prize money, his old man doesn't want to give it up. The cast also includes Mary Steenburgen, Bill Pullman, Ted Danson, Eliza Dushku and Danny DeVito.
Punisher: War Zone: The Marvel movie about the ruthless vigilante has a new star, as well as a director who was fired during post-production. Still, it also has Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty in The Wire) as the bad guy. It's this year's ultra-violent holiday movie.
Were the World Mine: A gay teen cast as Puck in his high school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream manages to turn his entire homophobic town gay for a brief period of time—because, Lord, what fools these mortals be.
One time only
Bad Santa: Fuck me, Santa! Fuck me, Santa! Billy Bob Thornton is a drunken department-store St. Nick who's casing the joints where he works. Screens at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Calamari strikes back! Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
Cheap Trick Live at Budokan: Hey, they still need you to need them. Catch a documentary about the greatest live album ever, chock full of footage Americans haven't had a chance to see outside the bootleg circuit. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, at UltraStars Hazard Center, Chula Vista, and Oceanside.
Babette's Feast: The Oceanside Museum of Art continues its Culinary Cinema Series with this 1998 Best Foreign Language Oscar winner. There's a reception at 5:30 p.m., film at 6 and a hefty French meal after the lights come up, all on Saturday, Dec. 6, at OMA. There are a limited number of seats, so call 760-435-3721 for reservations. $60 members, $75 non.
Inheritance: A documentary about Monika Hertwig, the daughter of brutal Nazi death-camp commandant Amon Goeth, and her struggles to live down her pop's legacy. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace: Two flicks about the human body that have nothing to do with porn! In the 1966 classic Voyage, a submarine enters the body of a diplomat in order to save him, while in Innerspace, Dennis Quaid goes deep into the heart of Martin Short. Better than a cavity search! Voyage screens at 3 p.m., Innerspace at 5 on Sunday, Dec. 7, in Studio 106 in the Art Union Building in Golden Hill. Free, but RSVP to email@example.com because seating is limited.
The Bishop's Wife: Let the holiday movies begin. This is the original, not the remake with Denzel and Whitney. David Niven is the bishop who prays for guidance, and Cary Grant is the angel who shows up to give it. Loretta Young is the title character, caught between them. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Careless: A twisted little comedy starring Colin (son of Tom) Hanks as a dude who finds a severed finger in his kitchen. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 8, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
Killer Nun: Sister Gertrude's a nun with more than one habit—she's way into morphine, which leads her wayward hospital into torture, murder and, worst of all, lesbianism! Part of the Fear Minus One exhibit at the University Art Gallery. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, at Porter's Pub on the UCSD campus. Free.
Invisible Children: Rough Cut: Locally made documentary from the nonprofit group Invisible Children about child soldiers in Uganda. Hard to watch, sure, but it might inspire you to do some good in the new year. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, at Lestat's in Normal Heights. Free.
Helvetica: Documentary about the font you probably use all the time. Unless you're one of those Times New Roman bitches. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
Warren Miller's Children of Winter: Some of us hate the snow. But all of us love that crazy Warren Miller action—the kind of rock 'n' roll skiing you can't find on YouTube. The latest movie plays all over the area, including the La Paloma Theater in Encinitas, the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla and the Village Theater in Carlsbad, Wednesday, Dec. 10, through Sunday, Dec. 14. Tickets and showtimes are at www.warrenmiller.com.
Elf: Yes, he is our anchorman. But the Will Ferrell backlash begins right here and now. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Australia: Baz Luhrman comes from a land down under, where women glow and men plunder. The glowing lady, in this case, is Nicole Kidman, who plays an uptight Brit, while Hugh Jackman is the looter. Of course, all three are from Australia, the setting for Luhrman's epic romance adventure. Sort of like a landlocked Titanic.
Four Christmases: Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn are a married couple whose vacation plans fall through, so they're forced to spend the big day with their insane families. Just like, you know, the rest of us.
Milk: Sean Penn delivers yet another tremendous performance as the first openly gay elected politician in the country, Harvey Milk, who was assassinated, along with the mayor of San Francisco, in 1978. Gus Van Sant directs, but the movie is all Penn, and it is nothing if not timely in light of Prop 8.
Transporter 3: Apparently, Jason Statham hasn't moved on from the franchise that turned him into an action star. Go figure.
A Christmas Tale: Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric (the current Bond baddie) have way too much to deal with when their entire clan comes home for the holidays amid Deneuve's cancer diagnosis. Yes, it's another dysfunctional family Christmas—but since it's French, hopefully it won't wallow in sentimentality.
Bolt: Disney's latest animated adventure takes a page from Pixar's playbook. John Travolta is a TV-star dog who takes a fantastic journey outside the studio, where he learns he doesn't have the powers he thinks he does.
Slumdog Millionaire: The new one from Danny Boyle is the first absolute must-see movie of the year. A young, uneducated Indian man is tortured by police who want to find how he knows all the questions he's gotten right on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The answers are all in his life story, which is full of poverty, abuse, hopes for true love, and the crossroads between coincidence and destiny.
Twilight: Never heard of Twilight? It's like Harry Potter, with vampires, for tweens and their moms, all of whom react to it like desperate meth addicts. If you have heard of Twilight, you know we're telling the truth.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: During WWII, Bruno and his parents move to a picturesque country home, and nearby, he meets a boy wearing striped PJs who's on the other side of a fence. Turns out Bruno's dad's been transferred to Auschwitz, and the little fella has to learn the hard way that Jews aren't so bad after all.
Quantum of Solace: Remember how awesome the Daniel Craig '06 James Bond franchise reboot was? Well, even though the new one takes place about 20 minutes after Casino Royale ended, this one isn't awesome at all.
Let the Right One In: Young Oskar falls for a 12-year-old girl who happens to be a vampire whose father slaughters young boys. Yep, it's your average love story, and this one's gorgeously shot and filled with garish violence, high emotion and a shining young cast.
Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa: Stranded animated animals try to make it back to NYC but wind up in Africa.
Role Models: Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott are two juvenile dudes sentenced to work with real juveniles—one of whom is Chris “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse—as community service.
Synecdoche, New York: Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is a glorious, sprawling mess. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a theater director who builds a life-size replica of NYC in a warehouse. Yes, life-size.
Changeling: Angelina Jolie is actually very good as Christine Collins, a single mother whose son vanished in 1928 in Clint Eastwood's new film, based upon true events. When the LAPD brings back the wrong boy and insists he's hers, she resists, ending up in a mental ward. It's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest crossed with Zodiac and L.A. Confidential.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Believe it or not, Kevin Smith's new film is his most adult yet—in more ways than one. Yes, Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) set out to make porn to pay their bills, but they fall in love along the way. It's got Smith's trademark rat-a-tat raunchy dialog, and Rogen and Banks are great together.
Happy-Go-Lucky: Mike Leigh's new one is a change in direction from his recent work. Instead of exploring the seamy underbelly of the human condition, he looks at Poppy (Sally Hawkins), an effervescent schoolteacher who won't grow up. She's sort of infectious, sort of annoying, but the effect she has on everyone around her is far more real than, say, Peter Pan.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year: But we missed the first two, lalala!
Secret Life of Bees: Dakota Fanning runs away with her housekeeper, Jennifer Hudson, ending up at the home of three African-American sisters in South Carolina in 1964. Queen Latifah is the matriarch, Alicia Keys the rebellious sister.
W: Oliver Stone directs and Josh Brolin plays the title character in this Lone Star melodrama. We just wish it had come out several years earlier, because we're so fucking sick of George W. Bush.
Body of Lies: Ridley Scott teams Russell Crowe with Leonardo DiCaprio for this spy thriller, about a CIA agent going after a terrorist leader in Jordan and doesn't know who he can trust on his own team. DiCaprio is the good guy. Maybe.
Rachel Getting Married: The herky-jerky handheld camera in Jonathan Demme's new movie mirrors the emotional turmoil of Kym (Anne Hathaway), just out of rehab to attend her sister's wedding. There's Oscar buzz surrounding Hathaway, who is equal parts toxic and pathetic but ultimately someone worth pulling for.
Religulous: Bill Maher travels the world, talking to different people about a God he doesn't believe in.
Fireproof: Kirk Cameron takes a break from those Left Behind movies to play a super-brave firefighter who doesn't have the courage to stand up to his own wife. Until, you know, something with Jesus.
Burn After Reading: The Coen brothers' new film is a thriller-comedy reuniting bromancers Pitt and Clooney. Pitt, along with Frances McDormand, is a gym employee who blackmails a gnarly ex-CIA guy (John Malkovich) who leaves his unpublished memoirs behind after a workout. Let's hope it's more Fargo than The Ladykillers.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: No, it's not a time warp—the love-it-or-hate-it camp classic continues its midnight run in its 37th year of release. When the lead character of the film is a transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter, you know you're in for some seriously trashy viewing. And, of course, this is the one movie where you want the audience shouting at the screen. Screens Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas.