Independent theaters offer unlikely cinematic gems

The Grove and the ArcLight Hollywood are the Los Angeles theaters most associated with the modern moviegoing experience. Of course, stadium seating and state-of-the-art digital picture and sound aren’t complete without exorbitant ticket prices and a dearth of choices besides the latest Hollywood fare (The Landmark and the ArcLight Hollywood are, generally, exceptions in variety but not price).

Scattered around this great city, hidden far away from the hustle of the average multiplex, are single-screen treasures that host a variety of revival series, indie gems and foreign films. They are mostly old, sometimes a little run down and, best of all, never digital — giving audiences the increasingly rare chance to hear the soothing heartbeat of a real film projector. Some are independently owned and some aren’t, but they all strive toward the same end — maintaining the credibility of the city whose name is most synonymous with cinema.

Screensaver · The Vista shows new releases in a cozy setting. The Aero Theatre screens American and foreign classics. - Leah Thompson and Mike Lee | Daily Trojan

Screensaver · The Vista shows new releases in a cozy setting. The Aero Theatre screens American and foreign classics. - Leah Thompson and Mike Lee | Daily Trojan

The Aero Theatre

One of the two local theaters operated by the American Cinematheque, the Aero Theatre features classic film double features almost exclusively. This aging Westside theater deals mostly in film series, with Hitchcock or Wilder being popular repeat programs. Yet the programs are never limited to the American giants and vary wildly from month to month. During the winter, the American Cinematheque hosts numerous advance screenings of movies as Oscar-bait, usually featuring Q&A with directors. With the heartrending end of the film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art looming this fall, the Aero and its sister theater, the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, will stand alone together as the best places to regularly see classic films on the big screen.

1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

The Downtown Independent

Until a recent change in ownership, this beautifully designed little movie house near Downtown was the awkwardly named ImaginAsian Center. Unfortunately, the Downtown Independent is located just close enough to the rougher parts of the city to scare off weak-stomached potential patrons — its next door neighbor is one of the rowdiest bars around. The programming is inconsistent, made up mostly of screening series or single showings of very independent movies. For example, last year they celebrated the work of schlock auteur Uwe Boll (featuring a special appearance by the man himself) and this year hosted several films from the Japanese International Film Festival. Their films are eclectic enough to warrant a bookmark on the Downtown Independent calendar for occasional browsing. Possibly the best part about this theater is its proximity to Little Tokyo — Japanese cuisine is a must after an evening showing.

251 S. Main Street, Los Angeles


The Nuart Theatre

After the tragic closure of the Rialto in Pasadena, the Nuart Theatre stands as the last of the Landmark-owned single screens in Los Angeles. This older, somewhat artlessly designed yet undeniably charming theater lies on the outliers of Bruin country in Westwood, and boasts probably the best midnight movie programming in the city — often cult films and classic blockbusters share the marquee from week to week. The Rocky Horror Picture Show runs every Saturday at midnight, and the daytime programming skews toward films too indie or foreign to play at the nearby Landmark theater in the Westside Pavillion.

11272 Santa Monica Boulevard., Los Angeles

The Vista

The Vista offers one of the few urban moviegoing experiences that resembles a night out at one of the famous Hollywood movie palaces of yore. This ancient holdover from the golden years, located conveniently in the Scientology section of east Hollywood, boasts internal architecture that is either gorgeous or tacky – depending on personal preferences. They play mostly first-run Hollywood films, but the atmosphere — not the billing — is really the reason to visit the Vista. Beware: consistent with the old-school setting, the Vista does not accept credit cards.

4473 Sunset Drive, Hollywood


The Silent Movie Theatre

Bursting with Hollywood history both bright and shadowy, this amazing movie house recently underwent an expensive renovation on the behalf of its new owners, the Cinefamily. The new owners also imported a far more wide-reaching series of programs into the theater which, obviously, used to feature only silent films. That tradition remains on Silent Wednesdays, but the Silent Movie Theater is also home to music shows, speaker engagements and other programs truly too weird to explain. Like the Downtown Independent, you never know what gems (and duds) you’ll find buried on their calendar. Silent films are fun, too, for all you critical studies students.

611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles