FIRST: Leave the goddamn house.
While most cities are strangled by soulless multiplexes, Portland has a wealth of fantastic independent theaters. As chains like Regal dole out stale concessions, pre-show commercials, and lousy picture and sound (even as they're investigated by the US Department of Justice for possible violations of antitrust laws, and even as they're party to the even worse crime of letting fuckwits text during movies), Portland's other, better theaters reflect and contribute to the city's character and economy. In the process, they've made our city an unexpected haven for cinephiles.
These days, any discussion of Portland's film scene has to start with the nonprofit Hollywood Theatre (4122 NE Sandy)—built in 1926, it's the reason the Hollywood District is named the Hollywood District. The theater's seen a radical turnaround in the past few years, becoming one of the best, most unique theaters in the country thanks to rare screenings, special events, and addictive series like Kung Fu Theater and Hecklevision. It's also the only place for hundreds of miles where you can see a movie in 70mm. While past screenings have included 2001: A Space Odyssey and Vertigo, word on the street is that this is where a certain western that Quentin Tarantino shot on 70mm might make its Portland debut.
You've got other great options: Thanks to recent renovations, Portland's premier arthouse joint, Cinema 21 (616 NW 21st), now boasts three screens instead of one. Its well-curated mix of domestic, foreign, and indie fare do the impossible: Make it worth enduring Northwest Portland's nightmarish parking and even more nightmarish yuppies.
If you're looking for first-run blockbusters, hit two local theaters: The Roseway Theater (7229 NE Sandy) offers cheap tickets, top-notch picture and sound, and the city's best popcorn in a comfy, single-screen theater. And on SE Hawthorne—and still boasting its balcony and towering ceiling—is the Bagdad Theater (3702 SE Hawthorne), hands-down the best spot to catch big-budget movies on opening weekend. With excellent picture and sound and new seats, it feels so much like an old-school movie palace that one can almost ignore all the McMenamins' hippie bullshit that lurks in the corners.
Nearly all the theaters above offer beer and/or wine—but if you want the most liquid refreshment for your buck, save on ticket prices at the Laurelhurst Theater (2735 E Burnside) or the Academy Theater (7818 SE Stark), where admission's $4. Both offer a frequently rotating selection of solid second-run titles, along with a weekly repertory selection or two. And pizza. And pitchers.
Offering no beer—and no food—is the NW Film Center (1219 SW Park), which screens films in the Whitsell Auditorium in the basement of the Portland Art Museum. At first, the Film Center can't help but feel stuffy, thanks to its moneyed, graying donors and the unshakable sense you're watching a movie in a lecture hall. But they've got some seriously great programming, and keeping tabs on their lineup will give you a chance to see stuff you can't catch anywhere else—like a recent series that tracked the films and influences of Paul Thomas Anderson, with everything from There Will Be Blood to Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope, all on 35mm.
And alright, alright: If you're going to insist on being a buzzkill and staying in, just leave the couch for a minute. In an era of streaming and stealing, watching movies at home has gotten significantly more convenient—and significantly more boring. Liven it up by swinging by one of Portland's video stores, which provide an instant reminder of how paltry and generic the selections on Netflix are. If you're in the neighborhood, duck into Clinton Street Video (2501 SE Clinton) or local chain VideoRama (2640 NE Alberta, 7522 N Lombard, and 2310 N Lombard).
But the reigning king remains Movie Madness (4320 SE Belmont), which is worth a trip across the street or across the city. Home to more than 80,000 films, Movie Madness offers new releases, but you'll promptly discover (or rediscover) the joy of stumbling across bizarre shit you wouldn't ever think to look for. This is the place to track down Werner Herzog's short films or Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, but the real fun comes from browsing the genre-specific sections for weirder stuff (check out sections like "Male Chauvinist Fantasies/Nightmares," "Rampaging Teenagers," "Turkish Action Cinema," and "Yahweh Is Angry") or perusing the oddities in directors' filmographies (in the shelves devoted to American auteurs, the works of Steven Soderbergh and Gus Van Sant sit inches from those of Tyler Perry). Movie Madness also boasts a museum's worth of original movie costumes and props—a knife from Psycho, Faye Dunaway's Bonnie and Clyde dress, John Wayne's Winchester from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Overhead—hanging from a chain, trapped in a net—sways one of those creepy-ass Mugwumps from David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. It stares down with alien eyes, silently approving of your decision to take advantage of Portland's movie offerings. Even if you're just headed right back to your couch, DVDs in hand.
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