There are too few opportunities to enjoy the art of cinema at its best. It requires an near-miraculous fusion of all the elements, perfectly projected on a big screen to an appreciative audience. If you don’t have a private screening room you are limited to the American Cinematheque, and a handful of Academy offerings. To fill the void, the Hammer’s Billy Wilder Theater is hosting The Contenders, a series of nine new releases selected by the Museum of Modern Art Film Department. The goal is to show features from around the world that are up for awards and deserve enduring fame. Most have had limited theatrical distribution, crowded out by mindless blockbusters and the endless stream of Hollywood drivel. As a bonus, directors and actors will engage in post-screening discussions.
The Contenders got off to a rousing start with Snowpiercer, an exuberant end-of-humanity thriller set in the near future. Global warming has been displaced by a new Ice Age and a high-speed train serves as an Ark for an eclectic mix of survivors. Like all good movies it recalls classics—notably Metropolis, in which oppressed slaves rise up against their overlords and destroy themselves in the process. Korean director Bong Joon-ho is a master of narrative and rapid cutting, compelling us to suspend disbelief and share the suspense.
Titles to come include Nightcrawler (December 18), which follows a freelance videographer who haunts nocturnal LA as the phographer Weegee did, many decades ago. Following the holidays, the series resumes on January 5 with The Imitation Game, a tragic portrait of mathematical genius Alan Turing, who broke the Nazi codes, saved Britain from defeat, and became a victim of his country’s homophobia. On January 6, it’s Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s documentary encounter with Edward Snowden. And the following night, The Theory of Everything focuses on Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds in the world, who has defied paralysis to advance the frontiers of science. These and the other features in the series are not to be missed and will never be forgotten.