There are other reasons to see movies during the summer than the tired old excuse that theaters are air-conditioned. Here in the Twin Cities, we have theaters so great, you’d go to them on a 100-degree day even if their A/C system was on the blink … or, for that matter, in the dead of winter with enfeebled heating.
(I have fond memories of sitting through Bela Tarr’s seven-hour Satantango at the now more or less defunct Oak Street Cinema in the middle of January. Knowing the theater ran pretty cold, I brought a knit blanket to wrap myself inside. Heat can be generated. Screenings of rare, ultra-lengthy Hungarian epics only come along once in a blue moon.)
In compiling this list, I’ve taken the intangibles into account: the theater’s character, its uniqueness, the breadth of its programming choices, and, yes, the quality of its popcorn. If your only criterion on theaters is that they contain seats that keep your bursitis in check while you dose off to yet another cookie-cutter rom-com or THX-spiked action assault, stop reading immediately and just find the nearest multiplex to you.
But if you’re curious to see the expansive diversity of filmic experiences to be had in Minneapolis-St. Paul, read on. These ten (well, actually eleven) selections are presented in no particular order.
Did I say “in no particular order?” I may have stretched the truth a bit. Because I can think of few other theaters in the metro area (if not the nation) that so elegantly exude utter superiority in atmosphere, selection, comfort, affordability, class, kitsch and technology. The Riverview Theater is a pace-setter in each of those arenas and more. A single-screen, second-run theater, the Riverview has been around for decades, a mainstay of Minneapolis’s south side. But in the last decade, all that gorgeously campy Space Age décor has been given a glossy coat, thanks to cushy stadium-style seating and state-of-the-art projection equipment. The theater’s selections strike a perfect balance between kid-friendly fare, Hollywood blockbusters, independent hits and midnight classics. They often open up the auditorium to project sporting events live. And did I mention that tickets there will only run you $2 or $3? Long live this Longfellow institution!
3258 Minnehaha Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55406
Trylon Microcinema’s Website
The pluckiest upstart in the Twin Cities, the Trylon Microcinema is to metro area movie theaters what the fort you fashioned from an empty television box was to your childhood bedroom. It’s a teeny, 50-seat hideaway, tucked away behind an art gallery on Minnehaha Avenue with downright minimal signage to alert you to its own existence. Walking in, you almost feel as though you’ve stepped onto the set of a Michel Gondry fantasy-noir about a scrappy theater thriving in the midst of a Prohibition-style ban on the moviegoing experience. Bathtub gin? No, but perhaps a little backroom Bunuel. The brainchild of cinephile extraordinaire Barry Kryshka, the Trylon is the mothership of the Take-Up repertory movement, which also branches out to some of the other theaters on this list. Month-to-month, the Trylon offers some of the metro area’s best programs. Early Cronenberg, late Hitchcock, even a touch of trash film debauchery for good (bad) measure (taste), the Trylon is your own private shoebox film school.
The Landmark Theatres Trifecta
The three theaters indie-centric chain Landmark runs out of the Twin Cities are justly considered the thinking person’s multiplex. If there’s a much-buzzed-about foreign film on the circuit or a crowd-pleasing festival hit, even money says it spends its first Friday night in the Twin Cities lighting up the screen at the stalwart Uptown Theater on Hennepin and Lagoon (incidentally, one of the only remaining theaters in the metro that still contains a balcony, if not the only … perhaps because the building dates back to the 1910s). The Uptown is also the first place for you to catch the newest cult sensations, which run Fridays and Saturdays at midnight. As if that weren’t enough, a whole cornucopia of world cinema can be found just down the street, at the Lagoon, and a few miles south, at the Edina location by 50th and France. OK, so sometimes their offerings can seem a little bit self-congratulatory and tres boutique. (The website description for Edina’s location actually calls the suburb “tony,” and seems to intend it as a compliment.) Swallow your snob guilt and continue broadening your horizons.
St. Anthony Main
When Minnesota Film Arts’ flagship Oak Street Cinema spent the better part of three years foundering in what many local cinephiles recognized as an agonizing living death, some of us were left wondering how its reputation could ever be rebuilt. As it turns out, it wasn’t. It was instead transplanted. Minnesota Film Arts trudged upriver and secured screen space at the pre-existing facilities of St. Anthony Main Theatre. The move also allowed them the opportunity to stage spring’s annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival in one convenient location, eliminating the need for metro cinephiles to dash madly from the latest Kiarostami to drive halfway across town to catch the new Assayas when it starts in 10 minutes. Sure, the seats are as uncomfortable as they were at the Oak Street, but that never stopped throngs of culture-starved moviegoers from filling that theater regularly. St. Anthony Main is the biggest comeback in recent memory.
One of the biggest comebacks in not-as-recent memory, on the other hand, is how a heinous, turquoise metal-wrapped garage of a movie theater on Central Avenue was flipped into one of the most charming throwbacks to a bygone era of moviegoing in the Twin Cities. The Heights (in Columbia Heights) was, in the late 1990s, about as personable as an equipment shed. But it entered the 21st century as a bejeweled, marquee’d, WCCO Wurlitzer organ-equipped wonder. Like many other one-screen palaces, the Heights balances its program between today’s blockbusters (the Harry Potter series) and yesteryear’s beloved classics (often of the frothy variety, like His Girl Friday and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). Lest nostalgia get the better of you, it’s also looking to the future, with high-definition broadcasts of operatic performances.
The Drive-In Duo: Vali-Hi and Cottage View
But hey, if nostalgia is your thing (and, as the circa 2007 photo above indicates, it’s definitely mine), you couldn’t do much better than to pile the family into the station wagon, stock up on hot dogs and popcorn, and take in a movie as dusk falls behind a giant outdoor screen and the crickets begin their chorus. Oh, and if you’re lucky, you might even get a quick smooch during the third feature. A relic of the ’50s? No, you can still get stranded at the drive-ins in Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove. The Vali-Hi and Cottage View are beloved throwbacks to the years when living the American dream had everything to do with your ride. Both offer double and even triple features (of today’s movies, that is, not Creature from the Black Lagoon) for the price of a single ticket, and have fully-stocked candy counters. The Vali-Hi even boasts an old-timey photo booth. No matter what Joni Mitchell sings, these drive-ins are one of the few places where paradise is a parking lot.
The Parkway first opened in the 1930s. At a certain point in the 1970s, the programming switched over to films … of a slightly more blue persuasion. In the 1980s, management changed and the Parkway became a purveyor of offbeat, little films, the sort of movies that often take a little bit of time and patience to build up an audience. (As a kid, I remember The Milagro Beanfield War on the marquee for months and months on end, but that could just be a product of time’s elasticity, especially when it comes to one’s early years.) The theater recently got a new boost when it was purchased by its neighbor, the Tex-Mex restaurant Pepito’s. Now, you can watch those same offbeat movies you could before … but in a restored interior with a margarita in your hand. Mmmm.
Walker Art Center
The Walker Art Center is one of the nation’s finest modern art museums. And, incidentally, it is also one of the great, under-heralded repertory movie theaters in the Twin Cities. Their comfortable auditorium offers everyone a clean view of the highest forms of film art, many of which are making their premiere appearance on Twin Cities screens. The center has recently hosted retrospectives of the radical cinema of Japanese master Nagisa Oshima, the punk avant-garde works of Kenneth Anger, the grounded, irascible films of Mike Leigh. Moving beyond single directors, the WAC has also brought a whole century’s worth of Chinese cinema to Minneapolis, and every year celebrates the works of female directors and movies depicting the diversity of the GLBT experience. Oh, and the museum recently installed possibly the greatest movie ever made: Chris Marker’s 1962 sci-fi short La Jetee.
Showplace ICON at West End
Up to this point, I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid multiplexes. As I said earlier, they all present, more or less, the same experience as the next. Only the saving grace of easy-to-score coupons and weekday discounts justify their existence. That said, the new Showplace ICON in St. Louis Park is trying to shake up the carbon-copy world of multiplexes by buttressing the one-stop-shop selection of movies with a truly premium theater experience, complete with dining options that breeze well beyond your standard buttered popcorn, Goobers and Icee combo. Using the Showplace ICON’s VIP premium reserved seating option, you can kick back for a screening of Sex and the City 2 with a pomegranate fizz martini and a loaded meat and cheese platter.
Great Clips IMAX Theatre at the Minnesota Zoo
One caveat: the Science Museum’s Omnitheater remains a Twin Cities institution, and a vertiginous audio-visual delight among large-format theaters. However, the Minnesota Zoo’s cavernous IMAX theater offers the chance to see some of today’s biggest blockbusters in the largest setting imaginable, in addition to the more traditional science-minded fare of space shuttle missions and bugs’-eye views. Sometimes, bigger is just better.
Eric Henderson is a web producer at WCCO.COM.