A discussion over what is the best movie theater in New York is one likely to inspire some fierce debate. Some enjoy the megaplexes of Times Square or Union Square, while others gravitate to the art-house realm of theaters such as the Angelika theater. Now, I believe in pluralism and the idea that there is a place (and room enough) for both styles of movies houses, though my tastes more often than not fall on the art-house side. And I realize that what I am about to say isn’t going to win me any fans, but here comes my confession: I don’t like the Angelika. There. I said it. Yes, I know it’s a cultural landmark and though I applaud its art house cinema status, I just don’t like it. First of all – I have yet to have an experience when the sound quality in the theater was good and I didn’t hear (and feel) the rumbling of passing subway trains every few minutes. Also, I am not a fan of the long, narrow hallway-ish theater layouts without inclined seating and small screens, though that can be common among some art-house theaters. But despite all of these complaints, I would find all these flaws charming if the Angelika did not seem to bill itself as the upper crust of NY indie theaters; all evidenced with its pricey tickets, chandelier in the lobby, and overpriced coffee at the upstairs café. On the other end of the spectrum stands Film Forum, which operates with theaters that have flat-floor seating and folding chairs. And yet, I still enjoy the experience of seeing a film there; the theater always has interesting film selections and your attendance there truly supports the small non-profit theater. But circling back to my original point – I only attend a screening at the Angelika when the film I want to see is playing at no other theater in the city. Otherwise, there is an array of great film houses where you can catch an indie flick, including, but not limited to: the already mentioned Film Forum, IFC, BAM Rose Cinemas, Brooklyn Heights Cinemas, the Quad, or the Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.
The later is my absolute favorite of the indie bunch, nay of all the movie theaters in this great city of New York. Located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Sunshine is can only be described as a gem of a movie theater. Originally built as a vaudeville theater in 1898, the renovated space has maintained the integrity of the original structure. Inside each intimate screening room you are greeted with seats that wrap you in their lush coziness, wonderful state-of-the-art screens, and top sound quality to accompany each film. Now if you are anything like me, any movie-going experience needs popcorn. And oh, the popcorn at the Sunshine is delicious. I am not sure exactly what they put in it to make it so tasty, but I hope they never stop. In fact, it has been repeatedly voted best popcorn by Time Out NY. The concession stand also offers a variety of sprinkle toppings to add to your treasure of golden popcorn goodness, though I am a popcorn classicist and always go with simple salt. But if your tastes do not run towards popcorn (freak), the concession stand also offers an assortment of other gourmet treats, including an espresso bar and yummy baked goods from local establishments. If you have some time to kill before your movie the Sunshine also has a nice lounge on the second floor with plenty of seating and nice views of the Lower East Side. It must also be said, there is something about the Sunshine that makes (or simply draws) patrons who are a pretty cool and respectful crowd. There is something to be said for going to a theater where everyone sits quietly as they take in the film. I think many would agree that there is nothing worse than having some rude individual answer and then talk on his (or her – I am not trying to be sexist here) cell phone and then proceed to have a conversation in the middle of the movie. Those people are dicks and should be put on some kind of no-movie list. Constitutional? Probably not. It’s too bad, too because our movie theaters may be all the better for it. Finally, the movies: the Sunshine offers a selection of great independent and foreign films, with the occasional good Hollywood flick sprinkled in. The theater also hosts a popular midnight screening series, where you can catch films from the cool highbrow Rear Window to the lower-brow (but still AWESOME) Ghostbusters. These films change regularly, so check the website for an updated schedule. All in all, a trip to the Sunshine is great movie-going experience and in my opinion, certainly a theater worth supporting. I heart you, Sunshine.
The Landmark Sunshine Cinemas is located at 143 East Houston Street, between 1st and 2nd avenues. It is easily accessible via the F at the Second Avenue stop. Check the website for films and showtimes.