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Photo from ByTowne Cinema.

Magic in the Dark: What’s playing at Ottawa’s independent cinemas—Dec. 31 to Jan. 14

By Barbara Popel on December 29, 2021




It gets dark at 4pm, the Omicron variant put a damper on everyone’s holiday celebrations, and there’s at least tbree more months of winter ahead of us. What to do? Well, obviously (to me), it’s time to go to the movies! Here’s my list of recommended films at Ottawa’s two independent cinemas —the ByTowne and the Mayfair—for the first two weeks of January.

First, a word about the COVID precautions at both theatres: to adhere to Ottawa Public Health’s rules for occupancy and distancing, the ByTowne is limiting attendance to 150 tickets per show and has blocked off rows of seats to facilitate physical spacing, while the Mayfair is limiting attendance to 85 tickets per show. Audience members must show their proof of full vaccination along with a photo ID. Neither cinema is selling food and drink (and please don’t bring your own). Masks must be worn at all times. The ByTowne’s HVAC system was upgraded by Bruce White, the former owner, in 2020, so there’s more fresh air circulating in the theatre. All the details can be found at both cinemas’ websites.

ByTowne Cinema

Now, here’s what I particularly recommend at the ByTowne…

I already wrote a separate film review of The French Dispatch. This cinema treat from director Wes Anderson is on Jan. 1 and Jan. 4—a great way to start the new year.

There’s a big event, literally, at the beginning of the year! The sci-fi blockbuster Dune is playing at the ByTowne Dec. 31 to Jan. 3. Dune has garnered good reviews, some of which say the film should be seen on a big screen. So don’t miss this opportunity to see it.

Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film about his childhood, continues its run until Jan.3, then is back for a few days in the middle of the month. It won the People’s Choice award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which is always a reliable stamp of approval.

Nomadland is back for two days, Jan. 5 and 6. It ranked second on my list of best films of 2020 (after The Father), but except for the ByTowne, I don’t believe other Ottawa cinemas played it in 2021. Frances McDormand won her third Oscar for her role as a woman surviving by taking crummy temporary jobs and living out of her van. Director Chloe Zhao took home the Oscar for Best Director. If you haven’t seen this yet, grab this chance to do so. If you have seen it, here’s your opportunity to enjoy it again.

Then there are a pair of, shall we say, adult films. The first is Red Rocket, about a washed-up porn star who returns to his backwater hometown in Texas. The director, Sean Baker, made two little-seen but excellent films—Tangerine and The Florida Project. Both were about the underbelly of America, but exhibited a great deal of compassion and more than a little wit. I was very impressed with both of them, so I’m looking forward to Red Rocket. It opens on Jan. 7.

The second film has the none-too-subtle title Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Really. It’s from Romania. Really. It won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and has garnered good reviews. It’s about an elementary school teacher whose career and reputation come under threat after a sex video her husband shot is leaked on the Internet. This comedy highlights society’s hypocrisy. It opens on Jan. 14. Should be fun (though perhaps not good clean fun).

Last but not least, a blast from the past—Repo Man, starring a very young Emilio Estevez and the always-watchable Harry Dean Stanton in a cult classic about a professional repossession agent, a nuclear physicist, and a ’64 Chevy Malibu with a mysterious briefcase in its trunk. It has two screenings mid-month. A Metacritic “must see” film from 1984 (how appropriate a year!).

Mayfair Theatre

Now, on to the Mayfair…

John Boorman’s terrifying classic, Deliverance, starring Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds, opens Jan. 1. An outdoorsy “man’s man” convinces three friends to take a canoe trip on a wild river in the Appalachias. It’s a trip the men will never forget—and you may never hear a banjo in quite the same way again. Deliverance won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1972.

On a somewhat lighter note, Délicieux continues until Jan. 5. This French history dramatizes the founding of the first French restaurant, at the same time as the French Revolution was about to explode. The trailer looks great—and delicious.

Find schedules, screening times, and tickets at the ByTowne Cinema and Mayfair Theatre websites.