Want a unique movie-going experience? We asked movie critic Garen Daly to choose the 5 best cinemas in New England, plus 5 honorable mentions. The task, he says, was “very difficult.”
Theaters are in Garen Daly’s blood: His grandparents were vaudeville performers. A former theater manager, he also produces the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival—in between hosting The Garen Daly Show on WNTN AM 1550 and serving as a movie critic for print, radio, and television. He says that some of America’s most respected cinemas are right here in New England, and choosing just five was “very difficult.”
COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE
The Coolidge has carved out a national reputation while sinking its roots into the local community. Originally the sanctuary of a church constructed in 1906, the building was renovated and leased as a movie theater in 1933. When demolition threatened in 1989, the townspeople rallied to preserve it. Today the Coolidge is considered one of the top 10 American art houses. Brookline, MA. 617-734-2500; coolidge.org
The building was designed by Alfred Easton Poor (famous for the Wright Brothers Monument in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina). The facade was patterned after a classic New England church, while the sides resemble a cow barn. Inside, a Rockwell Kent mural graces the theater’s 6,400-square-foot ceiling. With light rays from the projection booth representing the moon and the stage’s Japanese-style decorated curtain evoking the sun, the Cape Cinema’s auditorium is heavenly. Dennis, MA. 508-385-2503; capecinema.com
JANE PICKENS THEATER
Built in 1834 as the Zion Episcopal Church, it was renamed “The Strand” in 1919 and became Newport’s center for film. In 1974, longtime owner Joe Jarvis renamed the theater “Jane Pickens” after a New York singing star and Newport socialite. Today it’s a modern movie theatre exhibiting the latest art films as well as live opera broadcasts from La Scala and other European venues. Newport, RI. 401-846-5252; janepickens.com
RED RIVER THEATRES
Red River, which opened in 2007, is the achievement of community leaders who struggled for nearly a decade to build it. This cinema shows not only movies from around the world but locally produced films as well; it also hosts SNOB, the “Somewhat North of Boston” Film Festival. A small art gallery and unique concessions (wine and beer, fresh sandwiches and pastries) round out the experience. Concord, NH. 603-224-4600; redrivertheatres.org
RAILROAD SQUARE CINEMA
This beloved theater burned to the ground in 1994, rising again with community support. The highlight of the rebuilding process was the premiere of Nobody’s Fool, based on the novel of the same name by Waterville local Richard Russo and starring Paul Newman. “The Square” co-hosts the Maine International Film Festival, and its revival earned recognition from the Sundance Institute as one of the best art houses in the U.S. Waterville, ME. 207-873-6526; railroadsquarecinema.com
Did we miss your favorite independent cinema or theater in New England? Let us know!
This article was first published in 2011.