Best Film Festival 2020 | Scottsdale International Film Festival | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

This year's Scottsdale International Film Festival, the 20th anniversary of the event, will look a little different than in previous years. For starters, it'll be a five-day virtual event rather than a 10-day in-person one. We don't know what films will screen (check the website in early October for the lineup), but based on what we've experienced in the past, it'll be an exciting mix from around the world. SIFF is often the first place in town to see films that go on to great acclaim — last year, Marriage Story was the opening-night movie, and audiences saw Portrait of a Lady on Fire months before it came to theaters. But really, it's the foreign gems that keep us coming back year after year — films that remind us that we have more in common with people around the world that we would have ever dreamed, and that cinema truly is a global language.

Arizona is just close enough to Los Angeles to catch the cross-breeze of Hollywood magic (and perhaps a small amount of oversized narcissism). As such, we've managed to cultivate a few of our own sun-kissed entertainment enterprises. One we particularly love is the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival, which over the last 16 years has become a home for the most weird and wonderful sci-fi from across the world. The films shown at the fest push the boundless insanity and peculiarity associated with modern science fiction to new levels. Yet every entry remains connected to a longstanding tradition of cinema and a core ethos that emphasizes a delightfully bizarre outlook on life and art. In our typical outsider fashion, Arizona has built this little fest into something that has its own strong identity and cultural purpose — an event that shows we're capable of sustaining a major creative bastion here. Plus, the fact that all this energy and growth is based around space aliens and killer smartphone apps seems perfectly on brand for Arizona.

Decades after opening — and long after the slow decline of drive-in movie theaters began — the West Wind Glendale 9 is suddenly more popular than it's ever been. The transformation from outdated throwback to in-demand destination happened in a matter of weeks: COVID hit, indoor theaters ceased being a viable venue for moviegoers, and the public beat a path to the gates of West Wind, the Valley's lone drive-in, which opened in 1979. They discovered what a longtime die-hard following already knew: There are simple joys to watching a flick in the great outdoors. West Wind has digital projection on nine screens and cheaper tickets than your average theater ($7.75 for adults and $1.75 for children 5 to 11; kids 4 and under get in free). Every screening is a double feature, and the owners have come up with some interesting combinations, such as pairing up the Keanu Reeves blockbusters John Wick and The Matrix. And if the munchies at the concession stand aren't to your liking, you can pack your own snacks. Score!

This will be one of the first places we visit when we can go to movies safely again. We can't help but wonder if our favorite movie character wax figures like Jack Sparrow and the Blues Brothers are getting lonely. Michael Pollack, the theater's owner, created true movie magic when he opened it two decades ago, treating customers to a lobby decked out with video games and memorabilia, along with a low price, currently $3.50, for a movie you missed during its first run a month or two ago. The theater always makes us feel like a little kid again, when the only thing that mattered was the smell of popcorn and the fact that you were going to see a movie, any movie, and it was going to be good no matter what. We hope to feel that way again soon.

If seeing movies was all people cared about, they could make it happen sitting on their sofa instead of heading out to a theater. But there's more to the moviegoing ritual than just watching a film. Studio Movie Grill creates a rich experience that's hard to replicate at home by offering an extensive menu, a lobby bar with a fun assortment of cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages, and discreet food service during movie showings. You can reserve your seat ahead of time, so you're not left to battle over the best spot or learn after you arrive that your movie is sold out. The theater even has spaces for special events like birthday parties. The movie lineup includes first-run films, alternative fare, and family flicks, so everyone gets a chance to see their favorites. Plus, you don't have to deal with digging all those popcorn kernels out of your couch cushions.

We like a big ol' blockbuster as much as the next moviegoer, but our cinephile heart belongs to the smaller stuff: indie flicks, cult classics, oldies-but-goodies. FilmBar is the best place in town to see them. The seats are a little creaky, but the ticket prices are reasonable, there's food and alcohol available for purchase, and you know that you'll be sharing space with other people who share your affinity for cinema outside the mainstream. Since the pandemic, FilmBar hasn't abandoned its mission of bringing great films to the people. Go to its website, and you'll find dozens of Old Hollywood classics, cheesy made-for-TV movies, vintage sci-fi, foreign films, silents, and more. Most are free to watch, and they're tiding us over until we can get back to FilmBar.

We're not sure: Is it that the trees in downtown Glendale are strung with 1.6 million twinkly Christmas lights? Or is it the fact that we can shop late surrounded by bustling holiday crowds? Is it the carolers? The rows and rows of outdoor yuletide vendors? The guy selling hot chestnuts? Oh, probably, it's all of the above that makes our annual trek to Glendale Glitters such a special part of our holiday season. We like it so much that we sometimes make a second trip — easy to do, given that Glendale Glitters commences the day after Thanksgiving and doesn't close up shop until after the New Year.

Brothers Kyle and Sammy Pratt dream big, and their annual holiday display is as enormous as their aspirations. As lifelong fans of the Walt Disney Company, the pair hope to someday land jobs doing something creative for the House of Mouse. In the meantime, they've poured their imaginations into Christmas Forever over the past five years; it's a stepping stone toward making their dreams a reality, they say. It's also one of the best yuletide displays in metro Phoenix, and it's only gotten bigger as the brothers keep upping its size and spectacle. Each holiday season, their residence becomes a gigantic gingerbread house adorned with bedazzled wooden candy cutouts, a mock-up of the iconic clock face from Disneyland's It's a Small World, and thousands of lights. Every half-hour, a choreographed multimedia extravaganza of glittering bulbs, video projections, a raucous soundtrack, and show-stopping pyrotechnics takes place, lighting up the night and wowing crowds of onlookers. Christmas Forever may cost a pretty penny and hundreds of man-hours for the Pratts to produce, but it's a small price to pay if it lands them their dream jobs someday.

Before Alison King and her husband, Matthew, co-founded the neighborhood network known as Modern Phoenix, many of us were naive to the midcentury architectural wonders to be found in our city. But since 2004, the Kings and their colleagues have enlightened us with their annual self-guided home tour, fostering citywide appreciation of Phoenix architecture with a week's worth of seminars and events. Unlike most historic home tours, Modern Phoenix's provides post-tour articles, research, and other resources for students and fans of Phoenix's architectural record. Plus, you get to tour gorgeous old homes. Being in the know is seldom this much fun.

Phoenix is fortunate to have several historic neighborhoods where homeowners devote a lot of love and elbow grease to keeping architectural elements in place even as new development swirls around them. This year, F.Q. Story took center stage as it celebrated its 100th anniversary. The neighborhood bounded by McDowell Road and Roosevelt Street between Seventh and Grand avenues boasts just over 600 homes built primarily between the 1920s and the 1940s. It's a popular home tour destination, where people can observe styles like Craftsman bungalows, Spanish revival homes, English Tudor homes, and more while walking along tree-lined sidewalks. There's a new reason to get out and see the neighborhood, too: a pair of murals painted by Lucretia Torva, whose work explores life in F.Q. Story both past and present. You'll find one at Latham Street and 11th Avenue, and another at Moreland Street and Ninth Avenue.

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