READERS' PICK: For the second year in a row, Tucson's newest and largest multiplex rolls in as our Baked Pueblo's premiere cinematic perch. One used to have to drive up to Ina and La Cholla to get the double-whammy of state-of-the-art sound and stadium seating, but finally those big-city comforts have arrived midtown to the slowly reviving El Con Mall. In addition to screening the latest roster of commercial films, Century El Con has embraced some quasi-independent film as well, bringing a smidgeon of art-housiness to the slick surroundings. (Mostly, these are big studio offshoots that are the cinematic equivalent of a Coors microbrew , but why split hairs?) Real butter, rocking chairs, moveable armrests ... some months out of the year, we'd almost pay the requisite $7.75 just for the atomic air conditioning.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: The Loft, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. We hope somebody steps up soon to fill retiring Loft owner Joe Esposito's shoes as Tucson's only purveyor of truly independent cinema in a dedicated art-house theater. The Loft's palatial downstairs theater has been a perennial favorite with Tucson Weekly readers for more than a decade, while its modest upstairs screen affords some second-string flexibility to keep these gems around a little longer. The best thing about the Loft is its eclecticism. Before its "For Sale" status became final early this summer, you could count on the Loft to provide a quickly rotating roster of international films, documentaries, animation and independent films of all budgets and production values. These days the rotation is less ambitious, but still a lifesaver for those who hope for something unpredictable when the projectors start to roll. And that steady marquee is hardly criticism--film junkies in this town owe a debt of gratitude to 60-year-old Esposito, who's knowingly bet on some pretty slow dogs in this long-odds desert town. We offer a huge salute to his dedication over the years ... and a fervent dog-whistle to any would-be protégé.
LOOSE CHANGE: Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St. France may have Cannes, and Utah the Sundance Film Festival, but we in Tucson have our own, aptly titled, Tucson International Film Festival every spring. Though many theatres around town showcase these films, the center of attention during this annual fest is Downtown's Screening Room. For the rest of the year, this is the place to view largely underground and independent works by local, national, and international filmmakers, as well as interesting and often politically charged documentaries. The seats are comfy and concessions cheap, so check the local listings and come on down for a film or documentary that no one else has the testicular capacity to show.