Los Angeles' Finest Single Screen Cinemas

Evan Weinerman is a close friend and, under the name Arms Race, an exceptional film and music video director.

Photos — Travis Waddell

As a filmmaker and film lover I want to see a movie in ideal conditions — on the big screen surrounded by a passionate audience. Jokes get bigger laughs, explosions deeper gasps. Watching on your plasma at home ain't bad, but a theater is the best way to catch a flick.

Los Angeles is an embarrassment of riches with some of the greatest movie theaters in the world. Among those is a special type of theater slowly vanishing in the era of the multiplex: the single screen theater. These theaters are a rarity worth celebrating. And celebrate them we shall.

Here are the premiere single screen movie theaters in Los Angeles.

Originally built in 1923, the Vista combines a pleasantly bizarre mix of Spanish-style architecture with Egyptian decor. Plaster goddess busts line the walls, the aisles have more legroom than a king’s sarcophagus, and the gorgeous neon sign on the roof is a Los Feliz landmark. Though 35mm prints are uncommon in modern projection booths, the Vista gets props for keeping their old school projector on standby in the rare event a studio sends them a traditional film reel for a new release.

Manager Victor Martinez, on staff since 1988 (!), is a local treasure known for greeting patrons with a friendly smile and, when the mood strikes him, appropriately themed costume. Ask him about the time he hustled to the supermarket for a box of bon bons at Liza Minnelli’s behest. The Vista can’t be beat as a unique, multiplex-overlord-free first run theater with a deep connection to the neighborhood it serves.

There’s no better place to catch this summer’s batshit insane blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road. Starts May 15.

Cinefamily is the post punk badass of the LA film world. Sure, their screen isn’t huge. Yeah, sometimes you’re stuck in the aisle on a metal folding chair during a busy night, fire code be damned. But Cinefamily has built an incredible community of passionate filmgoers through impeccable programming that exists nowhere else. While most independent theaters go with a safe mix of new indies and standby classics, these dudes head in a decidedly more WTF direction.

Cinefamily screen movies from the margins — underground druggie animation, internet found footage nights, unearthed gems by forgotten talents. In the ivy-lined back patio where a throne made entirely of Jerry Maguire DVDs once stood, Cinefamily Director of Operations Pat Lowry recalled a night where Michael Winslow — of Police Academy wacky noises fame — spent the evening laying his patented sound effects over Star Wars, Little Rascals and others. For most theaters that’s an all-time insane evening; for Cinefamily, that’s a Wednesday.

Trash auteur John Waters’ Desperate Living kicks off PEEP SHOW, a week of XXX art films, rare adult posters and obscure exploitation ephemera. Starts May 14.

Strolling through the palm tree-lined courtyard of the Egyptian Theater lends a sense of grandeur that fits the setting. Publicist Margot Gerber provided a tour coupled with fascinating info on the building — there’s a lot of history here. The Egyptian hosted the first ever Hollywood movie premiere in 1922 for Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood. Stepping inside the theater bolsters the Old Hollywood aura. The 600-capacity room features a handsome starburst ceiling emblem and spacious layout that lends a gargantuan energy to any film.

The essential American Cinematheque has operated the Egyptian since 1998. They also run the excellent Aero Theater in Santa Monica. This is the best place in town to see classic movies the way they were intended. If you’re in need of a filmic awakening, Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm screens a couple times a year (intermission included) and the calendar is stuffed with can’t-miss programming.

Get lost in San Francisco’s neon green hues alongside James Stewart in Hitchcock’s masterful Vertigo. May 24.

Built by United Artists in 1927 as its flagship theater, this grand room only saw two premieres with UA before going dark. After screening Spanish language films and a stint serving as infamous televangelist pastor Gene Scott’s home base through the ’90s, the theater was fully restored when the Ace Hotel arrived in 2014. Detailed murals featuring Charlie Chaplin facing off against devils, vaulted mirrored ceiling, intricate Gothic molding…what more can you ask for?

General Manager Jason Deibler explains the film screenings are designed as an immersive experience. Eighties arcade games in the lobby for Tron, composer Antonio Sanchez providing a live score for Birdman; the Ace pairs the venue with something memorable. For instance, Werner Herzog waxing metaphysical in a Q&A with the directors of the delightful Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter as part of Sundance Next Fest. For those who missed out last year, worry not: the Park City offshoot returns in August with a new slate of films, one-off concerts and special guests.

Watch Indy outrun boulders, outsmart Nazis, and out-punch more Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, part of Los Angeles Conservatory’s Last Remaining Seats series. June 27.