January is the pits for Hollywood releases, unless for some reason you're excited about Nicolas Cage's Season of the Witch. Over at the UW Cinematheque, however, you'll find no shortage of stimulation. The cineastes who run the free program at 4070 Vilas Hall have planned a typically ambitious spring season, kicking off this weekend with two black-and-white classics from the 1950s.
Winchester '73 (Friday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m.) is an unconventional James Stewart Western, focusing on a prized rifle. It's part of a series of Westerns directed by Anthony Mann, including Bend of the River (Feb. 18) and The Naked Spur (Feb. 25).
The Sweet Smell of Success (Saturday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m.) is the squirmy tale of a gossip columnist (Burt Lancaster) and a publicist (Tony Curtis) at war. You may have seen the movie on TV, but it should look a whole lot better on Vilas Hall's big screen in a 35mm print. It's part of the Cinematheque series "Patterns of Shadow: Hollywood Film and the Art of Lighting," which also includes The Prisoner of Zenda (Feb. 5) and City Streets (Feb. 12).
If you want to leave Hollywood altogether (and who doesn't every once in a while?), the Cinematheque delves into "New Portuguese Cinema" (Jan. 28-30), "Taiwanese Cinema: The Next Wave" (April 8-10) and "Nigeria's Booming Film Industry" (Feb. 4-March 25). It also features "Reconstructions, Restorations and Rediscoveries," including the previously unseen documentary Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today and Upstream, a silent film by John Ford that had been thought lost.
With all these cinematic treasures available for free, I trust you'll be skipping Season of the Witch at the multiplex.