Let’s go to the movies
Los Angeles can have its private screening rooms. Let New York City keep its network of arthouse cinemas.Aspen’s got its Academy Screenings.For two weeks at least, in late December through early January, Aspen sits on a par with any great cinema city. Thanks to the Academy Screenings, presented by Aspen Filmfest, those spending the holidays in Aspen can revel in the high-mountain air and small-town atmosphere – and still be able to swap opinions on the most glittering end-of-year films.Aspen Filmfest announced today the program for this year’s Academy Screenings, which run from Dec. 19 through Jan. 1 at Harris Hall. It’s a serving of 25 films that should overflow the stocking of the most rabid movie lover.Virtually every prestige film being released at the tail end of the year – so as to become Oscar-eligible – is included in the package. Looking for the most respected directors? There’s an international lineup including Clint Eastwood, Pedro Almodóvar, Robert Zemeckis, Alejandro Amenábar, Alexander Payne, Wes Anderson, Mike Leigh and, making his directorial debut, Kevin Spacey. For those whose fancy is more tickled more by the on-screen talent, the roster of past Academy Award-winning actors includes Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Al Pacino, Holly Hunter and Hilary Swank.For instantly recognizable titles, there are the new film versions of “The Merchant of Venice” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” And Filmfest hasn’t forgotten the young, or the young at heart, including the well-received animated films “The Polar Express” and “The Incredibles.”The theory behind the Academy Screenings, which enters its 14th season this year, is that there are plenty of Academy Award voters vacationing in Aspen over the holidays, so bringing the movies to the mountains makes good sense. And, as Harris Hall has plenty more seats than there are Oscar voters in Aspen, they throw the doors open to the public.In some sense, the Academy Screenings allow Aspenites to play catch-up: such films as Alexander Payne’s “Sideways”; “Vera Drake,” Mike Leigh’s film about an abortionist in 1950s England; and “Kinsey,” a biopic starring Liam Neeson as sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, have had at least limited openings across the country. Other films, including Zemeckis’ Christmas fantasy “The Polar Express”; “Finding Neverland,” starring Johnny Depp as “Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie; and the superheroes-in-suburbia Pixar feature “The Incredibles,” have already opened in Aspen.But the Academy Screenings also features some rare sneak peaks at top films. Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” starring Eastwood as a fighter-turned-trainer coaching a female boxer (Hilary Swank), doesn’t open outside of New York and L.A. until late January. “Imaginary Heroes,” featuring Jeff Daniels and Sigourney Weaver as the center of a seemingly stable family gone to pot, doesn’t open until late February.Films receiving top buzz include “Sideways,” starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as two pals who talk love and drink wine on a trip through California’s wine country; “Bad Education,” Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s controversial film involving sexual molestation in a Catholic school; and “The Sea Inside,” the true story of a paralyzed man’s 30-year fight for the right to die, by another Spanish director, Alejandro Amenábar, as well as “Vera Drake.”Actors who have merited Oscar talk include Annette Bening, who stars as a London stage diva in the 1930s period piece “Being Julia”; Kevin Bacon, who plays a child molester returning home from prison in “The Woodsman”; Don Cheadle as the real-life hotel owner sheltering refugees in “Hotel Rwanda”; and Billy Crudup, as a cross-dressing, 17th-century English actor in “Stage Beauty.”Among the other films to be screened are “A Very Long Engagement,” adapted from Sebastian Japrisot’s World War I novel and reuniting the “Amélie” team of actress Audrey Tautou and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet; “Birth,” starring Nicole Kidman as a woman who believes a 10-year-old boy is her reincarnated husband; and Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” starring Bill Murray as an oceanographer hunting a mysterious shark he thinks has eaten his partner.Also, director Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera”; Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s adventure film “The House of Flying Daggers”; “William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice,” starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons; “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” starring Sean Penn as the man plotting to kill the former president; and “Beyond the Sea,” a biopic of singer Bobby Darin directed by and starring Kevin Spacey.Tickets for all Academy Screenings go on sale Dec. 10 at the Wheeler Opera House box office. A full schedule with times and dates is available at http://www.aspenfilm.org.