Once again, Aspen Film’s merrymakers have filled the holidays with some of the award-season’s finest movies, including critical favorites and late-breaking titles. The 27th annual Academy Screenings rolls out December 26–30 at the Wheeler Opera House and Paepcke Auditorium, so when you’re looking for solid entertainment after a day on the hill, this 15-film lineup will not disappoint.
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s luminous memory of his childhood caregiver (December 27, 5:30 p.m., Wheeler Opera House); If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’s poetically evocative love story (December 29, 5:45 p.m., Paepcke Auditorium), and Iceland’s playfully pointed environmental parable, Woman at War (December 27, 3 p.m., Wheeler Opera House), remain three standouts from the fall. Read more about them here:
Among those we’ve already seen, we also recommend:
December 27, 8:30 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
Loosely based on historic fact, The Favourite is a naughty-tongued, lavishly costumed romp through an early-18th century-court. Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) relegates pomp and decorum to the rear carriage seat in this regal circus of power, manipulation, and petty entitlement. In Queen Anne’s court, the ladies wear the pants (one quite literally), while their powdered-wigged lords preen and scheme between absurd amusements (indoor duck racing, anyone?). Standing—or rather, limping—at the epicenter of this royal dysfunction is Olivia Coleman, a towering, cranky mess of a queen ravaged by tragic personal loss, ill health, and the beleaguering constant of court bickering and intrigue. As her confidantes, Rachel Weisz and interloper Emma Stone rage a nasty battle of wits, each vying for Her Majesty’s distracted affection and sexual favor. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography provides a marvelously cock-eyed view of the unseemly proceedings—mud, slaps, bunnies, and all. The Crown this is not. Wicked fun? Absolutely.
December 29, 3 p.m., Paepcke Auditorium
As an actor, writer, and director, Joel Edgerton invests in stories about injustice, self-worth, and love. Based on Garrard Conley’s harrowing memoir, Boy Erased tackles the issue of gay conversion therapy, specifically its impact on a young gay man growing up in a small Bible Belt community. The stellar cast—Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe—brings authentic, nuanced emotion to this drama about irreconcilable difference and the road to (re)claiming one’s identity and family.
At Eternity’s Gate
December 30, 5:15 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
In his latest study of creative personality, artist-director Julian Schnabel strives to get behind the iconic mad-genius legend—and inside the mind—of Vincent van Gogh during his most productive, but deeply troubled, final years. Schnabel innovatively relates episodes and people (Oscar Isaac as Gaugin, Rupert Friend as Theo) from van Gogh’s life as if seen through Vincent’s point of view—with flowing images, and layered with dialog and interior voices, to convey the artist’s emotional swings. We witness van Gogh’s time in southern France, from his fumbling attempts to cope with everyday life and connect with others (many of whom he painted) to ecstatic sessions of painting in nature. Driven by Willem Dafoe’s raw, wrenching performance, At Eternity’s Gate creates a moving portrait of a unique visionary spirit hobbled by self-doubt and aching loneliness.
December 28, 9 p.m., Paepcke Auditorium
The Sublime. That’s what Romantic-era poets called the complex exhilaration evoked in the face of nature’s awe-inspiring beauty, terrifying power, and intimidating scale. Watching the tiny form of climber Alex Honnold ascend the enormous, sheer, 3,200-foot face of Yosemite’s El Capitan sans ropes, one gets a sense of what they meant. Free Solo’s sweaty-palmed moments may seem reward enough for seeing Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s and Jimmy Chin’s riveting documentary. But it’s also an engaging portrait of a personable, unassuming, insanely laser-focused world-class athlete, as well as an insightful behind-the-scenes view of extreme-sports filmmaking’s logistics and ethics.
Advance word has us eager to see:
December 26, 4:30 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
In 1972, Aretha Franklin gave two gospel concerts in a Watts neighborhood church and her most celebrated album, Amazing Grace, was born. Director Sydney Pollack caught the historic recording session on film. But then the project languished, mired in technical hair-pulling (sound-synching issues) and legal challenges (from the Queen of Soul herself)—until now. The reviews are rapturous. New York and LA screenings are sold out. This promises to be a hot ticket.
December 26, 6:45 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
Based on the trailer and cast (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell) alone, who isn’t curious about this latest from director Adam McKay (The Big Short)? A hugely transformed Bale as Dick Cheney, the 43rd president’s éminence grise? Vice is a must-see in our book.
December 29, 12:15 p.m., Paepcke Auditorium
Nadine Labaki took Special Jury honors at the Cannes Film Festival for Capernaum, her involving street drama about a 12-year-old boy who sues his parents for neglect. Featuring an astonishing non-professional in the lead, this short-listed Oscar contender returns to Aspen after playing in Filmfest’s Secret Screening slot last September. We're glad to see it back.
December 29, 8:30 p.m., Paepcke Auditorium
The buzz circling Brady Corbet’s pop diva drama has been divided since its Venice and Toronto festival debuts this fall. But Vox Lux champions are fierce in their praise of this tale of celebrity born—or rather, forged–from trauma. Natalie Portman’s signature no-holds-barred approach suggests another uncompromising character study that recalls her Black Swan performance.
For the complete program, information on how to purchase Academy Screening passes or year-round membership, or the January 4 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: 20th Anniversary Benefit, visit aspenfilm.org.