On the heels of one of the worst summers in recent memory at movie theater box offices, Filmfest (Sept 23–29), Aspen Film’s eagerly anticipated fall extravaganza, rolls into town not a moment too soon. Celebrating its 40th season with a fine showcase of starry previews (including Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Adam Driver, Kristen Stewart, and Shia LaBeouf), eclectic documentaries, and festival favorites, Filmfest offers something to satisfy both casual moviegoers and serious film buffs. As always, the movies will screen at the Isis Theatre and Wheeler Opera House in Aspen and at Carbondale’s Crystal Theatre.
Also on the festival slate: venerable maverick—and longtime Aspen local—Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) will receive Aspen Film’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award; his little-screened epic Mountains of the Moon will be shown later in the week. And panel discussions, special guests (including DJ Spooky), and parties will take place throughout.
Because a festival’s principal pleasure is discovery—and at Filmfest, one can actually do it all—it’s hard to limit our recommendations, but here are six picks we’re especially excited about.
A Hidden Life
Monday, Sept 23, 7:00 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) is at his transcendent best when plumbing ineffable aspects of the human condition, or what is sometimes called our spiritual capacity. His latest opus was inspired by Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian who refused to serve Hitler’s Nazi agenda. Devoted to family, and sustained by his faith and the natural world, this quietly heroic farmer did what precious few of his contemporaries managed; standing on the courage of his convictions, Jägerstätter became a conscientious objector. A meditation on war, resistance, and the anchoring force of faith, A Hidden Life signals a welcome return to form for Malick.
Tuesday, Sept 24, 5:00 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
Simply not to be missed, the film centers on the legendary London concerts that Judy Garland gave a few months before her death in 1969. Renée Zellweger’s emotionally wrenching portrayal of the famously inconstant star captures Garland’s frailty in the grip of her inner demons, as well as the incandescence of her musical performances (convincingly sung by the actress herself). Zellweger’s Judy brought the Toronto International Film Festival audience to tears—and to their feet for a prolonged ovation.
Tuesday, Sept 24, 7:45 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
Hands down, one of the fall’s hottest tickets is this darkly comic family thriller from Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer), one of the most original filmmakers working today. Parasite’s swoon fest began last spring when it bested Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, among others, winning Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’Or. This genre-melding wild ride about economic inequality, and South Korea’s Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film, still sits at 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 98 reviews later. At the recent Telluride and Toronto film festivals, screenings were added to meet demand, yet pass-holders were still turned away.
Wednesday, Sept 25, 8:00 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), noted for his irreverently off-kilter comedy, responds to the harrowing rise of tribalism and authoritarianism with this anti-hate satire, which divided critics but captured the audience award after its Toronto fest premiere. Set during World War II, the film follows Jojo, a naïve young fanboy of Nazism whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi with goofy verve). Waititi’s oddball sensibility—though not to everyone’s taste—is uniquely, inventively, and exuberantly his own.
The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão
Thursday, September 26, 4:45 p.m., Wheeler Opera House
Dreams, a sisterly bond, and the terrible deceit that threatens it shape this visually lush, emotionally immersive tale of two young women in 1950s Rio de Janeiro. Director Karim Aïnouz’s “tropic melodrama” teems with rich characters, a panoramic narrative, and trenchant feminist critique. It’s also Brazil’s Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Friday, Sept 27, 2:30 p.m., Isis Theatre
In this exquisitely rendered period romance, a noblewoman commissions a young female artist to paint a portrait of a most resistant subject, her marriageable daughter. But, as its title slyly suggests, this slow burner (France’s Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film) is no “classic” love story. Director Céline Sciamma deploys—and subverts—convention to explore art, desire, obsession, and the female gaze, creating an elegant, startlingly contemporary evocation of women representing themselves.