Academy Screenings: Skip the horserace and enjoy the movies | AspenTimes.com

Academy Screenings: Skip the horserace and enjoy the movies

Seemingly every day — and often multiple times each day — at this time of year, one critics' circle or guild or another issues its annual movie accolades, bestowing honors on the year's best films, filmmakers and performances as awards season chugs along toward the finish line of the Academy Awards in February.

The horserace is just beginning, and, rest assured, in coming months we'll hear debate about whose Oscar buzz got too hot too early, and who is making a late surge, there will be gossipy bits about who turned off Academy voters by seeming to want a nod a little too much in public interviews, whose film is just too edgy to win but is the consensus cool-kid "it's the best but it'll never win" choice, and so on.

The good people at Metacritic.com even keep a running tally — it turns out more than 50 organizations in all give movie awards between December and February — and assign points based on nominations, second-place finishes and wins so you can follow who has momentum in the lead-up to the Oscars. "Boyhood" is up 49 points to 28 over "Birdman" for Best Picture as of this writing, for instance, and Michael Keaton's tour de force in "Birdman" is up 45 points to 21 for Jake Gyllenhaal's creepy turn in "Nightcrawler" for lead actor, while Julianne Moore in "Still Alice" leads the field for Lead Actress, J.K. Simmons' maniacal jazz teacher in "Whiplash" is ahead among the supporting men and Patricia Arquette's complex mother in "Boyhood" is winning among the supporting women.

Those four films, and most all of the award handicappers' favorite movies and performances, are included in Aspen Film's Academy Screenings, which start Tuesday and run through Jan. 2.

But I urge you to watch the movies, not this silly horserace.

I know, it can feel like watching the poll numbers on CNN leading up to Election Day or the league standings as playoff time nears. It can be addictive. And Oscar prognostication is a fun parlor game, no doubt.

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But to talk about film, acting, directing and screenwriting in terms of winners and losers and "what will win" versus "what should win" isn't to talk about them at all. Let's talk about movies, not about whether or not movies fit the odd, vague criteria of the generic "Oscar winner."

The best thing about Aspen Film's Academy Screenings is that 20 of the year's best are curated and put on the big screen — where movies are made to be seen, not on a laptop or phone or TV — so we can talk about their merits together in the Wheeler lobby, out on the street, or in the gondola between screenings. We can pick our favorites and pick fights if we disagree. And hopefully we can forget about that silly horserace while we're at it.

Last week, I was on a phone interview, explaining what Aspen Film's Academy Screenings are to a producer in Los Angeles. When I said that basically the nonprofit Aspen Film puts together a festival of award hopefuls for the many Academy voters and industry folks in Aspen over the holidays — and invites the public to most of the screenings — in a historic opera house, he audibly sighed and said, "That sounds like heaven — I'm stuck on a laptop looking at all these screeners."

Heaven is right. See you at the Wheeler.

Read The Aspen Times for continuing coverage throughout Academy Screenings.

If You Go …

What: Aspen Film Academy Screenings

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Dec. 21 – Jan 2.

Tickets: Wheeler box office; 970-920-5770; http://www.aspenshowtix.com

Dec. 21

5:30 p.m. Into the Woods

Dec. 23

5:30 p.m. Life Itself

8:15 The Imitation Game

Dec. 26

5:15 p.m. The Homesman

8:15 p.m. Big Eyes

Dec. 27

3 p.m. The Lego Movie

5:15 p.m. Foxcatcher

8:15 p.m. Selma

Dec. 28

2:30 p.m. Boyhood

6 p.m. Still Alice

8:15 p.m. Whiplash

Dec. 29

5:30 p.m. The Theory of Everything

8:15 p.m. American Sniper

Dec. 30

5:15 p.m. A Most Violent Year

8:15 p.m. Inherent Vice

Jan. 1

3 p.m. Force Majeure

5:45 p.m. Red Army

8 p.m. Kill the Messenger

Jan. 2

5:30 p.m. Nightcrawler

8:15 p.m. Birdman

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