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December 21, 2013
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Aspen Film’s program of Oscar contenders opens Monday

Twelve drummers drumming — is that really a thoughtful gift? Makes you wonder if this was really a “true love” doing the giving. Six geese a-laying? You ever see the mess even one goose can “lay”? Yes, a partridge in a pear tree sounds lovely, but just one seems a bit stingy, especially since partridges tend to want another partridge as company.

The truly thoughtful and generous Christmas-gift-giver seems to be Aspen Film. For the 22nd year, Aspen Film is cramming a stocking full of tasteful goodies — movies considered contenders for Oscar honors — in a tidy package known as the Academy Screenings series. It’s an abundant gift; this year’s series, which opens Monday, counts 18 films. And while the screenings are aimed at the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Aspen over the holidays, no one is left out — the screenings are open to the public.

As a bonus, several of the films won’t be in general release till weeks after they are screened here. On top of that, we get another little star atop the tree — the Academy Screenings, which run through Jan. 2 (with breaks on Tuesday, Wednesday and Dec. 31) at the Wheeler Opera House, debut the Wheeler’s new digital projection system (and perhaps more important, the expanded leg-room in the Wheeler’s renovated balcony).

We must have been very good boys and girls this year.

Monday’s program offers a slice of real life. “20 Feet From Stardom,” showing at 5:30 p.m., is a documentary about the female singers who stand just out of the spotlight, backing up the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger.

Here’s what else is inside the stocking:

Thursday

“Her”: More offbeat stuff from Spike Jonze, whose previous films include “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich.” Here, Joaquin Phoenix stars as a writer who develops an intimate relationship with his computer’s operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Co-stars include Amy Adams and Rooney Mara; the film doesn’t open generally till mid-January.

“Labor Day”: Director Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Young Adult,” “Thank You for Smoking”) adapts a novel about a woman (Kate Winslet) and her son, who get entangled with an escaped convict (Josh Brolin). It won’t be in wide release till late January.

Friday

“The Past”: A darkly emotional drama of a struggling Iranian family in France. Director Asghar Farhadi earned a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for his last effort, “A Separation.”

“Philomena”: Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen,” “Dirty Pretty Things”) directs Judi Dench in a humorous drama that earned eight awards at the Venice Film Festival.

Saturday

“Blue Jasmine”: Probably Woody Allen’s best work in two decades. This probing character study centers on a former New York socialite (Cate Blanchett) who has been reduced to living with her sister in a shabby San Francisco neighborhood. Blanchett is phenomenal; Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale also stand out.

“Fruitvale Station”: This edgy indie about a San Francisco man who wakes up one day to find himself at a personal crossroads earned two top awards at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color”: A sensual French drama, it earned the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival — and warnings about that sexually explicit scene.

Dec. 29

“Gloria”: Paulina Garcia earned best-actress honors at the Berlin Film Festival for her portrayal of a 50-something woman taking chances in love and life in this Chilean film.

“All Is Lost”: Robert Redford confronts his mortality while stranded alone at sea in this quiet, unique film. J.C. Chandor, who earned acclaim for his Wall Street thriller “Margin Call,” directed.

Dec. 30

“Dallas Buyers Club”: Matthew McConaughey is outstanding as a hard-living AIDS patient in 1985, battling the medical establishment over his treatment. Jared Leto, as a cross-dressing woman, rivals McConaughey for acting chops.

“12 Years a Slave”: An intense drama of a 19th-century black man, a citizen of New York state, kidnapped and sold to a brutal New Orleans plantation owner.

Jan. 1

“Nebraska”: Alexander Payne’s black-and-white comedic drama follows Woody (Bruce Dern), a quiet, hard-drinking grouch who travels with his son (Will Forte) from Montana to his native Nebraska to claim a million-dollar prize. Dern earned best-actor honors at Cannes.

“Tim’s Vermeer”: The directorial debut by Teller, of the magic duo Penn & Teller, is a documentary of an inventor determined to discover and replicate the painting technique used by Dutch master Vermeer.

Jan. 2

“Prisoners”: This stylish thriller stars Hugh Jackman as a father whose young daughter disappears and Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective on the case. The cast is rounded out by Melissa Leo, Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Terrence Howard.

“Before Midnight”: The third installment of Richard Linklater’s series focuses again on the lovers played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

stewart@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 21, 2013 08:16PM Published Dec 24, 2013 07:22AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.