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Academy screenings heating up the screen

Stewart Oksenhorn
Gael Garcia Bernal stars in director Pedro Almodvars Bad Education, showing Sunday in Aspen Filmfests Academy Screenings series. Diego Lopez Calvin photo.
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There seems to be no better word for the state of Spanish-language cinema than “hot.” Hot as in explosively popular, hot as in sexy and appealing, hot as in the place to look for the cutting edge.Among the Spanish-language films – which come from places as diverse as Spain, Mexico and Brazil – of recent years are the unforgettable ’70s slum diary “City of God,” the sexually charged “Y Tu Mamá También,” and, perhaps my favorite movie ever, the captivating “Amores Perros.” Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, based on his recent pair of “All About My Mother” and “Talk to Her,” has become the darling of those looking for smart, complex, socially relevant dramas. And those looking for simply the hottest actor around are pointed toward Mexico’s Gael Garcia Bernal, star of an extraordinary number of these recent Spanish-language masterpieces, including this year’s marvelous “Motorcycle Diaries,” in which he portrayed Che Guevara in the revolutionary’s formative years.

Indicative of how successful Spanish filmmakers have been in recent years is the regularity with which they are breaking into American cinema. Mexican Alfonso Cuarón, in the wake of “Y Tu Mamá También,” was drafted to direct “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the third (and by far the best reviewed) of the Harry Potter film series. Chilean Alejandro Amenábar, who directed the original Spanish-language version of “Open Your Eyes” – remade as “Vanilla Sky” by Cameron Crowe – directed the Nicole Kidman thriller “The Others.” The “Amores Perros” duo of director Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga, both from Mexico, teamed for last year’s “21 Grams.”Two of the most highly anticipated films of Aspen Filmfest’s Academy Screenings series comes from Spain. Almodóvar’s latest, “Bad Education,” shows Sunday, Dec. 26, at 5:30 p.m. Amenábar’s “The Sea Inside” is set for Wednesday, Dec. 29 at 8:15 p.m.”Bad Education” features the dizzying complexity Almodóvar showed in “All About My Mother.” Drawing on his own troubled childhood, Almodóvar tells a noirish tale that interweaves memories of Catholic school, sexual predations and a love for film. Once again in a starring role is Bernal, who is proving himself not only a pin-up movie star but a talented young actor.

“The Sea Inside” is less steamy than most of the recent spate of high-profile Spanish-language films. Spanish actor Javier Bardem – a nominee for a best actor Oscar for his work in 2000’s “Before Night Falls” – portrays Ramón Sampedro, a quadriplegic fighting for his legal right to die. Among the film’s many awards to date is the National Board of Review’s honor for best foreign language film. “The Sea Inside” has been nominated for two Golden Globes, including best foreign language film and best actor, for Bardem.Also showing this weekend at the Academy Screenings are two non-Spanish-language films: “A Love Song for Bobby Long” (Sunday, Dec. 26, 2:30 p.m.), starring Scarlett Johansson as a teenager returning to her deceased mother’s home, only to find two broken men (John Travolta and Gabriel Macht) already entrenched in the house; and “The Phantom of the Opera” (Sunday, Dec. 26, 8:15 p.m.), director Joel Schumacher’s version the Gothic classic, based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical. (For a feature story on Schumacher and the making of “The Phantom of the Opera,” see the current edition of Aspen Times Weekly.)



Academy Screenings continue with multiple daily features through Jan. 1. There are no screenings scheduled for today, Friday, Dec. 24, or tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 25. All screenings are at Harris Hall. For a complete schedule, go to http://www.aspenfilm.org.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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