Catch the Oscar buzz in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Catch the Oscar buzz in Aspen

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) in RABBIT HOLE.

ASPEN – Not everyone gets to vote on the Academy Awards. But filmgoers who are in Aspen later this month can get in on the leading edge of the Oscar buzz, thanks to Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings series.

For the Academy Screenings, entering their 20th season, Aspen Film takes a few handfuls of Oscar-contender films, and packages them for convenient viewing. The films – 18 on this year’s schedule – are given one screening apiece over an 11-day stretch, from Dec. 22-Jan. 1. Some days feature as many as three films, but there is no overlap in scheduling, making it possible for the most ambitious cinephile to catch all of the movies. All but one of the films are at Harris Hall, so no rush from theater to theater is necessary.

The burst of activity gives Aspen filmgoers the upper hand in handicapping the Academy Awards races. Not only is it possible to see a lot of films in a short stretch, but several of the films will not see wide release until after they have had their screenings here. So if a viewer thinks that Ryan Gosling’s performance in the gritty romance “Blue Valentine” is worthy of Oscar consideration, or that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful” justifies the four-year wait since his last film, “Babel,” then she can be among those spreading the early word.

In addition to “Biutiful” and “Blue Valentine,” several other films in the Academy Screenings series will not be widely released until 2011, including the animated film “The Illusionist”; British filmmaker Mike Leigh’s “Another Year”; Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”; and Peter Weir’s “The Way Back.”

While buzz out of Aspen doesn’t guarantee an Oscar, or even award consideration, many of the actors and filmmakers represented in this year’s Academy Screenings already have Oscar statues to their credit. Jeff Bridges, the reigning Best Actor for his performance in “Crazy Heart,” is back, this time as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” a remake of the 1969 John Wayne Western. It marks the first collaboration between Bridges and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen since the 1998 comedy “The Big Lebowski.”

Starring in “Biutiful,” as a lost soul looking for redemption through his relationship with his daughter, is Javier Bardem, who won the Best Supporting Actor for another Coen brothers’ film, 2007’s “No Country For Old Men.” Helen Mirren, a Best Actress winner for 2006’s “The Queen,” stars as the magician Prospera in “The Tempest,” director Julie Taymor’s adaptation of the Shakespeare romance.

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Nicole Kidman, an Oscar winner for 2002’s “The Hours,” stars in “Rabbit Hole,” director John Cameron Mitchell’s film about a suburban couple trying to recapture their once happy lives. Robert Duvall, who took the Academy Award for 1984’s “Tender Mercies,” plays a cantankerous hermit in the period drama, “Get Low.”

Geoffrey Rush, who won the Best Actor Oscar for 1996’s “Shine,” is a sure-fire contender for another award, this time in a supporting role, for his work as a strict but warm-hearted speech therapist in “The King’s Speech.” The film, which tells the story of King George VI’s (Colin Firth) effort to overcome a debilitating stutter, earned the Audience Award at Aspen Filmfest in October.

Also showing in the 2010 Academy Screenings are “The Fighter,” David O. Russell’s film of boxing brothers, played by Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale; “Fair Game,” a dramatization of the real-life espionage/media leak episode starring Naomi Watts as the undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame and Sean Penn as her husband, a retired ambassador; and “Inside Job,” an analytic documentary about the current economic crisis, narrated by Matt Damon.

Also: “Barney’s Version,” starring Paul Giamatti as a hard-living Montreal TV producer taking a walk down his personal memory lane; “Casino Jack,” with Kevin Spacey in the title role of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff; and “The Way Back,” director Peter Weir’s adaptation of a memoir about an escape from a 1940 Siberian gulag.

Rounding out the series are “Made in Dagenham,” a British feminist film with a cast that includes Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson and Rosamund Pike; and “The Company Men,” starring Ben Affleck as a once-successful man adjusting to his downsized life.

Tickets for Academy Screenings go on sale Dec. 13 at the Wheeler Opera House’s Aspen Show Tickets (aspenshowtix.com). For full program details, including screening dates and times, go to aspenfilm.org.

stewart@aspentimes.com