For film lovers in Aspen, Christmas comes early, stays late and gets an extended 14-day run. The Academy Screenings series, presented by Aspen Film (the newly renamed Aspen Filmfest), packages a stockingful of Academy Award hopefuls – some not to be released nationally for several weeks – for single screenings. The series has always been organized for user-friendliness – no overlapping screenings, all presentations in one theater. This year’s bounty, however, is so big – 26 movies – that there are a few scheduling conflicts, and the Wheeler Opera House is being used for three presentations. The first week of the series focuses on films that have shown in Aspen previously, including best-picture contenders “The Queen,” Stephen Frears’ smart take on the showdown between Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair; and “Babel,” a web of stories about grief and disconnection. But the Screenings open Monday, Dec. 18, with a new film, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” starring Will Smith as a salesman and father striving for better things in ’80s San Francisco. (It also shows at the Isis Theatre this week.) Academy Screenings run through Jan. 1 with screenings daily (except Sunday, Dec. 24). Highlights include “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Venus,” “Little Children” and “Volver.”
For every little girl with fantasies of being a ballerina – and the lesser number of boys aspiring to the dance stage – the local production of “The Nutcracker” is like a dream come true. The tiny dancers of the School of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet get to rub tutus with the company’s professionals; the older students get substantial stage time in a spectacular production and before full houses. And one lucky – and talented and dedicated – young ballerina gets the plum role of Clara, who dreams her Christmas Eve fantasy of battling mice and a handsome young soldier. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is also a treat for audiences; the production features not only the company dancers, but guest artists to perform the Arabian, Russian and Chinese segments. The “Nutcracker” is at the Aspen District Theatre Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16-17, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
T. Ray Becker was born in Chicago ” a case of the stork landing in the wrong region. Since 1969, Becker has lived mostly in the West, and most of that time in the Roaring Fork Valley. The “Introduction” to “Keepin’ It Western” ” a collection of recent songs recorded in Marble, and tracks from sessions in 1998 and 1991 ” makes it clear where Becker’s heart lies. Over an acoustic guitar that has little to do with Country and everything to do with Western, Becker, in a dusty drawl that recalls Sam Elliott’s cowboy/narrator from “The Big Lebowski,” talks about his life with broncs, firewood, and wide-open skies, spaces and minds. The songs are no less explicit in setting down Becker’s vision of Western living. “A Backward People” praises folks who never leave their precious land and muses about joining them in their “outdated lifestyle.” For the moment, however, Becker lives in an RV and leads the life of his “The Vanishing Cowboy”: “a free-wheelin’ drifter, out on the road with my old guitar.” The frontier, iconoclast mentality that lives in Becker and his songs is best summed up in a phrase from “Died and Gone to Texas”: “Where the misfits still fit / Man, that’s where I belong.” Becker celebrates “Keepin’ It Western” with a CD Release Party on Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Pour House in Carbondale.
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