Filmfest: Program Notes |

Filmfest: Program Notes

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen Filmfest’s 13th annual Academy Screenings are being presented at Harris Hall Sunday, Dec. 21, through Jan. 2, with daily presentations save for a Christmas break Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 24-25. Screenings are open to the public. Tickets are available at the Wheeler Opera House and at the door.

For complete information, go to

Following are brief looks at the films in the program.

Lord of the Rings:

The Return of the King

Sunday, Dec. 21, 6:30 p.m.

Peter Jackson’s first two films in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy have earned massive audiences and praiseful reviews. But anticipation runs high for the final installment: Early notices that the film is as high in emotional richness as in gripping battle scenes are making “The Return of the King” the front-runner for the best picture Oscar. If it wins, it would be the first fantasy film to do so.

In America

Monday, Dec. 22, 5:30 p.m.

Jim Sheridan is known for his Irish trilogy of “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father” and “The Boxer,” gritty films all. With “In America,” Sheridan turns his attention toward America, focusing on an immigrant family in New York City. And he exchanges the grit for warmth.

The Human Stain

Monday, Dec. 22, 8:15 p.m.

Adapting Philip Roth’s multifaceted novel was a foolhardy undertaking. But save from the disastrous casting of Nicole Kidman as a damaged janitor, director Robert Benton gives it a good go. With Anthony Hopkins as an elderly but vital university dean with a lifelong secret, “The Human Stain” casts fresh light on issues of race, identity and sexuality. Still, you should read the book.

Cold Mountain

Tuesday, Dec. 23, 5:30 p.m.

Expect a crowd. A love epic set in the Civil War, “Cold Mountain” features a dream cast (Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Renee Zellweger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland), a hugely popular source material (the Charles Frazier novel), an admired director (Anthony Minghella, whose credits include “The English Patient” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley”), and impressive early buzz.

The Company

Friday, Dec. 26, 5:30 p.m.

Robert Altman takes a fictionalized look behind the curtain of the Joffrey Ballet. Neve Campbell, a one-time student with the National Ballet of Canada, stars as a young dancer aiming to become a principal ballerina. Malcolm McDowell plays the company’s strict director.

Calendar Girls

Friday, Dec. 26, 8:15 p.m.

Inspired by a true story, the English film “Calendar Girls” tells the tale of an unlikely fund-raising project. A group of aging woman (played by Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, among others) bares all to make a different kind of girly calendar to raise funds for the fight against leukemia. Wouldn’t you know, the calendar becomes a hit.

Big Fish

Saturday, Dec. 27, 5:30 p.m.

Director Tim Burton has always had strong stories hidden beneath his one-of-a-kind visuals (“Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Halloween”). In “Big Fish,” as in his exceptional “Ed Wood,” Burton brings the story to the fore. Albert Finney stars as Edward Bloom, a man telling tales of his younger life, and trying to reconnect with his son (Billy Crudup). Also starring Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi and Ewan McGregor as the younger Edward, “Big Fish” has been hailed as a possible best picture nominee.

The Statement

Saturday, Dec. 27, 8:15 p.m.

In this political thriller, Michael Caine stars as a former Nazi executioner in the Vichy regime. Protected for decades by the Catholic Church, his identity is finally being investigated by French authorities. Directed by Norman Jewison, “The Statement” also features Tilda Swinton and Charlotte Rampling.

Fog of War

Sunday, Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m.

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (“The Thin Blue Line,” “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control”) takes on a pivotal figure in Robert S. McNamara. Secretary of defense to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, McNamara played a central role in the Bay of Pigs and America’s involvement in Vietnam. Subtitled “Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara,” “Fog of War” features archival footage, reflections by McNamara, and a Philip Glass original score.

The Barbarian Invasions

Sunday, Dec. 28, 8:15 p.m.

Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand revisits the characters from his 1986 group portrait, “The Decline of the American Empire.” “The Barbarian Invasions” focuses on a prickly history professor forced to confront family and friends, his past and his imminent demise.

Monsieur Ibrahim

Monday, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m.

A French film of remarkable and credible sweetness, “Monsieur Ibrahim” stars Omar Sharif as an exuberant Parisian grocer striking up a relationship with a troubled neighborhood youth. Set in the early ’60s, “Monsieur Ibrahim” has plenty to say about current ideas of religion while offering a timeless take on human compassion.

Veronica Guerin

Monday, Dec. 29, 8:15 p.m.

Cate Blanchett stars as the title character, a real-life, mid-’90s Irish journalist exposing the Dublin drug wars. Joel Schumacher, stretching himself further still, directs.

The Triplets of Belleville

Tuesday, Dec. 30, 5:30 p.m.

This French animated film combines the anarchy of “Bugs Bunny,” music and dance, family members and villains, dreams of being a cycling champion ” and almost no dialogue. The film has been hailed for its thoroughly original tone and tempo.

21 Grams

Tuesday, Dec. 30, 7:45 p.m.

“21 Grams” is the highly anticipated followup from the “Amores Perros” team of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga Jordan. This time, the Mexican team works in English, and with a cast that includes Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Torro. But they haven’t lost their taste for disturbing, challenging material.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Wednesday, Dec. 31, 5:30 p.m.

Scarlett Johansson stars as the peasant girl who inspires one of Johannes Vermeer’s (Colin Firth) masterpieces, and throws his 16th-century household into disarray. Reviewers have noted the visual beauty of Peter Webber’s directorial debut.

The Station Agent

Thursday, Jan. 1, 5:30 p.m.

Voted “Audience Favorite Feature” at Aspen Filmfest 2003, “The Station Agent” examines three outsiders ” a dwarf (Peter Dinklage), a distraught artist (Patricia Clarkson), and a motormouth hot-dog vendor (Bobby Cannavale) ” thrown together at an isolated New Jersey train depot. Writer-director Tom McCarthy handles it with an abundance of humor and humanity.

Shattered Glass

Thursday, Jan. 1, 8 p.m.

This absorbing film looks at the real-life story of Stephen Glass, a young writer for the New Republic in the 1990s. When the ambitious but fragile Glass finds one of his stories being dissected for inaccuracies, his career and life begin to come apart. There’s fine acting by Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Hank Azaria, and a sure hand by screenwriter Billy Ray in his debut as a director.


Friday, Jan. 2, 5:30 p.m.

Gwyneth Paltrow stars in New Zealand director Christine Jeffs’ chronicling of the tormented life of poet Sylvia Plath.

The Cooler

Friday, Jan. 2, 8:15 p.m.

Set in the Shangri-La Casino, a bastion of old-school Las Vegas, “The Cooler” stars William H. Macy as Bernie, a hard-luck gambler who just might get lucky in love. Macy is great as usual, Alec Baldwin is superb as a throwback casino boss, and Maria Bello has a breakout performance as the cocktail waitress who finds something to love in Bernie. Despite the title, there is an uncommonly hot sex scene between Macy and Bello.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User