Hollywood gets heavy for the holiday season | AspenTimes.com

Hollywood gets heavy for the holiday season

Stewart Oksenhorn

In an idealized world, the holiday season is the ultimate in festivity – filled with cookies and carols, gifts, good foods and good moods.In the real world, experience has proved this is not so. The holiday season is packed with harried shopping, moody retailers and commercialism carried to unfathomable heights.Which is, perhaps, why Christmastime at the local cinema is no time for hopeful romances, light comedy or feel-good fare. Rather, the holidays are when studios pull out their heavy guns – dark dramas, political pieces, serious biographies. After 10 months of thrillers, teen comedies and love stories, moviegoers in November and December are hit with a barrage of dark tones, intense emotions and weighty stories.One large factor in such timing has nothing to do with the holidays, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Studios hang onto their most serious films in the hopes that academy members will have the films fresh in their minds when they vote for the Oscars.”There are truisms in the industry about when you release a film,” said Aspen Filmfest executive director Laura Thielen. “A lot of people hold onto their prestige pictures ’til the fall, and fall gets overloaded with these pictures and it spills into the new year. The thinking person’s pictures come out in the fall.”For Aspen Filmfest, this means that the 10th annual Academy Screenings add up to a decidedly heavy program. The Academy Screenings, which opened last night, packages 19 films, all late-year releases, for a two-week splurge.The Academy Screenings continue tonight and run through Jan. 1 with evening showings each night, with a break for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Sunday and Monday, Dec. 24 and 25.The seriousness of the emotions also translates into serious artistic intentions and, hopefully, high-quality filmmaking. All of the films in the Academy Screenings are selected because they are considered contenders for Academy Award nominations.The directors whose works are represented in the program read like a list of the world’s highest-minded auteur filmmakers: Ang Lee, Lars von Trier, David Mamet, Giuseppe Tornatore, Philip Kaufman and Roland Joffe. Likewise, the actors featured in the films are some of the most acclaimed in the business: Ed Harris, Tom Hanks, Jonny Depp, Juliette Binoche, Geoffrey Rush, William H. Macy, Gérard Depardieu and Helen Hunt.A number of newcomers and lesser-known actors have been highly praised for their performances in the films: Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Javier Bardem, Colin Farrell and pop singer Björk.Of the 19 films, Thielen said only “Chocolat,” a romantic fable set in a small French village, and David Mamet’s “State and Main,” a satire of the Hollywood filmmaking industry, lean toward the lighter side. “There’s a lot of dark and edgy,” concluded Thielen.The Academy Screenings opened on a dark tone last night with “All the Pretty Horses,” directed by Billy Bob Thornton and adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy. The dark-and-edgy films continue tonight, at 5:30 p.m., with “Tigerland,” about a group of young soldiers training for service in Vietnam.Other films in the Academy Screenings that explore more intense emotions include the Lars von Trier musical “Dancer in the Dark” (Friday, Dec. 22), starring Björk as a single mother slowly going blind; Philip Kaufman’s “Quills” (Dec. 23), about the last years of the imprisoned Marquis de Sade; and “Pollock” (Dec. 26), a biography of painter Jackson Pollock.Also tending toward more serious issues are “Before Night Falls” (Dec. 27), about dissident, homosexual Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas; Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (Dec. 29), which mixes family issues with the martial arts; and “Traffic,” set in the world of drug trafficking.Other Academy Screenings films include “The Claim,” “Finding Forrester,” “The Gift,” “You Can Count on Me” and “The House of Mirth.” Also, “Malena,” “Cast Away” and “Vatel.”All films are at Harris Hall and are evening showings, with starting times between 5 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Wheeler Opera House box office or at the door.

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