Returning for its 12th holiday season, for film lovers the Maui Film Festival's FirstLight Academy Screenings is an event somewhere between a great gift and a crystal ball for the upcoming awards season.
Showing 35 films on Castle Theater's big screen, FirstLight boasts some 20 premieres.
Although the film lineup had to be booked weeks ago, the titles read like a forecast of upcoming awards (Golden Globes will be announced Tuesday, the Oscars early in January).
Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg star in the gritty drama “The Fighter”
Paramount Pictures photo via AP
Natalie Portman is getting early Oscar buzz for “Black Swan.”
Fox Searchlight photo via AP
Russell Brand tries to escape Alfred Molina in William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” directed by Julie Taymor and filmed on Lanai.
Tempest Productions photo via AP
For Barry Rivers, who codirects Maui Film Festival with his wife, Stella, the original concept was to make the industry's most prestigious products available for previewing by academy members vacationing on Maui over the holidays.
The timing provided a window for consideration for the upcoming Oscar ballot, and voting members of all major industry guilds get in free.
But island folks who aren't big movie producers but just like to watch great filmmaking are the real beneficiaries. We get to see these productions, often weeks before their national release, at regular ticket prices ($12 per individual screening, or $10 with a FastPass.)
The screenings are spread out over the holidays, often with up to four a day. The impact is not only getting a jump on your office Oscar pool, but also the synergy of experiencing all their craft and emotional power in huge helpings.
The result is a film series that not only can boast most of the year's best movies, but also offers a unique way of seeing them.
The following synopses have been provided by the Maui Film Festival. For more information, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.
- Rick Chatenever
WEDNESDAY DEC. 15
6 p.m. - "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" R, 1:55.
Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney reveals the political intrigue behind the calculated unraveling of Spitzer's sexual misadventures.
8 p.m. - "The Fighter" R, 1:55.
Mark Wahlberg stars in a journey from adversity to championship boxer. Christian Bale and Amy Adams co-star. David O. Russell directs.
FRIDAY DEC. 17
4 p.m. - "The Kids Are All Right" R, 1:55.
Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo star in this comedy that explores and expands the notion of family in America.
6 p.m. - "Wild Target" PG-13, 1:39.
A free spirited art thief and a hit man looking for love cross paths in this wild comedy starring Emily Blunt, Bill Nighy and Rupert Grint.
8 p.m. - "The Company Men" R, 1:37.
Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones star in this deeply heartfelt drama also featuring Kevin Costner and Maria Bello.
SUNDAY DEC. 19
2 p.m. - "The Ghost Writer" R, 2:08
Roman Polanski directs Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor and Kim Cattrall in this political thriller set against the backdrop of international intrigue.
4 p.m. - "The Tillman Story" NR, 1:34.
The truth beneath the mythology of their son's life and death resounds with emotion in this profile of the Tillman family's quest for justice.
6 p.m. - "The King's Speech" R, 1:58.
Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter star in this brilliant inspirational film based on the life of King George VI of England.
8 p.m. - "Black Swan" R, 1:48.
Darren Aronofsky directs a psychological thriller from the universe of world-class ballet. Stars Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder.
THURSDAY DEC. 23
5:30 p.m. - "The Way Back" NR, 2:13.
Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess and Saoirse Ronan star in this epic journey across the Himalayas en-route to freedom in India.
8 p.m. - "True Grit" PG-13, 1:57.
Stunning wide-screen cinema, directed by the Coen brothers starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.
SUNDAY DEC. 26
2 - "Legend of the Guardians - The Owls of Ga'Hoole" PG, 1:30.
An animated fantasy family adventure about two young owls from a mythic band of winged warriors saving all Owlkind from pure evil.
4 p.m. - "Mao's Last Dancer" PG, 1:57.
The inspiring true story of ballet superstar Li Cunxin and his extraordinary journey from poverty in China to international stardom.
6 p.m. - "For Colored Girls" R, 2:14.
A film inspired by the Tony Award-winning play directed by Tyler Perry. Stars Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington and more.
8 p.m. - "Somewhere" R, 1:36.
A movie star reawakens to life when his daughter is left in his charge. Sofia Coppola directs. Stars Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning.
MONDAY DEC. 27
4 p.m. - "Winter's Bone" R, 1:40.
Jennifer Lawrence stars, in a career-making performance, as an Ozark Mountain girl trying to keep her family intact against incredible odds.
6 p.m. - "Tiny Furniture" NR, 1:38.
The "Wonderfully Funny" (Paper Magazine), "Hilarious" (Variety), "Unnervingly Honest" (Vanity Fair) Audience Award winning dramedy.
8 p.m. - "The Tempest" PG-13, 1:50.
Shot on Lanai. Director Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespeare's play stars Helen Mirren, Russell Brand, Djimon Hounsou and A-List co-stars.
TUESDAY DEC. 28
4 p.m. - "Never Let Me Go" R, 1:44.
Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan discover a strange world beyond the sheltered confines of their boarding school.
6 p.m. - "My Dog Tulip" NR, 1:23
"The Best Love Story of the Year" raved Vanity Fair about this deeply moving, beautifully animated tale of a man and the love of his life, his dog.
8 p.m. - "Rabbit Hole" NR, 1:32.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star in this intense, yet poignantly funny, inspirational, family drama. With Dianne Wiest and Sandra Oh.
WEDNESDAY DEC. 29
4 p.m. - "Waste Land" NR, 1:30.
An amazing, not-to-be-missed award winning story of redemption and transformation that passionately thrives in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.
5:30 p.m. - "Biutiful" NR, 2:28.
Named Best Actor at Cannes, Javier Bardem plays a sensitive Barcelona street criminal facing his mortality. Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu directs.
8 p.m. - "Certified Copy" NR, 1:46.
Juliette Binoche, was named Best Actress at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival for her role in this romance set in the mountain villages of Italy.
THURSDAY DEC. 30
4 p.m. - "Welcome to the Rileys" R, 1:50.
James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo co-star in a powerfully uplifting Sundance drama about finding hope in the most unusual places.
6 p.m. - "Blue Valentine" R, 1:34
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star in this Sundance favorite-a story of love found and love lost told in past and present moments in time.
8 p.m. - "Casino Jack" R, 2:00.
Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey stars in this riotous dramedy that lays bare the wild excesses and escapades of Super-Lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
SUNDAY JAN. 2
2 p.m. - "It's Kind of a Funny Story" PG-13, 1:41.
A brilliant dramedy-and five-day life lesson about love and the pressures of growing up. Co-Stars Zach Galifianakis, Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts.
4 p.m. - "The American" R, 1:45.
George Clooney stars, with some of the most beautiful women in any suspense, in this suspenseful stunner set in the Italian village of Abruzzo.
6 p.m. - "Jack Goes Boating" R, 1:30.
Philip Seymour Hoffman directs and stars, alongside Amy Ryan, John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega, in this touching New York City-set dramedy.
8 p.m. - "Frankie & Alice" NR, 1:40.
Halle Berry brilliantly juggles three personalities in the lead role of this brilliantly powerful based-on-a-true-story drama set in 1970s L.A.