Last week's announcement of the Golden Globe field - led by "American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave" with seven nominations each - got film critics and fans buzzing about this year at the movies and what it all means.
On Maui as the FirstLight Academy Screenings move back into Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului for the 15th holiday season, what it all means is that Maui Film Festival Director Barry Rivers still has his crystal ball working.
Local audiences will have the opportunity to see 47 Golden Globe-nominated films and performances in the screenings, resuming today at 2 p.m. with Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips," "Mandella: Long Walk to Freedom" at 5 p.m., and Bruce Dern's Cannes-winning star turn in "Nebraska" at 7:30 p.m.
The screenings will hopscotch through the Castle Theater schedule, mostly filling Thursday-to Sunday slots through Jan. 5.
FirstLight has managed to show each year's eventual Best Picture Oscar winner despite the fact that Rivers has to make his choices months before the nominees are even selected.
Describing himself as "a coal miner looking for diamonds," he started trying to land this year's films in early October, when "American Hustle" writer-director David O. Russell was still putting in 12-hour days to get his movie finished.
"If you read the trades, you know what you're going after," he says. But things change as studios keep revising release dates. Awards season is a moving target.
This weekend's screenings continue Saturday with "Renoir" at 2 p.m. - "people who love foreign films don't want to miss this one," says Rivers. "Philomena," directed by Steven Frears, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the script, screens at 5 p.m.; followed by Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," starring Leonardo DiCaprio with Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey at 7 p.m.
Showtime for this highly anticipated financial con comedy was moved up to 7 p.m. at the iconic director's wishes, Rivers says.
Originally, when he and his wife, Stella, launched FirstLight, the emphasis was on the "Academy screenings." He realized that a lot of the industry professionals spent the holidays on Maui, and in those predigital, what's-a-screener? days, the chance to see prospective Oscar contenders here might mean the difference between a nomination or not. Members of nominating industry guilds have always gotten free admission to the screenings.
Now, Rivers says, conventional wisdom in the industry is that showing films at FirstLight "is just a smart thing to do. It's part of the landscape of a smartly run awards campaign."
"Renoir" is a reminder that FirstLight is often the only place on Maui to see other countries' entries in the Best Foreign Film Oscar race. This year's schedule includes contenders from France, Chile, Italy and Belgium.
FirstLight continues Sunday with "12 Years a Slave" at 2 p.m.; "August: Osage County," adapted from Tracy Lett's Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play featuring Golden Globe-nominated performances by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts at 5 p.m., followed by "American Hustle" at 7:30 p.m. Films resume Dec. 27. For schedule and more details see Movies or visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.
From the beginning, Maui Film Festival has carved out a unique place for itself in the wide world of cinema by being in sync with industry trends at the same time it was putting its own Maui stamp on them. Next summer's Maui Film Festival at Wailea will be going into action earlier, bumping up its customary mid-June time slot to June 4 through 8.
"It will jump-start the summer film festival season," says Rivers.
But in the meantime, we're still in the season of year when FirstLight shines its illumination on the winter solstice.
"People are feeling like this is the best year we've ever had," concludes FirstLight's founder.
True, he always says that.
But he's always right.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.