Once spring has sprung in the Mile High City, you might want to head outside — but fight that urge. Because in April, you'll want to get into the cool darkness of one of your favorite movie theaters and see a film or three. If you must spend time outdoors, you can head to one of the mountain towns that's hosting a film fest. Here in chronological order are the ten best bets for cinema events in or near Denver this month.
10. Aspen Shorts Fest
Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
Short films are the secret weapons of the film world. Clocking in anywhere from one minute to forty, shorts excel because they have to work harder than their full-length brethren in order to tell a complete and engaging story in half the time. Though often relegated to “opening act” status for a main feature, these films have become the focus of the 25 year-old Aspen Shortsfest, which features seventy of them over the course of six days. And while Aspen Film also puts on an impressive feature film fest in September, the organization displays an uncanny ability to sort through hundreds of short films in order to curate a program that is both entertaining and influential. In the past two years, five of the festival’s Best Short winners have gone on to be nominated for Academy Awards. Hot on the buzz list this time is the world premiere of director Sean Baker's (Tangerine) Snowbird. See the whole schedule, including events with many of the film directors and industry luminaries, at aspenfilm.org.
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9. Classic Divas at the Esquire
Wednesdays at 2 and 7 p.m. through April
Last month, the Esquire’s salute to the grand dames of cinema highlighted the gals who ruled the first half of the last century, with films starring Hepburn, Davis, Dandridge and Crawford. In April, the series gets contemporary: Elizabeth Taylor, Pam Grier, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Cher take the spotlight, with screenings of the scenery-chewing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, explosive blaxploitation hit Coffy, girl-power gem 9 To 5, and irreverent rom-com Moonstruck to show the children what powerhouse acting is all about. If we could include the nail-polish emoji, we’d do it here. Get your tickets at landmarktheaters.com.
8. Vail Film Festival
Cascade Club and Cinebistro in Vail
High atop the still-snowy peaks of Vail, you can spot plenty of skiers sucking back hot chocolate and enjoying the sun. But down in the village, an increasing number of people will choose to stay in the dark this week. That's because the Vail Film Festival will feature over sixty films from around the world, including a special showcase of Hong Kong treats — like the wildly international hit Monster Hunt — as well as Q&As with celebrated filmmakers, splendid concerts that embellish some of the movies, and a special nod to rising star Madison Davenport, who'll be on hand to celebrate her film, A Light Beneath Their Feet. Reserve your seats and see the full schedule at vailfilmfestival.com.
7. Showgirls, with live commentary by David Schmader
Friday, April 8
It’s hard to name another film that has had the reinvention run that Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls has enjoyed since its disastrous debut in 1995. Here we are more than twenty years later, still talking about the movie and looking at new ways to watch the epic tale of one Nomi Malone (Saved by the Bell’s Elizabeth Berkley), who goes from stripper to star of the Vegas strip in a short time and by ANY MEANS NECESSARY. Written by sleazy scribe Joe Eszterhas, the film was chided, derided, defended, rear-ended and finally buffed and fluffed into an entirely different experience, depending on who’s leading you into the screening. This time the Alamo is bringing out David Schmader, writer for Seattle's The Stranger. Whether this is your first viewing of the film or your fiftieth, Schmader promises to make hisita night to remember and a film you won’t forget — no matter how much you try. Reserve your ticket at drafthouse.com.
6. The Invitation
Opens Friday, April 8
Sie FilmCenter and Alamo Drafthouse
When the dust settles and Hollywood finally supports more active female directors than male, filmmaker Karyn Kusama will already be a landmark. From her 2000 debut film Girlfight, to her big-budget take on cult cartoon Aeon Flux, to her criminally underseen and underappreciated Jennifer’s Body, Kusama has been creating films to watch for the better part of this century — and now, with The Invitation, she may have arrived. This new thriller sets an eerie tone as a man is invited to a dinner party at his former home, where his ex-wife and her new husband now reside, and he can’t shake the feeling that by the time dessert arrives, something terrible is going to happen. (To say more would ruin the film’s twists and turns.) Kusama’s eye brilliantly illustrates Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s tense screenplay, and makes her one to keep watching as she hits her stride. Get your tickets at denverfilm.org and drafthouse.com.
Keep reading for five more film events.
5. Selena Sing-Along
It’s still hard to believe that 21 years ago, beloved Tejano singer Selena, dubbed by many fans as the next Madonna, was killed by her fan club's president on the eve of her highly anticipated American pop crossover. Her story was effectively captured in Gregory Nava’s 1997 biopic Selena, in which the bubbly and songstress was played by a fresh-faced Jennifer Lopez to near perfection. Rather than focus on sad details, the Alamo Drafthouse has decided to give the film its patented sing-along treatment (complete with props) on Selena’s birthday, so that every musical cue in the film — from “Como la Flor” to “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” to the devastating finale of “Dreaming of You” — can be sung with gusto by the audience and every lyric can reach the heights of wherever Ms. Quintanilla may be performing in heaven. Grab a ticket, and a tissue, at drafthouse.com.
4. Versus: Round Two
Begin Saturday, April 16
Last month, the Alamo anticipated the release of Batman v Superman with a monthlong program highlighting some of the best character battles in movie history. The series was such a hit that the theater revamped it for a second go-round of head-to-head battles. The epic fights captured in Akira, Big Trouble in Little China and They Live will all unreel; there will also be Ash vs. the Evil Dead in the epic Army of Darkness Quote-Along. You can get double the explosions with a special thirtieth-anniversary Alien/Aliens double feature (a second added show is almost sold out). And even the Alamo’s dance party will get in on the action with a Justin v Justin battle — that would be Timberlake v Bieber — that just might implode and pop a hole in the universe. Watch out! Pick your battles in April at drafthouse.com.
3. Deviant Animation
Saturdays at 10 p.m. beginning April 16
Next month we’ll be highlighting the restored re-release of the legendary “lost” Japanese film Belladonna of Sadness, which used gorgeous animation to tell a very sexual and violent tale that was definitely not for the kiddies. That 1973 film was one of the first major features to utilize the cartoon system to give adults some variety in mature entertainment and explore wild worlds — sexual, violent, often political — that only animation can take a viewer to. Curated and hosted by Andrew Novick, someone who knows a thing or two about having fun as a grownup, this new series will prepare us for Belladonna’s release by drawing us into the unique views of Ralph Bakshi’s drug- and sex-fueled Fritz the Cat and the urban-decay tale Heavy Traffic, as well as René Laloux’s disturbingly psychedelic Fantastic Planet, and alternative-magazine-brought-to-life Heavy Metal. Leave the kids at home and your sensibilities at the door; get your tickets at denverfilm.org.
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2. Tale of Tales
Opens Friday, April 29
Matteo Garrone’s 2008 foreign-film hit Gomorrah shocked audiences with an intense, violent peek behind the scenes of Italy’s modern Mob syndicate, while his 2012 film Reality explored our obsession with reality TV through the eyes of a man desperate to have his own show. But while those films rooted us in the reality of modern times, his new film (and English-language debut), Tale of Tales, spirals back to the fairy tales of Giambattista Basile and weaves their stories through a surreal and Gothic fantasy. From the tale of a queen (Salma Hayek) who must eat the heart of a dragon in order to have a child to the story of a rival king (Toby Jones) obsessed with a giant flea to the heartbreak of his sensitive daughter, this will offer a dozen memorable trips through a twisted and stunning imagination. Get your tickets at denverfilm.org.
1. Green Room
Opens Friday, April 29
Various Denver theaters
Jeremy Saulnier’s 2013 indie hit Blue Ruin was a perfect balance of dark humor and unrelenting suspense, as it slowly unfolded the story of a drifter heading to his home town for a revenge plot that doesn’t go at all as he planned. The film placed the filmmaker in cinema’s crosshairs — but rather than succumb to those courting him for a superhero film or franchise sequel, Saulnier stuck to his guns and just delivered a film that may best Ruin in its nail-biting tension. In Green Room, we meet a punk-rock band (fronted by Alia Shawkat, Imogen Poots and Anton Yelchin) that's packing up after a lowly gig — only to stumble onto a murder at the hands of a group of terrifying skinheads (led by the always reliable Patrick Stewart). Suddenly the usual load-out turns into a bloody fight for survival. Saulnier fills every inch of the frame with dread, but still offers balancing levity to keep the audience from passing out from stress. Here’s hoping that this cinematic mastermind sticks to his guns (and knives, and baseball bats) and delivers a sweet three-peat. Find theaters and showtimes for the film at fandango.com.