RED BANK: A COUNT-DOWN TO THE OSCARS

Casey Affleck stars in tonight’s showing of MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, one of the heavily favored Oscar contenders being presented on the Count Basie screen at a pleasingly retro ticket price.  (Amazon Studios)

It happens every year at this time: the kind of awards-season buzz that turns the most casual-viewing couch potato into the most discerning of armchair film critics and festival adjudicators. As the February 26 airdate of the 89th Academy Awards draws closer, film fans scramble to catch up with as many of the nominated features as there are hours in the week — and the Count Basie Theatre is there to meet them, with a special slate of screenings that spotlights some of 2016’s most acclaimed releases, at a price of admission that’s a throwback to some twenty years ago.

The schedule that kicked off on January 31 with the noir western Hell or High Water (four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture) continues tonight, February 15, with a 7 p.m. screening of a “little” movie that’s made a big splash with audiences from here to Sundance: the drama Manchester By The Sea.

Set in the Massachusetts coastal town of that name, the tale of old wounds, second chances and heavy burdens stars Casey Affleck in his Golden Globe winning turn as Lee, an emotionally scarred handyman who’s forced to return to his old hometown when he’s named the guardian of his recently deceased brother’s teenaged son. Coming out of left field to score six major Oscar nominations — for Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor (young Lucas Hedges), Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife), plus Kenneth Lonergan’s original screenplay and direction — the film is all the more impressive for having catapulted its distributor Amazon Studios into the big leagues of Oscar-lauded contenders.

A presentation of the Count Basie Theatre Cinema Society, tonight’s showing of Manchester by the Sea plays at Monmouth County’s longest continuously operating movie venue for just $5 per ticket (or free of charge, for Cinema Society members). Buy two admissions for $15, and receive a $10 concessions vouchers — and take it here to reserve.

Best Picture nominee HIDDEN FIGURES wraps up the Count Basie Theatre Cinema Society’s slate of Oscar-nominated feature films with 7 p.m. screenings on February 20 and 27.  (20th Century Fox)

Based on a true-life story — but ranking with the best narrative drama, since that true story had been effectively swept beneath the rug for so many years — Hidden Figures tells the story of three NASA mathematicians (Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Best Supporting Actress nominee Octavia Spencer) who remained unsung heroes of the nascent American manned space program, due in large part to their being African American women. The film that racked up two additional major nominations (for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, by Theodore Melfi and Alison Schroder from the nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly) closes out the Basie Cinema Society’s Academy Awards program with two bargain-priced 7 p.m. screenings — on Monday, February 20 and a post-Oscars encore on February 27. Take it here to reserve seating for either of the two screening events ($5; $15 for two with $10 concessions voucher) — or go here to become an official member of the Count Basie Theatre Cinema Society, and enjoy these and other film events throughout the year free of charge.

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