Aspen

Frederick Wiseman’s 1991 documentary presents the Colorado city—and, by implication, the United States after Reagan—as a house divided; in fact, this feels like two separate films developing in tandem. One strand is a stinging black comedy about the wealthy conservatives who come to Aspen for pleasure trips and business conferences; as presented here, they’re smug, callous monsters with expensive tastes but ridiculously little understanding of serious culture. The second strand is a moving portrait of the town’s blue-collar denizens, shown plugging away unpretentiously at life and work. In between the portraits of upper- and lower-class America, Wiseman contemplates the possibility of transcendent experience in contemporary life—through scenes of Christian ritual and images of Aspen’s breathtaking mountain ranges. The disparate themes come together in the film’s heartbreaking final sequence, wherein a pastor delivers a prayer for cultural reconciliation that shines a new light on everything we’ve seen before. A masterpiece.