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Telluride Wrap: Strong Lineup Led by ‘Argo,’ ‘Gatekeepers,’ ‘Amour,’ and ‘Stories We Tell’

Telluride Wrap: Strong Lineup Led by 'Argo,' 'Gatekeepers,' 'Amour,' and 'Stories We Tell'

Heading into the festivals in Toronto and New York, what have we learned from Telluride and Venice? Quite a good deal.

The Telluride awards season movies now in play include Sony Pictures Classics’ Palme d’Or-winning “Amour,” starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, which wowed audiences and journos alike and should wind up in the best picture as well as foreign film race (UPDATE: it’s the Austrian submission). The Academy voters are sure to respond, as Telluride audiences did, to Michael Haneke’s no-hold-barred story of love and loss.

Warner Bros. and Ben Affleck were smart to bring “Argo” (October 12) to Telluride. In the absence of Weinstein Co.’s “The Silver Linings Playbook,” which the festival invited but was retooling in advance of Toronto, the 80s CIA thriller starring Affleck –and the hilarious John Goodman and Alan Arkin– dominated the Rocky Mountain fest and gained valuable momentum and critical cred heading into the fall. (Here’s my review.) It’s that rare thing that Sydney Pollack knew how to do: a smart but accessible commercial picture that will also play for critics and industry insiders. Word is the Afflecks are considering buying a fancy apartment in downtown Telluride.

Also heading to Toronto with a full head of steam, post Venice and Telluride, is Canadian actress-filmmaker Sarah Polley’s extraordinary personal documentary “Stories We Tell,” about her charismatic actress mother who died when she was 11, and her family secrets, which were only fully discovered a year ago. So far Polley does not want to talk about her doc–she was upset when a Toronto newspaper columnist heard about the story, and managed to convince him to keep it under wraps. Here’s her blog post about why she wants the film to speak for itself. She’s seeking a distributor. And she may relent under the pressure of the rapturous audience and critical response so far in both Venice and Telluride. (UPDATE: Polley flew coach on my Denver/Toronto flight with her husband and wee baby.)

Earning mixed response at Telluride was Focus Features’ “Hyde Park on Hudson,” starring Bill Murray as FDR; the actor happily wandered the  town, posing for photos. The movie screened for free in the town park and proved a crowd-pleaser. Here’s THR and Variety; I’ll catch it in Toronto, along with Noah Baumbach’s black-and-white “Frances Ha,” featuring his new muse, Greta Gerwig, who helped him to write the film but was in tears when the projection proceeded twice with no sound at the first Galaxy screening (a power circuit break at one of the speakers was eventually reconnected). Here are reviews from Indiewire and Playlist.

Out of Venice, Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” also starring Affleck (in a small role) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s  “The Master” did not earn the unanimous praise that attends Oscar contenders. Their reception in Toronto will complete the tale; both lead the Toronto Star’s annual critics’ poll. Of the two, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix earned the best reviews, but Phoenix’s continued odd behavior and lack of willingness to court press is not going to stand him in good stead through Oscar season–although Monique got away with a minimal promotion schedule on “Precious.” (Here’s the current standings pre-Toronto from the Gurus ‘O Gold.)

Other foreign contenders unspooling at Telluride include Germany’s superb official Oscar entry “Barbara,” starring Nina Hoss as an heroic country doctor trying to escape the paranoid confines of her life in East Germany, which indie distribution vet Jeff Lipsky’s Adopt Films happily acquired out of Berlin, where director Christian Petzold won the Silver Bear.  The film is included in the New York Film Festival line-up.

Chile will likely submit Pablo Larrain’s Cannes entry “No,” starring Mexican producer-star Gael Garcia Bernal, adopting yet another Spanish accent, who charmed Telluride attendees. (The official Academy deadline is October 1.) This 80s political thriller about the ad campaign to overthrow Pinochet played well here without catching fire (its vintage video aesthetic put off some moviegoers). Bernal is working to form an organization to nominate and award prizes to each year’s best Spanish-language films, much like the European Film Awards, in order to raise their global profiles.

Denmark will choose among young filmmaker Nicolaj Arcel’s historic romantic triangle “A Royal Affair,” which won awards at Berlin for best screenplay and actor (newcomer Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, as the loony but sympathetic king), and films from two Oscar-winners, Susanne Bier (romance “Love is All You Need,” starring Pierce Brosnan, acquired by SPC) and Bille August (period drama “Marie Kroyer”). A Danish Film Institute/film industry committee will name the final Danish Oscar submission on September 18. Last year, Bier’s “In a Better World” won the best foreign language Oscar; 23 years ago August won for “Pele The Conqueror.”

“A Royal Affair,” which is a huge hit in Denmark, and its high cheek-boned star, Telluride tributee Mads Mikkelsen, wowed audiences at the Colorado fest. Mikkelson’s Cannes-winner for best actor, “The Hunt,” also played well but won’t open in Denmark until 2013. (Magnolia picked up both films.)

Israel’s pick for the Oscars is usually its Ophir winner; Israeli animated doc “Waltz with Bashir” was nominated in 2009. Dror Moreh’s extraordinary Shin Bet expose “The Gatekeepers,” one of the outstanding hits of the festival, was one of a series of movies, like “Argo” and Palestinian film “The Attack,” that were set in the Middle East or dealt with some form of terrorism. So far Sony Pictures Classics, which picked up “The Gatekeepers” right before the fest, is planning to open the film in the new year, but may change its mind.

Playing to mixed response at Venice and/or Telluride were Millennium’s “The Iceman,” which earned approval for Michael Shannon’s performance as a cold-blooded hitman and Sally Potter’s gorgeously shot 60s family drama “Ginger and Rosa,” starring an incandescent Elle Fanning, which is perfectly calibrated for the Sony Pictures Classics boomer art house crowd (SPC has handled several Potter films and invited her to their Friday night dinner). TWC’s Australian Vietnam era music picture “The Sapphires” played well, and Chris O’Dowd earned praise. A possible tweener is SPC’s “At Any Price,” an oddly calibrated midwestern farm drama starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron as troubled father and son, which marks indie Ramin Bahrani’s awkward transition to mainstream fare. And SPC’s “Rust and Bone” may prove more a critical than audience pleaser; France will choose between submitting that and heart-warming hit “The Intouchables,” whose star Omar Sy beat Jean Dujardin at the Cesars; the film performed well stateside through TWC.

All in all it was yet another top-notch Telluride, impeccably programmed. The only complaint, voiced by many, was that some of the most popular films, perhaps unexpectedly, wound up in the smaller venues with passholders lined up around the block and patrons scoring the too few seats.

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