Well, that’s a wrap. The 39th annual Telluride Film Festival is in the rear-review mirror and we’re gearing up for TIFF, while Venice winds down. Meanwhile, Telluride organizers are already looking forward to next year: they’ve announced that the 40th edition of the festival will provide an extra day to expand into a five-day affair, starting on a Thursday. Mark your calendars now as surely the festival will be looking to make a splash on their 40th.
As my first Telluride experience, I must say it’s easily one of the best and most relaxed film festivals in the world. Paparazzi is non-existent, media is limited and generally Telluride is much more focused on the quality of films rather than the number of celebrities who have promised to attend flashy red carpets, galas and other showy media appearances.
And while some of the media and Oscar critics who attended Telluride were underwhelmed by the line-up, complaining about the lack of showstopping premieres, surprises and Academy contenders, the festival lineup was, for us, top-notch. Cherry-picking the best of Cannes and other fests, as well us handing a couple of premieres, Telluride 39 turned out to be an excellent affair. At least for me.
Five highlights include Jacques Audiard‘s “Rust & Bone,” Sarah Polley‘s fascinating family documentary, “Stories We Tell,” Noah Baumbach‘s delightful “Frances Ha,” Ben Affleck‘s gripping suspense flick and Hollywood satire “Argo,” and Sally Potter‘s “Ginger & Rosa.” In fact, nary a bad film was seen (give or take, well, one).
Studio-wise, Sony Pictures Classics took over Telluride with Pablo Larrain‘s “No” (a film I missed, but that won lots of good word of mouth), the aforementioned “Rust & Bone,” Rahmin’s Bahrani‘s “At Any Price” and this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Michael Haneke‘s “Amour.” SPC generally runs Telluride, but that’s because the festival usually caters to cinephiles and smart, intelligent filmgoers that expect the same from their movies. Mid-sized studios like Focus Features, The Weinstein Company, Magnolia and SPC are generally very at home here and a big mainstream picture is kind of rare (Ben Affleck’s “Argo” seems like a good exception to the rule, but the film would have also fit well at any of the aforementioned studios). I was told that SPC will make a Best Picture run for Haneke’s “Amour,” the thinking being that every 60 year-old or so eligible Oscar voter (more than sixty five percent of the members) will go for this harrowing picture about the ignominy of growing old starring Jean-Louis Trintigant and Emmanuelle Rivera. And while powerful and striking in that unsparing Hanke manner, the picture could prove to be far too brutalizing for Oscar voters, so that bet remains to be seen, but as Foreign Best Picture contender for Austria it will be a force to be reckoned with.
Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price,” was a fascinating attempt at a “mainstream” picture. Like a “Crimes & Misdemeanors” set in the Iowa cornfields, despite starring Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham, the picture was far from populist fare and proved a smart and sharp observational picture about family, loyalty and duty that should expand the helmer’s audience. It’ll be interesting to see if the American heartland accepts and takes to the picture, because Bahrani has done his homework and the milieu feels tremendously authentic. To boot, Dennis Quaid delivers one of the best performances of his career as the aging patriarch trying to keep his modest corn business afloat while facing stiff competition, a petulant son with aims of a NASCAR career and a domineering father. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a strong feature worth checking out and it’ll be interesting to see if SPC can rally Best Actor support for Quaid. You can read our full review from Venice.
Much less exciting was Focus Features’ “Hyde Park On Hudson.” While feel-good and pleasing for audiences, the picture had few teeth. Bill Murray could score a consolation Oscar nomination simply for his age and the fact that the Academy has largely ignored the actor for most of his career, but otherwise this feels like a Golden Globe picture all the way (those voters are much less discerning and seem to love gentle and inoffensive pictures). You can read out review here.
Perhaps the most striking and challenging of the pictures we saw was Thomas Vinterberg‘s “The Hunt.” Our writer in Cannes walked out of the picture and I almost did the same. Chronicling the downward spiral of a quiet and humble Danish man (Mads Mikklesen) who is accused of sexually abusing a child at the daycare he works in, Vinterberg’s drama is a brutal and unapologetic took at the dangers of snap judgements, mob mentality and humanity’s incapability to ever properly forgive. Part of the issue with the film is that it’s maddeningly manipulative and therefore frustrating early on. The character barely defends himself apparently too proud or too innocent to so — which is apparently a common Scandinavian trait according to an interview we recently read with Vinterberg — and the community around him barely takes a second to question his guilt. It’s infuriating and at the same time, frighteningly all too real. Mikklesen puts in an outstanding, devastating turn that rightly earned him the Best Actor prize on the Croissette and it was rumored “The Hunt” was a contender for the top prize. Vinterberg, like fellow Dane Lars Von Trier, likes to provoke, but as difficult as “The Hunt” journey is, it’s an important picture, one that elicited an extreme reaction from this viewer that’s been swirling around in my mind ever since. Magnolia will release the picture later this year and it’s a must-see for every cinephile. But be forewarned, it’s a bit agonizing at first. You can read a proper review of the film from the Karlovy Film Festival earlier this year.
Michael Winterbottom delivered his 20th picture since 1995 this year. Titled “Everyday,” and starring Shirley Henderson, the experimental picture was shot over five years, utilizing a family of four real-life siblings and focused on a single mom (Henderson) who has to look after her children while her husband (John Simm) is spending a five-year stint in prison. Ostensibly trying to capture the grueling grind and banality of daily life — the struggles of trying to keep the family afloat while dad gets closer and closer to release — the deliberately paced two-hour film isn’t always the easiest picture to endure, but there’s a moving emotional center dealing with the push and pull of separation that should speak to anyone who’s ever missed, and often cursed, a loved one in the same breath. You can read our review here.
Over on the next page, you can find a rundown of our five highlights, and where they might go from here this fall.
“Rust And Bone“
After winning the Best Director prize at Cannes for 2009’s stunning prison drama “A Prophet,” French filmmaker Jacques Audiard incontestably proved he’s one of Frances’ best working filmmakers with “Rust & Bone.” While the picture didn’t pick up any accolades at Cannes, and is perhaps just a hair shy of the quality of ‘Prophet,’ it was easily one of our favorites from Telluride and a well-chosen pick from the Croisette. Featuring another excellent turn by Marion Cotillard, it’s actually Mattias Schoenaerts (“Bullhead“) who was the surprise stand-out of the picture, playing a emotionally unavailable, but kind-hearted boxer who befriends (and doesn’t pity) a streetwise whale trainer who loses her legs in a devastating accident. While it;s POV shifts unconventionally (sometimes you’re not really sure who’s picture it is), in the end it works and more importantly, it’s incredibly arresting, lasting and memorable on the psyche. Surely France will enter this one in the Foreign Best Picture Oscar frame and if it makes the final cut, it could be a commanding contender. You can read our Cannes review here.
Known for dysfunctional family comic dramas with mean-spirited characters, “Frances Ha” is a big reinvention for director Noah Baumbach. In fact, the auteur seems to cede some of his stamp over to his co-writer and star Greta Gerwig, as it feels more like a spontaneous mumblecore picture, but with an exuberant dash of whimsy and fancifulness not seen in either of their previous pictures. The alchemy between them has produced a seriously funny, sad and engaging dramedy and it’s one of Baumbach’s best efforts to date. Well-received at Telluride, the picture has no distributor yet, but that’s likely going to change any minute now. Described as Woody Allen‘s “Manhattan,” with a dash of the ferocious energy from “Breathless” and the witty female-centric “Girls” from writer/director Lena Dunham, that doesn’t quite capture the fairy-tale like aspect of “Frances Ha,” but it’s close and those certainly aren’t bad signifiers to be compared with. You can read our review here.
While Ben Affleck‘s suspenseful drama — equal parts thriller, political potboiler and Hollywood send-up — and its Oscar chances may be overstated, the picture is still terrifically made and well-told. Nominations may be in order across the board, but it’s likely missing the emotional heft needed to take it to Best Picture winner. Still, there’s tons to admire and love in it, from several terrific character actor performances, an inspired pace and momentum and a well-balanced tone that shifts effortlessly from sobering intensity to humor and back again. Read our review here.
“Stories We Tell“
Discussing Sarah Polley‘s five-year-in-the-making documentary “Stories We Tell” is difficult without giving away plot points. Suffice to say, Polley is having a banner year and ‘Stories’ may be the best film we saw at Telluride. A family documentary with lots of twists and secrets, “Stories We Tell,” examines the nature of storytelling, truth, and even blends a few small elements of “fiction” throughout. It’s a terrific documentary. With the excellent and complicated drama “Take This Waltz” in theaters earlier this year, Polley may have two films that end up in this writer’s top 10 films of the year. But what’s becoming clear is the actor-turned-director is quickly becoming one of the most exciting and fascinating filmmakers in North America. You can read our review from Venice here.
“Ginger & Rosa“
Perhaps Sally Potter‘s best picture since “Orlando” and her most accessible ever, the early ’60s London-set “Ginger & Rosa” is a lovely and devastating look at how the activism, radicalism and ideologies of the sexual revolution and the ’60s severely damaged the children who came out of it. Featuring an outstanding performance by Elle Fanning, the teenager is always engrossing, but “Ginger & Rosa” is finally the type of meaty role that she can fully shine in. It’s probably too patient and introspective for the Oscars, but hopefully an SPC, Magnolia or Focus Features picks it up. It’s a beautiful and yet unapologetically difficult picture that will be adored by the right audience. Read our review here.
That’s it. Hopefully, we’ll be in Telluride for TFF40. It’s an excellent little festival that doesn’t need the obvious big name titles to be a worthwhile destination for cinephiles and filmmakers alike. Next up is Toronto, followed by a little bit of Fantastic Fest, the New York Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival. Phew.