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What We Learned About the Oscar Race at Telluride and Venice

What We Learned About the Oscar Race at Telluride and Venice

More and more, the festivals Venice and Telluride introduce multiple Oscar contenders before they move on to wider audiences in Toronto and/or New York and London.

Venice opened with”Everest” (Universal, September 25), Baltasar Kormákur’s superbly executed alpine survival adventure, which boasts a strong ensemble cast, but will likely be relegated to technical Oscar categories. Johnny Depp, making a comeback bid with spooky blue contact lenses as murderous Boston thug James “Whitey” Bulger, and supporting actor candidate Joel Edgerton earned initial praise for Scott Cooper’s solidly commercial gangster pic “Black Mass.” But the grisly Warner Bros. film, in which Bulger murders countless people with his bare hands, played better at Venice than Telluride, where Cooper made a point that the movie doesn’t glamorize gangsters. But it may be too tough for many Academy voters.

Playing well at both fests was another Boston drama, writer-director Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” (November 6) which masterfully dramatizes how the Boston Globe painstakingly exposed serial Catholic priest predators. Open Road will campaign for the terrific ensemble led by well-liked Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton (who earns good will for his “Birdman” near-win) for supporting recognition. Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber are strong in smaller roles, but they lack emotional money scenes that would push them into the race–unless “Spotlight” hits big and builds huge momentum later on. 
Also violent but more surreal, Cary Fukunaga’s gorgeously gritty West African action drama about lost boy soldiers, “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix/Bleecker Street, October 16), scored with both Venice and Telluride audiences and will play in Toronto. Writer-director Fukunaga, Idris Elba and Ghana rookie Abraham Attah, with critical and audience support, could score Netflix’s first feature Oscar nominations. Netflix has pacted with Bleecker Street to release the film nationally via the Landmark Theatre circuit (it will also open in the UK) at the same time that it goes out to 65 million Netflix subscribers. Will the Academy smile or frown on Netflix?
Tom Hooper’s transgender drama “The Danish Girl” drew raves for Eddie Redmayne (following up his Oscar win for “Theory of Everything”) and Alicia Vikander at Venice and now moves on to Toronto. Debuting well at Telluride, tributed Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s audacious biopic “Steve Jobs” continues on to New York and London festivals and will be a must-see, unique cinematic experience for film fans. Boyle, Sorkin, Fassbender and supporting player Winslet will be award frontrunners. 

Another fall festival contender is “Frank” director Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” starring Brie Larson (“Short Term 12”) as a kidnapped and abused young woman who raises her young son (the remarkable Jacob Tremblay) for five years in a locked room. The A24 film played well at Telluride and could land Best Actress and Supporting Actor nods.
Carey Mulligan follows up “Far from the Madding Crowd” with Brit director Sarah Gavron’s turn-of-the-century eye-opener “Suffragette,” written by Abi Morgan (“Iron Lady”), which played well to audiences –especially women– at Telluride, where feminist activist Meryl Streep supported the film. It will open the London Film Festival before Focus Features releases it on October 23. If Focus turns this into an art-house hit, Mulligan (“An Education”) has a strong shot at earning her second Oscar nomination. 

Well-reviewed at Berlin and Telluride was Andrew Haigh’s two-hander “45 Years,” whose veteran stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay should both score acting nominations. The film continued to win favor at Telluride, now moves on to Toronto, and should play well to the older demo when Sundance Selects opens it December 25.

Also tributed at Telluride was Cannes Best Actress winner Rooney Mara, star of The Weinstein Co.’s Todd Haynes Cannes Competition entry “Carol,” a lesbian romance co-starring Cate Blanchett. Produced by Christine Vachon, “Carol” was adapted by Phyllis Nagy from the Patricia Highsmith novel and played well at Telluride before it hits New York. Although as the well-hyped frontrunner it risks disappointing some, the timely and well-mounted movie should score in multiple categories. 

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