Given its frequent appropriation of Cannes titles and annual slot squeezed in between Venice and Toronto, Telluride should have a hard time defining itself in the fall festival season. And yet it never has. This is partially because of its gorgeous location, isolated high in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, and the loyal, elevated cineaste crowd (filtered somewhat by cost) that shows up every year, but it’s also because of that handful of films programmers and eager distributors slip into the program as sneak screenings at the last minute.
“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “Up in the Air,” “Juno” — all were snuck into Telluride before their Toronto screenings in recent years (and several hit the best picture jackpot six months later). While even the best films with the most preemptive buzz swim in a vast sea of international filmmaking at Venice and Toronto, they stand out in Telluride’s relatively tiny program and often count as “quiet premieres” that screen before they do at the other two fests, inevitably creating early chatter from influential film people. Both “Slumdog” and “Speech” benefited greatly from the giant push Telluride’s boosters gave them over Labor Day weekend.
Telluride festival directors Tom Luddy, Gary Meyer and Julie Huntsinger always leave room for two or three big sneaks in the four-day schedule, and this year should be no different. With attendees on their way to the show yesterday and today after finally seeing the full schedule, they will already be eagerly debating what movies ultimately fill those TBA slots.
After some shrewd investigation, here are the odds as Indiewire see them.
“Argo,” directed by Ben Affleck, written by Chris Terrio
I can’t be sure, but this may be the first time that Warner Bros. proper has ever dropped a film into Telluride. But it makes perfect sense. The studio wants to position Affleck as the serious director he is (“The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone”) as well as lend awards stature to a movie that could easily be dismissed as mainstream entertainment because it comes from WB. Plus, George Clooney, who was given a Silver Medallion tribute at Telluride last year when “The Descendants” had its premiere, is a producer of the real-life-based story of a CIA plan to extricate hostages from Iran using the ploy of a movie production. As always, it comes down to how the movie plays. But a strong response at Telluride would lay important groundwork for the film’s momentum through the fall.
Telluride has always done well by period dramas, and this year’s program already has a heavy literary bent, so sliding in this adaptation of the classic Leo Tolstoy novel ahead of its Toronto spin seems an obvious pick. Plus, Focus Features will already be on the ground with “Hyde Park on Hudson,” so bringing another set of reels would be easy enough. Star Keira Knightley had films in the program in 2010 (“Never Let Me Go”) and 2011 (“A Dangerous Method”), and Stoppard, an Oscar winner for co-writing “Shakespeare in Love,” is just the kind of veteran film talent to be having a drink at the New Sheridan Hotel bar.
“Silver Linings Playbook,” written and directed by David O. Russell
The Weinstein Co. typically has a strong slate at Telluride and loves to test films out there before putting them on the bigger stage of Toronto. It snuck in “Butter” last year and “King’s Speech” the year before (with differing results), and it already has its Cannes pick-up “The Sapphires” in the program. Though I don’t believe he’s been to Telluride before, Russell is the kind of filmmaker that could make the most of its accessible atmosphere and high-end audiences with his adaptation of the Matthew Quick novel about a teacher’s adjustment to living with his parents after leaving a mental institution. But this one’s hard to read.
“Quartet,” directed by Dustin Hoffman, written by Ronald Harwood
Another Weinstein Co. acquisition from back in May, “Quartet” is set to play at Toronto, but instinct tells me that first showing Hoffman’s directorial debut at Telluride could benefit the film much more than trying to get any real attention at Toronto. With a cast that includes Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Billy Connolly, “Quartet’s” look at retired opera singers could appeal to Telluride’s generally older, sophisticated crowd. Bad sign: Hoffman would have been a perfect talent to highlight with a Silver Medallion tribute, but he is not listed as a tributee.
This is maybe more wishful thinking than anything else, but… Boyle has been loyal to Telluride ever since the festival gave his tenuously perched “Slumdog Millionaire” a slot in its 2008 program. That the nearly buried film bounced out of Colorado with enough momentum to take it through to the best picture Oscar in February speaks to the festival’s quiet talent for picking winners. A few years later, when he had a chance to first screen “127 Hours” at Venice, Boyle took it to Telluride for its premiere instead, saying at the time, “It's only right and proper. The help this place gave us on 'Slumdog' you can't forget, because everything else took off [after that]. It was pivotal.” “Trance” has several things going against it, not least that Fox Searchlight has yet to give it a release date and as a heist movie it falls into a genre bucket that Telluride often ignores. But given how regularly Searchlight has come to Telluride — “Shame,” “The Descendants,” “Black Swan,” “Never Let Me Go,” “Juno,” etc. — it would be a real absence not to have one of their films in the show.