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‘Moonlight’ Dominates IndieWire’s Telluride Film Festival Critics Poll

"La La Land" also received strong support from critics attending the influential Colorado gathering.




With the end of the Telluride Film Festival, we’ve received our first sneak peak at some of the movies bound to keep generating buzz throughout this year’s awards season. Although the Venice Film Festival takes place on a much larger scale at the same time, the more intimate Telluride setting provides a focused window into a handful of new films that arrive there expectations.

And this year, no film benefited from that boost more than Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” which easily topped IndieWire’s survey of favorite films from critics and journalists attending this year’s gathering. The longtime Telluride staffer’s second feature (following 2008’s “Medicine For Melancholy”) was produced by A24 and Plan B, which gave the movie strong momentum that reached fruition as soon as the film screened to great acclaim. Among the 17 critics and reporters who voted in this year’s poll, eight singled out “Moonlight” as the highlight of the festival. The film next screens at the Toronto and New York festivals in advance of its October 21 release date.

READ MORE: The 2016 IndieWire Telluride Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

Additionally, Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” follow-up “La La Land” showed up in Telluride a few days after opening the Venice Film Festival, and the modern ode to classic musicals found a few strong advocates in the Rockies as well. Lionsgate will release the film December 2.

See all the selections from this year’s Telluride Film Festival critics poll participants below.

Alex Billington, FirstShowing.net

My favorite film of the 2016 Telluride Film Festival is “La La Land.” I love it because it’s so refreshing and exciting and full of joy, and made me so happy I was wiping away tears. It’s a near-perfect musical that is a love letter to Los Angeles, to cinema, to jazz, to dancing, and to holding onto your dreams.

Peter Debruge, Variety

“Moonlight.” It’s hard to pick just one movie to love from Telluride, which is the always most exquisitely curated festival in the calendar year, though it’s apt that the best of this edition hails from a director, Barry Jenkins, who started out at the festival as a “dog” (or thankless Telluride intern). Now he does them proud, applying the sort of intelligence and humanism so consistently showcased in Telluride movies to his second feature, which provides an all-too-rare look at the emotional turning points in a black boy’s personal journey.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire

The easy answer is “Moonlight,” but it’s also the right one. Amidst a crop of new fall titles that was as thin as the Colorado air (“La La Land” and “Into the Inferno” being the other major exceptions), Barry Jenkins’ deeply moving second feature felt as big as monumental as any of the mountains that surround the festival. When was the last time a single film featured so many perfect performances? A hyper-specific but utterly symphonic portrait of masculinity and self-identity, “Moonlight” isn’t only a necessary film, it’s also a great one.

Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

I liked several movies, but I’ll pick an unusual favorite: “California Typewriter.”  It is a most original movie with a great cast of characters. It is refreshing to see a movie that celebrates a virtually abandoned form of technology with good humor and eloquence.

Pete Hammond, Deadline

Not only does “La La Land” breathe new life into the American musical, it is a complete original that has one foot in the past with its homage to Jacques Demy  and MGM’s golden era of movies like “Singin’ In The Rain” and “It’s Always Fair Weather,” but it is thoroughly contemporary. It says that sometimes life can be a musical, and sometimes not. With superb performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this is not only a musical for the ages, it is most importantly one for this age.

Eugene Hernandez, Film Comment

Watching “Moonlight” this weekend was an unquestionable highlight of the Telluride Film Festival, not only because it was a beautiful homecoming experience for indie filmmaker Barry Jenkins (he’s been a part of the festival team for more than a decade) but because his beautiful second feature film is a rich, layered and important exploration of a complex young American man.

Rebecca Keegan, LA Times

Every once in a while you see a movie with characters so well written, with actors so vulnerable, that you want to throw your arms around them. For me, that is “Moonlight.” It’s perfect.

Katie Kilkenny, Pacific Magazine



Paramount Pictures

“Arrival” wasn’t the best film I saw at Telluride this year, but it was the most imminent and important. Could Paramount have known when it bought the rights to Ted Chiang’s story “The Story of Your Life” in 2014 that this tale of conciliation, communication and compromise would be so needed in November 2016 — with its release date taking place days after American voters cast their ballots for some particularly divisive presidential candidates? Denis Villeneuve’s latest is an alien story with a not-so-ethereal message: Humanity needs to communicate to survive, national and border tensions be damned.

Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Hype is a dangerous thing, and a quiet, subtle movie less about plot than behavior doesn’t necessarily benefit from such expectations. But if I told you that “Moonlight” was just O.K. to make sure it blows your mind with its sophisticated look at the nuances that shape an adult life, would you believe me? I guess it’s too late. The insanely long-overdue follow-up to “Medicine for Melancholy” is another philosophically rich look at interpersonal identity and alienation in an indifferent world — and the modicum of hope that comes from finding companionship in the midst of all that. It’s not the easiest sell, but that’s often the mark of great art — and great artists. We now have firm proof that Barry Jenkins falls into that category.

Tomris Laffly, Film Journal International

This is tough, because there are several films I saw elsewhere and loved, such as “Manchester by the Sea” and “Things to Come.” But among the movies I saw at Telluride for the first time, I will go with “La La Land” as my favorite. It’s an exhilarating film — one that transports you to a different universe of beauty and romance. Damien Chazelle has pulled off something quite special that is both melancholically informed by the glorious musicals of the past and freshly new. Nothing really excited me this much in the same way.

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“Moonlight.” An artful, moving look at identity that illuminates lives we rarely see on screen.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

Best brand new film: “La La Land,” for its resurrection and perpetuation of a style and mood that seemed beyond the reach or interest of young contemporary filmmakers.

Most essential and unimaginably great testament to the legacy of cinema: Bertrand Tavernier’s “My Journey Through French Cinema.”

Chris Nashaway, Entertainment Weekly

"La La Land"

“La La Land”

Summit Entertainment

I loved “Moonlight,” and already loved “Manchester By the Sea,” but I’m going to go with “La La Land.” Damien Chazelle’s neo-retro musical is an exuberant love letter to the romance and artifice of Jacques Demy and MGM, and also something original and new. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are absolutely perfect (together and apart). This is what people mean when they talk about the magic of movies.

Sasha Stone, Awards Daily

The best film I saw as Telluride was a toss-up between “Arrival,” “Moonlight” and “La La Land.” It’s difficult to choose between them because they are all brilliant films in different ways. “Moonlight” is a masterpiece. Deeply moving and unforgettable. “La La Land” is a celebration of cinema and love. If I had to pick one I’d have to go with “Arrival” because it spoke to me personally the most. If found it to be both a cinematic achievement and a deeper story to dive into and figure out.  As a mother who would not trade a second of that experience for anything, this was the film for me.

Kris Tapley, Variety

“Moonlight”: When a director’s vision is so confidently and resolutely conveyed, as it is here, it’s hard not to get excited. Among other accomplishments, Barry Jenkins has brilliantly captured a single character’s defining spirit in three different actors, each of them captivating in their own ways, all of them heartbreaking in the quiet truth they effortlessly deliver.

Anne Thompson, IndieWire

Of the new movies that had not played other festivals, Barry Jenkins’ sophomore film, “Moonlight” was the discovery of Telluride for me. Adapting a play by Tarell McCraney, Jenkins figured out a brilliant three-act structure for this story of a damaged Miami black boy who is bullied for being “different,” turns into a scrawny, taciturn teenager who explores his sexuality with a male classmate, and finally, grows into a beautiful strong man who deals drugs. Three different actors play the roles, alongside Naomie Harris as the boy’s crack-addict mom, Andre Holland as the old school chum who reaches out to him and “House of Cards” star Mahershala Ali as a Cuban-born drug dealer who takes the boy under his wing as a surrogate father. Jenkins finds the universal outsider in this moving, specific story of buried identity.

Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere

My favorite Telluride flick is also my favorite Sundance ’16 film — “Manchester By The Sea.”  But the best film I saw for the first time at Telluride is, of course, “La La Land.” Because it seems to seriously and profoundly refresh the all-but-moribund musical genre with a wowser beginning (the exuberant freeway thing) and an absolutely brilliant finale — perhaps the best finale for a non-musical I’ve ever seen. The rest of it is very good, but on a 8.5 level. Add the beginning and the finale and you’ve got a 9.

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