The Telluride Film Festival may be a nexus for early Oscar buzz, but that doesn’t always mean consensus. Last year, IndieWire’s critics survey ranking the best movies at the festival did eventually line up with the Academy, as Best Picture winner “Moonlight” topped the poll. This year, however, the 15 participants in IndieWire’s poll were clearly divided about the best of the festival, which may be the first indication that this year’s best-picture race is anything but certain. Two major fall films tied in multiple categories, and they couldn’t be more different.
Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale noir “The Shape of Water” tied with Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age directorial debut “Lady Bird” for best film of the festival. Del Toro and Gerwig also tied for best director.
Del Toro’s film, which stars Sally Hawkins as a mute janitor who forms a relationship with an aquatic humanoid, played to largely positive notices at the festival after a similar response in Venice. It will next travel to the Toronto International Film Festival before Fox Searchlight releases it December 8. The fantastical movie is a world apart from “Lady Bird,” Gerwig’s first solo directing credit, which stars Saoirse Ronan as a disgruntled Sacramento teen who’s eager to escape her drab surroundings in 2002.
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A Telluride world premiere (even if the festival refuses to use that term), “Lady Bird” received one of the festival’s most rapturous responses, where “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins introduced the film and it received a string of positive reviews. It will also play at TIFF this month, in addition to a prime spot in the New York Film Festival’s main slate, before A24 releases it November 10.
Among the films that received multiple votes, Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Rider” stood out as one new movie that, for now, isn’t a part of this year’s Oscar conversation. Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider” follows a South Dakota rodeo rider in a lush, isolated setting that landed the film the top prize at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes earlier this year. Currently, the movie doesn’t come out until 2018.
A few critics also singled out Fox Searchlight’s “Battle of the Sexes,” a well-received dramatization of Billie Jean King’s tennis triumph starring Emma Stone, and “Darkest Hour,” in which Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill. Additional single votes went to Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian drama “First They Killed My Father,” which Netflix will release later this year, and Samuel Maoz’s Israeli dark comedy “Foxtrot,” which has no U.S. distributor attached.
The performance category, however, was a no-brainer: “Lady Bird” star Saoirse Ronan took the top prize by a long shot. The young actress received many raves at the festival proclaiming that her energetic, smarmy turn as her best performance to date. Still, Hawkins and Oldman received a few votes, as did “Hostiles” star Christian Bale, “Lean on Pete” newcomer Charlie Plummer, “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” co-stars Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, and Laurie Metcalf, who plays Ronan’s mother in “Lady Bird.”
The best documentary category was dominated by another Cannes holdover: “Faces/Places,” the personal essay film directed by New Wave legend Agnes Varda and artist J.R., which premiered out of competition at the May festival. The movie finds Varda and J.R. traveling the French countryside and engaging with working-class figures while ruminating on various philosophical matters. Cohen Media releases it in the U.S. on October 6, after it screens at NYFF.
Additional documentaries singled out by critics received significantly less notice at the festival, but may resurface later on. These include “Arthur Miller: Writer,” the HBO documentary about the playwright directed by his daughter, Rebecca; and “Eating Animals,” a vegetarian-friendly documentary adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book produced by Natalie Portman.
Participants in this year’s poll included The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, Variety’s Peter Debruge, Film Comment’s Eugene Hernandez and IndieWire’s three staffers at the festival, David Ehrlich, Anne Thompson and Eric Kohn.