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Welcome to the Telluride Film Festival, Your Oscar Race Crucible

The real Oscar conversation begins at Telluride.

“White Boy Rick”

For better or worse, Telluride is the real start of the Oscar conversation. Sure, Sundance launched “Colette” and “Wildlife” and a raft of strong documentaries, and Cannes yielded a rich crop of likely foreign-language contenders, but all these films must withstand a powerful riptide of Oscar-bound movies with massive awards campaigns behind them. Distributors don’t head for Telluride if they aren’t confident that their entries will emerge with buzz and momentum heading into Toronto.

Just how did Telluride become such a crucible? Aren’t the strongest movies also opening in Venice? Sure, Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” (Universal) starring Ryan Gosling as moon-lander Neil Armstrong has already emerged with raves on the order of his prior Oscar-winners “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” but the real conversation will be had when a larger number of film critics and awards pundits weigh in up in the mountains of Colorado.

Netflix contributed to the overheated fall corridor when it pulled four major movies out of the Cannes lineup in a dispute over French theatrical windows. Significantly, seven Netflix features debut at Venice, and first among equals is Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white 65 mm autobiographical Spanish-language “Roma,” which also plays Telluride, Toronto, and New York. It scored strong Venice reviews Aug. 30, before heading to Telluride for two Cuaron tribute screenings.

roma cuaron

“Roma”

Netflix quietly qualified “Roma” for submission as Mexico’s Oscar entry by opening the film August 24 for a one-week theatrical run in Mexico City, in time for the August 26 eligibility deadline. It’s hard to imagine that Mexico won’t submit such a strong contender from Best Director Oscar-winner Cuaron (“Gravity”). The question Telluride will answer is how the movie plays as a major awards contender.

Also playing the rest of the fall festival circuit is the Fox Searchlight’s trifecta of Yorgos Lanthimos’ royal intrigue “The Favourite,” Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” and David Lowery’s “The Old Man & The Gun,” which could yield acting nominations. Searchlight is waiting for the media to tell them which categories are appropriate for “The Favourite” cast, which includes Oscar-winners Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, not to mention Olivia Colman as crazy Queen Anne. (IndieWire’s Michael Nordine is placing his bets on Colman for Best Supporting.)

Melissa McCarthy needs a hit, if not an Oscar-contending role as a down-on-her-luck novelist. “The Old Man & the Gun” offers three Oscar-winners in Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, and Casey Affleck.

"Boy Erased"

“Boy Erased”

Focus Features

Focus Features’ conversion-therapy drama “Boy Erased” has turned up at Telluride, where they and actor-director Joel Edgerton will find out if Oscar-winners Nicole Kidman (also starring in Karyn Kusama’s edgy genre film “Destroyer”) and Russell Crowe and “Manchester by the Sea” nominee Lucas Hedges have the right Oscar stuff.

Sony Pictures is making a rare foray to Colorado with Hugh Jackman, who has never been before, and veteran attendee Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up in the Air”), who is introducing Gary Hart political thriller “The Front Runner.” And British action director Yann Demange, who’s on the James Bond shortlist to replace Danny Boyle, is bringing father-son drug-runner drama “White Boy Rick,” his follow-up to 2014 breakout “’71,” which played the festival. Matthew McConaughey will also be on hand.

Read More: ‘Roma’ Review: Alfonso Cuaron’s Riveting Drama is His Best Movie Since ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ — Venice

Amazon has an entry in the Telluride awards stakes with Oscar-perennial Mike Leigh’s Cannes-rejected “Peterloo,” a massive period recreation of a British 1819 massacre. And a raft of documentaries will make their mark, including National Geographic’s El Capitain climbing feat “Free Solo,” from the team that made “Meru.”

Let the games begin.

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