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Telluride Film Festival Closes Amid Oscar Buzz

Telluride Film Festival Closes Amid Oscar Buzz

Seventy-two hours can whiz by in dreamlike fashion, certainly when surrounded by the sun-soaked Rockies, the hottest stars, and dawn to dusk programming. So it was that the 44th Telluride Film Festival drew to a close almost as quickly as it began, and that Oscar contenders scattered with newborn hopes or newfound disappointments.

The festival, itself, was the usual and expected success that the movie industry has become accustomed to. You only need to speak to people in line for Labor Day, mid-afternoon filled-to-capacity screenings of the hottest titles, to know that this is so. Not every title landed the punch the organizers hoped, of course, but the hits outnumbered the misses probably 30 to 1 (there were about 35 titles), and there were no eyebrow raising selections like Sully or Suffragette had been in prior years. Successful premieres showcasing superstar actors but also directors, writers, up and coming filmmakers, and real-life heroes, all combined with the expertly curated program to create a sense of wonderment that hits you all at once as you depart on that shuttle and see the little town recede in the rearview mirror.

Even the most cynical movie critic cannot help but smile when he hears a conversation (and one hears a lot of conversations at Telluride) between two student invites to the festival, where one is talking about his conversations with masters like Del Toro and Payne and gushes “these guys are creative geniuses, and the fact that they are willing to share all of that knowledge with that…it’s just so freaking cool.” It truly is.

But onwards to the misanthropic business of analyzing what it means for the film industry in the next few months. Yes, Telluride, like most major festivals, brushes off any interest in the Oscars, but don’t you believe it. What else do you expect them to say? People’s continued resistance to acknowledging the influence of the Academy continue she to amuse me with its “we all know the truth we aren’t acknowledging” character.

In any event, the biggest loser has to be Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, which did not receive a single encore replay on Monday and which, to say the least, was divisive among critics and audiences alike. If things continue down this path, it could be totally shut out of awards season conversation.

On the other side of the ledger is del Toro’s The Shape of Water which, despite its obvious quirks, was beloved after a warm reception in Venice. Nothing stands in its way when it comes to nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Actress at the absolute minimum. Darkest Hour and, in particular Gary Oldman, are also surging after Telluride, with nearly universal praise coming out of the festival for the Joe Wright film.

Telluride also quite purposefully pushed female-driven stories this year, and although it remains to be seen if the three-quarters male Academy responds as well as the frumpy liberal Telluride-goers did, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes, and even Angelina Jolie for her Cambodian atrocities film all got boosts. Gerwig’s film is perhaps too quirky for the Academy but expect it to be at the very least an Indie Spirits player. The fate of the tennis film, meanwhile, will depend on whether it can snatch the audience award in Toronto in two weeks, but Emma seems a strong contender for another nomination. Angelina, meanwhile, will face a tougher road for her tougher-sell film, but Telluride started her on the right path.

Not all was peaches and cream for the women. Annette Benning’s long-brewing Oscar hopes definitely took a hit after her Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool received a tepid reception.

Meanwhile, Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, despite doing well at Cannes, also seems dead in the water after this weekend. The big question mark left is Christian Bale’s Western film Hostiles, which received a mostly warm reception but does not yet have a distributor.

And the Telluride curators showed us that world cinema remains as vibrant as ever. I was only able to catch Lebanon’s The Insult and Russia’s Loveless (and I heard marvels about Chile’s A Fantastic Woman), but both provide different and welcome perspectives and somehow much more intimate storytelling than most American films do.

You really have to marvel at the fact that thousands of people pay hundreds of dollars months in advance to buy a pass to a movie festival that does not even tell them what they are going to see until 24 hours before the show. That is how high the organizers have built their reputation and although, as with everything, you can always spot a kink or two, their outcomes were and always are essentially flawless. One may be looking wistfully forward to the day of the 45th but, in the meantime, the hungry Hollywood machine has a lot more in store.

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About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, the pseudonym of a New York City-based writer, is a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online and has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age. JDB has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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