As the 49th annual Telluride Film Festival comes to a close on this Labor Day holiday, it again could be a fest that ignites the Oscar chances of a number of films that have either had their world premieres or North American premieres this weekend. As part of the so-called Fall Festival Trifecta of Venice/Telluride/Toronto (the latter beginning Thursday), this is where the six-month-plus awards season officially starts, even if the even longer Emmy season doesn’t conclude until a week from today.
Already in Venice, which has been running simultaneously with Telluride, we have seen lots of serious, and justified, Oscar buzz for several films that have premiered there including Sunday night’s The Whale, which has led to serious Oscar talk for its star Brendan Fraser in a comeback role as a 600-pound man ruminating on his life. Today’s world premiere of Martin McDonagh’s (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) The Banshees of Inisherin reportedly drew a 15-minute standing ovation — the longest so far at Venice — and raves and buzz for star Colin Farrell, who could receive his first Oscar nomination. Having seen that film in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, I can almost guarantee that will happen, as well as supporting possibilities for Brendan Gleeson and actress Kerry Condon. And still to come there are world premieres of The Son and Blonde hair, among others.
Some films like bardo, Tar and Bones and All played Venice, and then hightailed it to Telluride almost immediately where the buzz machine was also working overtime, both positively and negatively. I just caught Luca Guadagnino’s horror love story about two tender cannibal young people on the road. Not your typical Telluride fare, so I am still chewing on its Oscar prospects, but Guadagnino is a true master filmmaker who also had a terrific docu, Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams playing here, and it was one of the top docus I have seen all year.
Some pundits pounced on the chances going forward for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s three-hour and very personal bardo after it got a mixed reaction in Venice, but Netflix points out that they have heard great things from his fellow filmmakers including Chloé Zhao who moderated a Q&A with the five-time Oscar winner in Telluride and was deep in conversation with him at the Netflix late night party in honor of the film, and there is no doubt, based on street conversations that the film has its fans here – and detractors. The jury is out how far it can go, but when you have that many Oscars already the knives in the sorry world of film twitter will always be out for you. On the downside, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores are unusually low for a hopeful Best Picture. It definitely should be Mexico’s front runner for submission to the International Film race at the very least. Oscar season is a marathon, not a sprint so let’s see where it goes.
As in Venice, the Best Actress talk with a possible third Oscar for Cate Blanchett in her towering performance in Tar was pretty deafening in Colorado, just as it instantly was in Venice. She was awarded her first award of the season as she was given the fest’s Silver Medallion at a special tribute to her (actually twice as she had to attend two of them). She is a lock for a nomination, but she will have competition as the Telluride World Premiere of Sam Mendes’ terrific, and also very personal, film Empire of Light proved in Telluride where it was unveiled on Saturday to very good reaction in general, particularly for star Olivia Colman who seems bound for her fourth nomination in just five years (she is a past winner for The Favorite). Things are looking up in this race as another near-certain lock Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All At Once also made the scene at Telluride, not for that film but a special showing of her 2000 classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Her lilting presence here did not go unnoticed, certainly among the many Oscar voters who attend this festival, and that fact was reinforced as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was back after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. They sponsored their packed reception on Saturday and it was a good place to be seen if you are just starting a campaign.
Brand-new AMPAS President Janet Yang made the scene, and many stops, in Telluride commenting at a lunch for the steamy new Netflix film, Lady Chatterley’s Lover which sports an awards-worthy turn from Emma Corrin, as well as later at a dinner for The Wonder with Florence Pugh, that this is turning out to be a great year for women. It is indeed and if you had any doubt just check out another major World Premiere here, Orion/MGM’s magnificent new film from writer/director Sarah Polley, Women Talking. This powerful film has sparked Oscar talk from the minute it debuted in town on Friday, not just for Polley who becomes a major contender in both directing and adapted screenplay but for an ensemble cast that almost certainly becomes the frontrunner for the SAG Outstanding Cast award, but could fill Best Supporting Actress in all five slots. Veterans Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Rooney Mara are all viable. How do you choose? They are all great.
Will MGM perhaps try to separate Mara into the increasingly crowded Best Actress race? If ever there was an argument for creating an Ensemble category at the Oscars it is this film. I suggested it to new AMPAS CEO Bill Kramer when I ran into him at the Searchlight party for Empire of Light. “You are the third person to say that to me today,” he laughed. Could it be a category where the Oscar goes to the casting director, and maybe some kind of special certificate or award to the cast? Get going Academy. At any rate with a little luck, we could see three nominees in Supporting Actress at least, and that would be for the first time since Tom Jones did it in 1963. They canceled themselves out and Margaret Rutherford won instead for The VIPs
Reaction has been nearly universally positive for Women Talking, and emotional. MGM plans to open it in early December but if ever there was a film that should be released BEFORE the midterms it is this one that shows the true power of women, and their vote. In fact, there is a scene the Democrats should grab which talks about the power of the women’s vote, and the studio should give it to them and cross-promote their film at the same time. Just sayin’. This is one powerful movie about a group of Mennonite women in a compound where the men rule and sexual assault has occurred. They have to vote on whether to stay or try to leave when they have an opening. It is compelling indeed.
Of the premieres in Telluride, I would say that film, and Mendes’ look back at the people who work in a seaside movie theater circa 1980, Empire of Light have the best chance to land in the Best Picture race. But again, it is early and there is much to come at other fests and beyond.
Besides Tod Field’s Tar, which in addition to Blanchett and her great German co-star Nina Hoss (although Supporting Actress is killer – see above), might land in some key categories. Focus also had their Cannes competition film (it won no prizes there sadly), James Gray’s excellent Armageddon Time here with stars Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway all over the place and at the packed screenings for the movie which is fighting for attention against the newer toys on display. At the opening Friday Patrons Brunch high up in the mountains, Strong ran into Iñárritu and geeked out on him. “I would walk through fire for you,” he told the director who laughed and replied, “be careful what you wish for”. Focus will be campaigning for both films in the coming months.
A24 started their domestic campaign for their very affecting Cannes Grand Prize winner, Close here with director Lukas Dhont taking in the praise for the much acclaimed Belgian contender who is waiting to hear (on September 16) if it is to become Belgium’s official entry for the International Film Oscar race. It deserves to be, and in other categories too, but this has been a great year for the country and another of their excellent films, the Dardenne Brothers’ Tori And Lokita, another prize winner at Cannes, was here as well. Mia Hansen Love’s Directors Fortnight prize winner, One Fine Morning was loved here just as it was in Cannes and she and star Lea Seydoux were soaking up the praise. It could – and should – be France’s entry but who knows?
A Sundance entry even made it here, and finally to a big screen, and that is Sony Classics’ terrific Living and its iconic British star Bill Nighy charmed everyone as he hit Telluride with the movie SPC plans to launch a Best Actor campaign for, and they definitely could find their way into a crowded race with his luminous performance and a chance for a first nomination.
As I noted in my Telluride announcement story on Thursday that there were an unusually high number of docus in Telluride this year and they almost cannibalized each other (sorry Bones And All), but top of the list of those I caught have to be Amazon and Amblin’s heartfelt Good Night Oppy, more Robert Downey Jr.’s and Chris Smith’s terrific homage to Downey’s dad, Sr. Matthew Heineman’s strong Afghanistan documentary, Retrograde is also one to watch, and so is the right to die docu from MTV Documentary Films called Last Flight Home which is a must-see, plus many more that our docu beat report Matt Carey has been, and will continue to track.
This is an ever-changing story, but the race is on. Now I will be heading this week to Toronto.