The Telluride Film Festival wrapped on Labor Day, with many of the season’s mystery films getting a first look from critics, journalists and festivalgoers. But what did we learn from the four-day fest? Do we have an Oscar frontrunner?
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Four narrative films world premiered in the Colorado mountains – “Women Talking” from MGM/UAR, “Empire of Light” from Searchlight Pictures and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “The Wonder” from Netflix. Other Venice titles also made their North American debuts such as Netflix’s “Bardo” and Focus Features’ “Tar.”
Here are five things we learned at Telluride.
Polley Want an Oscar?
Writer, actor and director Sarah Polley received a tribute at the top of the festival, with her film “Women Talking” making its debut. Clips of her acting performances were part of the montage. Featured more prominently were her three films as a director – the documentary “Stories We Tell” and her two indie gems, “Take This Waltz” and “Away From Her.” The love and appreciation in the room was electric, with her entire cast in attendance and doing the press rounds. Three women have won best director (Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker,” Chloe Zhao for “Nomadland” and Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog”), and Polley could find herself next in line depending on how the rest of the season shakes out.
She also emerged as one of the leading favorites in adapted screenplay. With a cast including Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy and Frances McDormand, it looks like a slam dunk entry could be in our midst.
There’s less consensus and more division.
Perhaps it’s the political climate we live in or the general state of cinema, but between patrons complaining about the lengths of “Bardo” and “Tár” and others calling “Empire of Light” and “Women Talking” safe and unassuming efforts, agreement seems to be a thing of the past. Obviously social media never helps. There’s a breakdown of listening to each other’s thoughts on cinema and respecting that opinion. One journalist went so far as to say in conversation, “If this film won, it would be the worst best picture winner ever.” Interestingly, that same colleague said that about “CODA” last year, and “Green Book” a few years prior. Perhaps we can just love movies again?
International Feature category is going to be a bloodbath this year.
Many Cannes holdovers stopped over at Telluride including “Holy Spider,” “Close” and “One Fine Morning.” Each was received enthusiastically by moviegoers. While they’re not all the Oscar entries from their countries, many have the goods to be recognized outside the conventional category. Could we see more than one in the lineup? Based on some the passion out there, it’s possible.
The first streamer-less best picture lineup since 2017 is a possibility.
Apple won best picture last year with “CODA,” which did not screen at Telluride, one of three in the expanded era (since 2009) that won without stopping there first. The streamer did not have anything on the ground at Telluride and instead will bring “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” from Peter Farrelly and “Raymond & Ray” from Rodrigo Garcia to Toronto. Unless the streamer picks up something or moves forward with releasing “Emancipation” with Will Smith this year (and is able to navigate the “slap” of it all), it could have an uphill climb.
Amazon focused on its strong doc slate, notably “Good Night Oppy,” which was a festival favorite. However, the Jeff Bezos-owned studio will face hurdles getting the Toronto premiere “My Policeman” with Harry Styles to the top of 10 of the year, at least based on the early word. The best shot is the Spanish language film “Argentina, 1985” which dropped at Venice, but with so many international contenders in the mix, Amazon will be fighting to sustain the buzz for the historical drama.
And then there’s Netflix. “Bardo” is going to be a tough sell, and there’s not much argument there. Venice and Telluride weren’t kind to the Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu three hour drama, while Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise” opened the Italian fest to solid, albeit not enthusiastic, reviews. But if anyone can overcome a Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s the streamer that pulled off a best picture nom for “Don’t Look Up.”
All attention now turns to “Blonde” with Ana de Armas dropping at Venice this week, Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story” unveiling at TIFF and perhaps even an unexpected animation play with either “Wendell & Wild” and “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.”
There’s one rule that remains intact within the Academy…it’s still about “the movie.” If a film has the goods, members act accordingly (most of the time). Regardless, the big studios could have the upper hand for the first time in a while.
But remember, things can always change on a dime.
There’s no such things as “locks” in September.
Cate Blanchett is the talk of the town after “Tár” landed on both continents, while “Everything Everywhere All at Once” contender Michelle Yeoh made a pit stop in Colorado to attend a special screening of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to celebrate Sony Pictures Classics’ 30th anniversary. She even managed to attend an Academy event where she got some facetime with members and newly-minted president Janet Yang.
The internet was definitely buzzing over a tearful Brendan Fraser at Venice following the first screening of “The Whale,” but Stateside, Bill Nighy was also charming in person for Q&As and mingling, while “Living” played very well for audiences.
The race is always fluid and ever moving and adjusting. Until then, let’s enjoy the ride.
Read Variety’s Awards Circuit predictions to keep up with the latest Oscar race updates.
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