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“Descendants” the weekend’s unofficial “winner” – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell Official winners from the Venice Film Festival won’t be announced until Saturday – Steve McQueen’s “Shame” and Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” are being suggested as frontrunners for this year’s Golden Lion, at this point – and Telluride doesn’t concern itself with trophies.

Yet one film that premiered over the weekend can claim an undisputed victory from the weekend thanks to the near-universal praise it received and the momentum it is building heading into the lengthy awards-season marathon.

Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” which held its world premiere in the mountains of Colorado, seemed to catapult itself into the Oscar race with a powerful showing at Telluride. Some will have you believe it joins current contenders such as Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” and Tate Taylor’s box-office juggernaut, “The Help.” But the general consensus out of Telluride is that both Payne and his star, George Clooney, have excellent shots at getting into their respective Oscar categories as the season plays out.

Interesting for Clooney, however, is the fact that he has his own film to promote as the fall film festival season pushes on. The Oscar winner will be in Toronto later this week with both “Descendants” and the political drama “The Ides of March,” which he directed. “March” opened Venice to largely positive reviews but could not play Telluride, even though Clooney was honored by TFF organizers. Our eyes will turn to Toronto next to see how “Ides,” which co-stars Ryan Gosling as a political aide, plays to critics and crowds.

Another well-received film helped its awards aspirations over the weekend with a fine festival reception. Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” continued to charm crowds after launching at Cannes earlier this year. It, too, brings its bandwagon to TIFF later in the week. Yet the buzz surrounding this silent film, which pays tribute to Hollywood Golden Age, was nowhere near as loud as what’s swirling around Payne’s “Descendants.”

Granted, it’s way too soon to declare any film a frontrunner. And too much can happen between now and the nomination stage. We’ve seen films deemed mortal locks for Best Picture glory fizzle and die for various reasons. But the consensus on “Descendants” seems to be that Fox Searchlight has a contender on its hands. I’m anxious to see who they proceed.

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