The Telluride Film Festival launched some Oscar contenders

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Happy Labor Day everyone, and welcome to September as well. Over the past week or so, the Telluride Film Festival has unspooled a number of Academy Award contenders, in effect launching the Oscar race ahead of the start of the New York Film Festival as well as Toronto Film Festival. Those other two festivals will screen titles over the months of September and October, but with Telluride in the books, it’s one fest that we can analyze a bit to see what’s what. With their unique format (they never announce what films are playing in advance, so you never know what will screen), Telluride is always an X factor, but this year especially they’ve had no shortage of Oscar hopeful movies in their lineup. Some flicks upped their stock, while some need to be downgraded, but overall it’s a fest well worth discussing.

First off, here’s what the highest profile films at the festival were: Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes, Sophie Barthes’ Madame Bovary, Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, Martin Scorsese’s The 50 Year Argument, Jon Stewart’s Rosewater, Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, Jean-Marc Valleé’s Wild, and Andrey Zvgagintsev’s Leviathan. Those 14 were the big ones of note, but with Foxcatcher, The Homesman, Leviathan, Mommy, Mr. Turner, and Two Days, One Night having already played at the Cannes Film Festival, those movies didn’t see their statures change much. The flicks to really discuss are of course 99 Homes, Birdman, The Imitation Game, Madame Bovary, Rosewater, and Wild. Those six are what matters, to differing degrees.

First up is 99 Homes, which hopes to be a player for Andrew Garfield and especially Michael Shannon. The drama is without U.S. distribution right now, which could keep it from even coming out this year, but with mostly positive reviews from what I’ve seen, I’m sure someone will pick it up. Shannon would be in the conversation if that happens, so keep him in mind.

Next is Birdman (also known as Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which easily was the biggest success story at Telluride, even if the reviews weren’t quite as rapturous as they were a few days prior at the Venice Film Festival (even if both places threw around the “Masterpiece” word more than I think they should have). It’s the main thing to talk about though, regardless. Just about everyone was over the moon for this one, especially in terms of the acting and filmmaking. Some want to declare it the odds on favorite in Best Picture already, and while I don’t buy that, it seems like this could be in line for a ton of Academy Award nominations. Standout work from almost sure fire Best Actor nominee Michael Keaton, supporting players Edward Norton and Emma Stone, co- writer/director Iñárritu, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki seem to be agreed upon. All those those fine artists could see their work nominated for Oscars, with some certainly in contention to win. I’m not quite on board with the frontrunner talk anywhere (with perhaps one exception), but I’ll address that more at the end of the week when I post new Oscar predictions. For now though, you can’t deny that Birdman helped its cause immensely over the last few days.

The Imitation Game was another film that really helped itself out with a strong debut. Though pundits were quicker to praise lead Benedict Cumberbatch than the movie itself at times, this now is firmly cemented as a Best Picture contender. Apparently it’s a very solidly made biopic that could be a bit stuffy if not for Cumberbatch’s top notch work. Along with Keira Knightley, he’s supposedly the main reason to see this one. It appears like it could be a player in a number of spots, but the one to really mark it down for is Best Actor, where Cumberbatch could even challenge for the win.

Every year one potential player sees festival reviews torpedo its chances, and this year Madame Bovary was the one. Most didn’t seem to be a fan of this remake, so the already long shot awards chances were basically out the window. It happens without fail at pretty much every festival that there is, so this is just the latest one to suffer this particular fate. Alas.

Rosewater is a flick that you can’t really figure out from the early word. Seeing comedian/talk show host Stewart transition to a filmmaker has been very interesting, and some have speculated that his likability has kept some critics from really grading it fairly. Just about everyone has liked the film, but only a handful have gone out of their way to really praise it loudly. Gael Garcia Bernal has received some strong reviews and Stewart is apparently very competent as a director and writer, but it feels like the movie has gotten a “golf clap” sort of a response. It doesn’t particularly hurt it in the Oscar race, but it doesn’t help it much either.

Finally, we have Wild, the other “big” flick to screen. The Academy apparently is going to love Reese Witherspoon in this one, with perhaps Laura Dern coming along for the ride. Aside from that, it doesn’t seem like the adaptation will go too far, though some said the same about Valleé’s Dallas Buyers Club last year, and we all know how that one turned out. Keep an eye on Nick Hornby in Best Adapted Screenplay, but early word says to mark Witherspoon down for one of the spots in Best Actress.

In the end, Telluride solidified Birdman, The Imitation Game, and Wild as Academy Award contenders, kept Rosewater around as a player but still a bit of an X factor, introduced us to 99 Homes, and eliminated Madame Bovary from the game. With New York and Toronto gearing up, we’ll see how these titles progress (the fact that Foxcatcher is holding steady ever since Cannes is notable), especially once NYFF introduces Gone Girl and Inherent Vice, while Toronto brings out Men, Women & Children, Nightcrawler, and many others. It’s an exciting time of year…

-Stay tuned for more festival coverage over the next month or so!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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