On its 40th anniversary, the Telluride Film Festival (TFF) strengthened its reputation as one of earliest Oscar predictors in the world today. The festival, which is located in the small mining town of Telluride in Colorado, USA, was the first one to showcase the 2013 Best Picture Oscar winner, Argo, last year, and in its earlier avatars, premiered a host of other Oscar nominees and winners, including The King’s Speech, The Descendants, Slumdog Millionaire and Brokeback Mountain.
While these films may have their ‘world premieres’ later at bigger festivals like the Venice Film Festival or The Toronto Film Festival with the red carpets and all the razzmatazz that comes with it, with what it calls ‘sneak peeks’, TFF has been instrumental in giving Oscar voters and pundits an early heads up on the films that stand strong chances of nominations. That’s because TFF has now started attracting a strong audience of Academy Awards voters every year as attendees, who are both here to catch the early Oscar buzz, and by being there, contributing to it.
TFF is also a rare festival in that it doesn’t reveal its lineup of films until just a day before the festival, and has thus, in a strange way, has become the cult indie fest that relies on its cultivated loyal fan following to populate itself every year. And this year, the festival’s followers got more than their money’s worth with some of the most anticipated films of the year showing at TFF before their official world premieres, including 12 Years a Slave, Prisoners and Gravity. Here’s a look at some of the films that made the most noise at the recently-concluded TFF, 2013:
- 12 Years a Slave
London-based filmmaker Steve McQueen, who has twice missed Best Picture Oscar nominations for his critically acclaimed films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), can be rest assured a nomination this time, and possibly even a win, if raving reviews and insane buzz around his new film, 12 Years a Slave, are any indication. The film, a historical drama based on the life of a free black man who has kidnapped and sold into slavery, has received unequivocal acclaim, with critics predicting Oscars (not just nominations) for lead actor Chiwetel Ejifor (American Gangster, Love Actually) for his heartbreaking performance and for director McQueen himself for what is being touted as the finest movie ever directed on slavery. The film also stars Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Giamatti, so you have all reasons to be excited!
Being hailed as one of the most visually immersive cinematic experiences ever, the 3D thriller Gravity, about two astronauts trying to survive outer space after an accident, is also most likely to nab multiple Oscar nominations this season. Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien), the film has elicited awe from critics, audiences and even director James Cameron, who called it the “best space film ever made”. With its supposedly unparalleled use of 3D and the strength of Bullock’s harrowing performance, critics are predicting that this could be Bullock’s second Oscar win after Blind Side (2009).
While critics are divided over whether or not Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s English-language debut, Prisoners, is going to bag an Oscar nomination, they are certain of one thing: the film sees career-best performances from actors Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. A crime thriller about a father (Jackman) who will go to any lengths to find his kidnapped daughter, even if it requires him to be at odds with a police detective (Gyllenhaal), the film is being compared to the likes of David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac, and even Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. The film’s script, by Aaron Guzikowski, was long listed as one of Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts.
Director Alexander Payne’s (Sideways, The Descendants) new film, the black and white road trip drama-comedy about a troubled father-son relationship, had earlier premiered at The Cannes Film Festival 2013 and earned decent reviews, but its reception at TFF elevated it to being a rather special film. Bruce Dern, who played the alcoholic father to Will Forte’s son in the film, has already won the Best Actor award at Cannes, but with the buzz that the film generated – some even calling it the Best Film at TFF – he seems to be a likely Oscar contender and the film itself could surprise with an Oscar nomination, like Payne’s The Descendants did in 2011.
5. Under The Skin
A film that polarized audiences and critics alike at TFF was Sexy Beast director’s new film, Under The Skin, which stars Scarlett Johannson as a seductive alien. While everyone agreed that the film was distinctly original and that Johannson is outstanding in her unnerving portrayal of the alien, the film has been called everything from ‘silly’ to being a ‘cult’ film.
6. Starred Up
Another father-son story that received much acclaim at TFF was director David Mackenzie’s (Young Adam, Spread) brutal prison drama film about a violent teenager (Jack O’Connell) who’d much rather stay behind bars to be with his father (Ben Medhelson), than get out into the real world. Critics believe that the film, which they likened to Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, has managed to find the fine line between an emotional family drama and a starkly realistic incarceration movie, with a career-making performance by O’Connell.
Shane Salerno’s documentary, Salinger, about JD Salinger, author of the cult novel, Catcher in the Rye, became one of the most talked about events of TFF. The film about the reclusive author who disappeared from the public eye for 45 years, passing away in 2010, revealed that the author’s private work will be published posthumously in 2015, which is possibly one of the most important literary announcements of the year. The documentary itself received mixed reviews, for the fact that the film gathered its footage and pictures by intruding into the privacy of the man who wanted nothing but to remain private.
8. Labor Day
Up In The Air and Juno director Jason Reitman’s new film is an emotional love story about an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) who takes refuge – and then kidnaps – a lonely single mother (Kate Winslet) and her son. While critics were somewhat divided over whether the romance is able to shine through the suspenseful tone of the movie, Reitman has received universal acclaim for his most mature and powerful directorial attempt yet, and that, of course, Winslet is eternally brilliant.
9. The Invisible Woman
Actor Ralph Fiennes followed up his directorial debut, war epic Coriolanus, with a period drama The Invisible Woman, about the secret relationship of author Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes) with a younger woman (played by Felicity Jones), in the last few years of his life. While Coriolanus wasn’t lapped up the critics, this time around Fiennes is being praised for his exceptional direction of the movie, and for extracting a career-making performance out of Jones (Like Crazy).
10. The Lunchbox
After getting fantastic reviews at Cannes 2013, Indian director Ritesh Batra’s debut film, The Lunchbox, starring Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddique and Nimrat Kaur, started gaining momentum for being a potential Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee. Almost every important publication from The Hollywood Reporter to The Wall Street Journal called the film charming and endearing and counted it amongst their favourite films at the fest. The film releases on September 22 in India, and is easily a must-watch.
Some of the other highlights of the festival include: Hayao Miyazaki’s final film before retirement, The Wind Rises, an animation film based on the life of a World War II fighter plane designer; Pawel Pawlikowski’s Polish-language film, Ida, a sincere 1960s drama about an 18-year-old orphan in the backdrop of communist Poland; the 26-year-old granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, Gia Coppola’s debut film, Paolo Alto, on teenage angst, based on James Franco’s book of the same name; Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to the Oscar-winning A Separation, relationship drama The Past; Penn and Teller’s provocative documentary Tim’s Vemeer exploring the relationship between art and technology, JC Chandor’s survival film about a man lost at sea, starring Robert Redford; Israeli filmmaker Yuval Adler’s thriller on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Bethlehem and Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland’s three-part HBO miniseries about 1969’s Prague Spring. Two Cannes winners, Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue is the Warmest Color continued receiving rave reviews at TFF too.
Note: This column first appeared on Firstpost.com on September 10, 2013
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