Telluride Recap: Weekend Film Festival Kicks Off Fall Movie Season
The Telluride Film Festival highlights serious Oscar contenders and obscure smaller titles.
The 43rd Telluride Film Festival kicked off Oscar season in the states and I had the pleasure and privilege to attend my second year in a row. As a diehard cinephile and lover of all things Colorado, this is the perfect film festival where I truly feel in my element. Though I wasn’t credentialed press, I watched 14 movies during the extended weekend while volunteering in one of the festival’s larger venues. I cannot recommend this enough as a way to be a part of this festival. The Telluride Film Festival, which happens every Labor Day weekend, is truly a cinematic experience. If you can get to the secluded part of southwestern part of Colorado, by all means do it! And volunteering is the most affordable way to attend.
While in Telluride, you observe people in the industry walking the streets, standing in line waiting to see a movie, or sitting in seats in packed venues. I walked past Aaron Eckhart a few times. Actress Carrie Fisher of “Star Wars” fame was in Telluride for her new documentary (which I caught). I saw Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood in town to promote “Sully” which won over audiences. Emma Stone happened to be walking along side me and some movie bloggers after a screening. Speaking of “Film Twitter,” I re-connected or sat with other out of town movie press people like Alex Billington (who I shared a condo with among a few Colorado locals), Mark Johnson, Tomris Laffly, Sasha Stone, Michael Patterson and Anne Thompson. These cinematic taste-makers and movie bloggers traveled from far places to attend this film festival including New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, and even Cleveland, Ohio.
You may not be aware that awards season for movies kicks off in Telluride, Colorado. The programming is a mix of the prestige studios, offbeat foreign films, and rare archival prints vying for the attention of serious cinephiles and elite Hollywood. Previous Best Picture winners to have their world premiere here include “Argo,” “The Kings Speech,” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Likewise, smaller movies with passionate followings played here including “The Act of Killing” and “Under the Skin.” Here were all the movies I watched. I expect some should receive award nominations that you can catch on the fall festival circuit or in theaters before Thanksgiving. Here is a recap of everything I watched during the extended weekend:
Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama is profoundly moving and thought provoking as well as wide in scope with big ideas and bold execution. Poised to be a genre classic, Amy Adams (in truly one of her best performances) is a linguist haunted by her past determined to save the world. Flashbacks invoke the cinematic style of a somber Terrence Malick or embracing Christopher Nolan level thrills. The thematic elements about steady leadership and International cooperation resonated with me as the November elections were on my mind. Communication can be just as foreign of a concept among humans as it is with interacting with extraterrestrial lifeforms. The lingering impact of “Arrival” has stuck with me even more so. Opening wide on November 11th.
Bleed For This
Miles Teller was sensational and unrecognizable as Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza in this based on a true story inspiration boxing tale about overcoming impossible odds. Aaron Eckhart was raw and riveting as his trainer Kevin Rooney. Conventional but gripping, we are familiar watching movies like “Bleed for This” but the performances from Eckhart and Teller are special. There was a grueling scene where Teller as Vinny lifts weights during rehabilitation that’s physically excoriating to watch. Even though this showed during the coveted Saturday night outdoor screening in Elk Park, this boxing drama was overshadowed by higher profile titles despite being produced by Martin Scorsese. Opening November 2nd limited.
Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (who was at my screening and a hoot in-person) are featured in this delightful HBO documentary about their relationship and how fame shaped their lives. This intimate revelation of their complex mother-daughter dynamic focuses on Debbie Reynolds relationships and iconic starlet status in the industry as well Carrie Fisher’s rehabilitation intervention. These women overcame so much. A highlight from this doc was the amusing scenes of Carrie Fisher discussing her “Star Wars” fame and footage of Comic Con geeks fawning over her. Airing on HBO in 2017.
My little discovery during Telluride was Doug Nichol’s lovely and didactic typewriter documentary. Tom Hanks, John Mayer, and Sam Shepard discuss why they appreciate the old fashioned format, but much time is spent on a tiny typewriter repair shop of the same name located in Berkeley. Other fascinating subject matters include sculptor Jeremy Mayer who dissembles the machines to create art and the Boston Typewriter Orchestra who construct catchy tunes by banging on typewriter keys. Watching this as social media debated if movies were dead was a reminder that cinephiles are alive and well preferring the medium and the “outdated” 35MM projection. Currently seeking US distribution.
The Eagle Huntress
The eagle metaphorically landed in Telluride this weekend and was the soaring crowd pleaser documentary of this festival. The quiet sleeper from Sundance was ideally promoted in the quaint Colorado mountain town. The subject matter in this doc, nomadic Mongolian Aisholpan, was around town more than Ken Burns. The inspiring story of Aisholpan, who broke gender barriers while competing among skilled, older male hunters, was complimented with crisp photography and breathtaking scenery on screen. Executive produced and narrated by “Stars Wars Episode 7” actress Daisy Ridley, the Sony Pictures Classics release opens on October 28th.
The End of Eden
An insightful revelation, Angus MacQueen‘s documentary “The End of Eden” is the feature length version of Channel 4’s “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon.” One of the last indigenous people (the Sapanahua tribe) to make contact with modern civilization alongside the border of Brazil and Peru was a fascinating watch. Further investigation reveals complicated matters that compromise a no contact commitment from modern civilization which is morally problematic to some. Passages from Genesis about God and man flash across the screen as a reminder about the metaphoric fall from grace.
Some of the best Telluride movies from years past are “The White Ribbon,” “Nebraska,” and “Frances Ha.” I always catch a modern black and white film while attending this festival. This French post-World War 1 drama was directed by François Ozon and stopped in Telluride between stops at higher profiler film festivals in Venice and Toronto. A gorgeous looking melodrama has lover reconnecting among fervent nationalism and post-war agony. A remake of 1932’s “Broken Lullaby” is anchored by a commanding breakout performance from Paula Beer. Music Box, which released the Telluride black and white sleeper “Ida” a few years ago, recently acquired this for U.S. distribution. Expect this to follow a similar path. No release date.
La La Land
I had conflicted expectations because I admire filmmaker Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), but musicals are my least favorite movie genre. From the dazzling opening musical number to the joyful final minutes, “La La Land” is a whimsical daze and the most vibrant movie I watched in Telluride. In her best performance to date, Emma Stone plays an aspiring actress seeking her big break in the industry. Exuberantly dancing to its own tune as an imperfect musical, it breaks a few conventions while embracing others. The colors, the lighting, and the flash all converge into one of the most stylistic and vibrant movies of 2016. Opening on December 2nd in limited release with a December 16th wide release date (competing against some movie called “Rogue One.”)
Into The Inferno
Werner Herzog’s volcano documentary rocked the sound system in the venue named after the iconic documentary director. Teaming up with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, audiences witness an exploration of galvanic activity, striking photography, and unfiltered access to one of the most dangerous natural disasters on planet earth. With Werner’s familiar voice narration and trademark for highlighting quirky characters he discovers, Herzog released a second great 2016 documentary. Its one vice is how it meanders by highlighting North Korea’s fascist society a little too long for my taste. Available on Netflix Streaming October 28th.
Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind The Clown
Gregory Monro’s brisk and playful 60 minute documentary deconstructs the comedic influence of Jerry Lewis. An insightful analysis reveals how American critics were too highbrow for his goofy routine while the French valued his slapstick demeanor and talents. Entertainers such as Sean Hayes, Pierre Etaix, Tony Lewis, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Martin Scorsese reflect on the comedy icon. Currently seeking US distribution.
A24’s world premiere was the talk of the festival. Set in Miami over the course of childhood, adolescents, and adulthood for two friends during three vignettes, Barry Jenkins moody and poetic drama is filled with coming of age angst and budding sexual tension. “Moonlight” subtly embodies the era while showcasing struggling boys who come to terms with African American masculinity. Some in Telluride compared it “Boyhood” or “Carol” as a Frank Ocean album, but that was simplistic description to a rather complex, stirring and unforgettable movie. “Moonlight” is worthy of a Best Director Oscar nomination. Let’s hope the industry doesn’t settle for awarding this a few expected Indie Spirit Awards. Opening limited on October 28th.
Where to begin with one of the hottest titles on the fall festival circuit? Germany’s polarizing nearly three hour comedy/drama that’s dividing audiences focuses on a complicated father-daughter relationship. A wildly unpredictable, multi-layered masterpiece, Maren Ade‘s satire tackles various topics from corporate sexism to European elitism. Sandra Hüller was terrific in the lead. Though “Toni Erdmann” is the front runner to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar, Peter Simonischek deserves serious awards attention for his kooky and unhinged supporting performance as the father. Opens December 25th in NY and LA.
Based on E.L. Doctorow’s short story, Bryan Cranston commands a riveting performance as a disconnected career man ditching his obligations to escape by hiding in a garage attic for almost a year. Jennifer Garner has never been better as the worried partner taking care of the family in the midst of his absence. Saturated with a dark tone, snarky demeanor, and overt narration, Cranston disappears into the role as a man slowly losing his sanity. The movie leaves more to be desired, but I wasn’t bored with Cranston’s audacious work. Currently seeking US distribution.
Based on the stage play “Blackbird,” Rooney Mara as Una is captivating and ravishing in the lead role who confronts her abuser Ray (played by Ben Mendelsohn) at his job. A controversial movie among select Telluride audiences for the uncomfortable subject matter, the drama holds its own thanks to Benedict Andrew’s acute and thorough direction. The flashbacks are emotionally intense as I felt the impending sense of dread and loss of innocence. It heightens the stakes for Una to reclaim what was robber of her. A technical highlight were the perfect frames set up by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis. Currently seeking US distribution.
Briefly, I missed “Manchester By The Sea” which was unfortunate because it was a hot title at this festival that audiences couldn’t stop discussing. I would like to mention that people fell in love with a little movie called “Lost in Paris.” I heard outstanding things about documentary “Finding Oscar.” Finally, “Neruda,” which I’ll catch later this month in Denver during CineLatino, was beloved.
Are you excited to see any of these movies?