It might be appropriate to change the name of the Telluride Film Festival to the “Thunder Stealing Film Festival,” because that’s what it seems to be doing lately. Interrupting the Venice Film Festival and snagging the spotlight a week before the Toronto Film Festival, Telluride has suddenly become the focus of many major awards pundits as it is often the launching site for films that go on to win major awards. This year’s fest was no different with a line-up that included several films that were expected to make a big splash in Toronto.
What did we learn about the films that premiered and their potential for Oscar glory? There are five significant things that I gleaned from the buzz in Telluride:
1) 12 Years a Slave is a serious Best Picture contender.
Last week, hours before its premiere, I declared Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave the frontrunner in this year’s Oscar race based on pure conjecture and a little bit of instinct. It turns out, this might not be that much of a stretch with the film opening to widespread acclaim in Telluride over the weekend. Kris Tapley of In Contention described the sound of “open bawling” that he heard among the audience in the screening and declared the film to be a “knock-out awards contender.” Chiwetel Ejiofor seems to have a Best Actor nomination locked up and co-stars Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, and Sarah Paulson will certainly be a part of the Oscar conversation moving forward. The film will play in Toronto next week, but unless those audiences have a completely different reaction, the film seems like a pretty reliable lock.
2) Scarlett Johansson could receive her first Oscar nomination this year.
Because of the films she chooses to be in, Scarlett Johansson often finds herself on early season Oscar prediction lists, only to fall off when her films are seen and derided (Hitchcock, We Bought a Zoo, The Other Boleyn Girl, etc.). Her luck may be changing this year, however, with her scene stealing role in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, which played in both Telluride and Venice last weekend. Johansson received rave reviews for her performance as an alien succubus with Xan Brooks calling her “bizarrely engrossing” in his 5-star review in The Guardian. It is still a stretch to say that she is a top five contender, considering the film is not likely to fall in line with the Academy’s taste. But if a few of the speculated Best Actress frontrunners fall away, their vacancies could easily be filled by Johansson.
3) Gravity might lead the Oscars for total nominations.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity was highly praised during its premiere in Venice and quickly became a frontrunner for the Best Picture race and numerous technical categories. The past couple of years have given us movies like Life of Pi and Hugo that dominated the technical categories and landed in Best Picture and Best Director and it seemed likely that Alfonso Cuaron’s film would fill in that obligatory slot. However, Gravity might have something going for it that those aforementioned films did not: acting nominations. The Hollywood Reporter awards pundit Scott Feinberg saw the film and said he would be “shocked” if Sandra Bullock did not receive a Best Actress nomination and George Clooney as a Best Supporting Actor nominee is in the “realm of possibility” as well. The addition of these two nominations could easily turn Gravity into this year’s 11+ nominations juggernaut.
4) Nebraska will play better with the Academy than it did at Cannes.
Alexander Payne’s Nebraska made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May and received tepid reviews and little buzz. However, Toronto and Telluride have been the launching point for his previous films The Descendants and Sideways and seem like a more proper venue for his type of filmmaking. Also, Toronto and Telluride more closely reflect the tastes of the Academy than the more high-minded Cannes. Payne and Paramount Pictures must be pleased then by the more enthusiastic reaction Nebraska received at Telluride this past weekend. Tim Appelo of The Hollywood Reporter writes that the film received a standing ovation and several pundits agreed that the film’s Oscar chances were improved by its reception with a more friendly audience. It is too early to say if the film will be the third Best Picture nominee in a row for Payne, but it’s suddenly right back in the conversation.
5) The word is still out on Labor Day.
This one is sort of a cop-out because I am saying that what Telluride told us about Jason Reitman’s Labor Day is that we don’t know much about Jason Reitman’s Labor Day. The film screened to mixed, but mostly positive reviews, but there was significantly less hype following the film’s premiere than his recent successes Juno and Up in the Air had coming out of Telluride. This implies that the film might go the way of his last effort Young Adult in terms of Oscar attention, but it’s very difficult to say. Critics like Todd McCarthy and Kris Tapley view the film as a significant step forward for Reitman, but neither seems confident that other moviegoers will see it that way. Basically it sounds like we are going to have to wait until the films Toronto premiere to see if it is the real deal or not.
The Oscar charts have not been updated since last week, but take a look at them for good measure: