The Telluride Film Festival crams a lot of movies into a 4-day weekend and the tradition of a few annual surprise screenings make things seem even more crowded. This year Ben Affleck’s Argo sneaked into the festival schedule on the first day and subsequently became one of the most talked about movies at the festival. While Telluride was atwitter with talk of Affleck’s film there was another movie that was bringing the stars to Colorado mountains: Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson. Bill Murray and Laura Linney were spotted throughout the weekend plugging their film and mugging for the press.
Argo – Ben Affleck
After years of not being taken seriously as an actor, Affleck has proven that he is nobody to joke about when he gets behind the camera. After his strong directorial debut Gone Baby Gone in 2007, Affleck narrowly missed a Best Picture nomination with his follow-up The Town in 2010. With his Iranian revolution film Argo, Affleck puts himself back in front of the camera to play a CIA agent who goes undercover as a film director in order to free a group of Americans. The reception for Argo was strongly favorable indicating that Affleck’s first two features were not a fluke.
Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere shares only brief thoughts about Argo, but he says the direction and the performances hit all the right notes:
In short, it’s smart and absorbing for first two-thirds to three-quarters, but it’s the suspenseful final act that brings it home.
Affleck’s direction is clean and concise and doesn’t waste time or footage. The screenplay by Chris Terrio is aces. And the cast hits nothing but true notes — Affleck as Mendez, Bryan Cranston as his CIA boss, Arkin and Goodman as the producers, Victor Garber as Iran’s Canadian ambassador who protected the six when they were hiding in his residence, and Kyle Chandler as the late Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff.
Eric Kohn of Indiewire hints that the movie will do well with Awards groups because it will likely have mainstream appeal:
Content to be a crowdpleaser more than anything else, “Argo” is mainly impressive for the way it generally glides along. Appropriately, its construction bears the mark of calculation only slightly less impressive than the ruse at the center of its plot. Since the actual mission remained largely unknown until it was declassified by the Clinton Administration in the late nineties, the movie taps into a revisionist appeal that provides at least some audiences with the opportunity to celebrate a certifiable Jimmy Carter success story. “The whole country is watching you,” Mendez is cautioned. “They just don’t know it.” Much of the pleasure in “Argo” comes from the power of the movie itself to change that.
Gregory Ellwood of HitFix credits Ben Affleck for strongly establishing the time period while managing to avoiding cliches:
“Argo” doesn’t hit you over the head with musical references (in fact, there is only one that comes to mind). Instead, Affleck uses unexpected tools such as forgotten news reports to communicate the tense and despairing mood back in the states. Two reports that probably haven’t been seen in decades focus on an Iranian being beaten in front of a cameraman in Houston, Texas and another regarding the growing frustration among Vietnam veterans at the military’s inaction to free the hostages.
Behind from The Master, Argo seems to have the strongest buzz out of the festival circuit so far. While there are a good number of films left to see in Toronto, Argo feels like a strong contender for Best Picture. Affleck is less likely to be nominated for his directing, but his leading performance should be consider along with the performances of his co-star Bryan Cranston. Chris Terrio’s script has been praised for its wit, which should appeal to the Best Adapted Screenplay branch.
Hyde Park on Hudson – Roger Michell
It seems that every year we are treated to a handful of period films where A-list stars get to try their hand at impersonating historical figures. Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson gives Bill Murray the opportunity to play American president FDR while Olivia Williams plays Eleanor Roosevelt and Olivia Colman plays Queen Elizabeth. So will Hyde Park on Hudson be more like The King’s Speech (lots of Oscar noms), My Week with Marilyn (acting Oscar noms), or W./E. (no Oscar noms)?
Eric Kohn of Indiewire seems to believe it will be most like the latter with Murray’s performance buried in an unambitious film:
Bill Murray is a man of many talents who has lately struggled to find the right outlet for them. The latest example, “Hyde Park on Hudson,” finds Murray in a tame, mannered costume drama delivering his best FDR impression. The actor’s pathos and deadpan skills are buried in the material, which also suffers from a continuous lack of inspiration. It’s high-minded entertainment with low ambition.
Kris Tapley of In Contention is more kind to the film than other critics. He calls it “problematic,” but finds several moments to praise:
A lot of that stuff works, actually. The film’s best scene by far is a late-night smoking room chat between Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and the King. The President confides in the King, and vice versa. It’s a fatherly sort of conversation that the young monarch clearly needed and it makes one of the stronger cases for the film’s central theme: our rulers are people, too. (The old “he has to put his pants on one leg at a time” adage is even tossed in there somewhere.)
Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist says that Hyde Park on Hudson “makes The King’s Speech look like A Clockwork Orange.” It’s ultimately too shallow to work for him:
Had the picture focused on the Daisy/Franklin relationship with more thought, perhaps ‘Hyde Park’ would bear more weight. But Michell is clearly more interested in entertaining and pleasing his audience, creating a middle-of-the road dramedy that possesses a few somber notes and the occasional comic tickle, but nothing tremendously effective in either aim.
Originally I thought the film’s best hopes lied in Murray’s ability to impersonate Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it sounds like the script doesn’t give him enough meaty scenes to chew on. I’m guessing this might pull a W./E. then and only score for a design category like costumes.
Other Telluride Movies
Orlando director Sally Potter came to Telluride with a coming of age teen friendship tale called Ginger and Rosa. The film’s star Elle Fanning is receiving the highest praise from critics for her emotionally raw performance. Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist says Fanning is at the top of her game:
The intimate and sensual picture also features yet another terrific performance by 14-year-old Elle Fanning, who is quickly becoming the most compelling teenage actor working in movies today. But this time, as the lead, Fanning is transformative, heartbreakingly conveying the inner life of an adolescent with an almost eerily nuanced command of her craft.
There is no official U.S. release date yet, but if it gets distribution before the end of the year Fanning could be a Best Actress wild card. She seems like the type of actress who will be Oscar nominated someday, but her time might not be here just yet.
Indie film favorites Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig teamed up to write the screenplay of Baumbach’s latest film Frances Ha, about two friends who aspire to be a dancer and publisher, respectively. The word on Twitter was that it was Baumbach’s best film to date and the biggest praise is for the story assembled with the help of Gerwig. Gregory Ellwood of HitFix says it’s smarter than your average indie comedy:
As we see Frances crash, Baumbach smartly keep the tone of the film light enough so that hope can shine toward the end and Frances can learn from her mistakes without it seeming like a tacked on Hollywood ending. The decision to make the picture in black and white also allows keeps the Manhattan setting from distracting from the unique characters in Frances’ world.
It seems like it might only have a shot at Best Original Screenplay, but that’s a pretty open field at this point so it’s definitely not that much of a long shot.
The ubiquitous Michael Winterbottom has been releasing at least a movie per year since 2002. This year his film Trishna has already hit U.S. theatres, so his Telluride entry Everyday probably won’t come ashore until 2013. However, Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist says that it just might be worth the wait:
Documentary-like with an observational and patient eye (perhaps too patient), “Everyday” is long, perhaps too long. At two hours, the picture is slow paced with again, seemingly minor stakes, but Winterbottom’s composure pays off in emotionally rewarding dividends. Doubly interesting is that the film was commissioned originally as a look at the prison system, but Winterbottom’s understated examination of this subject goes far beyond.
Don’t expect any Oscar play for Winterbottom, but keep Everyday on your radar.
Stay tuned for more updates from the Fall festivals as the reviews come in! What do you think of the Oscar chances for the above films?