The seven best new films screened at the 45th Telluride Film Festival

ScreenerBlog

Another surreal Telluride Film Festival came to a close on Labor Day Monday, after screening a typically strong crop of American and world cinema titles through its jam-packed four days. The festival's 45th edition was a star-studded affair, perhaps more than usual, with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Robert Redford, Melissa McCarthy, Casey Affleck, Laura Dern and Emma Stone all in attendance, seeing movies in their jeans and sensible shoes alongside the regular public. They were joined by directors Yann Demange, Marielle Heller, Damien Chazelle, Alfonso Cuarón, Ralph Fiennes, Yorgos Lanthimos, David Lowery, Joel Edgerton and Karyn Kusama, all of whom could often be spotted around the small, conveniently planned mountain town. It was a weekend of cinephilia, of a shared love of movies among filmmakers and moviegoers, across various quaint and state-of-the-art venues that might have screened the next Best Picture Oscar winner. This has been the case for nearly a decade—Telluride continues to bring good luck to hopeful contenders.

As per usual, the impeccably programmed festival, nested in the idyllic mountains of Colorado, reinforced several high profile films hailing from various prestigious festivals around the world in their lengthy run through the season, as well as launched brand-new movies into the Oscar race. Below are seven of the best films that Telluride screened early; either for the first time, or on the heels of their recent Venice Film Festival world premieres.

 

The Biggest Little Farm

There is always that little sleeper hit film in Telluride, the one you randomly keep hearing about that has stolen the hearts of the audiences. This year, the honors belong to the uplifting documentary The Biggest Little Farm. The Chasing Choral of 2018 with stunning wildlife photography (the kind you would see on the National Geographic Channel) and a hopeful message about the future of the environment, The Biggest Little Farm follows the journey of the Los Angeles couple John and Molly Chester, a wildlife photographer and a personal chef respectively, as they move out of their cramped Santa Monica home in 2011, into a neglected farm only an hour away from the city. They initially do this to keep their promise to their distressed rescue dog, to give him a better, stress-free life away from the noise of the city. In the short space of 7 years, the couple, with the help of experts and volunteers that flock in from around the world, resurrect the farm through traditional farming and bring back entire ecosystems that awaken a new cycle of life. With every persistent step even against the most frustrating of challenges, the We Bought A Zoo-like success story of the Chesters and their Apricot Lane Farms has the power to give birth to a new generation of inspired farmers, determined to invest in the future of the planet.

Premiere: Telluride

Upcoming Festivals: Toronto

Theatrical Release Date: N/A

Distributor: N/A

Boy Erased

Only mere months after Desiree Akhavan’s powerful gay conversion therapy drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post, comes writer-director Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, a South-set, based-on-a-true story drama that follows the young Jared (Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges) discovering his sexual identity amid an intolerant community unwilling to accept him as a gay man. The obedient son of loving, upstanding, conservative parents—the pastor and his wife are superbly brought to life by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman with nuance—Jared agrees to attend conversion therapy, ran by the well-meaning but horribly erroneous Victor Sykes (Edgerton), with damaging consequences. Adapted from Garrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased somewhat rushes through certain parts of Jared’s story and his parents’ journey into acceptance, but it is still an emotionally arresting and an important film (especially for parents of LGBTQ children), carried on the shoulders of memorable performances across the board.

Premiere: Telluride

Upcoming Festivals: Toronto, Chicago, San Diego

Theatrical Release: November 2, 2018

Distributor: Focus Features

 

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Director Marielle Heller follows up her bouncy debut The Diary of a Teenage Girl with another period piece, set in the boozy and bookish streets of New York City’s Upper West Side in the 1990s. One of this year’s audience favorites that is already generating Oscar buzz for lead actress Melissa McCarthy in her brilliant dramatic turn, Can You Ever Forgive Me? follows the washed up, misanthropic biography writer Lee Israel, who forges literary letters to rake in hard cash in order to make ends meet. Adapted from Israel’s memoir by Jeff Whitty and Nicole Holofcener, Heller’s latest compassionately portrays a newfound, later-in-life friendship—Israel’s partner-in-crime is wittily played by Richard E. Grant, with a nod to his Withnail & I persona—in a world where age is undervalued and a literary career proves to be unsustainable. Heartbreaking and darkly funny at equal measure, Can You Ever Forgive Me? gives new meaning to urban loneliness and finds significance in the stories of outcasts forgotten by the society.

Premiere: Telluride

Upcoming Festivals: Toronto, San Diego, London

Theatrical Release: October 19, 2018

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos continues to be a surprising filmmaker of unique absurdities. And The Favourite (don’t you be forgetting that British “u”) is undoubtedly his most commercial and accessible film to date, despite carrying his expected oddities. Embellished with his signature monotony and ferocious humor, this is Lanthimos’ very own, very idiosyncratic Dangerous Liaisons, telling the hysterically naughty story of baroque British royals, backstabbing their way through a lesbian love triangle. Featuring Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman and Emma Stone in deeply comical roles and tight-fitting corsets (the stunning costume work belongs to Sandy Powell), The Favourite is likely to stun and divide the audiences with its one-of-a-kind foulmouthed wit. But one thing will be certain: the women at the heart of this sumptuously designed tale, especially Olivia Colman in the role of Queen Anne, will be the talk of the season. Lanthimos might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the technical skill (save, perhaps, for the distracting use of a fisheye lens in certain scenes) and fiendish jesting he infuses The Favourite with is awe-inspiring.

Premieres: Venice, Telluride

Upcoming Festivals: New York, San Diego, London

Theatrical Release: November 23, 2018

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

 

Non-Fiction

It might be slightly cliché to compare this casual, intellectual and bitingly funny film to the works of Woody Allen, but how else would you define the story of a group of French men and women—publishers, actors, political workers and novelists—who bicker about love, life, brainy pursuits, the digital age and TV shows they are addicted to? Thankfully, writer-director Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper) is far from heavy-handed in charting the lives of a pair of couples who lead seemingly happy marriages on the surface but harbor depths and secrets of their own. Assayas reveals these details with humor through a breezy script, which hilariously sees the characters use global buzz phrases like “post-truth”, “fake news”, “strong female” and so on. Non-Fiction is pure, straight-faced French witticism from start to finish; so much that you might find yourself craving the continued company of these characters through an episodic series. Bonus: Non-Fiction has the peerless Juliette Binoche, ironically playing the role of a middlebrow TV actor.

Premieres: Venice, Telluride

Upcoming Festivals: Toronto, New York

Theatrical Release: N/A

Distributor: Sundance Selects

 

First Man

In his intimate, technically superb biopic, Damien Chazelle tells the story of the Apollo 11 mission and the historic Moon landing. Both a character study for Neil Armstrong and the chronicle of a marriage challenged by tragedy and the demands of the space program, First Man boasts first-rate craftsmanship, sophisticated performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy and is poised to make a splash in the upcoming awards races. Read our full review here.

Premieres: Venice, Telluride

Upcoming Festivals: Toronto

Theatrical Release: October 12, 2018

Distributor: Universal Pictures

 

Roma

A humanist masterpiece and the best film I got to see in this year’s line-up, Roma (name of a middle-class neighborhood in Mexico City) is Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s most personal work to date. In this grateful love letter he wrote to the women, especially a live-in domestic helper played by the astounding newcomer Yalitza Aparicia, who raised him in the politically polarized, 1970s’ Mexico City of unrest and violent protests, Cuarón painstakingly builds each frame with layers of details on every corner of the screen. Watching Roma is like watching a living and breathing art installation in crisp black and white and delicately tiptoeing through the director’s own vivid memories of his childhood, which includes his siblings and sacrificing mother, as well as an absent father figure. The Netflix title is getting a semi-traditional release from the streaming studio, and is likely to bring Oscar-winner Cuarón multiple nominations, as the auteur not only wrote and directed the film, but also shot it himself and co-edited it with Adam Gough.

Premieres: Venice, Telluride

Upcoming Festivals: Toronto, New York, London

Theatrical Release: December 14, 2018

Distributor: Netflix