Telluride Diary 3: Bridging the past with the future...

ScreenerBlog

The 43rd edition of the Telluride Film Festival passed in a breeze. Blink, and you’d miss something at this notoriously short festival, which annually transforms a quaint mountain town in the Rockies into a cinematic playground. But its 3.5-day duration was enough to remember that the art form, which annually brings voracious cinephiles, accomplished storytellers and renowned stars together, was far from dead despite what a number of recent articles suggested at various publications on the heels of a soulless summer at the movies. Checking Twitter out and stumbling upon these “Is Cinema Dead?” conversations was especially jarring (and even a tad tiring) while waiting in the line for, say, La La Land –a dreamy, exceptional and forward-looking achievement– or Moonlight, a new American essential, soon to meet with larger audiences. The New York Times’ A. O. Scott has already said it eloquently in his Telluride recap, but it bears repeating that one dreary summer doesn’t equate death. And Telluride offered lavish proof that the future remains bright.

Coincidentally, the past and future of art and its evolution through generations was very much top of mind in Telluride. On one hand, we had Denis Villeneuve’s ultramodern and minimalist sci-fi Arrival that concerns itself with the future wellbeing of mankind. On the other, we had contemporary auteur François Ozon remaking a Lubitsch film with Frantz. We had veteran Isabelle Huppert (one of the greatest actors on Earth) and young, exceptionally talented Rooney Mara crossing the street on opposite ends of West Colorado Avenue. We were graced by the presence of both Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds for their documentary Bright Lights. We had old-timer veterans like Werner Herzog (Into the Inferno) and Clint Eastwood (Sully) using their polished, honed skills and tricks to tell new stories of bravery, while younger talents like Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle pushed conventional borders of cinema without alienating the conventions that came before them. We had a young, teenage, female eagle huntress challenging a 2000-year-old male tradition, and for an extra layer of deep nostalgia, we had old-world typewriters (subject of Doug Nichol’s California Typewriter) daring to survive against modern technology.

In fact, the tone for this play (and eventual unity) between past, present and future was set from the very first screening, with Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, through the character of a jazz purist, challenged one day by his fellow musician with a simple question: How can one possibly revolutionize jazz if all they do is hold onto the tradition of past revolutionaries? When I did a brief walk-and-talk chat with Damien Chazelle on Monday, following the annual Labor Day picnic (during which Chazelle and his star Emma Stone attended a panel moderated by Annette Insdorf), I brought up this aspect of his film. Was the play between “past” and “future,” “tradition” vs. “modernization” in cinema on his mind? “Oh totally…completely,” Chazelle said. “I had all those questions in my mind constantly.” He went on to say that the entire film played with that idea. He wanted to nod to the game-changers of cinema [the Demys and Donens]. “Those [filmmakers]…they were revolutionaries,” he said, while adding that he still wanted his film to be new. “I really hope that [purpose] comes across clearly in my film.”

Labor Day Screenings

I have already extensively reported on many of the films I managed to see both on the opening day and at the end of the weekend. On Monday, which is sort of a catch-up day at the festival with popular films re-screening across various venues in town, I checked out Aisling Walsh’s heartwarming Maudie, starring a rugged Ethan Hawke and a terrific, physically and emotionally dedicated Sally Hawkins in the role of a beloved housekeeper-turned-local artist from Nova Scotia. Maudie, still without a distribution home in the U.S., was a hit among festival-goers and a true word-of-mouth gem that pulled many emotional heartstrings. My brief and informal chat with Chazelle cost me a valuable afternoon screening (hey, it was well worth it)—but I did manage to fit in Fill the Void director Rama Burshetin’s Through the Wall. It’s a charming, Muriel’s Wedding-meets-My Big Fat Greek Wedding-type Israeli story about an idiosyncratic religious woman (lovably played by Noa Kooler) determined to get married on the eighth night of Hanukkah. While I’m sympathetic to the character’s traditional circumstances and obstacles, I have to admit an entire film based on female marriage obsession didn’t necessarily resonate with me.

The Awards Season Ahead vs. Telluride

Whether we like it or not, awards season is upon us. And Telluride—regardless of how much the festival directors disregard its presence and influence on the season—is an unofficial Oscar launch pad, having screened seven out of eight Best Picture nominees in the last eight years.

So…have we seen any contenders over the weekend? You bet.

Moonlight

Writer/director Barry Jenkins’ deeply felt account of an American gay black man’s life is on its way to wow Toronto in a few days, and the audiences of the prestigious New York Film Festival right after. Expect to see this film pop up in Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay categories, as well as receive possible acting nods across the board. A24 carried Room all the way to the Oscars last year (which also launched into the season in Telluride) and scored multiple nominations. I am convinced they will do it again.

La La Land

Lionsgate’s Venice charmer and Telluride darling is about to receive its Toronto boost. It’s safe to predict Best Picture and Director nominations here, as well as multiple nods in tech and crafts categories, including Tom Cross’ Editing, Linus Sandgren’s Cinematography and David Wasco’s Production Design. Its leads are heading into the race strongly too, but I sense Emma Stone (absolutely terrific and displaying a wide range through the audition scenes of her character) is a much surer bet than Gosling (whom I adored). And let’s not forget Best Original Song (La La Land might be without challengers here) and Score. We’ll hear Justin Hurwitz’s name a lot this season.

Manchester by the Sea

It’s unusual for a Sundance sensation to get a boost from Telluride. But Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions have big plans in mind for this devastating tale of grief by Kenneth Lonergan, which rewards patience and attention from the audience. Picture/Director nominations will be extremely likely. The surer bets, I sense, are a nod for Best Original Screenplay and a Best Actor nomination for Casey Affleck, who was one of this year’s tributes in Telluride. I think the scene-stealing Michelle Williams will score a Best Supporting Actress nomination despite her short screen time. Let’s hope young actor Lucas Hedges doesn’t get forgotten here.

Toni Erdmann

I sadly have not seen Germany’s Foreign Language Oscar submission yet. But Maren Ade’s 162-minute comedy/drama has been earning the love of audiences ever since its Cannes premiere last May and it’s not unreasonable to assume (especially in the capable hands of Sony Pictures Classics) it will be shortlisted, or even nominated come January.

The Eagle Huntress

Another Sundance sensation. Another title I am yet to catch up with. Otto Bell’s documentary of female empowerment was a late entry into the Sundance lineup and played in the “Kids” section for that reason. But Sony Pictures Classics viewed, loved and bought the movie on the spot, as SPC’s Tom Bernard casually said during their Telluride dinner. The fearless huntress Aisholpan and her supportive father were walking around town and wowing the festival-goers with their eagles all weekend. Surely, this documentary will have legs outside the festival circuit and reach the awards season.

Other possibilities

Una, which currently lacks distribution, could do well for Rooney Mara if bought in time by the right distributor. Similarly, Maudie’s Sally Hawkins deserves to be a Best Actress contender provided the film finds U.S. distribution soon. Bleed For This (which I have not yet seen) is generating buzz for its lead actor, Miles Teller.

I am not expecting a Picture/Director nomination for Villeneuve’s Arrival, but Amy Adams (again, a tribute this year) will likely score a well-deserved Best Actress nomination. The film’s cinematography (by Bradford Young) and Original Score (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) could also find some love. Clint Eastwood’s Sully will likely bring a Best Actor nomination to Tom Hanks, but the film’s appeal beyond its lead remains to be seen (again, as a perennial Eastwood fan, this was not one of my favorites of his.)

Finally, Richard Gere's performance in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer and the Netflix documentary The Ivory Game are ones to keep an eye on for awards prospects.

Enjoy the season ahead…