Telluride Dispatch 3: 'Carol,' 'Beasts of No Nation,' 'Anomalisa' and takeaways from the festival's 42nd edition.
It's a wrap for the 42nd Telluride Film Festival. With the traditional Labor Day picnic and playing catch-up with repeat screenings of popular titles on Monday, four days of cinephilia have come to an end, perhaps a bit too quickly. Thankfully, the magic of it all—the gondola rides between Telluride and Mountain Village, rainbows, casual sightings of filmmakers and actors/actresses—will linger for a long time. Indeed, where else can one chitchat with Alexander Payne in a hot-dog stand line, hang out with the next potential 007 Idris Elba at a casual bar or picnic next to Laura Linney while she plays with her toddler? That's the thing about Telluride. It's a casual, democratic playground for film lovers and makers. The space and the love of film is shared. It is mutually understood by everyone involved that we are all here to hang out, let our guard down and create our own little festival against the breathtaking mountain views.
I was able to fit in seven films during Sunday and Monday (bringing my total of program viewings to 15, including Jafar Panahi's miraculous film Taxi that I had previously screened in New York). And the biggest excitement was finally catching up with Todd Haynes' Carol, which will continue to build post-Cannes buzz in the New York and London Film Festivals before it opens in November. Telling the story of two women who fall in love in the 1950s, Carol is filled with grace, longing and delicate beauty in its every moment. The chemistry between its leads Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara is pitch-perfect. Both actresses quietly own the screen and tiptoe around a long tease of lust and heartbreak. Dressing Cate Blanchett once again this year after Cinderella, Sandy Powell does gorgeous work with the film's costumes and perfectly visualizes both characters' inner worlds and desires through their wardrobes. Todd Haynes' masterpiece will possibly go down as one of the most romantic films of all time, and earn the film multiple nominations, even though the word out of Telluride seems a bit more divisive than its Cannes reaction. Rooney Mara, who got a tribute here in Telluride (which is pretty much a strategic part of an awards campaign) especially is getting a big push from the distributor The Weinstein Company in the lead category, while Blanchett will likely be pushed for Supporting, in order to not compete against herself in James Vanderbilt's Truth.
Among the more under-the-radar titles, I caught up with Jayro Bustamante's Toronto-bound, quietly powerful Ixcanul (Guatamala's first-ever submission to the Oscars) that follows a young Guatemalan woman as she deals with an unplanned pregnancy while her family struggles with poverty and limited prospects living at the base of an active volcano. Grímur Hákonarson's Rams—just announced as Iceland's submission for the Academy Awards, and one of my favorite titles in the festival—playfully and humanely tells the tale of a small Icelandic town's competitive, stubborn sheep farmers as they deal with a deadly disease plaguing their sheep. Present during the film's intro and later Q&A, the film's charmingly dry-humored director Hákonarson said it would be great if a film about Icelandic sheep farmers one day becomes a blockbuster in the USA. Charlie Kaufman's stop-motion animated Anomalisa—which can be defined as Lost in Translation meets Barton Fink in a Kaufmanesque universe—came as a big surprise to me in its instant likability and at times laugh-out-loud funny, self-deprecating sense of humor.
Cary Fukunaga's Idris Elba-starer Beasts of No Nation was the last major title to play at the festival. A film with graphic brutality, gripping camerawork and ace performances by Elba and the film's young star Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation will likely become Netflix's first major awards season player and will receive a theatrical run before becoming available to stream on Netflix. The studio's after-party directly following Beasts ended up being a well-timed and attended social event, where I watched Fukunaga play table football with his young star Attah, and Elba engaging with the crowd with his classy charisma, unknowingly proving to the crowd at the New Sheridan that he indeed should be the next 007.
With Telluride now completely behind us and the film crowd prepping for Toronto and New York, it's time to look ahead and wonder if we've already seen our eventual Best Picture winner. Since 2010, every single Best Picture winner screened at Telluride, inevitably turning the festival into an Oscar launch-pad of sorts. But I feel this year might just break the streak. It's a prediction many make every year, but this year it rings more true to me. Among the likely titles, Todd Haynes' Carol might be perceived as a bit distant and cold by AMPAS (judging from Telluride reactions), even though I predict it getting multiple nominations. Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs will also nab several nods (Michael Fassbender might even lead the Best Actor race), but it remains to be seen if Sorkin's fast-paced, non-stop dialogue will connect the movie with AMPAS' sensibilities. Sarah Gavron's Suffragette might also go far in the season, but the lukewarm critical support for the film could be a strain on a healthy run. Lastly, Tom McCarthy's Spotlight—perhaps Telluride's most unanimously loved film—is likely to land several nominations (especially for its ensemble cast), but it remains to be seen if it can go all the way. Then there is Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation, which could just be too harsh for some delicate types. Of course, these are all very early prognostications and (semi)educated guesses; time will tell what will happen to any of these titles. But something tells me we haven't yet seen our eventual Best Picture winner and I am prepared to eat my words come February 28, 2016.
Awards aside, this year's most powerful narrative to me was the presence of women. Telluride's 42nd edition told a very different story than last year's slate. At last year's Film Society-hosted farewell dinner on Monday night (the festival's final day), I recall trying to come up with a list of films I saw the last few days that passed the Bechdel Test (meaning, having two women in a scene talking to each other about something other than a man) with other attendees including Thompson on Hollywood's Anne Thompson. And we couldn't name many among the pool of prominent films, apart from Wild and maybe a pair of other titles. Even Birdman's Bechdel status was questionable. But the festival's 42nd edition corrected this fault in a way. There still weren't an abundance of female-directed films, yet films with females at the center were plentiful. From Todd Haynes' Carol, to Sarah Gavron's Suffragette, Andrew Haigh's 45 Years, and Lenny Abrahamson's Room, there was considerable richness in this year's female-centric crop—a trend that should reflect onto the awards season and beyond. One can only hope.