The Telluride Festival has become the go-to destination for the Oscar race. Six of the past seven Best Picture winners screened at Telluride first before going on to Oscar glory, and the past five in a row. A pattern can always be broken, but if recent history is any indicator, the Best Picture of 2015 has already been seen by festival goers (of which there are many Academy members at this particular fest). So which one got the best reception?
First off we have Room, a harrowing independent film from Lenny Abrahamson, the director of Frank, starring Brie Larsen of Short Term 12, and the early word is that the performances in this film are everything. Larsen is incredible once again, and should be in the conversation for Best Actress (just like she should have been for Short Term 12 two years ago). It's a tough, dramatic performance about a kidnap victim and her young son, with Jacob Tremblay also receiving excellent reviews here, but we have to see if the tiny studio A24 can pull off a successful Oscar campaign, which it hasn't been able to yet. We'll see, but I'm a big Brie Larsen fan, so I'm definitely keeping an eye out for this one.
"'Room' has unforgettable, must-witness performances and its soulful mother and son narrative is one of the most touching dynamics you'll see in theaters this year." (The Playlist)
"Lenny Abrahamson guides Jacob Tremblay to the finest performance by a young actor since Quvenzhané Wallis in 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.'" (Hitfix)
Next we have Suffragette, which I mentioned a couple of days ago premiered to respectable reviews, but now that a few more are in, it appears that the reaction from critics and apparently festival goers was fairly muted. I'm guessing people didn't really want to dump on a movie made entirely by women and about such an important topic, but it doesn't look like the film overall will be too enthusiastically received. Its best shot is still Carey Mulligan in Best Actress, but we'll have to see how kind critics will be to this when it officially comes out.
"A picture whose politics prove rather more commendable than its artistry." (Variety)
"It's a tremendous, awards-worthy performance from Carey Mulligan." (Time Out)
"Screenwriter Abi Morgan isn't able to make the fictional Maud more interesting than her historical counterparts." (Hitfix)
Now we come to the big hit of the festival, Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, which debuted to outstanding reviews and high enthusiasm, especially for Michael Fassbender's performance in the title role, but also for Aaron Sorkin's dazzling script. Described as a bold, operatic and unconventionally filmed and structured biopic about the American icon, it drew some comparisons to last year's Birdman (I guess in terms of its cinematography), and I think we're looking at a major, across-the-board contender from the sound of it. Picture, Actor, Director, Supporting Actress, Screenplay, the works. There are some divisive responses over how accessible it is, but that certainly didn't stop Birdman last year, did it? I'm predicting big things for this movie going forward. It comes out October 9th.
"Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who's written about America's Great Flawed Men with such fire and hyperarticulate pathos that he's threatened to become one himself, outdoes his work on 'The Social Network' with an even sharper and more savage script." (Time Out)
"An enthralling performance by Michael Fassbender fuels this brilliant, infuriating and richly unconventional take on the life of an American visionary." (Variety)
"Racing in high gear from start to finish, Danny Boyle’s electric direction temperamentally complements Sorkin’s highly theatrical three-act study." (Hollywood Reporter)
Finally, there's Johnny Depp's rumored comeback role (although he hasn't really gone anywhere, he's just made some bad movies lately) as the mob boss Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, which is hard to tell from the reaction whether it's a decent movie at all, or a good one but just not much of an awards play. Depp will for sure be in contention for Best Actor, and Joel Edgerton is receiving standout notices as well, but this seems to be a film that some really like a lot but others dismiss as slightly above average. We'll have to see where it lands with more critics and a mass audience (this one looks to be more commercial) which will be soon since it's coming out September 18th.
"Scott Cooper’s 'Black Mass' is a big, brash, horribly watchable gangster picture taken from an extraordinary true story and conceived on familiar generic lines." (The Guardian)
"This is Depp’s show all the way, featuring his best dramatic performance since another organized-crime movie, 1997’s “Donnie Brasco.” (The Wrap)
"As a movie, 'Black Mass' often drowns its dramatic potential in a dreary atmosphere and grisly violence used to dubious effect. Depp, however, operates on another level." (Indiewire)
If you ask me, I'd say the major contenders to emerge out of Telluride and Venice this year were Steve Jobs and Spotlight (the latter, left, played very well at Telluride, even better than it did at Venice, which is a very good sign). Keep an eye out for those as we plow forward, with Toronto set to start to tomorrow. TIFF's stock has dipped in recent years as far as Oscar potential goes, but they still have some significant movies to premiere (Our Brand is Crisis, The Martian), so stay tuned.