Wrapping up the 39th annual Telluride Film Festival

Posted by · 8:23 am · September 3rd, 2012

TELLURIDE – Things are pretty much wrapping up at the 39th annual. Monday is generally a great time for catch-up, as the schedule is filled in with repeat showings. Unfortunately, I tend to leave on Monday afternoon each year, so I don’t get to use the day productively. But nine-and-a-half movies over the three-day spread is good enough for me. (I won’t knock the movie I walked out of. I’ll come back to it at some point, as it’s generated interesting split reactions.)

The festival this year was more in line with its former identity. A few years of Oscar bait titles — “127 Hours,” “Up in the Air,” “The King’s Speech,” “Black Swan” — caused an influx of press recently, but things have been more refined this year and last. But in particular, the whole thing was quite subdued this time around. It’s the first Telluride I’ve attended where I didn’t even do any interviews, which is also kind of in keeping with its former self. They’ve never really wanted a strong press presence here. But who knows what might happen next year as the fest celebrates its 40th anniversary with an extra day of programming?

The big media story was of course the sneak preview of Ben Affleck’s “Argo.” The film played extremely well and will likely do the same when it moves on to Toronto next week (especially given its Canada-as-hero elements). It’s also the first inarguable Oscar play of the season. Affleck’s been around town all weekend but hasn’t done any press, and won’t do a lot at Toronto, either, apparently. There appears to be an effort to avoid over-saturation too far in advance of the release, and that’s actually a relief.

Documentaries were a big hit at the festival this year. I didn’t see Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” but more than a few have told me it’s her best film yet. I did catch “The Central Park Five” and “The Gatekeepers,” however, and both were sensational. Speaking of which, the Best Documentary Feature category rules have been a consistent topic of discussion with journalists and studio chiefs with docs in play. It’s going to be an interesting year as the nomination process has been opened up as well as the fact that the entire Academy membership can vote on the winner. It really changes things from a strategy standpoint. And in the end, popularity will win the day.

I didn’t find myself responding to Pablo Larraín’s “No,” which was surprising as it was a hit at Cannes and found a lot of champions here. I can’t help but think that most are responding more to the story itself than the way it was told, however. Michael Winterbottom’s “Everyday” also didn’t click for me and seemed to be a wasted opportunity, given the time put into it. But those are really the only films that fell short on my list.

Greta Gerwig could come out of the fest with a head of steam in “Frances Ha,” but it’s a tiny movie and an Oscar campaign could be tough. I was delighted to have enjoyed it as I had every expectation that I wouldn’t. Meanwhile, the commercial prospects for “The Iceman” should get it a buyer that may want to try for a Michael Shannon Best Actor push, but he really outshines his own film. And finally, “Hyde Park on Hudson” seemed to garner a lot of forgiveness here, but for me, it was dead on arrival. The movie just doesn’t work, has an awkward ick factor and is ultimately forgettable. And as one colleague put it, there are three presidents you just don’t mess with: Washington, Lincoln and FDR. And this film doesn’t paint the nicest portrait of FDR. I’m not saying anything is off limits, I’m just saying it’s a hurdle if you’re going to go there.

Other films that played include “Ginger and Rosa,” which some loved and some hated; “The Act of Killing,” a documentary that seemed to produce the strongest reactions of the fest (be them positive or negative); Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price,” which was a head-scratcher for many who felt there had to be more there than is readily apparent; and “Midnight’s Children,” the ambitious adaptation that most perceived as a noble failure. Again, I won’t note which of those was my “half” movie.

And I think one of the hits of the fest, just anecdotally, was Palme d’Or winner “Amour.” I’ll talk about that film’s awards trajectory a little more in today’s Off the Carpet column.

Today will bring the annual Labor Day picnic with filmmakers on hand and, soon enough, the curtain will officially drop on the 39th annual Telluride Film Festival. The rain was a pest, particularly the cloud cover (seeing the Milky Way up here is just a sight to behold at night), but all in all, another delightful trip to this mountain hamlet.

Greg Ellwood will have a few things in the way of closure later, so watch for that. As for me, that’s a wrap on the SHOW.

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