Spitballing possibilities for the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival

Posted by · 9:13 am · July 22nd, 2013

In a little over a month the fall festival season, and with it, the awards circuit, will officially be under way in the mountains of Colorado with the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival. It's the calm before the storm, a soothing handful of days over the Labor Day weekend to watch a few movies set to dominate the latter-year calendar, do a bit of Berlin and Cannes catch-up and even soak up some of the non-awards stuff that really helps round out the experience as a deep breath of fresh cinephile air. I can't wait.

With the fest on the horizon, and with the Venice and Toronto line-ups coming in the next few weeks, it seemed worth it to spitball some of the expected titles for Telluride. As you know, the slate is traditionally kept under wraps until the first day of the festival, leaving it to the truly dedicated who are willing to take a leap of faith on the festival's programmers and curators. And though this factoid gets a bit overstated in the media, Telluride has played host to the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner four of the last five years, including first-ever screenings of “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008, “The King's Speech” in 2010 and “Argo” in 2012. What does the 2013 anniversary program have in store?

As noted, Telluride is a good opportunity to catch up on films that already played international fests. With that in mind, it's possible we'll see award winners like “Blue is the Warmest Color,” “Like Father, Like Son,” “Child's Pose” or “Gloria,” among others. But I have a pretty good feeling we can anticipate the Coen brothers' first-ever Telluride appearance with “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Meanwhile, Alexander Payne has become a huge fan of the festival since serving as guest director in 2009. His latest, “Nebraska,” is a safe bet, perhaps even in conjunction with a Silver Medallion tribute for Bruce Dern.

Another director who loves to premiere in the mountain air before heading up to Toronto the next week is Jason Reitman. He came to Telluride with “Juno” in 2007 and “Up in the Air” in 2009, but skipped all the festival shenanigans with “Young Adult,” a film that had a more creative marketing strategy on the whole. I think we can expect “Labor Day” to play, particularly given that applicable title. If so, could a tribute for Kate Winslet could be in the cards?

Sony Pictures Classics always takes a few films as Michael Barker and Tom Bernard like to roll their art house entries out through the festival circuit (and the cinephile crowd of Telluride is typically a great audience for their product). They could bring “The Past” and “The Lunchbox” from Cannes, though I've heard more definitive rumblings about Ralph Fiennes' “The Invisible Woman” showing up. We'll see if those rumblings play out.

Speaking of rumblings, I've heard Paul Greengrass' Somali pirate drama “Captain Phillips” could pop up, maybe even with a tribute for Tom Hanks (who will be quite visible this awards season between this and Disney's “Saving Mr. Banks”). Meanwhile, the Warner Bros. teams on “Gravity” and “Prisoners” are making the pilgrimage, but is it just to soak it up or is it with films in tow? There is plenty of time for Alfonso Cuarón to bring his Sandra Bullock/George Clooney spectacle after opening the Venice fest, while Denis Villeneuve showed up with “Incendies” a few years back and could have a prestige/commercial hybrid with his latest. However, it could be neither: a little film from the studio called “The Good Lie” with Reese Witherspoon, Corey Stoll and shades of “The Blind Side” would be worth keeping an eye on here.

Speaking of Venice, I'm betting “Philomena” shows up on the Lido, typical of Stephen Frears. If so, could The Weinstein Company bring the film back to Telluride, or will they just wait for Toronto? Other Weinstein hopefuls that are possible include “The Immigrant” (director James Gray attended a cocktail party in honor of the upcoming 40th annual fest in Los Angeles last month) and the documentary “Salinger.” I wouldn't count on their other heavy-hitters making the trip (particularly not December release “August: Osage County”), but you never know. They don't always have a considerable presence, though again, Best Picture winners “The King's Speech” and “The Artist” made the trip.

Another studio with some history at the festival is Fox Searchlight. They brought a trio of films in 2010 (“Black Swan,” “Never Let Me Go” and “127 Hours”) and picked up Telluride player “Shame” from director Steve McQueen not long after it premiered there in 2011 (the studio was there with Payne's “The Descendants”). So that's all a long-winded way of saying McQueen's “12 Years a Slave” MIGHT pop up after potentially premiering in Venice, just as “Shame” did, but that could easily go either way. (UPDATE: It's been revealed that “12 Years a Slave” will have its world premiere at Toronto, not Venice, which frankly makes it seem even more likely as a Telluride possibility.)

Outside the big titles, I'm hopeful of a couple of other things, starting with an absolute classic and one of my favorite films of all time. The 40th annual fest will be unveiling the Werner Herzog Theatre, a new 650-seat venue named after one of the festival's most famous annual attendees (who always ends up celebrating his birthday over the weekend). A restoration of Herzog's 1972 masterpiece “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” opened in the UK courtesy of the British Film Institute earlier this year, and if it shows up on the Telluride line-up, it will be one of the highest priorities for me, just as a 70mm print of “Baraka” was last year.

Also possible is Steve James's Roger Ebert documentary “Life Itself.” The film's executive producer, Martin Scorsese, has shown up at the fest in the form of his Bob Dylan and George Harrison opuses “No Way Home” and “Living in the Material World” in past years, so it seems worth hanging a hope on that one. It sure would be great for Ebert to have that kind of presence at the fest, and considering he's one of a few notable critics who haven't received a Special Medallion Award (which has gone to the likes of Leonard Maltin, Andrew Sarris, Richard Schickel and David Thomson in the past), maybe now is the time.

Errol Morris got a tribute once upon a time and has a new film called “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld.” Given that Morris is a Telluride regular and given the Sony Pictures Classics connection here, I'd say it's a solid bet.

Speaking of all these tributes, other possibilities include the Coen brothers, Judi Dench and, if “All is Lost” shows up, Robert Redford. But really, you never can tell with those. I doubt anyone saw Mads Mikkelsen coming last year and the festival is great about digging deep and spotlighting the likes of Pierre Etaix, Janus Films, Elmore Leonard, Walter Murch, etc. And that's what makes it a wonderful discovery festival.

So with that in mind, let's just say I'm not desperately hoping for big awards season surprises so much as marinating in what has to be the best film festival environment in the world. I don't do a lot of fests, so I'm not speaking from a ton of experience on that, but I do get the feeling that I've been spoiled by my years taking in Telluride's offerings. I can't imagine anything really measures up to the atmosphere, and this newly expanded edition for the 40th anniversary will surely be, in a word, heaven.

The 2013 Telluride Film Festival runs August 29 – September 2.

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