Telluride Roundup: 'Prisoners,' 'Palo Alto,' 'Gravity'

Posted by · 12:27 am · September 3rd, 2013

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The 2013 Telluride Film Festival has come to a close and, overall, the quality of the slate was befitting the event’s 40th anniversary. Granted, you might have expected more celebratory moments, but Telluride has always been about the movies first. Parties? Special ceremonies?  Eh, they’ll stick with the annual Thursday “feed” and Labor Day picnic thank you very much.

This was my fourth straight trip to Telluride and it has quickly become my most anticipated festival of the year (Sundance is a strong no. 2). In fact, I’m not sure I can imagine the Labor Day weekend without it. The quality of the films is always high and it’s become a must in covering awards season. Young or old, attendees (many of them Academy members) love to strike up a conversation about what they liked and, only if you really pester them, what they didn’t. This year, “Nebraska” was the semi-surprise stand-out and “12 Years A Slave,” “Gravity” and “Tim’s Vermeer” were not that far behind. “All Is Lost” was mentioned as a favorite the first two days of the festival, but didn’t come up as often the rest of the weekend (hmmm). “Inside Llewyn Davis” had its fans (although it didn’t go over like gangbusters like I thought it might) and “Under the Skin” easily became the most polarizing film of the festival (and possibly the year). Jonathan Glazer’s art film will probably (hopefully?) go over much better in Venice and Toronto, but that reaction is why the Telluride brain trust brought it in the first place. Every year they love to include a film or two in the program that challenges the regulars. “Under the Skin” (read my review here) certainly fit that bill.

Now, awards season takes a quick breath before it all begins again Thursday with the kickoff of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. In the meantime, here are my thoughts (and some awards consideration) on a number of films I didn’t fully review.

Director Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”), famed cinematographer Roger Deakins and a stellar cast turn what could be a conventional melodramatic thriller into something much more interesting.  Well, at least for the first 30 minutes or so. Eventually, the storyline’s genre trappings kick in and it all starts to feel less special than it first appeared to be. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are the standouts among an excellent ensemble.  The former would be a shoe-in for a best actor nomination any other year, but this season?  It’s gonna be tough.
Awards Potential: Hugh Jackman (Best Actor), Roger Deakins (Cinematography)

“Palo Alto”
Grade: C
Gia Coppola comes from an increasingly long line of Coppola filmmakers and that’s a good thing.  Unfortunately, her debut is based on James Franco’s book of the same title and it centers on a group of high schoolers dealing with typical teenage angst issues (well, sort of).  Coppola has talent with actors and tone, but the material is nothing we haven’t seen before (sometimes decades before). It also hurts that Coppola doesn’t really have anything to say about this “generation” she’s thrown the spotlight on.  “Palo Alto” includes some notable turns by Emma Roberts and Val Kilmer’s son Jack Kilmer (someone to watch for), but that’s about it.
Awards Potential: None

I’m going to predict I’ll be talking about Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece (yes, it’s true) a lot during the upcoming season, so I’ll edit myself here (or you can take in Guy Lodge’s similarly rapturous review out of Venice). Bluntly, “Gravity” is a visceral and compelling cinematic experience that deserves all the praise it’s already gotten.  What’s abundantly clear out of Telluride and Venice is that those who love will love with a passion. Where that puts it on March 2 still remains to be seen.
Awards Potential: Best Picture, Sandra Bullock (Best Actress), Alfonso Cuaron (Director), George Clooney (Supporting Actor), Emmanuel Lubezki (Cinematography), Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger (Editing) Andy Nicholson (Production Design), Steven Price (Original Score), Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron (Original Screenplay), Tim Webber (Visual Effects), (Best Sound), (Sound Editing)

“Tim’s Vermeer”
Grade: B
Directed by Teller and produced by Penn Jillette and Farley Ziegler, this documentary follows a 3-year  journey by millionaire inventor Tim Jenison to prove a theory on how famed painter Johannes Vermeer created his classics. Jenison believes Vermeer used mirrors and a special reflective box to bring his photo-like paintings to life. In order to prove it, he decides to paint his own version of a classic Vermeer in his San Antonio warehouse. The result is an intriguing and entertaining doc, but also a slight one that might be slightly overhyped after a rapturous Telluride audience response.
Awards Potential: (Documentary)

“The Wind Rises”
Grade: C+
This was one of the more disappointing films at the festival. Seemingly the last film from animation master Hayao Miyazaki, “Rises” is inspired by the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter used by the Japanese army during WW II.  How it treats the war itself is somewhat disturbing, but the picture’s downfall is its screenplay (there are numerous scenes about getting the right rivets for the plane and engineering presentations that are about as exciting as that sounds).  Even when Miyazaki is focusing on the film’s romance he tests the audience’s patience with sequences that never seem to end. That being said, Miyazaki conjures up some inspired “dreams” for Horkioshi. You just wish he’d been willing to edit the overall film just a bit more.
Awards Potential: (Animated Feature)

Additional Telluride reviews you might have missed:

“Labor Day”
Grade: B

“12 Years A Slave”
Grade: A-

“Under the Skin”
Grade: A-

“The Invisible Woman”
Grade: C+

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