'The Awards Pundits' on Telluride's Rocky Mountain Highs (and Lows)

The two reporters discuss the films, performances and moments they loved (and didn't love) in the Rockies — and speculate about why other contenders have opted to head directly to Toronto.
'Carol'

In this second installment of what will be a regular, awards-season conversation, THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg and executive editor, features Stephen Galloway reflect upon their Labor Day weekend at the Telluride Film Festival and look ahead to the Toronto International Film Festival, which gets underway on Thursday.

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GALLOWAY: Scott, we're on the plane flying back from Telluride. Surprises, disappointments, magical moments? Tell me what blew you away — and what didn't.

FEINBERG: It was fun seeing everything with you for the second year in a row, and I look forward to finding out where we agree and disagree. Let me start with the positive. I loved 45 Years, with two veteran thesps, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, at the top of their game; Black Mass, the first Johnny Depp movie I've been excited about in years; Room, which is going to make clear to everyone why I'm so big on Brie Larson; and Spotlight, with its excellent ensemble.

GALLOWAY: Scott, I'm shocked — shocked! I don't disagree at all. I loved every minute of Black Mass; I loved the direction and the editing and the cinematography and especially the acting. It wasn't just Depp and Joel Edgerton (I ran into him after the screening, when I was sneaking off for an ice cream, and had trouble believing this was the same guy), but also that supporting cast, like Julianne Nicholson as Edgerton's wife, who probably has too small a role to get a nomination, but who knows.

FEINBERG: I agree — Edgerton just about stole the show from Depp. A number of others also gave bigger-name co-stars a run for their money: Room's eight-year-old phenom, Jacob Tremblay, who deserves a nom; Liev Schreiber in Spotlight; Abraham Attah, a teen from Ghana who had never acted before being cast opposite Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation; and the list goes on.

GALLOWAY: What's interesting is that some astonishing performances came in films that drew a mixed response. I'm thinking of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol, a film I liked a lot (I was never a Todd Haynes fan before), which got a lukewarm reaction from quite a few people. Blanchett, who was somewhat theatrical when she was younger, is turning into one of the great screen stars. You can't keep your eyes off her, especially in some of the moments at the end. Scott, is there a single moment in any of the films that has stayed with you the most?

FEINBERG: Interesting question. Without giving away any crucial plot points, I'd highlight two scenes in 45 Years, a speech that brought tears to my eyes and a look that haunts me; the sequence that changes everything in Room; Elba's "I am your future" monologue in Beasts of No Nation; a big blowup in Steve Jobs between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; and two Depp moments in Black Mass, one hilarious (involving an old lady with her groceries) and the other haunting (involving your pal Ms. Nicholson). You?

GALLOWAY: That sequence with Nicholson was spectacular. It's a scene in which her husband (Edgerton) has invited the gangster Whitey Bulger (Depp) to their house, and Nicholson is so revolted by him that she feigns sickness, and goes to her room — only for him to follow her. His menace and her terror are haunting. There's nothing as wonderful as two great actors working in sync. Can I mention a second moment? It's right at the end of Carol (I won't give away the plot) when Mara comes to a restaurant in search of Blanchett, and the camera tracks with her — and her emotion is so intense, and the shot so beautiful, it almost reminded me of Visconti. Now the moment of truth, my friend: What didn't you like?

FEINBERG: I didn't hate anything. My biggest gripe: Suffragette, a drama about British women fighting for the right to vote around the turn of the 20th century, was a bit by-the-numbers and evocative of other recent British period piece social dramas (e.g. Made in Dagenham, Pride, etc.) — although anything that brings Meryl Streep to town probably deserves a second look. My second-biggest gripe: Several of Telluride's venues are so far from each other — my lungs can't take the running around like they used to!

GALLOWAY: I can’t judge Suffragette objectively. I remember loving a BBC TV series from the 1970s, Shoulder to Shoulder, about the suffragette movement, with the wonderful Angela Down as Sylvia Pankhurst, and nothing you see as an adult ever compares to the things that stamp you as a child. (By the way, that miniseries was only made because the BBC was pressured to create more quality roles for women; things haven’t changed at all.) Now, can I be a real curmudgeon? I wasn’t a fan of He Named Me Malala. I’m going to get hate mail for this, or an honorary membership in the Taliban, but it was way too puffy for my taste. Malala is truly remarkable; so is her father: I ran into him in the lobby right after the screening, and he was so charming, and warm, I almost wished the film had centered on him. But this movie’s hagiographic tone bothered me, and so did its confusing, non-linear structure.

FEINBERG: Stephen, my good man, hasn’t she already been through enough without you picking on her, too? Sure, the doc felt a bit like an infomercial, but she’s an extremely impressive young lady, and I’m glad more people will learn her story. What I will grant is that neither Malala, which opened the fest, nor any of the other docs that I caught there, blew me away, which is unusual. (Aretha Franklin rather disr-e-s-p-e-c-tfully prevented us from seeing the one I was most excited about, Amazing Grace.) Back to narrative films: I anticipate that a big point of contention with a number of these movies will be the awards categorization of their actors and actresses —

GALLOWAY: Can I get on my war horse? It’s crazy that people are debating who should be in the lead and supporting categories for Carol, when Mara and Blanchett are onscreen pretty much for an equal amount of time. Both should be in lead, period. The supporting actor/actress Oscars were created for performers who weren’t stars, or else stars who agreed to take small roles. It’s been years since a non-star like Beatrice Straight could get nominated for a tiny role (she won as William Holden’s wife in Network), because lead actors are getting those nominations instead. The Academy should have a mandatory time limit of so many minutes-per-film or a percentage of the total run-time for supporting performances. Agree?

FEINBERG: Totally — toothless Walter Brennan won three of the first five supporting actor Oscars because he (a) was a great character actor and (b) didn’t have to compete against A-list stars. Now, though, A-listers prefer to take the shortest route to an Oscar (nobody remembers whether someone won for a lead or supporting role) and have concluded that the supporting path is generally easier (my “tallest midget” theory). At the moment, the only consideration for campaigns is whether voters will buy into the idea. Seven years ago, I got a kick when Kate Winslet (whom I adore) was in the running for two movies from different distributors (like Blanchett this year). Some sort of deal was struck to push her for lead for Revolutionary Road (her then-husband Sam Mendes’ film) and support for The Reader (Harvey Weinstein’s film) in the hope she would land noms for both — but acting branch members of the Academy called BS on it, nominating her in lead for The Reader and not at all for Revolutionary Road.

GALLOWAY: She's terrific in Steve Jobs. Speaking of which, we haven’t discussed that film at all, and it was one of the most interesting pictures at Telluride. I love, love, love Danny Boyle (the highlight reel before his tribute reminded me why), but this movie is likely to be considered just as much an Aaron Sorkin film. His script was daring — a Jobs biography broken into three acts, each of which follows Jobs backstage before a big presentation — and I think it will be one of the most debated of the year. I’m still mulling it over. By the way, did you know Jobs came in to The Hollywood Reporter once? It was right as Pixar was gaining momentum, and he wanted to talk about that, much more than computers. He was abrasive, but extraordinarily impressive. Afterward, I went right out and bought an Apple, which turned out to be a lemon.

FEINBERG: I liked a lot about Steve Jobs, nothing more than Sorkin’s script. Consider me a member of the Sorkin cult, though not as devotedly as the dude who, in the middle of the first Jobs screening in Telluride — at the end of a scene in which Michael Fassbender and Jeff Daniels carried out a conversation that demanded some serious verbal gymnastics — screamed out, “Sorkin!” Unfortunately, people won’t get another chance to see Jobs until the New York Film Festival next month; at New York's insistence, it will skip the Toronto International Film Festival, which falls between Telluride and New York. (Carol is doing the same for its distributor's own reasons.)

GALLOWAY: The rationales for skipping one festival but playing another are often quite strange, right?

FEINBERG: Totally. For instance, I struggle to understand why an Oscar hopeful that already has a U.S. distributor would skip Telluride and go straight to Toronto (unless Telluride passed on it). That’s the route being taken this season by Freeheld, I Saw the Light, The Martian and Trumbo, as well as The Danish Girl, which screened in Venice at the very time Telluride was taking place. (Also debuting on the Lido, but still making it to the Rockies, were Spotlight, Black Mass, Beasts of No Nation, Winter on Fire, Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa and Xavier Giannoli’s Marguerite.) Sure, those films wouldn’t have been allowed to play at one of Toronto’s three marquee venues if they had screened at Telluride — but that doesn’t seem reason enough to miss the unique buzz that Telluride offers. A Telluride screening, followed by a big red-carpet premiere at Toronto, is the way to go.

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