'The Awards Pundits' Debate Telluride, Toronto and Beyond

In this first installment of what will be a regular conversation, THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg and executive editor, features Stephen Galloway discuss the Rocky Mountains film festival's rumored selections and its role as an awards season launching pad.
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Telluride Film Festival

This awards season, The Hollywood Reporter's awards analyst Scott Feinberg and executive editor, features Stephen Galloway will hold a regular conversation — with apologies to New York Times critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, who've had spirited dialogues of their own — to discuss the latest developments in the Oscar race. In this week's installment, they tackle the 42nd Telluride Film Festival, which kicks off Friday and runs through Monday and is widely regarded as the launch of the awards season.

SCOTT FEINBERG: Stephen, the Telluride Film Festival won't reveal the lineup for its 2015 edition until Thursday morning, when you and I will be boarding the fest's charter flight from L.A. to the Rockies. Rumor has it that the list will include the first North American — and, in some cases, first anywhere — screenings of Steve Jobs, Suffragette, Beasts of No Nation, Black Mass, Spotlight, Room, Carol, Anomalisa, Son of Saul and Marguerite, as well as the docs He Named Me Malala, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Time to Choose and Amazing Grace. What are you most excited to see?

STEPHEN GALLOWAY: Scott, I'm more nervous than excited. Todd McCarthy wrote a column for THR saying the line-up for awards season doesn't look great — and that's filled me with fear. But I'm especially keen to see Steve Jobs and Black Mass — Jobs because I've loved almost everything Danny Boyle has done, and still feel he was unjustly overlooked for 127 Hours; and Black Mass because I'm hearing great things about Johnny Depp's performance, though I'm wondering whether this will be another knock-out movie or something more disappointing, like Public Enemies. What about you?

FEINBERG: Well, those two certainly are high on my list, as is Beasts of No Nation, the first Netflix original motion picture, which is directed by Cary Fukunaga and stars Idris Elba, two tremendous talents. More than anything, I'm just happy to be excited about movies again after months of garbage (Inside Out and Straight Outta Compton being notable exceptions). Telluride is synonymous with taste and, during my four previous visits, has left me with a Rocky Mountain high. You felt the same way after your first visit last year. Can you pinpoint why this tiny, casual, boondocks event is so (a) enjoyable, and (b) influential? The last best picture Oscar winner that didn’t screen there was 2009’s The Hurt Locker!

GALLOWAY: Because some sense of pure surprise remains. I remember racing to a screening with you very early in the morning last year and not knowing anything about the movie we were about to see — and it was Red Army, which enthralled me. The question is, how can the fest keep surprising us when it's so much under the spotlight?

FEINBERG: Many longtime attendees share your concern, telling me they pine for the days — not that long ago — before the awards cognoscenti came to town and made a film's Oscar potential the first thing people discussed on their way out of a screening. The bad news for traditionalists is we aren't going anywhere. The good news is, because of the remoteness of Telluride from New York and Los Angeles, and the high cost of attending (even the press has to buy passes), you won't soon find autograph seekers and paparazzi polluting the environment, meaning that George Clooney can still grab a drink at a local bar, and Brad Pitt can still ride the gondola without being mobbed. At what other fest is that possible?

GALLOWAY: None of the big ones. But isn't it sad that you have to pay a king's ransom to have this privilege? And I honestly think you're wrong: The more success Telluride has, the more it inevitably will be sucked into the hype machine. That said, I guess we're part of that hype machine — so if you had to lay a bet on which movie we may be underestimating, what would it be?

FEINBERG: It's so hard to say — some years, a film I hadn't even heard of ends up being the one I look back on most fondly. This year, Room seems to have the potential to surprise. I don't think most people — myself included — can tell you much about its director, Lenny Abrahamson, or its plot. But its trailer was gripping, and its star, Brie Larson, is capable of extraordinary things, as demonstrated in Short Term 12. This is her first substantial role since then and I can't wait to see what she does with it. Speaking of Room, people who can't catch it in Telluride will get to see it and many other Telluride-bound films at the Toronto International Film Festival next week. Last year, Toronto banned movies that screened at Telluride from its opening weekend; this year, it's lightening up a little and permitting pictures that screened in Telluride to play during its opening weekend, just not at one of the fest's marquee venues. Is Toronto justified, or is Goliath picking on David?

GALLOWAY: Scott, you've been obsessed with Brie Larson for years! (By the way, after Trainwreck I understand.) But on the question of Toronto: It's outrageous that they tried to beat up this little festival. You can't overstate how small and personal Telluride is, and how massive and overwhelming Toronto is. I understand trying to muscle out the competition, but this was sheer bullying, and a move that potentially could have damaged filmmakers and film lovers. Specialty movies are a dying species that needs maximum protection.

FEINBERG: I agree. While it's annoying to Toronto that a few press and tastemakers see a handful of films for the first time in Telluride, it hasn't hurt Toronto's bottom line (ticket sales are booming) or upset its festivalgoers (who have, in four of the last seven years, voted their People's Choice Award to a film that originated in Telluride). It seems there's enough room in the sandbox for everyone.

GALLOWAY: The problem isn't an excess of festivals; it's that so many follow each other in a crunch — Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York. All the serious-minded movies come tumbling out in the fall, then the rest of the year it's comic-book pictures. Which is exactly why I'm dying to see a good film now. I've wandered through the summer desert and I'm parched. Other than Straight Outta Compton, I can't think of any recent film I fell in love with and believe should get a best picture nomination.

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