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Telluride Wrap: 'Gravity' and '12 Years A Slave' Among Potential Award Winners

"All Is Lost," "Blue Is the Warmest Color," "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Nebraska" featured impressive performances.

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The Telluride Film Festival, which kicks off the awards season each year each Labor Day weekend high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, has, as always, helped to clarify the Oscar field even before many of the contenders go on to their next screenings in Toronto and New York. The fest offered major world and U.S. premieres—even if Telluride prefers to call them “first screenings”—of highly-anticipated studio films, some of which lived up to expectations and others of which disappointed. There were also a number of tiny movies in the fest—among them many docs and foreign language films—and many of them are leaving the fest with a much higher-profile.

The Big Debuts  Gravity (Warner Bros.), Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi space opera starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, played here three days after earning through-the-roof reviews at Venice. It went over just as well here, with many declaring it an outright masterpiece. Also positively received with general enthusiasm were the world premieres of Jason Reitman’s Labor Day (Paramount), an adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same title, which stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin; Errol Morris’ doc about Donald Rumsfeld The Unknown Known (RADiUS); Ralph Fiennes’ second directorial effort The Invisible Woman (Sony Classics), a period piece.

PHOTOS: 40 Years at the Telluride Festival  

Meanwhile, the fest’s TBA slots were filled with a trio of previously unseen films. 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight), Steve McQueen’s disturbing look at a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 19th century America, received stunned raves, with stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o earning particular praise. Prisoners (Warner Bros.), Denis Villeneuve’s dark detective story about the search for a pair of kidnapped kids, featured work from a first-rate ensemble that was highlighted by Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Melissa Leo. And Salinger (The Weinstein Co.), the long buzzed-about profile of the eponymous reclusive author, delivered the sorts of juicy new info that literary buffs hoped it would.

The Cannes Carryovers  Those who didn’t make it to the Croisette in May caught up with all of its big prize winners: Blue Is the Warmest Color (Sundance Selects), the graphic lesbian love story that won the Palme d’Or, earned heaps of praise for its stars Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films), the Coen brothers’ film about the sixties folk music scene that won the Grand Prix, was well-received here (particularly Oscar Isaac’s breakthrough performance); Nebraska (Paramount), Alexander Payne’s black-and-white story about a father and son, for which Bruce Dern won best actor, moved many here, too; and Asghar Farhadi’s domestic drama The Past (Sony Classics), for which Berenice Bejo was awarded the best actress prize, made an impression here similar to the one that Farhadi’s A Separation made here two years ago. In the end, though, the most well-received Cannes-carryover here may be a film that wasn’t even in competition there: J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford in a stunning dialog-free performance as a man lost at sea.

PHOTOS: Telluride Film Festival: The Films  

The Unexpected Surprises  Little-known movies that played well here and are now on everyone’s radar include Teller’s Tim’s Vermeer (Sony Classics), a Searching for Sugar Man-like doc; Ritesh Batra’s Indian food-and-romance film The Lunchbox (Sony Classics), which stars Life of Pi’s Irrfan Khan; The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (Zeitgeist Films), Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s doc about a mysterious 1930s island murder; and Tracks (which the Weinstein Company quickly acquired), John Curran’s Aussie drama that stars Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver.

The Disappointments  Under the Skin (still seeking a distributor), Jonathan Glazer’s first film in nine years, a meandering sci-fi drama starring Scarlett Johansson, frustrated audiences.

Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottFeinberg for additional news and analysis.