Telluride: 'Steve Jobs' Director Danny Boyle Celebrated as Oscar Questions Arise

"It's not really an impersonation film — it's more of a gesture film," the Oscar winner said during a Q&A before the screening of the Oscar hopeful which, he warned, "isn't quite finished" yet.
Michael Fassbender in 'Steve Jobs'

No event of the 42nd Telluride Film Festival was anticipated with more excitement by more people than Saturday night's combination Danny Boyle career tribute and first-anywhere screening of his latest film, Steve Jobs. Festival-goers lined up hours early and ultimately filled the Palm Theater to capacity to see the British filmmaker and the third film that he has unveiled here in the Rockies — particularly in light of the fact that the previous two, 2008's Slumdog Millionaire and 2010's 127 Hours, both wound up with best picture Oscar noms (and Slumdog won).

So what's the verdict?

As far as Boyle, as an individual, is concerned, the crowd went wild. His introduction came right after a 30-minute reel of highlights of his work — composed of scenes from Shallow Grave (1994), Trainspotting (1996), 28 Days Later (2002), Millions (2004), Trance (2013) and, of course, Slumdog and 127 Hours. He received a lengthy standing ovation, during which festival executive director Julie Huntsinger draped one of the fest's Silver Medallions over his neck. At the outset of a Q&A about his career moderated by The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, Boyle cracked that he rather likes Steve Jobs' approach of not acknowledging the past — but that he would happily make an exception on this evening to discuss his films.

Boyle tackled questions about the films that made him want to become a filmmaker ("Apocalypse Now was a huge inspiration"), his struggle to get anyone in the industry to take him seriously (he cited rejection letters from David Puttnam and Alan Parker), the use of music in his films, how he's shot his films all around the world, how much he enjoys working with actors (and how his background in the theater taught him to work with them) and all sorts of other things.

But what people were most interested in hearing about was Steve Jobs, the Aaron Sorkin-scripted film (adapted from Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography) that has been in the news ever since its planning stages, details of which were revealed in private communications that were made public through the Sony hack. "It's so different from the stuff I've done before," Boyle said, noting that the dramedy, which was shot in San Francisco, has none of the quick cuts and energizing music with which he is largely associated. Calling the film "the biggest opportunity and challenge of my career so far," he deflected most of the credit to others — to Sorkin (for his immense research and capturing, in 200 pages, "the sound of [Jobs'] mind, with all its wonders and all its horrors"); to its cast ("It has some of the best acting in it I've ever seen"); and to the people whose lives are featured in the film, all of whom are still living, except for Jobs.

Boyle then called Sorkin to the stage, as well as almost all of the film's principal cast (Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlbarg, but not "Jobs himself," Michael Fassbender, who is filming abroad), as well as Steve Wozniak, "the other Steve" who co-founded Apple — and he urged the audience to enjoy the film. "It isn't quite finished," Boyle cautioned. "We've got a tiny little bit of work to do, so please forgive any shortcomings, like if you notice any misspellings!"

The film itself currently has a runtime of 125 minutes and will next be seen as the centerpiece screening at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 3 before its release by Universal on Oct. 9. It is, in many respects, exactly what one would hope for. Oscar-winner Sorkin's dialogue is just as intelligent, witty and superhuman as ever. After one rapid-fire exchange between Fassbender's Jobs and Sorkin-favorite Jeff Daniels' John Sculley, an audience member screamed with glee, "Sorkin!" Additionally, the live-wire, almost theatrical feeling of the film, most of which unfolds in long scenes set at three different presentations given by Jobs over the years, is trademark Boyle. And the acting is all first-rate — Fassbender obviously gets and seizes plenty of moments to shine, and Winslet and Rogen also have standout scenes opposite him.

That being said, there are a few issues with the film that could prove problematic for some, and may explain why the response at the end of the film was appreciative but not ebullient.

For one, most people by now pretty much know Jobs' story: his adoption; the early Apple days in a garage; his jerk-ish tendencies with family, friends and coworkers; his firing from and return to Apple; etc. (Sorkin, as always, finds interesting things to throw in there that are less familiar, but he tackled a very different sort of person with this film than with, say, The Social Network.) Additionally, Fassbender looks nothing like Jobs. Boyle forewarned that "It's not really an impersonation film — it's more of a gesture film," but one can't help but surmise that if Jobs had gone through life looking like Fassbender, he'd have been a much happier — if also less professionally productive — fellow. Lastly, this film does not feel like the others directed by Boyle, a filmmaker known for pouring into his work his huge heart. Indeed, one can only imagine what it must have been like for him to direct a film about a guy who, for better or worse, had an Apple where the rest of us have a heart.

It will be very interesting to see how the Academy receives Steve Jobs. It could benefit from comparison to the last film about Jobs, 2013's Jobs, which was poorly received (though I actually quite liked it). It also helps that Wozniak, who is played by Rogen, is closely associating himself with this one. However, the fact that this new Jobs movie is far from a sure-bet at the box-office, and that a documentary about Jobs, Oscar winner Alex Gibney's Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, has just opened, could prove to be obstacles for the new film. The Gibney doc will inevitably prompt discussions about anything that Steve Jobs didn't get exactly right, even though the narrative film's makers always have acknowledged that they took liberties with the historical record (just like the closing scene of Argo, for instance).

At the moment, I would say that the film is on the bubble for picture, director, lead actor, supporting actor (for Rogen), supporting actress (for Winslet, who plays marketing exec Joanna Hoffman), adapted screenplay, cinematography (Alwin Kuchler)  and music (Daniel Pemberton) noms — and that things could tip either way in each of those categories. The bottom line is that it feels too early to make calls about this film with any degree of confidence — we first need to see what else is out there.

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