Optimism in 'Air' as Telluride ends

'The Road,' 'A Prophet' among films drawing praise

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- The 36th Telluride Film Festival came to a close Monday night, capping another of the glorious days the mountain town regularly serves up.

Sunlight was ladled over the pine-covered slopes, a crisp breeze danced down Main Street and love of cinema buoyed every conversation.

While no one film seemed to capture the weekend's collective enthusiasm, Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," which sneak-premiered Saturday afternoon, garnered much good will to carry on its ongoing festival itinerary. The film's critical and commercial prospects look strong, with a much-praised performance from George Clooney and a timely theme about an American culture hurting for connection and basic humanity.

Another high-profile feature, "The Road," which had screened a few days before in Venice, unspooled to ovations Sunday night. That it was paired with a special fest tribute to star Viggo Mortensen, who was on hand to field questions, encouraged warm feelings for the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bleak, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

But many viewers, some in tears, found the stark depiction of a father and son trying to survive the end of the world moving and well directed on its own terms.

Many of the other films that received offhand accolades over the weekend -- including Jane Campion's "Bright Star" and Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet" -- will now move on to test their mettle at the Toronto film festival, which starts Thursday. Michael Hoffman's "The Last Station" also provoked consistent praise, as did Christian Carion's "Farewell."

More split reactions met Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank," Todd Solondz's "Life During Wartime" and Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon," all of which now move on to Toronto as well.

Approached mostly as a curiosity or guilty pleasure, Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" seemed to please moviegoers looking for a down-and-dirty B-movie experience. Star Nicolas Cage and Herzog will now take their film to Port of Call Toronto.

Working in the same pulpy, modern noir vein were the "Red Riding" trilogy, a product of British television based on the novels of David Peace. IFC Films plans an American release of the three films sometime next year.

And the festival's one horror entry -- excepting the existentially terrifying "The Road" -- was "Paranormal Activity," a super-low-budget spookfest that screened late each night with attendant pouring rain. Audiences responded to the bare-bones story of a couple dealing with unexplained and increasingly violent phenomena with shrieking verve. Paramount plans a theatrical rolloutthat, if paired with an effective marketing campaign, could scare up sizable box office returns.

Given the commercial and critical momentum it launched for "Juno" and "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2007 and 2008, expectations are high that Telluride will duplicate that feat again this year. Reitman's film is the likeliest candidate, but as with most commercial flights, it's difficult to predict just how soon it will land.