Telluride: Bruce Dern, Allan Arkush on How the Fest Upped 'Nebraska' Oscar Odds

The movie bowed at Cannes, but insiders argue Alexander Payne's film upped its awards potential at the Rocky Mountains festival.

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- After one of the North American premiere screenings of Alexander Payne's Nebraska Aug. 30 at the Telluride Film Festival, Allan Arkush, the Emmy-winning DGA and PGA nominated director, stood outside the Palm theater along with a top Oscar pundit and a couple of industry insiders and they all marveled over how Telluride had turned the film's awards chances around. Despite star Bruce Dern's win for best actor at Cannes, the buzz going into Telluride wasn't as good as it could have been, considering what a Telluride favorite Payne is.

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"What I heard was, [Dern] was good, but the film was just so-so," said the pundit. "I was amazed at how great it is." The two industry insiders agreed that something felt off about the Cannes screening -- perhaps the timing, perhaps the venue. But nobody failed to grasp the impact of the noisy standing ovation Nebraska got at Telluride. "That's the closest thing to Renoir you're ever gonna see," said Arkush, referencing the French director Jean Renoir before then going on to compare Payne's film favorably to Leo McCarey's 1937 classic Make Way for Tomorrow.

All predicted that, in addition to Dern's expected presence on the awards circuit, the film itself is now likelier to land in some winner's circles this season. The turnaround in the movie's fortunes illustrates that besides serving as arguably the springiest Oscar launchpad, Telluride can also give a movie a boost from maybe-not to maybe-so.

"I have a funny feeling," Dern told The Hollywood Reporter in an Aug. 30 interview. "Every screening gets better. We've got people that are starting to know that every goddamn movie is not a ukelele -- some of them play bigger." Dern insisted he maintains a prickly independence from the awards circus. "I respect what George C. Scott did [spurning an Oscar], though I couldn't do it myself." He admitted to being a fan of the Oscars, though not of the dinners one must attend en route to a nomination. "I don't think George got that the Oscars are an opera. Not only does the industry need it, the town needs it. It's the smallest f---ing town in America -- like Minot, N.D. I don't understand preferential ballots and all that, but I love the opera."

Ironically, though, it is also possible that Telluride made Dern's own hot Oscar prospects slightly cooler. In the same THR interview, the actor refused to take the advice of a great many who have suggested he position himself for supporting actor run instead of best actor. "If I go supporting, I'm a whore," he told THR. According to one top awards consultant, if Dern were to go for supporting actor, he quite likely would win, but if he goes for best actor, he won't.

Dern isn't worried, saying, "I've already got one vote -- mine, and I'm a rude prick!"