Telluride Postmortem: Some Contenders Climbed Higher, Others Lost Oxygen in Rockies

Wild Tales Red Army The Imitation Game Split - H 2014

Wild Tales Red Army The Imitation Game Split - H 2014

The 41st Telluride Film Festival came to an end on Monday evening. Now that I've had some time to think about what I saw there (and resume breathing normally again), I thought that it might be valuable to report on how some of the highest-profile films and people went over at the fest. This analysis factors in my own take on many of the films; impressions communicated to me by my THR colleagues Todd McCarthy, Stephen Galloway and Tim Appelo; and chatter that I heard from a wide cross-section of knowledgeable industry folks with whom I spoke during my four days in the Rockies.

In general, the sense was that the depth of the lineup this year was not as strong as it has been in most years past and that fewer films will go on to receive major Oscar recognition than in recent years. Indeed, for the first time in the four years that I've attended the fest, I doubt that I saw any future Oscar winner at the fest, with the possible exception of the best documentary feature category.

The clear winner, in terms of establishing itself as a rock-solid, across-the-board contender, was The Weinstein Co.'s The Imitation Game, a biopic about the eccentric and unsung World War II hero Alan Turing that, by popular demand, screened more often than any other film at the fest. Some were skeptical going into the film because of the fact that its director, Norwegian Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), had never previously directed an English-language production. But as Harvey Weinstein's presence at its world premiere indicated, that proved not to be a problem at all. Indeed, thanks to Tyldum's capable direction and a career-best big-screen performance by Benedict Cumberbatch — as well as fine supporting work by Keira Knightley, strong production value all-around and a powerful true story about heroism, love and intolerance — this film, which is something of a hybrid of best picture Oscar winners A Beautiful Mind and TWC's own The King's Speech, is well on its way to a handful of nominations.

Damian Szifron's Pedro Almodovar-produced Argentinean comedy Wild Tales (Sony Pictures Classics) also went over tremendously. The biggest word-of-mouth hit at the fest, it is comprised of six short stories — each of which could be a film unto itself — that form a pleasing whole, and it could be a major player in the best foreign language film race if Argentina submits it.

Four documentaries were major fest hits: Gabe Polsky's terrific doc Red Army (also Sony Classics), which looks at the lives of the five stars of the 1980 Soviet hockey team before and after their historic loss to the Americans at the Olympics in Lake Placid; Alan Hicks' equally wonderful doc Keep on Keepin' On (RADiUS-TWC), a doc about an old jazz legend and a young piano prodigy who bond over their shared love of music and help each other through personal trials; Seymour: An Introduction, Ethan Hawke's directorial debut, which profiles an elderly piano teacher who possesses a wealth of wisdom, and which screened to capacity crowds each time it played at the fest (it was Todd McCarthy's fave of the fest); and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders' The Salt of the Earth, which profiles the life and work of the veteran photographer Sebastiao Salgado.

Also very well received were Mr. Turner (Sony Classics), Mike Leigh's biopic about the English painter J.M.W. Turner, who is played by Timothy Spall in a performance that won him the best actor prize at Cannes; brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne's Belgian neorealistic drama Two Days, One Night (Sundance Selects), which provides a plum role for Marion Cotillard; 99 Homes (still seeking a U.S. distributor), Ramin Bahrani's drama about the American housing crisis that features a tour-de-force perf by Michael Shannon; and 25-year-old Xavier Dolan's Mommy (Roadside Attractions), which shared Cannes' Jury Prize with a Godard film, and which made its North American debut in Colorado rather than waiting a week to premiere in Dolan's native Canada.

People were more divided about a few other selections.

Some saw Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman (Fox Searchlight) as a profound critique of American society's declining interest in art and artists and concurrently growing obsession with celebrities and superheroes, while others felt it was merely a visually beautiful pastiche of a lot of ideas and episodes without a discernible message or point. (Everyone agreed that Michael Keaton did a great job in a self-reflexive part.)

Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher (Sony Classics) and Jean-Marc Vallee's Wild (Fox Searchlight), meanwhile, were in similar boats, in that each resonated more with one gender than the other (men responded better to the former, women to the latter), and both seem to stand their strongest shot at garnering awards recognition in the performance categories (Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in lead and Mark Ruffalo in supporting for Foxcatcher and Reese Witherspoon in lead and Laura Dern in supporting for Wild).

Many admired elements of Tommy Lee Jones' Western The Homesman (Roadside Attractions and Saban Films), especially Hilary Swank's performance, Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography and Marco Beltrami's score, as well as Jon Stewart's directorial debut Rosewater (Open Road Films), especially Gael Garcia Bernal's portrayal of imprisoned journalist Maziar Bahari, but found the sum of their parts to be a bit overlong and unsatisfying.

And some thought Joshua Oppenheimer's doc The Look of Silence (Drafthouse) was even better than his previous film, to which it is a sequel, of sorts, The Act of Killing, which dealt with Indonesia's dark past, received a best documentary feature Oscar nomination earlier this year and was, like this film, executive-produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, but others said they felt as if it was comprised of leftover footage from that film.

As far as outright disappointments, they were few and far between, and there is no need to single them out here. Suffice it to say that they will not be factoring in to this year's Oscar race, whereas the aforementioned films all will.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg