Telluride Film Festival lineup spotlights Oscar hopefuls

Set in a remote canyon in Colorado’s rugged San Juan Mountains where no red carpet or paparazzi is to be found, the Telluride Film Festival has prided itself on its understated, all-cinema ethos for nearly 50 years. And this year’s edition, which begins Friday, may feel even further removed from the Hollywood noise than usual.

As Telluride has become an increasingly important stop on the awards season calendar, and hosted eight of the last 10 Best Picture winners, the festival has featured a slew of sparkling, crowd-loving Studio Oscar hopes from Judy in recent years. via “Ford v Ferrari” to last year’s “King Richard”. This year’s lineup is relatively light in terms of such glittering, star-driven fare, instead spotlighting a range of smaller and more intimate films, many of which tackle important issues.

But while less casual A-listers than usual are milling around the festival, that doesn’t mean the 39 films in this year’s Telluride mainline are lacking in hit movies – or potential future Oscar favorites.

The 49th Telluride Film Festival, held over Labor Day weekend, will feature highly anticipated films such as Women Talking, a provocative ensemble drama about a group of Mennonite rural women who band together to take a stand against their abusers; “Tár”, a character study with Cate Blanchett as the superb orchestra conductor; The Wonder, starring Florence Pugh as a nurse in 19th-century Ireland who uncovers the secret of a girl who seems miraculously able to survive without food; and Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell as cannibal lovers on the run (yes, you read that right).

Michael Ward and Olivia Colman in the movie "realm of light."

Michael Ward and Olivia Colman in the film Empire of Light.

(Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

New films from Academy Award-winning directors Sam Mendes (“Empire of Light,” a love story set in 1980s England starring Olivia Colman) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” a semi-autobiographical tale a Journalist’s Homecoming to Mexico City) are sure to be hot cards among the crowd of devoted movie buffs, filmmakers, journalists and critics who flock to the festival each year.

Julie Huntsinger, executive director of the Telluride Film Festival, acknowledged that this is “a very unusual year” for the festival and the industry at large, as programmers, film distributors and theater owners alike continue to adapt to changing cinema habits and the ongoing impact of COVID -19 Pandemic.

But even as Telluride is struggling for a spot alongside bigger, spizzier fall festivals in Venice, Toronto and New York — which this year will host the premieres of such high-profile Oscar nominees as Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans. Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale and Maria Schrader’s She Said — Huntsinger said she never focused on awards or commercial considerations.

“I’m just keeping an eye on our very specific price point, which shows what we think is the best,” Huntsinger said. “I’m very proud of every film we show and there’s nothing I want that we don’t have.”

The occupation "women speak."

Michelle McLeod plays Mejal, Sheila McCarthy as Greta, Liv McNeil as Neitje, Jessie Buckley as Mariche, Claire Foy as Salome, Kate Hallett as Autje, Rooney Mara as Ona and Judith Ivey as Agata in Women Talking.

(Michael Gibson / Orion images)

One of the most contested titles among the programmers at this year’s fall festival, Sarah Polley-directed “Women Talking” and featuring a standout cast including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Frances McDormand is sure to have Oscar nods for Speaking , when it makes its world premiere at Telluride.

“It’s a very confident and masterful work by a tremendously talented woman,” said Huntsinger of Polley, who will share the festival’s Silver Medallion Award with Blanchett. “It is a beautiful ensemble piece with enormous power and depth. It’s one of those films – I feel like there’s one or two every year – that I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Empire of Light is the first Telluride entry for Mendes, whose last film, the World War I epic 1917, received ten Oscar nominations, including best picture and best director, and won three, including for the camera. “It’s a tender and very sensitive film,” said Huntsinger. “It’s an intimate, personal look at complex human relationships and how we can shape these truly beautiful family structures outside of our traditional families. And we see Olivia Colman going to a place here that’s partially devastating.”

Of Iñárritu’s “Bardo,” which runs for three hours and is likely to be one of Netflix’s most important awards titles this year, Huntsinger said the film defies easy description. “We’re going to be let in completely [Iñárritu’s] Brain and heart and soul,” she said. “There’s absurdity, there’s depth, there’s deep human emotion, and there’s Mexican history. It touches on everything it means to be a person living in the 21st century without ever being messy or chaotic.”

Taylor Russell, left, as Maren and Timothée Chalamet as Lee in "bones and all."

Taylor Russell (left) as Maren and Timothée Chalamet as Lee in Bones and All.

(Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

As for Bones and All, Chalamet – here again joined by Call Me By Your Name director Guadanigno – will be getting a lot of attention. Huntsinger said the film’s real revelation was Russell, who made a splash on Telluride three years ago with the drama Waves. “Every time she’s on screen you just love her so much – she gives it a great emotional center,” said Huntsinger. “The film is bizarre but stunningly beautiful and very romantic.” She laughed. “And cannibals!”

The Telluride program gives North American audiences their first look at three feature films that garnered critical acclaim at this year’s Cannes Film Festival: James Gray’s Armageddon Time, Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning, and Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Broker. .

The Telluride lineup includes a bonanza of strong documentaries including Sr., a portrait of the late filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. and his relationship with his movie star son; “If These Walls Could Sing,” Mary McCartney’s celebration at Abbey Road Studios, where her father Paul famously recorded; Icarus: The Aftermath, a sequel to the Oscar-winning documentary about Russia’s doping scandal; and new works from filmmakers Matt Tyrnauer (“The End of the World”), Ondi Timoner (“Last Flight Home”) and Anton Corbijn (“Squaring the Circle”).

While last year’s festival took place in the shadow of the pandemic that brought the 2020 edition to a complete halt, this year’s Telluride promises to be a small step closer to normality.

“I weighed a lot of different things and ended up leading by example,” Huntsinger said of this year’s somewhat relaxed COVID protocols. “I hope that people will wear their masks in the cinema. We don’t ask it, but right now the whole world is relying on people’s personal responsibility and good judgment.”

Which way the winds of awards season or box office will blow in the coming months, Huntsinger leaves the worry to others.

“It’s funny, I’ve been doing this for 16 years and there are years when you guys [in the press] They just haven’t seen the movies, so they don’t know they’re the ones that will be talked about,” Huntsinger said. “I’m really trying to operate in my own little vacuum. As long as we show what we think is the absolute best – and talk about it and celebrate it – we’re good.” Telluride Film Festival lineup spotlights Oscar hopefuls

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