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Oscar Contenders Emerging out of Telluride

Best Actor
Johnny Depp’s Whitey Bulger is the stuff of nightmares. The actor has taken us to the depths of the human psyche before but never quite so ferociously as he does with this performance. He plays not just a cold blooded killer, but a guy who believes his rules are the only rules. He doesn’t have much of a heart but when his son lands in the hospital, Depp’s Bulger plummets to his most dangerous self. It is a captivating, mesmerizing, haunting performance – and surely to be among the best of the year. Scott Cooper’s Black Mass so far isn’t getting the kinds of reviews it should be getting. That isn’t surprising, considering the quick takes that can come from festivals. It is a major leap forward for Cooper as a director who finally has a grasp on storytelling. It was there with Crazy Heart but Out of the Furnace was almost a good movie. Black Mass makes good on the promise of that film. Even though the film, like so many others screened here at Telluride, is full of standout performances in this tight ensemble, the focal point and the reason to see it is Depp.

Competing with Depp for Best Actor here has to be Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs. Like Depp, we’ve seen some exceptional performances from Fassbender before – how do you top Shame? Yet Fassbender’s Jobs is as unpredictable as it is thrilling to watch. His is a bravura performance top to bottom. What is most surprising about Fassbender’s work is how he gives us glimpses into Steve Jobs’ fleeting moments of compassion and kindness. He isn’t an evil man, like Depp’s Whitey Bulger, but he isn’t a nice man either. There is a price to be paid, it seems, for power — whether that power is control the mob in Boston or to revolutionize the tech industry. One is a story of redemption and the other a study in damnation. Both of these actors are going to be tough to beat, though there are so many male lead performances coming up in what is the most crowded Best Actor race in a while — and given the fact that every year is a crowded race for Best Actor, that’s really saying something. It will also be hard to drive out of Telluride without thinking of both of these performances as the standouts.

Best Actress

It is looking more and more likely that Rooney Mara is going to run in the lead category and Cate Blanchett in the supporting category. That’s going to be a tough rabbit to pull of out their hats because both Blanchett and Mara are really co-leads. In Supporting, Mara could win but she is also a formidable contender in lead.  Twhree very strong contenders have come out of films seen here who will join Mara (or Blanchett). Brie Larson, Carey Mulligan and Charlotte Rampling who knock it out of the park with their wrenching performances. They’ve each been widely praised and buzzed about here in the mountains of Telluride. Mulligan isn’t here because she’s busy having a baby, but Brie Larson has been out and about, doing Q&As. Charlotte Rampling is incandescent in 45 Years, in role some are saying is the best of her distinguished career.

Kate Winslet is a standout in Steve Jobs and could theoretically be in the lead actress category but could also run supporting.  A place in line must held for Jennifer Lawrence for Joy and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn.  Also making waves but probably for supporting is Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl out of Venice. As the grandmother in Room, Joan Allen delivers a devastating portrait of unflinching resilience in the face of unthinkable loss.

Best Picture

It should be said that Spotlight is probably going to be the film that emerges from Telluride as the most successful in terms of people liking it. It is currently — an unpredictably — holding the Argo slot where most are underestimating its Best Picture chances but EVERYONE is saying they like it. That makes it a flying under the radar threat. In terms of Best Picture so far, Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Black Mass, Carol, and Suffragette seem to have the most heat at the moment, with Room also being one of the better films, and highly acclaimed of the festival.  There are so many more movies upcoming that it’s hard to imagine just these films will fill the Best Picture slot come December — but many of them will be as beloved by industry viewers as they have been by festival goers. This year’s Cannes Grand Prix winner, Son of Saul, retains every ounce of the impact that inspired Peter Bradshaw to call it “a horror movie of extraordinary focus and courage.” It’s a holocaust drama so fierce, director László Nemes may very well find himself nominated for Best Director as well.

Out of Venice, The Danish Girl made a big enough splash to be strongly considered for Best Picture.

Supporting Performances/Ensemble

One of the big question marks this year is how many lead performances will be put in supporting as an overflow category. This festival has been all about the ensembles. This is true of all of the strong Best Picture contenders making it not so easy to determine who might get a supporting nod versus a lead. In Spotlight, for instance, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tuccie and Rachel MacAdams are all magnificent but especially so as part of an ensemble.  Keaton would seem to be the obvious choice for lead but with so many bravura, emotional performances looming he might do better in the supporting category. Perhaps Mark Ruffalo could be the lead but he is really supporting and seems, according to many people here, the most likely nominee.  The same goes for Black Mass – with all of those great supporting turns by Joel Edgarton, Corey Stoll to name just two., Steve Jobs has Seth Rogan and Jeff Daniels, both nomination worthy.

Screenplay

Aaron Sorkin may have his second Oscar win with his one of a kind screenplay for Steve Jobs. But Carol is another obvious contender for screenplay, as is Spotlight. Adapting her own novel for Room, Emma Donahue takes us on a searing journey to hell and back with emotional aftershocks almost worse than the quake itself.

One thing seems certain about Oscar contenders here in Telluride – you can’t really know their full impact until all the films are seen by year’s end. Nothing so far has seemed like it will take the season, but then again that’s how it always feels coming out of Telluride.

Documentary

Telluride is increasingly a great place to find docs. There are several playing here worth noting. At the top of that list would be He Named Me Malala, and Charles Ferguson’s A Time to Choose, about climate change. There is also Laurie Anderson’s The Heart of a Dog about loss and grieving, and Pamela Tom’s Tyrus about Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong.