Today is the first official day of the Telluride Film Festival. The day before, journalists, publicists, filmmakers, and stars make their way to the mountain retreat. Telluride is a twinkly paradise tailor-made for the very rich. Some of us get lucky to visit for a while and house ourselves in the condos designed for the people who actually get to live here. Somehow the natural magic and beauty of this place obliterates its uppercrust capitalist designs.
I drove with my old friend Michael to Flagstaff, per usual, and then met up with our Mr. Statsgasm himself, Marshall Flores, who packed himself into the backseat with my two dogs and all of our stuff as we wound up the rainy mountain roads. We would be meeting up with Awards Circuit’s Clayton Davis and Mark Johnson, who had already arrived and were shopping for food at the local market. Then Matt Neglia from Next Best Picture arrived and our posse was complete, with my two dogs trampling up and down the stairs of the three floor condo.
Pizza at Brown Dog was the plan, where we met up with Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeff Wells. We discussed the films that already been seen at Venice and what the buzz was in that long loud echo. Marriage Story was all the rave — Noah Baumbach’s best, at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Richard Lawson says, “Marriage Story is enriching for all its weary insight, for the intricate ways it maps two personalities and locates them in the world.”
Stephanie Zacharek says, “I suspect almost anyone who has dissolved a seemingly perfect union can relate to at least some of Marriage Story, especially if there are children involved.”
Marriage Story will play here, along with an Adam Driver tribute.
Ad Astra has also premiered in Venice. The initial reviews have been interesting: “deeply personal,” and “sublime and stupendous” and “existential but also intimate.” Ad Astra will not screen here but will skip right over us en route to Toronto.
There’s always an attempt to leap to conclusions right off the bat, as we begin another lurching waltz toward Oscar night — and honestly the jockeying starts even before anyone sees half the movies. But it’s always wise to remember — as we learned last year from First Man and have learned throughout the years — there is a cloud of ecstasy that can sometimes follow you up to the mountains or out to the Lido. There’s a shared bliss as one person connects with another, a contagious fury of excitement can build that adds extra pizzazz to first impressions that can fade a bit back home.
In the shortened season that this will be, who knows where the dice will land when they’re thrown onto the table. I’m gonna go ahead and take a wild guess at this point and say that I’m getting a sense that the hero is back. More specifically, the hero’s journey. Although thankfully, that journey won’t be exclusively appointed to a white male. Sure, that will be a lot of what we’re going to see, but I figure there will be lots of heroes emerging this season, male and female, white and non-white. There will be significant anti-heroes, like Robert De Niro in The Irishman and, already, Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Speaking of the Tarantino, at this point his film is still this year’s high water mark for Oscars. To win Best Picture, any challenger film will have to be better than Tarantino’s. Known as one of the greatest directors this country has ever produced, Tarantino has yet to win Best Director or Best Picture, with a long and memorable footprint behind him. The “it’s time” sentiment is a tough one to overcome, especially when paired with an enjoyable, crackling good movie (think: Martin Scorsese and The Departed).
That doesn’t mean another movie can’t or won’t win, or that Picture and Director will even match. But remember, the Oscar race is about myth making as much as it is about the films themselves. The myths, the stars, the gods, the hero’s journey — all of that will come into play in the coming months.
The voices that dominate the Oscar race out of Venice and Telluride aren’t necessarily those that determine how Best Picture is going to go. Often, it is exactly the opposite. The movie no one sees coming is the one that eventually emerges triumphant. That happens more than the other way around. Hype and and its drunken brother overhype are killers, whether in Venice, Telluride, or Toronto.
This is not the time to draw any conclusions. Rather, it’s the time to “see everything” and watch how people respond. In general, it’s thet movie “everybody likes” that tends to do well with a consensus vote for thousands. Last year’s surprise audience award in Toronto to Green Book was notable when it beat the more hyped movies like A Star Is Born and Roma. That said that people liked it beyond the flurry of buzz. And it’s true that Green Book was a bit of a surprise winner, namely because the season had crowned Roma its one true King and thus was a bit lost when that movie could not and would not win Best Picture (foreign language films have their own category and never the twain shall meet).
So here we are again. Another crazy year for a rushed and shortened Oscar season with many players and many agendas working themselves out. As a general rule, though, publicists are often the best guides for finding what will go. Why? Because they often invest in films they think will do well but also because they take care to dot every “I” and cross every “t,” to make sure that movie gets in front of people and that people know who made it, why they made it, why it matters. Who is handling the movie is almost as important as the movie itself.
This morning is the Telluride Patron’s brunch. A hilltop vista for those who pay top dollar to attend this biggest little festival. Champagne mimosas and grass-fed meat will be the order of the day and a view that puts the best of any art that humans can create to shame. After that, it’s the Patron’s screening. That film is Ford v Ferrari. After that, Judy with Renee Zellweger and a tribute to the star.
With love from the mountains… until next time.