A Brief Recent History Telluride and How It’s Become So Influential in the Oscar Race

Two weeks from today the Telluride Film Festival begins. It is an exciting time of the year because this festival, more than any other, heralds the arrival of the Oscar race. In the years I’ve been attending Telluride, the Best Picture winner has screened there, either premiering or part of the schedule. The last two Best Picture winners debuted there, with their directors bringing the films along to showcase, 12 Years a Slave and Argo. The Artist was the film everyone was talking about in 2011.

In 2010, The King’s Speech, this Deadline headline says it all, “TELLURIDE FEST CLOSES: Colin Firth Feted As ‘King’s Speech’ Draws Oscar Buzz. In 2009, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker did not need Telluride to launch, as it had launched from Toronto the year before to much acclaim before being shelved for the following year. But Slumdog Millionaire premiered at Telluride in 2008. That was when it all began.

Why did the Telluride Film Festival become such a pivotal player in the Oscar race? And why has it stolen Toronto’s thunder? There are several reasons. The first big reason – Oscar changed its date, moving everything back one month. That shifted the entire awards race backwards so that to win Best Picture now you really have to be a known entity by October at the absolute latest. You have to go back to 2004, right around the time of the date change (a year after) to find a film that won being released later in the year, Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby.

The date change shifted focus off of the very end of the year and put it right around the beginning of the fall season. Because everything happens so fast you want your place in line early. Either bloggers will hold your place for you because they know you’re coming (we call these “sight unseen predictions”) or you will land your place at a festival, Cannes at the earliest (No Country for Old Men, The Artist) or Telluride (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, Argo, 12 Years a Slave).

The second reason is that the audience at Telluride is smaller, more selective than that at Cannes or Toronto, both of which are open to anyone who can get credentialed. Telluride you have to pay to play – around $750 for a festival pass. That means, either your outlet finds it worthwhile to send you or you are someone like me, willing to pay your own way for a chance to maybe glimpse the Oscar favorite early.

The first Oscar blogger I can remember attending the festival was Kris Tapley from InContention. He smartly began attending Telluride because it wasn’t as big as Toronto and that made it more doable. Also sites like Collider, First Showing and Slashfilm had already been attending by then so if you were a young film blogger you might happen to Telluride on your festival circuit. But Oscar blogging is different from film blogging. You’re not just there to hype movies. You’re there to hype a specific kind of movie, a movie that industry voters might like.

After Slumdog’s ascent more Oscar bloggers began paying attention to Telluride and now, everyone goes. David Poland, Anne Thompson, Jeff Wells, Pete Hammond, Scott Feinberg – the whole thing.

Telluride is one of the more pleasurable festivals. It’s beautiful, quiet, peaceful – you can walk everywhere. Pot smoke wafts through the streets. Great coffee, great beer. If I could live there all year round I would. The volunteers are friendly. The attendees are badged marrieds, singles and seniors all there for the love of film. Riding back on the gondolas with them is always the most fun.

I can’t wait for my first morning screening up at the Chuck Jones, with a hot cup of coffee in my hands. Last year, there was a live band playing outside the Coen brothers tribute for Inside Llewyn Davis. The bottom line is that — happy attendees usually make for more kind reception of the films. In other words, even the worst movies play well at Telluride – and great movies? They get a lot of bang for their buck up there in the mountains with all of those happy people.

Finally, the biggest reason is the selection committee. I can count on one hand the bad movies I’ve seen at Telluride. They pick good ones. They have good taste. If you add all of these elements up together you can see why Telluride is one of the choice spots for launching a film headed for the Oscar race.

Of course, this isn’t their intention and many bristle at the suggestion. There is always the desire to keep Telluride a best kept secret so that it isn’t mobbed and overrun. It’s expensive to stay there and near impossible to find lodging. The chances of it becoming a mob scene are slim.

The reason Toronto falls just short of Telluride is that it’s so big a small contender can get lost in the shuffle. It used to be a movie that did really well at Toronto could be launch into the Oscar race with ease. But Toronto comes later, almost too late to impact the Oscar race, believe it or not. There are so many movies playing, so many bloggers and critics and journalists covering them, it’s hard to pool the enthusiasm in one place.

However, that doesn’t mean it still can’t launch a formidable contender. Silver Linings Playbook got its boost from Toronto.

Every year is different. 2014’s story has not yet been written. We don’t know if Telluride will once again produce a Best Picture winner. The New York Film Festival has several key films headed into the race.

What we do know is that time is of the essence where these awards are concerned. The voting and choosing starts early. The grooves are worn early. Once they are set in motion it becomes harder to derail them.

Then again, films can’t be hyped too early either. A movie like the Grand Budapest Hotel came out so early it’s hard to imagine it surviving on through the end of the year. Early films can get forgotten, even if they are hyped to no end by bloggers and critics. There are many variables. Things can shift. We might see our first late-release winner this year since 2003.

Either way, we’re just about two weeks away from having a pretty good idea where this year’s Best Picture race is going.

19 Comments on this Post

  1. The release date schedule is as follows for the awards movies.

    September
    The Drop
    The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

    October
    Gone Girl
    The Good Lie
    Kill the Messenger
    The Judge
    Whiplash
    Fury
    Birdman
    St. Vincent

    November
    Big Hero 6
    Interstellar
    Rosewater
    The Theory of Everything
    Foxcatcher
    The Imitation Game

    December
    Wild
    Inherent Vice
    The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
    Into the Woods
    Unbroken
    American Sniper
    Big Eyes
    Selma

    Should be interesting to see how these all play out when they are released.

  2. M1
    You forgot one ‘The Toy Soldier’s’ Nov 14

  3. @david: I looked that up on IMDb and it looks interesting. I would also add Mr. Turner to December.

  4. Great article. You described everything perfectly. I’m one of those who gladly “paid to play”, for the third time (King’s Speech & Argo). The film I’m hoping to see, ever since reviews at TIFF13, is ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’. Particularly want to see the HIM/HER version, as it was intended. Would love to see James McAvoy back in contention after several years of making British films.

  5. Genadijus

    I wouldn’t underevaluate “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. This movie really differs from the rest of the award contenders, at least screenplay and set design nominations look like most likely to happen.

  6. Telluride is the 1% festival. Tiff is the 99% festival.

  7. steve50

    Late summer/fall festivals seem to have become almost entirely geared to being springboards for awards season. I think it started by chance, but once studios saw that it worked well with Telluride and TIFF, they began to swarm festivals with Oscar-fare.

    Supposedly (?) TIFF is taking steps to distance itself from that a bit more this year, but we’ll see. The PR/$$ makes it tempting.

    The “O” word doesn’t get used as much with Cannes, Venice or Berlin, which makes them true festivals and not just launch pads.

    This year could be interesting because ther are no (imo) “pants-on-fire” expectations like last year with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.

  8. Future_Filmmaker

    Heres hoping Interstellar becomes the first Sci-Fi film to win Best Picture, it doesn’t have much competition. Inherent Vice, Gone Girl, Foxcatcher, Wild and Birdman will most likely be nominated but won’t win, none are the type of film to win. I see The Good Lie being nominated also, it seems very feel good. So what stands in Interstellars way? If Boyhood has a strong resurgence, it definitely could win Best Picture. Of course Exodus could be a huge hit along the lines of Gladiator, and if Unbroken is any good at all it could be a massive threat but I see it as the War Horse of this year(which I love). I still honestly don’t see anything stopping Interstellar, unless the Academy wants to be pussies lol.

  9. Future_Filmmaker

    I forgot to mention Trash, the Academy obviously can’t resist Stephen Daldry films.

  10. Sorry to quibble, but the last late-release winner was in 2004, Million Dollar Baby.

  11. shashashasha

    Selma should be in Telluride. Perfect place for that film and could be a perfect follow up for 12 Years a Slave in the festival.

  12. Robert A.

    “Heres hoping Interstellar becomes the first Sci-Fi film to win Best Picture, it doesn’t have much competition. Inherent Vice, Gone Girl, Foxcatcher, Wild and Birdman will most likely be nominated but won’t win, none are the type of film to win…so what stands in Interstellars way?”

    You’re overlooking one key point. Interstellar is also not the type of film that usually wins Best Picture. As your first sentence indicates, no sci-fi film has yet won BP at the Oscars. First time for everything, of course, but you can’t really dismiss all the other films as not the “type” to win when the movie you’re arguing for also fits into the category of not the “type” to win.

  13. “First time for everything, of course, but you can’t really dismiss all the other films as not the “type” to win when the movie you’re arguing for also fits into the category of not the “type” to win.”

    Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner.

    In addition, you can’t dismiss all the other films because except for Foxcatcher, none of those films has been seen yet. Let’s see how these films turn out first BEFORE championing them for awards or seeing if they’re up the Academy’s alley.

  14. Telluride is part of an important shift towards North America in terms of film festivals over the past 20 years. Go back to the early 1990s and the top 3 top film festivals were Cannes, Venice, Berlin. Now – and many people would agree – the top three are Toronto, Cannes and Sundance.

  15. Bryce Forestieri

    “if Unbroken is any good at all it could be a massive threat but I see it as the War Horse of this year(which I love).”

    Have you seen the trailer? Serious insult to WAR HORSE.

    Having said that, it might be the film to beat when race starts for real.

    Me? I’m sticking with UNDER THE WOODS.

  16. steve50

    ^ Is that a mash-up of Into the Woods and Under the Skin, Bryce? Attractive alien singing her way thru Scotland while encountering various Grimm’s characters?

  17. Bryce Forestieri

    Well of course, except I thought the Alien would break challenge her way through the woods and get her fresh booty whooped by Channing Tatum in the role of Gruntilda? UNDER THE WOODS: ALL IN

  18. Richard B

    I think saying a Toronto premiere is late in the season is huge exaggeration considering it starts a week after Telluride. Also I don’t think a Best Pic winner will come out of Telluride this year.

  19. Bryce Forestieri

    OT: 1st trailer for Petzold’s PHOENIX — which might be in Telluride?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3WbUFpzmkI

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