The State of the Race: How Telluride Shapes the Oscars

Every year after Telluride there is the sense that bigger, better movies could still come along that might overtake the race. I remember this most profoundly in 2012 when Argo came, was very popular at Telluride but didn’t really pick up its major Best Picture heat until the one-two punch of Affleck and Argo winning the Golden Globes and Critics Choice just as Ben Affleck received his Best Director snub. That the movie wonlo those two significant awards could have meant the movie was destined to win no matter what. But the Globes aren’t the best or most reliable barometer to predict Best Picture, even if the Critics Choice often are. It was the Affleck snub that set up the much-needed narrative giving the film’s general likability a much-needed sense of urgency. That was also the first time the Oscar ballots for Best Director were turned in before the DGA announced. Last year and this year will also see that same scheduling shift but the Affleck snub was perhaps one of the most surprising things I’ve ever seen happen at the Oscars. It ended up having a profound effect on how the Oscar voting is conducted, because now it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to split Picture and Director. Now we can look at a movie like Birdman and comfortably say “it could win Best Director even if it doesn’t win Best Picture.” The unity of picture and director has been severed both by Affleck’s snub, and by the number of Best Picture entries compared to the smaller number of entries for Best Director.

Remember, from 1931-1943, back when the Academy had more than five Best Picture nominees, the only film that ever won Best Picture without the director at least being nominated, was Grand Hotel — a situation so strange in retrospect it looks like a slip-up. So it was highly unusual that Affleck carried his film to such a successful win without getting a director nomination, or perhaps because of the lack of the best director nomination. Either way, in 2012, after Telluride, Argo was mostly regarded as a well-liked film but not the one everyone was thinking would win Best Picture.

Now we find ourselves at the end of Telluride with a similar dynamic in play. Everyone is looking forward to the upcoming films that haven’t yet been seen — Fury, Gone Girl, Unbroken, Men, Women & Children, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Inherent Vice. Telluride, right now, feels like it always does when it ends. Somehow though, in recent years, the eventual Best Picture winner does turn out to be a film that was seen in Telluride — just not overhyped or overpraised, thus making it a target.

Even still, I can’t say there was any film I saw this week that seems like the winner. We don’t know how it will all play out. We don’t know what combination of films will barrel toward the finish line, so we can’t see which one isn’t like the others. Not yet.

The actors have to like it. Oldish people have to like it. It has to have “gravitas” to win. Directors have to respect it. You have to be able to sit anyone down in front of it and they will get it, if not love it. It has to be a movie that isn’t divisive. In an era of bravura filmmaking and risk taking that usually leaves the winning film to the most conventional, at least these days, perhaps unless they go back to five.

Still, in order for a film like The Imitation Game to win — right now the only movie that played here that seems like it has the stuff — the other movies upcoming will have to stumble. That sometimes happens when expectations are raised too high — thus backlash takes hold. It’s hard for a movie like The Imitation Game to attract backlash because no one is really expecting it to win. That gives the film a huge advantage over the films that have to carry the frontrunner albatross. It is also the one movie no one is going to hate. And that is often what defines a modern Best Picture winner in the era where everyone has a voice, a twitter, a tumblr, etc. Big Oscar Movies are often attacked simply because they seem like a movie that could win.

The Imitation Game backlash would only then come from those who perceive it as Oscar bait, an attitude I’ve seen already crop up on Twitter.

Your three best bets for Best Picture out of Telluride:
The Imitation Game
Birdman
Foxcatcher

Beyond Best Picture, though, what else took hold? In the Best Actress race, Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank emerged strong for Best Actress contention. They are putting themselves out there early and both came to Telluride to help promote their films.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve Carell and Michael Keaton are the three strongest Best Actor contenders right now.

Mommy, Leviathan, Wild Tales all came out of Cannes and all seem to be very promising in the Best Foreign Language category.

Other performances that remain standouts would include Laure Dern, a supporting contender for Wild, Channing Tatum for Foxcatcher, though Best Actor is already so crowded it’s likely only Carrel will get in. Mark Ruffalo will have a place in line for supporting for Foxcatcher. Keira Knightley is a strong bet for supporting for The Imitation Game, along with Emma Stone for Birdman.

The Imitation Game is the only film that really popped exclusively here in Telluride, being seen for the first time as Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech all had been. Birdman was a Venice get already and landed at Telluride with extremely high praise to live up to.

With The Imitation Game here in Telluride we have our introductory sentence to the longer piece that will be written about this year. As it always is with the Labor Day end to the festival it feels like the best is yet to come. What is coming is the unknown. We don’t know how things will shake down. We wait. We wait.

32 Comments on this Post

  1. Rooting for Laura Dern. Valuable player, often given poor roles by filmmakers other than Lynch or TV producers.

  2. Yeah, I just don’t think The Imitation Game is going to go the distance. I still think it and Theory of Everything could cancel each other out. Right now, I’m fully rooting for Birdman to take four of the big five (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor) and maybe Cinematography (though I want Deakins to win so badly). It could honestly come down to Cumberbatch vs. Keaton in the Best Actor race, and I’d unabashedly put my support behind Keaton.

  3. Bryce "Cauã's sidepiece" Forestieri

    I still think it and Theory of Everything could cancel each other out.

    Highly unlikely as THEORY OF EVERYTHING looks right down awful

  4. I still think it and Theory of Everything could cancel each other out.

    I’m no math wizard, but 0 + 1 do not cancel each other out. One of them is nothing and the other one is something.

  5. New Oscar predictions post-tellride

    Best picture
    Birdman
    Boyhood
    Foxcatcher
    Fury
    Gone girl
    The imitation game
    Interstellar
    Theory of everything
    Wild

    Director
    Alejandro Gonzalez innaritu for birdman
    Richard linklater for boyhood
    Bennett miller for foxcatcher
    Christopher Nolan for interstellar
    Morton tyledum for the imitation game

    Lead actor
    Steve carrell in foxcatcher
    Benedict cumberbatch in the imitation game
    Ralph fiennes in the grand Budapest hotel
    Michael Keaton in birdman
    David oylewo in selma

    Lead actress
    Amy Adams in big eyes
    Patricia arquette in boyhood
    Rosamund pike in gone girl
    Meryl streep in into the woods
    Reese Witherspoon in wild

    Supporting actor
    Edward Norton in birdman
    Jack O’Connell in unbroken
    Mark ruffalo in foxcatcher
    J.k. Simmons in whiplash
    Changing Tatum in foxcatcher

    Supporting actress
    Emily blunt in into the woods
    Laura dern in wild
    Keira knightley in the imitation game
    Emma stone in birdman
    Shailene woodley in the fault in our stars

    Adapted screenplay
    Gone girl
    The grand Budapest hotel
    The imitation game
    Into the woods
    Wild

    Original screenplay
    Birdman
    Boyhood
    Foxcatcher
    Interstellar
    Selma

    Animated feature
    Big hero 6
    The congress
    How to train your dragon 2
    The Lego movie
    The tale of the princess kayuga

    Foreign language film
    Leviathan
    Mommy
    Two days one week
    White god
    The wonders

    Documentary feature
    The case against 8
    The green prince
    Life itself
    Return to home
    20,000 feet from earth

    Original song
    Begin again
    The book of life
    The fault in our stars
    The Lego movie
    Muppets most wanted

    Original score
    Marco beltrami- the Homesman
    Alexandre desplat+ unbroken
    Mycheal dyenna- foxcatcher
    Steven price- Selma
    Hans zimmer- interstellar

    Film editing
    Birdman
    Boyhood
    Foxcatcher
    Fury
    Interstellar

    Sound editing
    Dawn of the planet of the apes
    Fury
    Guardians of the galaxy
    The hobbit the battle of the five armies
    Interstellar

    Sound mixing
    Dawn of the planet of the apes
    Fury
    Gone girl
    The hobbit the battle of the five armies
    Interstellar

    Visual effects
    Dawn of the planet of the apes
    Guardians of the galaxy
    The hobbit the battle of the five armies
    Interstellar
    Noah

    Cinematography
    Boyhood
    Exodus: gods and kings
    The grand Budapest hotel
    Interstellar
    Unbroken

    Production design
    Exodus: gods and kings
    The grand Budapest hotel
    The imitation game
    Into the woods
    Theory of everything

    Costume design
    Exodus: gods and kings
    Foxcatcher
    Guardians of the galaxy
    The imitation game
    Theory of everything

    Makeup
    Exodus: gods and kings
    Guardians of the galaxy
    The hobbit: the battle of the five armies

  6. Joe, since when Woodley became a supporting role in fault in our stars?

  7. Chris Price

    Or for that matter, Jack O Connell in Unbroken? I was under the distinct impression he carries that film.

  8. mgmoviegirl

    My beat by nomation season that a film like Boyhood will be foregotten. Although it was a very good film I don’t see it have strength to get the nomtations in the Big Four.

  9. Joe…like Chris and Murtaza said, Woodley and O’Connell are leads. Grand Budapest Hotel is an original script. Now to nitpick, Into the Woods for adapted screenplay contention? Musicals rarely get recognized for their writing unless it’s an original script. The Imitation Game for…everything? Bit of a stretch, especially for director. But I applaud some of the other choices made. J.K. Simmons for supporting actor, Marco Beltrami for original score, sound mixing for Gone Girl…interesting list you have.

  10. Bryce "Cauã's sidepiece" Forestieri

    Kane, fwiw at the moment, I’m predicting INTO THE WOODS to be bigger a phenomenon than CHICAGO, score a record number of nominations, and win Best Picture. Yes, all based mostly on the teaser. Oscar will want Sondheim at the ceremony yes or yes.

    In addition, INTO THE WOODS will take away BIRDMAN’s professed leads in the tech categories once it is unveiled.

  11. Bryce…what makes you think Into the Woods is going to be THAT good? I would love it you are right, but when is the last time a LIVE ACTION Disney movie was a MAJOR player let alone WON the damned thing?

  12. Richard B

    Yeah, you are overthinking this Sasha. Correlation does not equal causation. Most members vote for their favorites with other considerations in mind maybe. Argo was going to win regardless. Based on coverage I’ve heard, Birdman is leading the pack.

  13. Looking forward to all of these SO SO much. Ive read such good things about all of them. Since I feel like this year has been weaker, overall, thus far … Im salivating for this stuff.

  14. Joe, honestly bro I really think you need to re-evaluate your predictions.

  15. It seems to me we have three distinct categories this year as far as the Oscar race goes. First, my personal top three films to see, Birdman, Gone Girl and Inherent Vice. These films are being touted as the front runners but could they be too dark/strange for the Academy? Then you have the true stories. These include Unbroken, The Theory of Everything, Imitation Game, Big Eyes, Wild, Foxcatcher, American Sniper. These films, as with most true stories (last years Dallas Buyers Club) could rack up the acting noms but can they end up getting more than that? Sometimes credibility hurts true story tales. And finally you have Interstellar and Into the Woods. These are big studio films that can either get 10 nominations or 0. There’s no telling. I don’t see Fury as any threat in the Oscar race. Sorry.

  16. Oh and throw in Exodus into the last category as well.

  17. One quick question, is Benedict Cumberbatch going to steal the Oscar from Steve Carrell or what? I’m nervous. From the trailers, they book look so promising!

  18. omg you’ve lost your mind. The Imitation Game has no chance at even a NOMINATION for Best Picture. It’s just not a movie anyone is going to see, let alone build a swelling for. I can’t.

  19. Bryce…I love you man…but that is a TALL order. A record number of nominations for Into the Woods? This isn’t just Into the Woods “leads with the most nominations out of any film this year” but actually “will get more nominations than any film ever, more so than Titanic”? Into the Woods would be eligible for, not including acting, 13 nominations. With acting, that number obviously sky rockets. This would assume that it’ll get in for screenplay and original song (which I’m not sure if there will be an original song). But hey, Chicago got 13 nominations under Rob Marshall so you never know. If this movie get at least 15 nominations, tell me a mailing address where I can send you 100 bucks.

  20. Well most of the winning movies didn’t have any of the listed characteristics.. Or are you telling me Shakespeare in love had these qualities?! It didn’t have any gravitas and everyone knew G.paltrow’s oscar was a robbery. “The actors have to like it. Oldish people have to like it. It has to have “gravitas” to win. Directors have to respect it. You have to be able to sit anyone down in front of it and they will get it, if not love it. It has to be a movie that isn’t divisive”. Without talking of tje meaningless space movies getting thousands of nominations over the years only because americans love them.

  21. rufussondheim

    I’m with Bryce, maybe not the record nominations but I think it might be the film to beat this year, with a few of the contenders kind of knocked out, it’s chances grew a percentage point or two.

    First off, let’s discuss Adapted Screenplay – Yeah, musicals are not often noted for their scripts, but the stage play of Into the Woods is exceptionally well-written, the songs are great, but without the amazing book, they would fall more flat. Some of the most memorable moments of the show are spoken dialogue, and that’s rare for a musical. (I could give examples, but not sure if they would register here out of context) Now, of course, we don’t know what the movie will bring, and if they use the script almost word for word, should it deserve the nomination? Remember, the writers tossed Kenneth Branagh a nomination for an almost exact rendition of Hamlet in 1996(?) or so. In addition to the dialogue, the script offers a very complex (for a musical) interwoven plot as well. In other words, the spoken dialogue does more than just offer a bridge from song to song, it’s an integral part of the play’s greatness.

    If Into the Woods hits big with the academy, I think it gets 4 acting nominations, Cordon, Streep, Blunt and hopefully Kendrick. Those are the four key parts and all of them are Academy friendly roles that get to show many facets of an actor’s abilities.

    So 12 to 14 nominations is a high probability right now if the movie is very good. And if it sucks, oh well, we’ll always have the Original Broadway Cast performance that’s been captured on film, and dammit, that’s good enough for me (If you haven’t seen it, I really think you should if you care about predicting the Oscars this far out, it’s the one movie that’s not been seen that we know the most about simply because the stage production has been beautifully captured.

    On a Sondheim/Emma Thompson sidenote. If you’ve never seen a stage production of Sweeney Todd, you will have the chance to see one on PBS later this September on a Live From Lincoln Center broadcast. I speak often about how Burton messed up the film version by cutting out all of the four-part harmonies from the show, therefore neutering arguably the best score of all time. Give this production a shot and judge for yourself if I’m right.

  22. The book inspiring Gone Girl is a well built but average book. It keeps the tension but that’s all. I would be really surprised if the movie turned out to be super. Hadn’t ben Affleck – post Argo – been in ot, we wouldn’t even talk about it

  23. rufussondheim

    LIz, I agree, I am not sold on the film adaptation of Gone Girl. I think the film will be dismissed as a high quality mystery/suspense thriller. Not since Silence of the Lambs has a film in that genre been taken seriously by the Academy.

    But then, if it’s a weak year like in 1991, you never know.

  24. So are we just giving up on American Sniper then? I was never particularly optimistic, but it seemed like everyone was going big for it for a second there.

    As for Into the Woods, having seen the show twice, I confess I’ve never quite gotten the hype. I think it’s enjoyable, it’s got some good songs, and it’s got a clever conceit, but I feel like the whole “subversion of the happy ending” angle is more of a gimmick than a real dramatic engine. So I think it’ll be a solid film, but a major Oscar contender? I’d tap the brakes on that.

    For that matter, if Imitation Game gets anything besides a nod for Cumberbatch and maybe a couple of tech noms, I’ll be surprised (unless the rest of the as-yet-unseen contenders just tank).

  25. Interstellar still easily owns this race and no one is talking about it.

    Aside from awesome trailers and an awesome cast, Interstellar is the next step in a lengthening path of IMAX/3D, visual masterpieces scoring big with The Academy. Starting 5 years ago when the 10 Best Picture nominee rule happened, visual marvel films have slowly, but steadily built momentum toward owning the Oscars–it will all culminate this year with Interstellar.

    2010: Avatar – 9 nominations, 3 wins (visual effects, cinematography, art direction)
    2011: Inception – 8 nominations, 4 wins MOST TIE (visual effects, cinematography, both sound)
    2012: Hugo – 11 nominations, 5 wins MOST TIE (visual effects, cinemtography, art direction, both sound)
    2013: Life of Pi – 11 nominations, 4 wins MOST (visual effects, cinematography, score, director)
    2014: Gravity – 10 nominations, 7 wins MOST (visual effects, cinematography, score, director, both sound, editing)

    Unless you want to argue that Interstellar isn’t the visual marvel film of 2015–and I suppose an argument could be made that it will be Into the Woods instead–it is hard to argue that it isn’t the frontrunner for the same categories that all of these past winners have taken–visual effects, cinematography, and both sounds are probably locked. Score, Director and Editing shouldn’t be underestimated. If it gets nominations in all these categories that is 7, and a Best Picture nomination would be 8. You can probably add in Production Design and Screenplay, too. That would be 10–on par with the last 3 visual films. Films with that many nominations are rarely not one of the top 2 or 3 contenders to actually win Best Picture–Avatar, Inception, Hugo, Life of Pi and Gravity were all (and this cannot be argued) viable candidates for the Best Picture win. It’s only a matter of time before the Oscar goes to this kind of film.

  26. Rufus, I’ve never been much of a theater person, despite having done theater in high school, so I have never seen Into the Woods. I know Marshall knocked Chicago out of the park but look at all the other musicals made into films since then: Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, Phantom of the Opera and Rent. They were all extremely acclaimed plays that barely made a thud in the awards race. Marhsall’s own Nine and Les Mis, while getting nominations/wins didn’t quite bring down the house like predicted. Since I haven’t seen Into the Woods and not even read up on it, and I’m asking this out of pure curiosity with truly no snark intended, what makes Into the Woods different from the other musicals? The sheer enthusiasm you and Bryce share for this adaptation is making me look forward to it a bit more than I was yesterday.

  27. Benutty, Interstellar has been talked about on this site. Nolan is the reason I went to film school, he’s one of my all time favorite directors, but to say this film owns the race is to prematurely call the Oscar race especially when other effects-driven films have been so critically acclaimed this year. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy were top notch efforts. Sure maybe not best picture/director/screenplay worthy but certainly in the tech categories. Also take into account this is a very busy year for great films. There’s a lot of good shit to cover and Sasha and Ryan have been doing just that, especially Sasha covering what she’s witnessed at Telluride. Give it time…come fall Interstellar will be on everyones minds.

  28. rufussondheim

    I’ve written a lot, Kane, about why I think Into the Woods is different, so I’ll keepit brief here.

    The songs are better integrated into the story and characters, therefore it feels less like a traditional musical. The songs are brief and to the point and propel the story forward rather than slowing down the story.

    It’s a pretty cinematic play not too reliant on theatrical devices so adapting it should go a little more smoothly.

    But mostly it’s a more intellectual and complex muscal than othe recent adaptions. There’s a lot of thematic meat on the bones of the show. There are emotional highs and lows that have true impact. Sasha and others often speak of Oscar films. Well this is an Oscar film, complex enough to grab people’s attention but not enough to alienate them. And it will make them feel.

    And then when I saw the trailer and it was clear that they spent a ton of money to make everything look great, I figured it would be a contender in the tech categories as well.

    I think people will be surprised at how good this movie will be, its not your traditional musical. And with Rob Marsall, a man who understands the musical genre, directing it I think we have a winner.

  29. Great reply, Rufus. I’ll have to give the trailer another go-around!

  30. This site and others keep mentioning Leviathan as a Best Foreign Language Film possibility. That seems wishful thinking to me.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but what are the chances that some film committee in Russia picks a film that exposes corruption within the Russian government?! That seems like a sure way to earn a stint in the gulag.

  31. Best Picture
    Birdman
    Boyhood
    Foxcatcher
    Fury
    Gone Girl
    The Imitation Game
    Inherent Vice
    Interstellar
    Selma
    Unbroken

    Best Director
    Aya DuVery for Selma
    Alejandre Gonzalez Innaritu for Birdman
    Angelina Jolie for Unbroken
    Richard Linklater for Boyhood*
    Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher

    Best Actor
    Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher
    Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood
    Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
    Micheal Keaton in Birdman*
    David Oyelowo in Selma

    Best Actress
    Amy Adams in Big Eyes 2 Nomination
    Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
    Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
    Meryl Streep in Into the Woods
    Reese Witherspoon in Wild* 1 Nomination

    Best Supporting Actor
    Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
    Edward Norton in Birdman
    Tim Roth in Selma
    Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
    J.K Simmons in Whiplash 1 Nomination
    `
    Best Supporting Actress
    Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
    Emily Blunt in Into the Woods
    Carmen Ejogo in Selma
    Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
    Emma Stone in Birdman

    Best Foreign Language Film
    Leviathan from Russia 1 Nomination
    Mommy from Canada 1 Nomination
    Two Days One Night from Belgium 1 Nomination
    Wild Tales 1 Nomination
    The Wonders from Italy 1 Nomination

    Best Documentary Feature
    The Case Against 8 1 Nomination
    The Green Prince 1 Nomination
    Life Itself* 1 Nomination
    Rich Hill 1 Nomination
    20,000 Days on Earth 1 Nomination

    Best Animated Feature
    Big Hero 6 1 Nomination
    How to Train Your Dragon 2 2 Nominations
    The Lego Movie 2 Nominations
    The Tale of The Princess Kuyaga 1 Nomination
    Song of the Sea 1 Nomination

    Original Screenplay
    Birdman
    Boyhood
    Foxcatcher
    Interstellar
    Mr. Turner 1 Nomination

    Adapted Screenplay
    Gone Girl
    The Grand Budapest Hotel 3 Nominations
    Inherent Vice
    Theory of Everything
    Unbroken

    Costume Design
    Exodus: Gods and Kings
    The Grand Budapest Hotel*
    Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Nominations
    The Imitation Game
    Maleficent

    Cinematography
    Roger Deakins for Unbroken
    Hoyt Van Hoytema for Interstellar
    Emmanuel Lubeski for Birdman
    Boyhood
    Bradford Young for Selma

    Production Design
    Exodus: Gods and Kings
    The Grand Budapest Hotel*
    The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
    The Imitation Game
    Into the Woods

    Film Editing
    Birdman
    Boyhood*
    Foxcatcher
    The Imitation Game
    Unbroken

    Visual Effects
    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3 Nominations
    Guardians of the Galaxy
    The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies*
    Interstellar
    Noah

    Makeup and Hair Styling
    Exodus: Gods and Kings
    The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
    Into the Woods

    Original Score
    Alexandre Desplat for Unbroken
    Danny Elfman for Big Eyes
    Jonah Johansson for The Theory of Everything
    Antonio Sanchez for Birdman
    Rob Simonsen for Foxcatcher

    Original Song
    “Lost Stars” from Begin Again 1 Nomination
    “The Boxtrolls Song” from The Boxtrolls 1 Nomination
    “When Stars Among Us” from How to Train Your Dragon 2
    “Everything is Awesome from The Lego Movie*
    “Something’s So Right from Muppets Most Wanted 1 Nomination

    Sound Mixing
    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    Fury*
    Godzilla 1 Nomination
    Gone Girl
    Interstellar

    Sound Editing
    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    Fury*
    The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
    Interstellar
    Into the Woods

  32. Mommy, Leviathan, Wild Tales all came out of Cannes and all seem to be very promising in the Best Foreign Language category.

    Russia hasn’t yet announced its submission, but I expect it will not be Leviathan.

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