Just as the image of the British monarchy was remade in the wake of the Diana catastrophe, with careful PR and reliable players, so has the Catholic Church attempted to manage wavering public perception with a dazzling and progressive new leader, Pope Francis. The crimes of priests and the tacit complicity of the church are still many and ongoing. The way the church has shielded and coddled pedophile priests, tangled up in its struggle to hold onto a hypocritical stance that denies the sexuality of the male animal, is something for which they have yet to completely admit, much less begin to atone. Most unforgivable of all are the obstacles put in place by the system, making it all the more difficult to nail the bastards once their crimes became too big to ignore. Hundreds upon thousands of victims for decades have been either silenced with pay-outs large and small, or else driven to addiction, self harm, and suicide. There is no monetary amount that can absolve the church of these crimes. There is only self-reflection on the unholy and unhealthily foundation upon which it has been built.

The story of this inherent rot has been brought to the surface by writer/director Tom McCarthy, just as Pope Francis captivates the media, seeking to bandage the raw damage inflicted by the Catholic Church. In his thoughtful and moving new film, Spotlight, McCarthy lays out how the Boston Globe nailed the Boston Archdiocese for its efforts to cover up the deeds of 90 or so pedophile priests who were never brought to trial for their crimes but rather shuffled around to various other countries where they would continue to molest countless more children.

The corruption begins at the core — the type of victims chosen are most often from poor families with nowhere to turn but the church. Their parents are grateful for the attention the kids receive. Sooner or later the priests grooms then assaults his young victims, using whatever process to get him through the night, all in the name of sinning and forgiveness for those sins — such is the Catholic way. More than once the victims recall a priest’s attention in terms of becoming a friend of God himself. Another outstanding score by Howard Shore rumbles in somber counterpoint, like murmurs of judgment.

The Globe reporters who would ultimately receive a Pulitzer Prize for their astonishing coverage begin by pointing fingers at lawyers, judges, cops, and ordinary citizens working in unison to protect the church they so dearly love, and eventually those fingers begin to point back to themselves. The bigger the story gets, the harder it is to find anyone who isn’t part of the growing cancer. This involves a lot of note taking old-school, which many journalists will look upon with nostalgia as they’re seen tapping stories into their tablets. It is knocking on doors and prying open the doors that are sealed shut. It is being a bulldog, a nuisance and sometimes a liar all in the service of a uncovering a story this important.

One thing McCarthy does so cleverly is remind us what being a journalist really means. We’re in an era where even the New York Times is falling prey to clickbait reporting and failing to adequately source big stories, like the falsehoods they printed about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. An era where the Huffington Post is the gold standard of news trafficking, because it manages to draw eyeballs by appealing to our base instincts while also pretending to do actual hard news reporting. We stand to lose too much if this is the only way news can reach the general public. In Spotlight, reporters dutifully take notes, wait months, even years to get the story right before putting the story out.

This is where comparisons to All the President’s Men must stop. Yes, both are films about good journalism. Both are films about bringing down a massive power structure that involved payoffs and corrupt officials. But the timing of Spotlight is what separates it from that President’s Men. If anything, it might be better compared to Michael Mann’s The Insider, which is also about how news has changed and why that change isn’t necessarily a good thing. Spotlight is a movie about the moment the way we receive our news began to change. Just as the internet was exploding at the beginning of the new millennium, the Catholic Church was imploding, along with the World Trade Center, our privacy, and our trust. CNN has turned into a fear generator and Fox News might be the most dangerous thing that’s happened to America. Spotlight gives us a moment to stop, take a breath, and remember.

The Globe’s reporting led to countless lawsuits and it’s not over yet. Most of the priests have not admitted guilt. Only a few are spending time in jail. What hard news does at its best has nothing to do with telling us Justin Bieber cried at VMAs, or insisting that we need to know what instagram photo of Kim Kardashian’s got the most views. The nobler goal of bringing important stories to light to protect people sits atop Spotlight, which never loses sight of the damage done by not reporting the story decades ago.

This is a film that has no big Oscar-y scenes. There is humility before these unforgivable crimes. It is a carefully written screenplay, honored by a harmonious ensemble of actors at the top of their game. The standouts are Michael Keaton, of course, as the longtime Globe editor and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Walter Robinson. Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes has perhaps the most notable scenes. Liev Schreiber shows once again that he is yet another great actor Hollywood has not figured out what to do with yet. Rachel McAdams gives an authentic portrayal as Sacha Pfeiffer.

McCarthy throws in subtle imagery to remind us how much things have changed — really changed — since this story broke back in the early 2000s. AOL was a thing back then, for instance. The internet really wasn’t. The director’s ability to hold this long and sometimes rambling story together has resulted in the best film to screen at Telluride so far.

One of the Spotlight’s most moving moments isn’t one of its biggest. It comes at the hands of Stanley Tucci who plays a worn-down lawyer advocating for the victims. The story breaks but he knows it’s really only the beginning. How can this mess ever be cleaned up? How can the Catholic Church ever be made to change? How can an institution that purports to do the work of God do so much harm to so many?

As the world looks away and throws roses at the feet of the new Pope, millions of young children are getting ready to start school. The worshippers are still putting their trust in those who wear the robes. How can they know if the culture of abuse is really over? How can they know their children are safe? This ongoing trauma stands as the backdrop to McCarthy’s subdued, superb film. It looms impossibly large, casting the darkest shadow in places that should be flooded with light.


Reviews for The Danish Girl out of Venice range on the high side of mixed, although all the critics seem to agree that Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander elevate the film far above any reservations each critic might harbor.

Peter Debruge at Variety writes:

Clearly, this was never not going to be a “prestige” picture. And while that ultra-respectful approach will engender allergic reactions in some, who’d sooner see a gritty, realistic portrayal — a la Jill Soloway’s terrific “Transparent” series for Amazon — than one seemingly tailored for the pages of fashion and interior-design magazines, there’s no denying that Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon have delivered a cinematic landmark, one whose classical style all but disguises how controversial its subject matter still remains.

…Spotlighting the least-represented thread in the LGBT quilt, “The Danish Girl” clearly wants to untangle the trans experience from the blanket definition of homosexuality, using Lili’s rejection of Whishaw’s gay character and her interview with gender-confirmation surgeon Dr. Kurt Warnekros (Sebastian Koch, playing the sensitive pioneer) to distinguish the two. What’s of utmost importance here is the discovery and ultimate acceptance of Lili’s true identity, and from the film’s perspective, the gender question has nothing (or very little) to do with sex. Rather, it’s something that reveals itself at first in mirrors and other reflective surfaces, and later directly to camera, as Redmayne explores Einar’s hidden second persona.

As Hans puts it at a train sendoff that recalls “Casablanca,” “I’ve only really liked a handful of people in my life, and you’ve been two of them.” But Lili’s emergence is a gradual and hesitant process, beautifully embodied by Redmayne — and reflected by Vikander, whose Gerda does her best to adapt alongside her husband, amounting to a substantive role for the film’s resident “Swedish girl.” Shy at first, like a flower opening, Redmayne ducks his eyes and turns his head as Lili, his confidence growing in tandem with the rolling boil of Alexandre Desplat’s strings and piano score.

Alonso Duralde at The Wrap says:

Hooper’s stately storytelling style matches the material, since there are so many stages and intermediate steps involved in Einar fully becoming Lili, who goes so far as to undergo one of the very first gender-reassignment surgeries. And while the movie could have gotten more out of its supporting characters — there’s no doubt much more to know about Oola, Henrik and Einar’s boyhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), who grew up to be a Paris art dealer — the delicate dance by which Einar becomes Lili and Gerda comes to love and accept this new person while mourning the loss of her husband remains fascinating all the same.

After all those wretched tight close-ups in “Les Misérables,” it’s a relief that Hooper and his usual cinematographer, Danny Cohen, allow these characters, searching for a way through their own lives, to get lost in vast spaces like hospital corridors and city blocks of Danish row houses. (We also get some nicely painterly moments, like a ballet studio where tutus hang in the rafters like indoor clouds.) Cohen and Hooper also make it a point to shoot Redmayne like Josef von Sternberg filming Marlene Dietrich, finding the androgynous actor’s best angles and lighting him like a screen queen of yore.

(More review excerpts to come)


Though All the Presidents Men and Zodiac are two of the greatest American films without a doubt, they really only have the newsroom in common. What they are about and how they tell their stories are vastly different. Zodiac, you could say, is All the President’s Men jacked up to 11. And even then that doesn’t cover it. Where they are similar is that they are both about men who were secretive. They are both about a trail of clues. They both take place amid typewriters and news briefs, reporters, ledes and headlines. It stops there because Zodiac is a horror film both because it’s about a violent, vicious sociopathic killer and because it is ultimately about the horror of unending deep diving obsession. All the President’s Men is much less complicated. It is about a story and two reporters who relentlessly uncover that story thus bringing down a president. There is a clear line between good and evil. There isn’t a whole lot of soul-searching to be done because there is only the right side and the story of deception. Think of them like World War II vs. Vietnam. Whenever a film comes out about a newsroom comparisons are made to both films — probably it’s inevitable. Spotlight is the latest such movie.  The thing about these comparisons, though, is they are nearly impossible to surmount; how can any film stand up to being measured against All the President’s Men and Zodiac? Last year’s Nightcrawler suffered the same fate — critics drag out those tired old cliches like they are in a pitch meeting: it’s Network meets Taxi Driver. Okay but how in the hell is any movie ever going to compare to those films? Either way, Spotlight is dividing critics in early reviews — with Variety giving it a thumbs up and calling it McCarthy’s best film, and Peter Bradshaw and Todd McCarthy a little more iffy.

A rave by Variety’s Justin Chang touches on that and notes the obvious differences:

Even without the onscreen presence of Globe deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), whose father famously steered the Washington Post through Watergate, “All the President’s Men” would be the obvious touchstone here. Like so many films consumed with the minutiae of daily journalism, “Spotlight” is a magnificently nerdy process movie — a tour de force of filing-cabinet cinema, made with absolute assurance that we’ll be held by scene after scene of people talking, taking notes, following tips, hounding sources, poring over records, filling out spreadsheets, and having one door after another slammed in their faces. When the Spotlight investigation is temporarily halted in the wake of 9/11, we’re reminded that the film is also a period piece, set during a time when print journalism had not yet entered its death throes. Like the American remake of “State of Play” (in which McAdams also played a journalist), McCarthy’s film includes a loving montage of a printing press, busily churning out the next morning’s edition — a valedictory sequence that may move old-school journalists in the audience to tears.

The story’s newsgathering focus ultimately creates a level of distance from its subject that works both for the film and against it. As information-system dramas go, “Spotlight” doesn’t have the haunting thematic layers of “Zodiac,” and it never summons the emotional force of the 1991 miniseries “The Boys of St. Vincent,” still the most devastating docudrama ever made about child abuse within the Catholic Church. Many of the victims depicted here — like Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), head of a local survivors’ group, and Joe Crowley (Michael Cyril Creighton), who movingly recalls his treatment at the hands of a priest named Paul Shanley — function in a mostly expository manner, offering up vital but fleeting insights into the psychology of the abusers and the abused, but without taking pride of place in their own story.

Here is where you see the film depart from those that came before it:

Where the film proves extraordinarily perceptive is in its sense of how inextricably the Church has woven itself into the very fabric of Boston life, and how it concealed its corruption for so long by exerting pressure and influence on the city’s legal, political and journalistic institutions. Given the blurrier-than-usual separation of church and state, and the fact that the newspaper’s own readership includes a high percentage of Irish Catholics, it’s no surprise that it falls to an outsider like Baron — a Florida native and the first Jewish editor to take the helm at the Globe — to play hardball with the Archdiocese. If there’s anything that keeps “Spotlight” from devolving into a simplistic heroic-crusaders movie, it’s the filmmakers’ refusal to let the Globe itself off the hook, pointing out the numerous times the paper’s leaders glossed over reports of abuse that landed on their doorstep.

That’s clearly the real story of Spotlight that illuminates the much bigger problem — still an ongoing problem — the story of how this travesty has been covered up and forgotten.

Spotlight plays in Telluride over the weekend. Can’t wait.


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.

Twitter again erupts in praise of another likely masterpiece. Two days ago we got dazzled reaction from Venice festival-goers about Gravity. Tonight, 12 Years a Slave has stunned those in attendance in Telluride.

@AwardsDaily Another powerful collaboration for McQueen and Fassbender. They make magic together. #Telluride

@MrDanZak 12 YEARS A SLAVE = Masterful rendering of intolerable cruelty Standing O for McQ, Ejiofor, Pitt, Fass & stunning Lupita Nyong’o

@csoberanis7 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a startlingly realized period drama, maybe the best movie ever about slavery

@AskDebruge: Not 1 wrong note in #12YearsASlave ensemble; Chiwetel Ejiofor and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o are all but assured Oscar noms

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40th Telluride Film Festival is proud to present the following new feature films to play in its main program, the ‘SHOW’:

· ALL IS LOST (d. J.C. Chandor, U.S., 2013)
· BEFORE THE WINTER CHILL (d. Philippe Claudel, France, 2013)
· BETHLEHEM (d. Yuval Adler, Israel, 2013)
· BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (d. Abdellatif Kechiche, France, 2013)
· BURNING BUSH (d. Agnieszka Holland, Czech Republic, 2013)
· DEATH ROW: BLAINE MILAM + ROBERT FRATTA (d. Werner Herzog, U.S., 2013)
· FIFI HOWLS FROM HAPPINESS (d. Mitra Farahani, U.S., 2013)
· THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN (d. Dan Geller, Dayna Goldfine, U.S., 2013)
· GLORIA (d. Sebastián Lelio, Chile, 2013)
· GRAVITY (d. Alfonso Cuarón, U.S./U.K., 2013)
· IDA (d. Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland, 2013)
· INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (d. Joel and Ethan Coen, U.S., 2013)
· THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (d. Ralph Fiennes, U.K., 2013)
· LABOR DAY (d. Jason Reitman, U.S., 2013)
· THE LUNCHBOX (d. Ritesh Batra, India, 2013)
· LA MAISON DE LA RADIO (d. Nicolas Philibert, France, 2013)
· MANUSCRIPTS DON’T BURN (d. Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran, 2013)
· THE MISSING PICTURE (d. Rithy Panh, Cambodia/France, 2013)
· NEBRASKA (d. Alexander Payne, U.S., 2013)
· PALO ALTO (d. Gia Coppola, U.S., 2013)
· THE PAST (d. Asghar Farhadi, France/Italy, 2013)
· SLOW FOOD STORY (d. Stefano Sardo, Italy, 2013)
· STARRED UP (d. David Mackenzie, U.K., 2013)
· TIM’S VERMEER (d. Teller, U.S., 2013)
· TRACKS (d. John Curran, Australia, 2013)
· UNDER THE SKIN (d. Jonathan Glazer, U.K., 2013)
· THE UNKNOWN KNOWN (d. Errol Morris, U.S., 2013)

More fest news after the cut.

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This afternoon I will drive from Los Angeles to Telluride making a few stops along the way. Telluride film festival is set to announce their lineup on Wednesday, the day before the festival begins. It is officially the start of Oscar season, a race that is then shaped and reshaped by the Venice films fest, Toronto and New York. By the time those festivals all end, Best Picture should be in sight, unless we’re looking at a unique year.

For at least the past decade, the Best Picture winner has usually been spotted much earlier than it used to be, back before the Oscar race was picked and scavenged to its bones. It used to be that a film could be released in December and still manage to win Best Picture. Now it always seems like the more ambitious projects are given over to too much speculation and the reliable stand-bys win. In reality-TV they call this “flying under the radar.”
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feature telluride last day

The sun decided to come out as the Telluride Film Fest was coming to a close. “Monday’s not a real day,” Jeff Wells told me via Twitter. But I had no choice. Monday was a real day to me because I wanted to see whatever movies I could see in the time I had left. The great thing about the last day of the film fest is that the crowds have dwindled to a more tolerable level. After three days of moving my rental car from spot to spot I was able to find a great space on the last day. The problem was that somewhere along the line I’d gotten someone’s cold. I’d planned on seeing at least three movies but I ended up only seeing two.

I dragged myself out of bed to go see Frances Ha, one of the most buzzed movies of the fest. I was grumbling that I didn’t want to go see another “precious” movie, especially that early. Noah Baumbach and the impossibly cute Greta Gerwig were there to present it but they’d decided to cancel the Q&A. I bought some tea at the snack bar to help cure my ailing cold. Every theater here has an assortment of things to purchase, all over priced but the money goes to the fest so why not pay $4 for a teabag and a cup?

After the movie, as we scrambled out of our seats and bee-lined it for the bathroom I could hear some twenty-somethings enlivened by Frances Ha — it spoke to them. It WAS them, they were saying. The conversation eventually turned to HBO’s Girls. They liked that show too. The long line to pee stretched out long past the door and into the main lobby. But it was moving quickly and thank god because one way or the other it was going to get ugly.

The only thing I hadn’t done yet was go to my favorite bookstore, Between the Covers. When I got there, Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah were signing copies of her book, The Central Park Five (which ended up selling out). As I passed them Noah Baumbach passed and shook Ken Burns’ hand. I noticed he didn’t shake Sarah’s. Someday he will. I hadn’t realized the Burns’ would be signing today at Between the Cover but it isn’t unusual to see celebrities in Telluride. They are everywhere, all of the time.

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Not much is known about the Argo mission in the late ’70s to free American hostages in Iran. And what little was known up till now gave credit to Canada for their release. In fact, it’s referred to in pop-history vernacular as the Canadian Caper. If you grew up in Canada you would have felt enormous national pride that day and if you were American, you never would have known that the CIA and Hollywood had come together to create a team of invisible heroes. You also wouldn’t know that although President Carter was in charge at the time, he could never have taken credit for any involvement. Instead, he was shamed out of office for not having released the other American hostages in Iran. Had it been revealed that a fake film crew sneaked in and freed Americans being held hostage the sensational news would have likely turned Carter’s whole image around.

Someone had to tell this story. Turns out Ben Affleck is the man for the job.

Affleck’s Argo comes at a time when we could all use an injection of American pride. Pummeled by a bad economy and torn by an extremist, partisan election, things are not looking good lately. The Republicans promise us that they can undo the bad economy because Congress will magically start working again if their guy can sit in the Oval Office. They’re the real American Americans, after all. The Democrats are trying to keep the faith, to convince us to give them one more at bat to turn things around from an economy pillaged by the Wall Street collapse, sapped by extravagant tax breaks, and ravaged by 10 years of war. But Argo takes place in the vacuum of history and Affleck says he worked hard with screenwriter Chris Terrio to make sure it wasn’t partisan. There are no long preachy speeches about the glory of US-exported democracy. There are no evil Republicans to mock as reckless incompetents. It’s simply an expertly written, flawlessly directed, brilliantly acted thriller. You could leave it right there and it would succeed on those merits. Or you could go a little deeper to talk about how few smart, meaty stories like this are even made anymore. Wonder why not, and marvel that this one was.

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tell feature 3

The rain continued its moody descent upon Telluride village, ebbing and flowing at its own discretion. The festival can’t stop for the rain, nor can we whine about having no sunshine because that would be unseemly. Telluride looks the way it does because of the rain. Nonetheless, it made for a somewhat less celebratory mood. My morning started out with a trip up the gondola for an early screening of No, written and directed by Pablo Larraín about the election to unseat Chilean Augusto Pinochet in or around 1989.

You never know what kinds of conversations you’ll be having on the ride up the gondola, depending on what combination of people you end up with. I met a couple this time, on their first trip to Telluride but already so much more organized about it all than I have ever been. They knew what time was the best time to get into the long lines. They knew where the best wi-fi was and how to tether their computers to their blackberries, if the wi-fi didn’t work. They’d been going to Sundance for years but it became “too much of a zoo.” Since there had been so much buzz around Telluride in the last few years they figured they’d give this a try. I wondered what it would be like to just come here for the sheer fun of it, for the love of cinema, to hang out with someone who really liked doing film festival stuff for fun.

The large number of senior citizens who attend this festival is a hopeful harbinger of what might lie ahead for some of us. When kids aren’t at home, when there’s no more 40-hour work weeks, there are film festivals in beautiful cities all over the country. It’s a thing to do, anyway. “How are you doing,” the coffee barista at Between the Covers asked one of the elderly customers. “I wonder if I’ll remember anything later,” she said.

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Some trailers don’t need accompanying synopsis or explanation. This isn’t one of those. Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary about Indonesian Death Squads will screen in Toronto as well, and the TIFF site is where I found the best observations about the bizarre proceedings.

“I have not come across a documentary as powerful, surreal, and frightening in a decade,” wrote Werner Herzog after seeing an early preview of The Act of Killing, and both he and Errol Morris were impressed enough to sign on as executive producers. A chilling and revelatory exploration of the sometimes perilously thin line between film violence and real-life violence, the film investigates a murderous, oft-forgotten chapter of history in a way that is startlingly original and bound to stir debate: enlisting a group of former killers to re-enact their lives (and deaths) in the style of the film noirs, musicals and westerns that they love.

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Telluride 2012 feat

  • THE ACT OF KILLING (d. Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark, 2012)
  • AMOUR (d. Michael Haneke, Austria, 2012)
  • AT ANY PRICE (d. Ramin Bahrani, U.S., 2012)
  • THE ATTACK (d. Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon-France, 2012)
  • BARBARA (d. Christian Petzold, Germany, 2012)
  • THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (d. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon, U.S., 2012)
  • EVERYDAY (d. Michael Winterbottom, U.K., 2012)
  • FRANCES HA (d. Noah Baumbach, U.S., 2012)
  • THE GATEKEEPERS (d. Dror Moreh, Israel, 2012)
  • GINGER AND ROSA (d. Sally Potter, England, 2012)
  • THE HUNT (d. Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, 2012)
  • HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (d. Roger Michell, U.S., 2012)
  • THE ICEMAN (d. Ariel Vromen, U.S., 2012)
  • LOVE, MARILYN (d. Liz Garbus, U.S., 2012)
  • MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN (d. Deepa Mehta, Canada-Sri Lanka, 2012)
  • NO (Pablo Larraín, Chile, 2012)
  • PARADISE: LOVE (d. Ulrich Seidl, Austria, 2012)
  • PIAZZA FONTANA (d. Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy, 2012)
  • A ROYAL AFFAIR (d. Nikolaj Arcel, Denmark, 2012)
  • RUST & BONE (d. Jacques Audiard, France, 2012)
  • THE SAPPHIRES (d. Wayne Blair, Australia, 2012)
  • STORIES WE TELL (d. Sarah Polley, Canada, 2012)
  • SUPERSTAR (d. Xavier Giannoli, France, 2012)
  • WADJDA (d. Haifaa Al-Mansour, Continue reading…

Inspired by a true story, THE SAPPHIRES follows four vivacious, young and talented Australian Aboriginal girls from a remote mission as they learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertains the U.S. troops in Vietnam in 1968. Cynthia (Tapsell), Gail (Mailman), Julie (Mauboy) and Kay (Sebbens) are discovered by Dave (O’Dowd), a good-humored talent scout with a kind heart, very little rhythm but a great knowledge of soul music. As their manager, Dave books the sisters their first true gig giving them their first taste of stardom, and travels them to Vietnam to sing for the American troops.

The last days of Telluride were about seeing movies but they were also about connecting with people.  Some of them were movie stars.  Some of them were film critics, some were publicists, and some film bloggers.

On one morning I had the occasion to meet and talk to the great Glenn Close, staring in Albert Nobbs. A few of us were given a small window to interview her after the film screened the night before.  She was there to do a q&a about the film.  Close, now in her 50s 60s, is still a strikingly beautiful woman.   Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley, Anne Thompson, Jeff Wells and I were all sitting around up at the Chuck Jones theater shooting the shit about the Oscars.  I bet Feinberg a cool $20 that Viola Davis was going to win in the Best Actress category, despite it being really Close’s year.  The reason for this is that I think Davis wins in any category she’s put in but I think they’ll put her in lead. If she isn’t put in that category, Close will take it.  The Oscars are always hard to predict, especially when you try to do it as early as September.

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I don’t need no lasso
I don’t need no ball and chain
I don’t need anything with you
Such a shame, shame, shame
Shame, shame, shame
Shame is the shadow of love
–PJ Harvey

Steve McQueen’s unflinching look at sexual addiction and what drives it is the subject of this startlingly moving film, which had its premier in Venice but played here in Telluride yesterday.  The film stars Michael Fassbender as a successful but isolated businessman who relies on porn, prostitutes and masturbation in place of real intimacy. He can’t get close to anyone but he can have pseudo closeness.  It’s not all that far from Thomas Haden Church in Sideways, “you don’t understand my plight.”  But in Sideways it was never really examined so closely.  In Shame, the character is running from past emotional damage; he’s doing whatever it takes to rub out whatever that was, driving him deeper into his addiction.

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Five days ago in Venice Black Swan roused audiences to their feet for a 5-minute standing ovation. A surprise screening in Telluride last night has inspired the same excitement stateside.

Eric D. Snider, Cinematical

Black Swan is a wholly engrossing, almost unbearably tense drama about a fairly mundane thing: backstage anxiety in the performing arts. Countless movies have addressed the same subject, but I feel safe in saying none have addressed it in quite this way. Aronofsky, working from a screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz, shows a knack for combining genres in a most unsettling fashion. Here you’ll find psychological thrills, body horror, sexual awakening, symbolic self-discovery, hallucinatory trickery, and the terrifying calf muscles of ballet dancers, all in one movie.

At the center of this psychological nightmare is Natalie Portman, giving the best performance of her career… She’s in nearly every frame of the movie, often dancing, often in close-up, conveying a huge range of intense and complicated emotions. No matter how suspenseful, strange, or astonishing things get, we’re right there with her, feeling every bit of Nina’s fear, confusion, excitement, and eventual liberation.

Peter Sciretta, SlashFilm

Black Swan is a brilliant mind fuck. It is one of the boldest films I’ve seen produced by a Hollywood studio in years.

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Not formal reviews on the Times movie page yet — of course, those will wait for the movies to be released — but A.O. Scott has a lot of praise for two of today’s Telluride standouts on this artsblog which give us a clear idea of his enthusiasm. He says 127 Hours made an “unannounced sneak appearance,” a festival tradition, and recaps the harrowing circumstances recreated by James Franco as hiker Aron Ralston:

You may remember the story: trapped in a narrow crevice in a deep canyon, Mr. Ralston escaped by cutting off part of his right arm, which was pinned against a rock.

His experience is disconcerting enough just to think about, and to see it recreated, in Mr. Boyle’s characteristically fast-moving, immersive style, is jarring, thrilling and weirdly funny. At a question-and-answer session after the first screening on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Boyle — director of “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later” and of course “Slumdog Millionaire,” which snuck into Telluride two years ago — described himself as a thoroughly “urban” type with no great love for or interest in nature. And the jangly, jumpy energy he brings to a story of silence, solitude and confinement gives the film an irreverent kick that deepens and sharpens its emotional and spiritual insights.

Scott compares The Way Back to earlier Peter Weir films that have shown “a reverence for the beauties and terrors of nature,” like Picnic at Hanging Rock, “in which the topography of his native country assumes a haunting, even demonic presence.”

Compared to Mr. Boyle’s, Mr. Weir’s style is stately, almost classical, and the astonishing story he has to tell in the new movie — about a group of men who escaped from a Soviet Labor camp in 1941 and walked from Siberia to India — has an old-fashioned gravity and grandeur. There are fine performances from Ed Harris, Sioarse Ronan and Jim Sturgess as Januzs, the Polish prisoner who leads the trek toward freedom, and breathtaking images of tundra, desert forest and grassland.

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