The 44th annual Telluride Film Festival should be commended for its dedication to women in cinema this year, from directors like Greta Gerwig and Angelina Jolie to films with women at the center, like Battle of the Sexes and The Shape of Water. That has seemed to cause some to falsely believe it was a “weak” festival and that no Best Picture winner has yet emerged. In fact, it wasn’t weak in the least, and a potential Best Picture winner has emerged. But it’s better for the film and any film that might take the top prize to fly under the radar, at least right now. Coming out of Telluride as the frontrunner is a blessing and a curse: a curse because it puts a target on your back, and a blessing if only a small amount of people think it might win.
I have to admit that the troll in me loves proving people wrong who think they’re absolutely right this time of year, and the way to do that is not to close any doors or to put your chips too firmly behind any one movie. If one person at the top of the pile is wrong, everyone who follows that person is also wrong. Every year I read people who think they know things but who invariably turn out to be very wrong. So, take everything you read and hear with a grain of salt. The Oscar race is fluid – it isn’t static. I remember people saying last year “It’s been La La Land since Telluride and it isn’t changing.” Oh yeah? Okay. Keep an open mind. No one knows how this thing is going to go. As more movies are seen, some will bump the movies that dominate right now, but some will only solidify their importance.
The films that seem very likely to fill up the Best Picture slate, of those that have been seen, I would rank this way:
- Battle of the Sexes
- Darkest Hour
- The Shape of Water
- Call Me by Your Name
- Get Out
- Lady Bird
- First They Killed My Father
The films coming up that seem to be Oscar-friendly include:
15:17 to Paris
Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (maybe)
As you can see, festival season, particularly Venice/Telluride/Toronto, is often essential to where a film is placed. Right now, despite the criticism of it being a “weak” year, Telluride has showcased a selection of films that could easily fill the majority of the ballots. The bar has been set and every movie seen after this will have to be as good or better than what we’ve seen here.
Probably the most interesting race this year, at least right now, is the field for Best Actress. If Emma Stone had not won last year she would be a slam dunk to win this year. She could pull a Katharine Hepburn and go two for two, but more likely someone else will get a shot. It’s too soon to call it since so many movies have yet to be seen, but from what I can gather from Telluride the strongest performances are:
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Rosamund Pike (may be supporting), Hostiles
But in all likelihood we’re talking about three of these making it to the end with other names coming from Toronto and later in the year to round out the five.
Looking at Best Actor, Gary Oldman comes out way ahead of everyone else for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Christian Bale is right after him for his work in Hostiles. Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes feels more like a supporting bid but apparently it is lead. Matt Damon is funny and interesting in Downsizing but it’s probably not an Oscar thing. This festival was focused more on women than men so it isn’t surprising that more actress contenders emerged than actors.
The real takeaway from Telluride thus far is this: Battle of the Sexes is a crowdpleaser and a formidable contender that could easily win Best Picture. Anyone who doesn’t think so doesn’t know the Oscar race. A different movie could certainly emerge, but right now the movie people can’t hate is this one. It’s also the movie people really love. So watch for that. The other takeaway is that both Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird and Angelina Jolie for First They Killed My Father have a better than average chance of getting some attention for their work as directors this year, even if it amounts to just a Best Picture nomination without Best Director.
Telluride is great at testing audiences. If you ask people randomly around the fest which movies they liked best (like I did), almost everyone said Darkest Hour. Many hadn’t yet seen Battle of the Sexes, but there is no doubt that Darkest Hour played extremely well here. Hostiles is a big question mark and will depend on what kind of distribution deal it gets.
Toronto has made a dramatic play to take back its reputation as being the most influential festival when it comes to Oscar. That quest might be achieved this year. It might not. Perhaps there will be a contender or two or three that pop from there, as well as a couple that might be plucked from the AFI Fest or films that are released later in the year, like Spielberg’s The Post.
The Current War is one film that could sprout up in the Best Picture race out of Toronto. But make no mistake about it, the Best Picture race is taking shape right here, right now in the mountains of Colorado.