My first year attending the Telluride Film Festival in 2022 was a very surreal experience. Seeing all the Oscar pundits in real life is very different than simply interacting with them on the web and watching the films as either premieres or screenings before the general public is an experience that is as intimate as it possibly can be. Though I understand it was the first film festival I ever properly attended, it will be one that I always remember for as long as I live.
For 2023, the 50th anniversary and my second year of attending, I knew taking these screenings more seriously through analysis was important. I saw 10 films (plus five short projects done by up-and-coming filmmakers), finding that analyzing them after having some time to think and process what was expressed in each was an incredibly rewarding decision.
Here are my thoughts on the films:
All of Us Strangers (Director: Andrew Haigh, Screenplay by Andrew Haigh based off the book by Taichi Yamada)
One of the most notable aspects of the Telluride Film Festival is when the attendees discover a film that had very little buzz beforehand, making a HUGE splash at its premiere. For this lineup, that movie was Andrew Haigh’s All Of Us Strangers. Haigh, as a filmmaker, was known to be one who already knew how to emotionally impact the audience, with his films Weekend, 45 Years, and Lean on Pete gaining a huge following from a subset of people. However, his recent film is considered by many to be his most emotionally devastating yet, and for good reason. Focusing on a lonely gay man portrayed by Andrew Scott, the film explores the psyche of someone damaged by the loss of their parents and being born into a society that is still not fully accepting of who he is.
Through dream-like conversations with his deceased parents and his attempt to move forward with a love interest portrayed by Paul Mescal, Haigh creates an incredibly emotional drama that swings for the fences despite being arguably one of the most intimate and personal of the festival. Throughout each emotionally devastating realization, everyone who watches the film will find themselves in the characters found on screen, and though it does go off the deep end in terms of its supernatural material, it remains emotionally fulfilling throughout. It is easily the most emotionally affecting film of the festival, and, arguably, the defining world premiere of the slate if I had to give my opinion
Predictions from most likely to least likely: Best Adapted Screenplay (if the academy goes for the film for the bare minimum), Best Picture (If the passion is more than just critics), Best Actor (If the film is strong and the category opens up a slot), Best Supporting Actor (If the category becomes fluid), Best Supporting Actress (If the film somehow becomes a staple in Best Picture)
Anatomy of a Fall (Written and Directed by Justine Triet)
Like Glazer’s Zone of Interest, Triet’s film, having won a prestigious award at this May’s Cannes (in this case, the Palme d’Or), easily made it a sought-after film of the festival. Suffice it to say, the enthusiasm regarding the film is warranted. Being a captivating procedural drama focusing on the death of the husband of a woman named Sandra (portrayed by Sandra Huller), and the father of a sight-impaired son named Daniel (portrayed by Milo Machado Graner), the screenplay focuses less on the detective aspects of the said death, and more on the motives as to why this event happened. This leads to captivating conversations about marriage, love between family members, death, grief, and acceptance. Though its length is felt(nearly 2.5 hours overall), the revelations throughout the film’s second half are a solid payoff, and Huller, in particular, gives a career-making performance.
Oscar predictions: Best International Feature(Solid for a nomination and potential win if eligible), Best Lead Actress(Near Lock, potential win if film is nominated elsewhere), Best Original Screenplay (Near Lock if the film is in the 10 for Best Picture), Best Picture (If it’s a frontrunner for international feature), Best Director (If the film becomes the dominant frontrunner in International Feature)
The Bikeriders (Director: Jeff Nichols, Screenplay by Jeff Nichols, inspired on the novel by Danny Lyon)
The Patron screening at Telluride was one many were looking forward to, and when it was revealed to be Nichols’s follow-up to his 2016 film Loving, people were intrigued with what Nichols had in store for everyone. Luckily, at least according to me, The Bikeriders succeeded with what it sought to achieve. Being a complex drama focusing on a brutal, American motorcycle gang in the 60s, the film is an intriguing look at what masculinity truly was in the 20th century, and how putting morals ahead of one’s personal satisfaction can lead to a successful life. The editing and briskness of the screenplay allow the film to fly by fast, even though its runtime exceeds two hours. Dawning a star-studded cast of Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Tom Hardy, Mike Faist, and several others, Nichols’ most ambitious film is arguably his most mainstream yet.
Potential nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Jodie Comer in lead, Tom Hardy in Supporting
The Holdovers (Director: Alexander Payne, Screenplay by David Hemingson)
Arguably the most buzzed-about premiere of the entire festival, Alexander Payne’s follow-up to the divisive 2017 film Downsizing turns out to be a return to form for the filmmaker regarding his sensibilities. Centering around an initially cold and callous schoolteacher named Paul Hunham (portrayed by Paul Giamatti), the film focuses primarily on the course of a Christmas break at the summer school where he works. Having to look after several students who can’t go home for the Christmas break, the relationship that takes center stage is between Paul and a student named Angus Tully (portrayed by Dominic Sessa). In addition to the two, the school chef Mary Lamb (portrayed by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) forms a connection with the two over the break, still grieving after her son’s death. Like many of Payne’s notable filmography, the tone is incredibly down to earth, letting the characters express themselves in cold yet profound ways. The true highlight between the core three leads is that of Randolph, whose repressed sadness and character growth are the most touching of the character arcs present. However, despite the realness of the characters, the film never loses sight of the humor and intimate moments these characters feel. This is a project that Payne wanted to make for so long: a 1970s dreamed that touched upon mature yet ordinary issues each character (and possibly the director himself today) feels. Though it was a film I did not overtly connect with due to its perceived cold exterior, I was glad that this was a film I was able to see as a world premiere, and the last 5 minutes rewarded the audience with a quiet yet intimate message about the loneliness we feel in life, and how to cope with that.
Oscar predictions: Best Original Screenplay (solid, potential win) Best Supporting Actress (solid, potential win), Best Lead Actor (Solid, win competitive if film is beloved), Best Picture (Solid, potential win if the academy is head over heels for it), Best Director (If the film is a top five in picture), Best Film Editing (If the film is a top five in picture), Best Supporting Actor (If the film is a top three in picture)
NYAD (Directors: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Screenplay by Julia Cox based off novel by Diana Nyad)
Easily one of the most anticipated of the festival, NYAD , starring Annette Bening as the titular (and slightly controversial) role, was one many were looking towards as a potential breakout crowd pleasure of the festival. Reactions following the film’s premiere were somewhat positive, including yours truly. Focusing on Diana Nyad’s attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida at the age of 60, the film doesn’t shy away from a single traditional aspect of the crowd-pleasing sports drama genre but mostly succeeds in its execution. With a solid performance from Jodie Foster, and Annette Bening doing everything she can to elevate a generic script, NYAD works well when it stays to its traditional storytelling, and luckily, for the film’s sake, it does just that.
Oscar Predictions from Least Likely to Most Likely: Best Supporting Actress (Most likely if the film stays on people’s radar), Best Lead Actress (If the film stays on people’s radar), Best Picture(Highly unlikely scenario if the film takes off as a priority for Netflix following audience awards at festivals), Best Adapted Screenplay (If the category is fluid)
Poor Things (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, Screenplay by Tony McNamara, based on the novel by Alasdair Gray)
Premiering in Venice to glowing reviews, it was clear that Telluride would make the North American premiere of Yorgos Lanthimos’s following up to his 2018 film The Favourite, an important moment in the festival’s lineup. This was proven when he was awarded the annual tribute for the 50th festival. However, nothing would ever prepare people for what the film had in store for those who watched it. Being an interpretation of the Frankenstein story, the film focuses upon the character of Bella Baxter (portrayed by Emma stone), who is brought back to life to experience life by her “creator,” Dr. Godwin Baxter (portrayed by Willem Dafoe). When she continues to develop with the brain of an infant emotionally and socially, she goes on a borderline “fairy tale” journey with that of Duncan Wedderburn (portrayed by Mark Ruffalo) in addition to being engaged with Max McCandles (portrayed by Rami Youssef). What one finds underneath all of the raunchy humor and quirkiness of its characters (signature to Lanthimos’s auteur style) is a profound story on feminism and what it means to be alive in our complex world. Though it runs long (almost 2.5 hours), there is so much vision put into every shot and every line of dialogue, that one cannot help but be enamored with what is being shown.
Oscar Predictions from Least Likely to Most Likely: Best Production Design(Solid, Current Frontrunner for the win), Best Costume Design (Solid, Potential Winner), Best Makeup and Hair (Solid, Potential Winner), Best Cinematography (Solid, Potential Winner), Best Score (Solid, Potentially Win-competitive), Best Film Editing (Likely nominee if film is top five), Best Actress (Solid, Win competitive if Film is in Best Picture) Best Adapted Screenplay (Likely Solid, potential winner if film is in conversation of winning Best Picture), Best Supporting Actor (One nominee is likely, Academy beloves two if film), Best Picture (Nom likely, closer to winning than getting snubbed), Best Director (nomination likely, win-competitive if film is close to winning and sweeping the tech awards)
The Royal Hotel (Directed by Kitty Green, Screenplay by Kitty Green and Oscar Redding)
Being the last film of the festival, I was eager to see how Green’s follow-up to her 2019 film The Assistant would ultimately go. Similarly to her film from four years ago, The Royal Hotel is a captivating slice-of-life look at how women attempt to live in an environment that is not entirely friendly to their freedom. Focusing on two US backpackers portrayed by Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick, the short but engaging drama shows us how they attempt to earn money in an Australian pub surrounded by individuals who are far more interested in their gain than the safety of others who surround them. Bordering on thriller aspects in addition to the slice-of-life drama, Green crafted an engaging indie that shows off her sensibilities as an up-and-coming filmmaker, aided by grounded performances from the two leads. It was easily the biggest surprise of the festival for me, as it caught me off guard with no prior knowledge of how it would go.
Oscar Predictions from Least Likely to Most Likely: IF it releases in 2023, Original Screenplay(Long Shot if category opens up a bit more).
Rustin (Dir: George C. Wolf, screenplay by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black)
This is George C. Wolf’s follow-up to his 2020 release Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Rather than being a raw adaptation of an August Wilson play, Wolf’s second film is the intelligent portrayal of the extraordinary figure of the same name. Being shy of 100 minutes, the screenplay, done by Breece and Black, goes through each of Bayard Rustin’s life, from his impactful speeches that promoted Americans to seek equality for every individual, regardless of race or sexuality. With minimal looks at his younger years, and a focus more on his actions than his personal life, the audience is encouraged to look at him more for what he represented to others as opposed to who he was as a person, though his relationships are explored briefly. Though the ensemble, consisting of notable actors such as Glynn Thurman and Chris Rock, is engaging to see playout, it is undoubtedly Colman Domingo who keeps this film engaging. Every line of dialogue and action is done with precision and care to the historical figure. Even when the film’s conventional storytelling struggles to differentiate itself from other modern-day biopics, Domingo’s committed portrayal gives people a core reason to see this film.
Saltburn (Written and Directed by Emerald Fennell)
When going into the festival, it became clear that Saltburn, regardless of whether the film would live up to the hype, would be the festival’s most discussed slot, regardless of its actual quality. When the film premiered on the opening night of the festival, the word “memorable” is correlated with the film, whether it is a good thing or not is up to the viewer, and that is why Saltburn is so captivating as a result. It focuses on a socially quiet college student by the name of Oliver Quick (portrayed by Barry Keoghan), who befriends a far more popular kid in Oxford named Felix Catton (portrayed by Jacob Elordi), who brings him to his family estate “Saltburn” full of characters such as his aunt (portrayed by Carey Mulligan), and his mom (portrayed by Rosamund Pike), as well as a few others. Regardless of what you feel regarding Saltburn, the fact that Fennell is aiming for the fences, from the decision to change the aspect ratio (with the assistance of cinematographer Linus Sandgren), to filming specific long takes on certain shots, and simply making the audience feel uncomfortable through telling the actors to give these unnatural performances, she is attempting to get a feeling from the audience. As the credits roll following this rollercoaster of a film, the audience is left attempting to salvage what they can, and that, in of itself, is a true success by the filmmaker in question.
Predictions: from Most Likely to Least Likely: Best Original Screenplay (Feels solid as a lone nomination), Best Cinematography (If the film sticks around for awards), Best Picture (iffy, but the academy could feel a connection to Fennel).
Overall, the experience of attending the 50th Telluride Film Festival was a decision that was truly worth it, and I cannot wait to go again, hopefully being able to cover it properly.
The Zone of Interest (Director: Jonathan Glazer, Screenplay by Jonathan Glazer, based on the book by Martin Amis)
Winning the Grand Prize at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival made Glazer’s film a highly sought-after title at Telluride, and it was one I caught at a late-night showing. Knowing the tone, and uniqueness of the film’s presentation did not dampen my expectations for how the film would ultimately be. Nevertheless, The Zone of Interest was unlike any film I have seen this year, and kept me at a distance, for better and for worse. Focusing on a German couple during World War II, the plot is minimal as it focuses on Rudolf Hoss (portrayed by Christian Friedel), and Hedwig Hoss (portrayed by Sandra Huller, who also stars in another film later in the list). We, as the audience, see first-hand the experience of the Holocaust through the eyes of those who either aide the destruction or watched it occur willingly. It is clear through Glazer’s direction that we are supposed to be conflicted on what we are seeing, and confusion or questions regarding what is shown is the entire point. Sequences of blank screens with the ominous score accompanying it do enough to solidify *what* we are supposed to feel, rather than what is affecting us in that given moment. Only screams of pain and suffering are shown of Auschwitz, but the minimalism sticks with those who see it, and the visual interpretations (whether real or surreal) are welcoming to those who watch it.
Oscar Predictions from Least Likely to Most Likely: Best International Feature (likely in if submitted), Best Director (if the international directors branch goes for it), Best Picture (If the film is swept up in critic wins and the noise is too loud to ignore), Best Adapted Screenplay (If the film is solidly in for Picture), Best Score (If the academy overwhelmingly supports it), Best Cinematography (If Director is a guarantee)