They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?:
Telluride Announces Oscar Hopefuls

By J. Don Birnam

September 1, 2016

I hope I'm not stuck on Mars for as long as Matt Damon.

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When we last checked in on the 2016 Oscar race, we concluded that there was not much there there. Yet. This morning, the Telluride Film Festival announced its lineup, and it’s a doozy. We will have coverage of the star-studded affair all weekend but let’s take a quick look at what is in store for the festival-goers over Labor Day weekend.

If there are particular movies you are interested in seeing covered, hit me up on Twitter, where I will also be live-narrating my festival experience.

The big names are La La Land, the musical by Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, and Arrival, by Denis Villeneuve, who did last year’s lauded Sicario. Who knows how close Sundance indie hit Whiplash got to dethroning Birdman during the 2014 race, but three Oscars showed a tremendous good will for the upcoming director. Now with his second feature, Chazelle is back with a film that already has Hollywood abuzz after its world premiere at Venice. It’s a musical about Los Angeles, so it’s hard to imagine something more up the Academy’s alley.

Meanwhile, Villeneuve’s movie is screening in the Lido as we speak, so mum is the early word. But with a tribute to star Amy Adams in store in Colorado, no doubt she will be wooing Academy members early on. Adams is a multiple nominee but has never been the bride, and this may be her “she’s due” year.

The biggest surprise to me of the lineup was the inclusion of Clint Eastwood’s Sully, the movie about the brave captain of a U.S. Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River. Not selected for any other of the major fall festivals (and premiering next week), one wonders if this is love for Frank Marshall (the producer), a perennial Telluride attendee, or whether it’s real. We shall soon find out.


There are other much anticipated titles in the always eclectic mix. Breaking with its usual tradition, Telluride selected Sundance hit Manchester by the Sea, which some say is the film to beat for Best Picture early on. A tribute to Casey Affleck, who is probably in the Best Actor lead right now, will boost its chances (and the movie will play at TIFF and NYFF later on).

The Western festival always also makes room for smaller pieces, including the much-awaited indie film Moonlight, about growing up gay and black in war-strived Miami in the 1980s. It’s at least one of the ones I most look forward to catching. They certainly find space for documentaries and this year Fire at Sea about the European migrant crisis and The Ivory Game, about lucrative illegal ivory poaching in Africa, headline the list.

And last but not least are foreign films, many of which are surefire Oscar pretenders or contenders, such as the German dramedy Toni Erdmann, and perhaps even Romanian Graduation, from the director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.

But of course the big stories out of Telluride are the stars. Werner Herzog will be there, Laura Linney will give a seminar, Emma Stone will be alongside her director, and Pablo Larrain (Chile’s acclaimed director behind the Oscar-nominated No) will be feted, along with a screening of his anticipated film, Neruda. It’s idyllic, it’s chic, and it’s fun.

There are always big surprises, to be sure. Last year, for example, Room came out of nowhere and launched Brie Larson into what turned into a Best Actress win. The question is whether such performance will reveal itself in Colorado.

The biggest question, though, for any Telluride Film Festival goer is: at the end of the festivities, have I watched this year’s Best Picture winner? Attendees of seven of the past eight weekends eventually would find out that they had.



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