They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?: Telluride Day One

By J. Don Birnam

September 3, 2016

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Twenty-four hours into the 43rd Telluride Film Festival, some crowd and awards favorites are emerging, along with some more interesting fare. If the altitude doesn’t get you, the stars certainly will, and the festival so far has lived up to its reputation of being a communal sort of free for all where plebes such as myself interact with royalty.

First: The Buzz Around Town

The two biggest films to make a splash in North America last night were La La Land and Sully. Only one of those is a serious Oscar contender, and I’m sure you know which one.


Though I’ve yet to see Damien Chazelle’s second film (I hope to after I finish writing this), the noise around town is of mid-screening standing ovations. Some people are calling it the best musical in a decade, and others have already crowned it the presumptive Best Picture front-runner (a label that, years of Oscar watching tells us, is worse than a scarlet A on your chest). I will reserve further judgment until I see it but let’s just say that that is the movie everyone is talking about.

People also gave warm welcomes to Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood for the movie about the miraculous landing in the Hudson River in 2009. I just saw the film and enjoyed it, but despite the festival organizers’ protestations to the contrary, it is clear that they picked this out of their longtime relationship with the film’s producer Frank Marshall, and for no other reason. The movie is pretty good, by the way (most movies with either Eastwood or Hanks are, after all). Still, it is impossible not to note that the first logo you see on screen is not A24 or Film Four, but Warner Bros. This is just not the normal pick here. That’s fine as far as it goes - the movie is an ode to human cooperation and resilience, to the idea that together we can achieve outcomes (think The Martian) - but let’s not kid ourselves that even the snotty Telluride festival people are beyond the reach of celebrity.

Other movies have debuted to acclaim as well, including the moving Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea (more on that one below). I’ve been hearing mixed things about many others, such as the boxing drama Bleed for This, and Bryan Cranston’s new film Wakefield.

Initial Reactions to Screenings

Aside from my thoughts about Sully, I’ll share quick reactions to the other three I’ve seen so far. The least liked has been Rooney Mara’s new movie Una, about a woman who has a disturbing infatuation for a man who abused her as a 13-year old girl. Mara is pretty good (I didn’t find her as moving as others have, though), but the film is overall uneven. It’s clearly based on a play and the staging of it is choppy and contrived, and some of the situations appear unrealistic or silly. The Telluride crowd, moreover, did not react well to it, with several walkouts during my screening.

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