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Telluride Film Festival: Day 1

By J. Don Birnam

September 5, 2017

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Last night, in the middle of the pristine Colorado Mountains, the Telluride Film Festival made its debut in its 44th incarnation. The celebration of film promised to draw together fans of film old and new alike, and features a blockbuster lineup that includes world premieres like Joe Wright’s Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, as well as revivals of a Francis Ford Coppola film from 1984 (The Cotton Club), and rediscovery of classic cinema like The Umbrellas at Cherbourg.

What does it all mean for the nascent Oscar race? We know that the Venice Film Festival had some buzz for Alexander Payne’s Downsizing and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Will the buzz they generated there translate stateside? And who else is making a splash? Don’t forget to follow here for live coverage of these festivals and on social media at Twitter: @jdonbirnam and Instagram: @awards_predix

“Downsizing”: An Iffy Oscar Vehicle

Alexander Payne’s dramedy about an overpopulated world in which humans decide to shrink themselves to save the planet, Downsizing, played well in Venice and also yesterday afternoon to kick off Telluride, but it got decidedly mixed reactions. I myself was not enamored, though I’m never a fan of his work. The film stars Matt Damon as he navigates life as a little person. The concept is clever and even amusing at first, but as soon as the twist gets old, there is little left to say, try as Payne might.


He tries to make it about life, about humanity, about not losing hope, about counting your blessings even when the world may seem dark, and about the humanitarian impulse of some in the face of adversity. If the list seems long, that’s because it is. The movie ambles on from point to point without ever sticking one theme to explore more profoundly. There are two very strong supporting performances, one by Christoph Waltz as Damon’s aging, circuit party neighbor, and another by newcomer Hong Chau, as a Vietnamese dissident shrunk against her will who ends up in Damon’s small people community. She is generating Oscar buzz, but even with her, I found the performance a bit over the top at times.

Still, it would be unfair to not recognize that while the Academy has never gone whole hog in for Payne, there is enough love for him that his work always seems to get a least a few spots, with Nebraska and The Descendants (not to mention Sideways) all garnering Best Picture nods.

Oscar potential: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Score, Best Supporting Actor (Waltz), Best Supporting Actress (Hong Chau), Best Art Direction.

“Darkest Hour”: Gary Oldman’s Time

Meanwhile, the Gary Oldman Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, made its world premiere here, and Best Actor is definitely the word for Oldman, finally, after an illustrious career. By Atonement director Joe Wright, the movie follows Churchill during just a four-week period in which he takes the reins of the U.K. at a time when the Nazis are finalizing their conquest of Western Europe. The movie is more about Churchill and his battles with internal political enemies than anything else, but it deftly shows how he transforms himself slowly from divisive and even an unpopular figure to the unquestionable leader he was.

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