Now that the summer movie season has officially come to a record-breaking close, the film industry turns its attention to the fall festival circuit. Ahead of Thursday’s opening of the Toronto International Film Festival comes the Telluride Film Festival, which wrapped up yesterday, and the Venice Film Festival, which opened on Aug. 28 and runs through Sept. 7. All three festivals traditionally screen a variety of Oscar hopefuls and this year is no different.
Due to it’s remote location deep in Colorado’s San Juan mountain range, the Telluride Film Festival is often compared to Sundance, though it’s much more intimate and quirky. Each year, organizers wait until the day before the festival starts to announce the lineup of the films it will be screening and this year’s list included several expected to vie for the award season’s top honors.
The kidnapping drama “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal was a surprise addition to the festival and rocketed into the Oscar discussion thanks to strong critical praise. Fittingly, “Up in the Air” and “Juno” director Jason Reitman premiered his upcoming film “Labor Day” over the weekend. And offscreen drama ensued on Sunday when a plane crash-landed at the Telluride airport with members of the team behind “Salinger” onboard. The Weinstein Company’s highly anticipated documentary on the notoriously reclusive author J.D. Salinger received strong reviews at it’s Telluride premier.
In keeping with tradition, the festival also held tributes to masters of the medium. The first of this year’s honorees was Robert Redford, who was awarded the festival’s Silver Medallion by surprise guest Ralph Fiennes. The tribute coincided with a screening of Redford’s newest film “All is Lost,” about a man struggling for survival after his boat strikes a shipping container and springs a leak. Although his attention has largely shifted toward directing, “All is Lost” marks a return to the screen for the 76-year-old actor, who is drawing praise for his largely dialogue-free performance.
The other tribute went to the Coen Brothers and their longtime musical collaborator T-Bone Burnett. Making a rare public appearance, the Oscar-winning directors of cult favorites like “The Big Lebowski,” “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” and “Raising Arizona” said they’re currently working on a script about an Opera singer, though Joel Coen urged caution by saying that “you always hesitate to mention these things when you are in the middle of them, because sometimes they just go in a drawer and never surface again, and then people ask 'whatever happened to that thing' for the next 20 years." Their upcoming film about New York’s folk scene “Inside Llewyn Davis” also screened at the festival.
Meanwhile, over in Venice, early buzz has centered around the rapturous reception of director Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” which also screened in Telluride. Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, “Gravity” centers on a pair of astronauts who become stranded in orbit after debris hits their space station.
Stephen Frears’ “Philomena” has also received strong notices in Venice, along with Cannes, where it was picked up for American distribution by The Weinstein Company. Starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, it’s about an Irish woman who enlists a former journalist to help her try to reconnect with a son she had given up for adoption.
The film “Tracks,” based on the autobiography of a woman who attempts to overcome a series of personal tragedies by trekking solo through the Australian desert, played at both Telluride and Venice and has since been picked up by, you guessed it, The Weinstein Company, and “Locke,” starring Tom Hardy, had it’s first public screening to rave reviews. Even Nicolas Cage (!?) got in on the critical plaudits for his work in David Gordon Green’s “Joe.”
With many of these movies, and about 280 others, scheduled to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, there will be plenty of other opportunities for critics to tab early leaders in next year's Academy Award race. In the meantime, audiences from Colorado to Italy have been able to enjoy a juicy helping of films blessedly free of the teen-targeted fare that dominates multiplexes in the summer months.