Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt in "Inception"

Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt in "Inception" grossed an impressive $278 million domestically, but a massive $696 million globally.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Summer Box Office Hits and Misses Part II: 'Inception,' 'Eclipse' and 'Expendables'

Plus: 'Takers' defies all expectations

It wasn't a monster summer, but overall, every studio had their share of hits and misses.  Hollywood knew since June, however, it would be unlikely any picture would overtake Disney's blockbuster "Toy Story 3" to win the individual summer box office crown.  And to be frank, no other contenders came close to the animated adventure's $408 million domestic cume by the time the Labor Day weekend numbers were revealed.  Instead, three films passed the $240 million mark ("Eclipse," "Inception" and "Despicable Me"), while there were a number of surprise $100 million grossers.  

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Natalie Portman is a ballerina in the dramatic thriller "Black Swan"

Natalie Portman tries to fight off the influence of the "Black Swan" in Darren Aronofsky's startling new thriller.

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Telluride: Natalie Portman triumphs in Darren Aronofsky's riveting 'Black Swan'

Thriller has impressive twists and turns in a startling third act

Standing in line for the Telluride Film Festival screening for Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" today, I was introduced to a distribution exec from a major independent studio who was extremely curious about the new Fox Searchlight thriller.  It turns out his company had come "this close" to financing the film, but backed out because of concerns over the tone of the project.  If mishandled, the story of a young ballet dancer who begins to go through a bizarre psychological journey after winning the coveted lead role in "Swan Lake" could have become a campy mess.  The world behind the ballet curtain is not always subtle and as Aronofsky noted before the showing, he was surprised how hard it was to get the picture made after his success with "The Wrestler" as well as having Natalie Portman on board.  After the film's positive reception both in Venice and Telluride, a number of distributors may have wished they taken a chance on this potential classic.

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James Franco in Danny Boyle's 127 HOURS

James Franco as Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle's "127 Hours."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Telluride: Danny Boyle's '127 Hours' is a visceral and uplifting experience

James Franco pulls off the toughest role of his career

At first glance, the story of Aron Ralston is simply a tragedy.  In 2003, the 28-year-old Colorado mountain climber had to go to horrifying extremes to escape entrapment in a Utah canyon.  And yet as evidenced by his novel "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," Ralston's journey is really one of perseverance and, forgive the cliche, embracing life.  However, bringing the tale to the big screen seemed arduous at best.  How do you convey one man's immovable plight stuck between rocks for over five days without losing your audience?  Enter director Danny Boyle.

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Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in Oscar contender "The King's Speech."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Telluride: 'The King's Speech's' Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush talk their way into Oscar contention

Plus: Could that be Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mum?

There are Oscar bait roles that work and lord, there are Oscar bait roles that are embarrassingly bad.  Playing someone with a handicap has always moved the Academy and usually audiences, but for an actor looking for a challenging part, even the greatest thespians can fall flat on their face.  For every Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot" there are a number of unfortunate turns that will easily come to the top of your head (Ben Stiller did a wonderful job mocking them in "Tropic Thunder").  What's so impressive about Colin Firth's turn in the new Tom Hooper drama "The King's Speech" is how a role that could have gone very, very wrong, may arguably be the best performances of his career.  

Unbeknownst to most Americans at least, King George VII of England (known as Prince Albert before he took the throne), the father of the current Queen Elizabeth II and the nation's ruler during WWII, had a major speech impediment.  To put it bluntly, he was such a stutterer that as Prince Albert (he changed his name upon assuming the throne), he avoided as many public speeches as possible.  And, while much of the British populace knew about his problems, it was kept as historically quiet as possible.  Similar to the lack of images or newsreels of a wheelchair stricken President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the same era -- you just never saw evidence of the handicap.  "The King's Speech" focuses on how the dramatic events leading up to the abdication of the throne by Albert's brother, King Edward VII (Guy Pearce) , forced him to use unconventional methods to overcome his stutter.  And, how he was able to do so in a major speech at the dawn of the British being forced to enter WWII.  How he accomplished this breakthrough was through a remarkable friendship with an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

The other great performance in "Speech" belongs to Rush, the former Oscar-winner who is,  sadly, best known to most moviegoers for his role in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" (not that we aren't thrilled Captain Barbosa is returning for a fourth go around).  But since coming onto the global cinematic scene with "Shine," Rush has been consistently excellent in films such as "Elizabeth," "The Quills," "The Tailor of Panama" and the largely unseen "Swimming Upstream."  For some reason, he just hasn't reached the stature of some of his British peers in the media (your guess is as good as mine).  As Logue, Rush is playing a quirky man ahead of his time who uses counseling techniques to reach the core of Albert's problems.  In many ways, because of Albert's impediment Rush's performance is central to keeping the audience engaged to our hero's pligh.  The Aussie is not only charismatic when needed, but makes the audience believe Logue's intentions are honorable.  This isn't a man trying to latch himself on to the aristocracy, he truly grows into a friend of the future King's.

As for the third major role in the film, it spawns one of the more unintentionally exciting moments in the film.  Set in the first five minutes of the drama, Albert has been charged with delivering a major speech at the closing of a global exhibition in London in 1925.  He can barely make it through -- which hints at the film's initial conceit, his stutter - but it's the actress standing next to him playing his wife that's so surprising.  It's none other than Helena Bonham Carter.   What's so thrilling about the revelation is that she's not wearing an ape costume, looks like a crazy witch (or actually playing an evil witch) or yet another Burton-esque character which might find her head three times the size of her body.  Clearly, Carter has been captivating in many of her more fantastical roles over the past decade or so, but there's something exciting about seeing her play a real person again (as real as a royal figure can ever be).  And as the mother of the current Queen Elizabeth II (ie, the last Queen Mum who died in 2002 at the age of 101), Carter's role is key to assuring a beaten down Albert he can rule a nation on the brink of war.

Hopper, who directed last year's critically acclaimed "The Damned United" and has become an HBO regular with "Longford" and stints on "John Adams" and "Elizabeth I," does fine work with a story that is confined at times to extended sequences at Logue's office.  Instead, he picks up the pace when necessary and assists Firth in purposely editing Albert's stutters to the bare minimum.  He's one filmmaker who deserves more accolades for an increasingly impressive resume after this one.

The film's only flaw, and its a slight one, is the depiction of King Edward VII and Wallis Simpson.  Edward is portrayed almost one note as a selfish, willowing and whipped boy to the twice-divorced American socialite.  The film take the point of view that their love wasn't real (at least on Simpson's part) and that she was overtly disrespectful of the British Empire (although thankfully it has little to do with her Yankee origins).  Now, I'm no expert on this part of the Monarchy's history, but this is a couple that were married for 35 years until Edward's death.  And to many, it was the greatest love story of the 20th Century.  There's got to be some real love in that relationship, don't you think?  

Make no mistake though, overall  "The King's Speech" is one of The Weinstein Company's strongest awards season contenders in quite some time.  Whether it can lock down a best picture nod is unclear, but its absolutely in the race just as "An Education" was a year ago at this time. As for Rush and Firth, it would be shocking if one of them isn't awarded another Oscar nod.  The duo are that good.  It's also worth noting Hooper is assisted by an excellent production design team made up of production designer Eve Stewart and art director Netty Chapman.

"The King's Speech" opens in limited release on Nov. 26.

Look for continuing coverage from both the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals on HitFix and Awards Campaign.  Get the latest scoop and buzz from all the premiere screenings and buzz by following @HitFixGregory on Twitter.

Errol Morris new documentary TABLOID

The amazing subject of Errol Morris' new documentary "Tabloid."

Credit: Errol Morris

Telluride: 'Tabloid' is simply a great shocker doc

Plus: 'Chico and Rita' animate jazz and Bill Plympton's fantastic new short

Three quick roundups on other films that debuted at the 2010 Telluride Film Festival today, Errol Morris' "Tabloid," Fernando Trueba's "Chico and Rita" and Bill Blympton's "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger."

The problem with revealing the magic about Errol Morris' great new documentary is that if you say too much it spoils all the fun.  Plus, many details on the film's subject can be found online which really only makes matters worse.  Needless to say, Morris warned everyone in attendance at the late night premiere that he was worried that while everything in the film is true, audiences still wouldn't believe it.  After much laughter and a strong ovation at the end, he shouldn't have worried.  Keep your fingers crossed a strong and smart distributor picks this one up soon.  It deserves to be seen.

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Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan in NEVER LET ME GO

Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan are the best part of "Never Let Me Go."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Telluride: Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield try to make you care for 'Never Let Me Go'

More of the 'auteur' Mark Romanek could have helped this drama

There is a great idea for a movie in Kazuo Ishiguro's acclaimed novel "Never Let Me Go," but its not apparent in the new film from director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland.  Debuting at the 2010 Telluride Film Festival on opening night, "Never" features hard earned performances by Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, but seems like a tough sell in the early fall movie season.  It also faces a rocky road as an awards contender, but the film's early Sept. 15 release should have been the first hint something was amiss.

Set in what is never identified but is a world with an alternate history to our own, the picture begins with a title card telling the audience that the breakthrough began in 1952.  And by 1967, the average lifespan was now 100 years.  We are quickly introduced to three young students at the English boarding school Hailsham: Cathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley).  The trio form a love triangle that complicates they're true purpose in life: to be farmed as human organ donors.  The students at Hailsham are part of a National Donor Program and are actually clones of other people (who exactly are never revealed).  As they grow up, Tommy and Ruth become a "couple" as they prepare for their time to become donors (it appears to be around the age of 26-28).  The Sci-Fi elements of the tale are largely overshadowed for the film's real drama is whether the unrequited love between Cathy H and Tommy will ever reach fruition before what we assume is impending death for all.

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Tamara Drewe stars Gemma Arterton and Dominic Cooper

Gemma Arterton and Dominic Cooper in a romantic scene (really) from Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe."

Credit: Sony Classics

Telluride: All eyes are on Gemma Arterton in entertaining 'Tamara Drewe'

Plus: Thoughts on Charles Ferguson's impressive 'Inside Job'

The Telluride Film Festival kicked off Friday with a number of films that had already screened at this year's Cannes Film Festival.  Two of them were Sony Classics' titles: "Tamara Drewe" and Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job."

One of the biggest revelations after watching the incredibly entertaining "Drewe" is just how much Stephen Frears has become one of my favorite directors.  After the "Dangerous Liasons" and "The Grifters" helmer had a few unfortunate missteps in the mid-90s ("Hero," "Mary Reilly"), Frears has been on something of a renaissance recently with "The Queen," the incredibly underrated "Cheri" (don't get me started) and, now, "Tamara Drewe." 

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Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones and Djimon Hounsou in Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST

Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones and Djimon Hounsou in Julie Taymor's "The Tempest."

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

Exclusive: Helen Mirren and Djimon Hounsou face off in new 'Tempest' image

Julie Taymor's latest take on Shakespeare closes the Venice Film Festival

The Venice Film Festival is in full swing and Telluride will begin tomorrow, but one film this writer is incredibly intrigued by is Julie Taymor's "The Tempest." 

Debuting on Sept. 11 as the closing night selection at Venice and then screening at both the Toronto and the New York Film Festivals, The visionary who transformed "The Lion King" for the stage has once again put her own unique stamp on a Shakespeare play.  The filmmaker cinematic debut was the underrated "Titus" which arguably features one of Anthony Hopkins finest performances and a truly devilish intensity throughout.  Now, she's playing with the Bard of Avon's "Tempest" by making the play's lead character, the revenge minded Prospero, a woman. Helen Mirren plays the sorcerer/witch and is joined by Russell Brand, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper, David Srathairn, Ben Whishaw, Alfred Molina and Felicity Jones.

Walt Disney Studios is releasing the prestige player under their Touchstone label and has provided Awards Campaign with a new, exclusive photo from the film.  The striking image finds Prospero protecting her daughter (Jones) from a ready to pounce Caliban (Hounsou).  Check out the image below and share your thoughts.

"The Tempest" is expected to open in limited release on Dec. 10.

Look for coverage from both the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals on HitFix and Awards Campaign beginning Friday.  Get the latest scoop and buzz from all the premiere screenings by following @HitFixGregory on Twitter.

Helen Mirren Felicity Jones and Djimon Hounsou in an exclusive image from Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST

<p>The stars of 'Never Let Me Go'</p>

The stars of 'Never Let Me Go'

'Never Let Me Go,' 'King's Speech' and Ken Burns' 'Tenth Inning' headline Telluride 2010 premieres

Awards contenders 'Another Year,' 'Biutiful' and 'The Illusionist' also on deck
The 37th Annual Telluride Film Festival announced a good portion of its lineup this morning on the eve of the annual awards season kick off event.
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Gemma Arterton in Tamara Drewe

Could "Tamara Drewe" benefit from the new 10 best picture nominee system this year?

Credit: Sony Classics

Sony Classics' Tom Bernard says the 10 nominee system is 'tremendous'

A look at the state of the indie distribution game from a legendary player

As the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals begin, a few companies are beginning to showcase their premier releases for the rest of the year.  One of those distributors who is a mainstay at both festivals is Sony Classics.  A mini-major with arguably the best track record critically and financially in the business (although Fox Searchlight might  have a good argument over the past five years), Classics has a number of intriguing titles on the festival circuit that are hitting theaters soon including Woody Allen's "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger," Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe" and Charles Ferguson's documentary "Inside Job."  

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