I came into this year's Telluride Film Festival feeling like the upcoming awards season looked a bit thin. I'll be leaving it excited for its potential and eager to see it take further shape. Seeing some of the films helps, yes, but there's also a context that begins to surface around this time, when strategies start clicking together and you can sense who has the goods, and who has a steep climb ahead of them.
TELLURIDE — "Birdman" has arrived stateside and made as significant an impact as it did at the Venice Film Festival last week. You won't run into too many people who have managed to catch it at one of its packed screenings who weren't completely blown away by the accomplishment, and for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, it was clearly a much-needed exercise in self-reflection away from the somber fray of his filmography to date.
VENICE — Director Ami Canaan Mann's country music romance "Jackie & Ryan" is a film that raises many questions. The first is: Christ, is that dirt on his hands or some singularly ill-advised finger tattoos? Yep, those are definitely finger tattoos. And not very good finger tattoos. But let's try not to be personally offensive or get too hung up on some really, really bad finger tattoos. The hands defaced by the finger tattoos (did I mention the finger tattoos? They're just awful) belong to Ben Barnes' country singer Ryan, whom we meet as he brews his morning pot of coffee on a goods train heading in the general direction of Ogden, Utah. These hands are soon revealed to be instrumental to turning the engine of the plot, such as it is - these hands play guitar, fix roofs and politely caress Katherine Heigl's single mom Jackie.
TELLURIDE — I didn't quite know what to say or think about Tommy Lee Jones' "The Homesman" after catching up with it Sunday afternoon, but I was pretty sure I loved it. Gorgeously shot by Rodrigo Prieto, lovingly scored by Marco Beltrami, enigmatically captured by Jones, the film almost becomes a series of vignettes at some point, dealing in western iconography in ways both familiar and foreign, truly a piece of work from the same voice that gave us "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada."
BEVERLY HILLS — Laika's "The Boxtrolls" saw its world premiere over the weekend at the Venice Film Festival, the third in a line of movies from the Portland-based animation studio that have aimed to push the medium at every step. Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable, the film is, like all Laika product, its own world, a dank, cockney yarn that, as ever, serves as a showcase for the company's craft prowess.
TELLURIDE — If you asked me to pick between the three commanding, sure-fire awards-contending lead actor performances on display at this year's Telluride Film Festival, I'd have a break down. Yet that's just what Academy voters will surely be asked to do in a few months' time, with added pressure in the form of whoever fills out the rest of the competitive category.
TELLURIDE — Mr. Stewart, if you read this article I believe the first few paragraphs may make you chuckle. Now, it's not because I'm a master wordsmith or unheralded comedic voice waiting to be discovered. No, after saying goodbye after our memorable interview on the patio of a Telluride restaurant Sunday afternoon, I turned and walked toward the street with my iPhone in hand. I'd stopped the recording of our chat and two choices appeared before me: delete or save. And, perhaps like a crazy person, I hit delete.
TELLURIDE — Actor Ethan Hawke is in the middle of a career high right now. In the space of a year he has been a part of two landmark films from director Richard Linklater, "Before Midnight" and "Boyhood," each of them the result of years and years of work exploring characters as they change across a wide spectrum of time. He has two films set to play the Venice Film Festival next week in Andrew Niccol's "Good Kill" and Michael Almereyda's "Cymbeline" and he's here in Telluride with his own directorial effort, an emotional documentary that is ostensibly a portrait of pianist Seymour Bernstein, but on a deeper level is an exploration by Hawke of finding satisfaction in one's art.
Some are already trying to figure out the "Birdman" backlash after the film dropped to raves in Venice, but sometimes the hype is justified, and make no mistake about it: Alejandro González Iñárritu's manic dissection of an artist desperate for fulfillment outside of commercial success is an out-and-out masterpiece.
VENICE — There's a piece of slang used on the website TV Tropes that regrettably applies to much of "The Cut." That word is "narm." Narm is defined as a moment that is supposed to be serious or tear-jerking, but due to poor execution becomes unintentionally funny. "The Cut" is unfortunately the narmiest drama I've seen at Venice.