Monday, September 7, 2015

Early buzz from Telluride and Venice gives preview of 2015 awards season

After a long summer movie season that was both exciting and exhausting, we have finally reached the 2015 awards season. We've already seen a few movies that could potentially play as Oscar contenders this year (Inside Out, The End of the Tour, Mad Max: Fury Road), but now, we're getting to the season where a new awards player drops every week. The Telluride and Venice Film Festivals kicked off the festival circuit right, with several big-ticket premieres and a lot of buzz for some big films. Some Sundance and Cannes favorites increased their momentum, while other films proved to be bona fide smash hits. Here's a quick breakdown of what went down at these two festivals and what the overall Oscar implications are for these films.

The 2015 Venice Film Festival opened with Everest, Baltasar Kormakur's real life disaster pic, which features an all-star cast led by Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington and more. While I think that it's clear now that Everest is not going to be an Oscar favorite, reviews from the Lido were still mostly positive. The film sits at 72% on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment, with solid scores from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Indiewire gave the film a "B+", while The Playlist and Time Out London each posted favorable notices. The Telegraph and The Wrap were noticeably less positive, and ultimately, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw was not a fan, giving the film 2/5 stars. But overall, Everest had a solid showing at Venice and is looking at some pretty decent box office success when it opens later this month.

Carol was a big hit at Cannes back in May and it continued its strong run at Telluride. This film has been crushing it at festivals and I assume that it will continue to do so until its December 18th release. Cannes hit Son of Saul also continued its festival run and I wouldn't be surprised to hear some foreign language film buzz for this one. And finally, before we get to all of the potential Oscar players that debuted, there was one film that hit it big at both festivals and that film was Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa. The stop-motion animation comedy received a 5/5 star rating from The Guardian and similarly strong praise from other trade magazines. It's safe to say that we'll be hearing quite a bit more about this one in the near future.

But now, let's move onto the Oscar race. While most of the awards vehicles received strong praise, there were a few that landed with a bit of a thud. Tom Hardy's gangster drama Legend still has a Toronto premiere ahead, but the response at Venice was noticeably muted. The Brian Helgeland-directed pic currently holds a 57 on Metacritic and a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with opinion split down the middle. Some, like Dave Kalhoun at Time Out London, were big fans of Hardy's brash performance, while others were less impressed. It's safe to say that this wasn't the home run I was hoping for. Sarah Gavron's Suffragette also failed to generate much traction at either festival, with a negative review from The Playlist and mixed ratings from Variety and The Guardian. However, there's still a lot of hope for this one, as some critics seemed to really dig it (Fred Topel at Crave Online heaped on the praise, calling it "This year's Selma"), but it'll need some strong momentum to overcome this initial reaction.

One of the hottest tickets at both Venice and Telluride this year was Scott Cooper's Black Mass, the gangster drama that chronicles the relationship between notorious gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and the FBI. And while the reaction to the film wasn't rapturous, Cooper's film still got some pretty solid buzz, especially for Depp. Variety called his performance "mesmerizing" in their very positive review, Screen International deemed his turn "broodingly psychotic" and The Wrap called it his "best dramatic performance since....Donnie Brasco." The film was generally well-liked, but nobody is deeming it a new gangster classic. Overall, it's likely that we'll be hearing much more about Depp's Bulger over the next 6 months.

Eddie Redmayne's performance in The Danish Girl was another highly-anticipated one, and from the early buzz, he didn't disappoint. The film stands at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a clean sweep of positive reviews from the three major trades. Variety's Peter DeBruge said that the film is "destined to be the year's most talked-about arthouse phenomenon" in what was certainly the film's most glowing review. It's unclear whether Redmayne has the potential to win a second-straight Oscar, but this was definitely a good start for the film.

There were four films that debuted at the initial fall festivals that I would consider to be breakout films. While not everybody loved Lenny Abrahamson's Room, the reaction has been pretty strong so far. Coming from indie distributor A24, it's unclear if Room will be able to pick up much awards traction, but "A-" reviews from Hitfix and Indiewire certainly will help. I can definitely see Brie Larson gaining some awards attention, but ultimately, it's all about how A24 markets this film- if it gets a big push, there could be some love thrown its way.

Tom McCarthy's journalism film Spotlight, which chronicles the tale of the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, was also a huge hit at both festivals, debuting to spectacular reviews. Critics praised Michael Keaton's performance in the film, stating that he might be able to gain some momentum after his well-received turn in Birdman last year. And while Keaton snagged a lot of the buzz, the film was a success too, receiving perfect scores from Hitfix and Time Out. With an early November release date, I have a feeling that this one is here to stay.

Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation landed with an emotional gutpunch at both festivals, shocking everybody with its raw intensity. The first major awards player to be released on Netflix, this one has the potential to be a game-changer for the industry, especially if audiences respond to it the way they did at the festivals. The Playlist gave the film an "A", Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called it "grim, grueling and gripping" and the overall consensus is that this is a tragic, must-see film. We'll see what Netflix does with it next month.

And finally, the biggest surprise of the Telluride lineup was that Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs would play at the festival. When it did play, the response was very, very strong. Alex Billington called it "one for the ages", while positive reviews flew in from all of the major sites. Michael Fassbender has now flown to the top of every Best Actor prediction list, and Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is probably up there as well. With a centerpiece debut at the New York Film Festival, Steve Jobs is in very good shape and is looking like a big contender come February.

That's it for the Telluride and Venice festivals, but don't worry, the festival season is far from over. The Toronto International Film Festival starts this weekend and we'll be bombarded by a ton of new films that will give us a much clearer picture of the Oscar race. But for now, these two festivals cleared things up and I'm very excited for the upcoming several months of films.

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