With the triple whammy of the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, the awards season has kicked into high gear. Following it all is the Notes on a Season column, which returns on a regular basis to track the progress of the awards contenders to the stage of the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 22.
We just spent the Labor Day weekend in Telluride, Colo., where a handful of journalists and studio execs searched the festival, mostly in vain, for a movie with the kind of break-out Oscar and mega-box office potential that "Juno" exhibited when it premiered here last year.
"Juno's" distributor Fox Searchlight thinks it may have another winner in "Slumdog Millionaire," in which the indie just acquired a 50% stake from Warner Bros. Pictures and domestic rights to the defunct Warner Independent.
If the euphoric Telluride reaction to Danny Boyle's latest about a kid who finds big trouble and big bucks on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" is any indication, look for key critics group awards, Golden Globes, Oscar directing, screenplay adaptation, song and maybe even best picture nominations for the Hindu/English-language movie Warners didn't quite know what to do with. Because guess what? It just killed at all four of its packed showings at the mountain festival.
Boyle told us he is delighted that his frequent distributor of choice, Searchlight, has rescued the film just in time for a Thanksgiving release. The director was upset with the sound quality at Friday's initial screening but it was soon fixed for the subsequent showings and is now ripe for it's "official" world premiere Sunday in Toronto.
Actors make the scene, actresses are no-shows
Amid all the relatively obscure foreign films on display, Telluride '08 just may also be able to lay claim to showcasing several potential acting nominees, including Greg Kinnear, terrifically effective in Universal and Marc Abraham's underdog biopic, "Flash Of Genius"; Jeff Goldblum's tour-de-farce in Paul Schrader's surreal Holocaust drama, "Adam Resurrected" (if it finds a distributor in time); the irresistible Sally Hawkins in Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky"; and without a doubt, Kristin Scott Thomas' harrowing turn as a woman just released from a 15-year prison sentence in "I've Loved You So Long," the other unanimously praised entry at Telluride.
Although Kinnear and Goldblum made it to Telluride this year, Hawkins is suffering from a recent broken collarbone sustained on an Irish film set while preparing for a Broadway play. Thomas'
equally compelling co-star Elsa Zylberstein did appear with "I've Loved You So Long's" writer/director Phillipe Claudel. If there's any justice there could be a supporting nomination in Zylberstein's future.
Big-time movie stars may have been in short supply in person but at least one, Brad Pitt, made a sharp impression on screen in a 20-minute reel of short "scene-lets" from Paramount's upcoming Christmas release, "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button," which was shown in conjunction with an onstage tribute to its director, David Fincher.
Paramount Vantage pulled the same gambit last year, unveiling nearly half an hour of " There Will Be Blood" as part of a Daniel Day-Lewis tribute. It obviously worked then, so why not try again?
Fincher, who told us he was uncomfortable watching his cinematic life ("Seven," "Panic Room," "Zodiac" etc.) pass before his eyes, wanted the "Button" mini-clips simply to whet our appetites for the real film, which co-producer Kathleen Kennedy says should clock in around 2 hours and 45 minutes. Kennedy said it's been worth the wait to finally get all the elements in place that make the challenging story about a man who ages backward work as well as it does. Fincher mentioned it was Brad Grey who finally got this long-in-gestation epic going at Paramount.
Voracious movie bloggers, with a need to be first rather than right, took shots at the film over the weekend on the basis of the modest Telluride peek. They would be advised to hold their reviews a few months until the other 2 hours and 25 minutes can be seen.
Despite the doubters, one key studio honcho (and academy member) not connected with the film told us on the basis of what he saw and his personal knowledge of Eric Roth's ("Forrest Gump") script that he thinks "Benjamin Button" is easily the one to beat for best picture.
In addition to all the films, retrospectives and tributes, normally sedate Telluride seemed to have more parties than ever this year, and at every one people were starting to spread that inevitable early Oscar buzz.
Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall hosted an intimate Saturday cocktail soiree on their enormous take-your-breath-away solar-powered ranch (about 25 minutes outside of town) to celebrate house guest Fincher and "Benjamin Button" (which they co-produced). Distribution honchos and others roaming the plains were heard discussing some of the other big year-end contenders.
Of particular note was last week's surprise move by Harvey Weinstein to release "The Reader" in time for the 2008 race, confirmed to us by a Weinstein source. One insider said star Kate Winslet, who has "Revolutionary Road" also opening in December, and "Road's" producer Scott Rudin (who also has "Doubt" in December) won't be happy with the dicey prospect of competing against themselves. But as everyone knows, Weinstein is an Oscar addict and like all good junkies he can't help himself when he thinks he's got the goods. So look for "The Reader" to muddy the awards waters and make the race a lot more interesting.
Another party-goer was talking about the early Ain't It Cool News reports of positive sneak preview reaction to "Revolutionary Road,"
even though the film is far from finished with one scene still to be shot (!) and a lot of post-production work ahead.
This person who has seen the film in its current form says Winslet and her "Titanic" co-star Leonardo Di Caprio strike again. Winslet's husband and the film's director, Sam Mendes, had to move on to direct another film for DreamWorks ("This Must Be the Place") and is only now returning to finish "Road."
Among the companies throwing dinners for their filmmakers and some invited journalists were Miramax (for attendee Mike Leigh), Searchlight (for Danny Boyle), IFC and Sony Pictures Classics. Prime Telluride restaurant space is so valuable that Sony Classics' Michael Barker and Tom Bernard had to wait for the only two long tables while the LaMarmotte restaurant staff cleared out Jonathan Sehring's IFC early Saturday dinner party to make room.
Festival sponsor Starz also had a big bash, while ICM had a small gathering at president Chris Silbermann's Telluride pad (next to Tom Cruise's hidden fortress) on Sunday, attended by the "Adam Resurrected"
crowd and Telluride local (and " John Adams" Emmy nominee) Laura Linney that served as a precursor to the annual Filmmakers Dinner sponsored by Variety at a private residence which was packed at its 10 p.m. starting time and went until 3, keeping all the neighbors awake, no doubt.
The weekend ended for us Monday with a rare chance to see the classic 1928 silent, "The Last Command," accompanied by a brand-new live musical score by the incomparable Alloy Orchestra. "Command"
starred Emil Jannings in a riveting performance that became the first one ever to win a best actor Oscar in 1929.
Covering the bases from the first Oscar race to the latest, Telluride has -- as usual -- kicked things off in style.
NOTES ON A SEASON