It was a beautiful weekend in the Rockies for film stars and fans to gather in Telluride, Colorado for the 46th film festival. As one of the biggest and most influential film festivals in the world, playing at Telluride means automatic Oscar consideration & first impressions are of the utmost importance.
I had the chance to attend Telluride Film Festival this year, so let’s break down the films and see how they stack up this awards season.
1. UNCUT GEMS (in theaters Dec. 25, 2019)
STARRING: Adam Sandler, LaKeith Stanfeild, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel
This is a film that’s likely going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Audiences will be strongly divided about this one, likely to either love everything it was going for or loathe the film entirely. Adam Sandler plays a fowl-mouthed, scheming New York jewelry store owner who is constantly on the lookout for his next cashgrab stunt. When he gets his hands on a rare Ethiopian opal, he’s launched into a series of high-stakes hustles that put him at an intersection of conflict between friends, family, and foes.
It’s a strong premise, but personally I found the script to be a little thin on plot, a little heavy on gratuitous moments, and a little weak in terms of character development. It’s not perfect, but I’ve certainly seen worse.
2. JUDY (in theaters Sept. 27, 2019)
STARRRING: Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock, Jessie Buckley
Renée Zellweger shines as the late Judy Garland in this biopic about the star’s later years, during which she suffered from depression, drug & alcohol addiction, and a hoard of other problems while trying to maintain her appearance as America’s Golden Girl while on residency in London.
The strength of this film comes from the directing, cinematography, and performance from Zellweger. It’s an equally stunning and sad portrayal of one of the greatest entertainers of the last century, and the film captures the dismal artificiality of Garland’s life. The thing that keeps this from a higher score for me was the limited scope of the narrative — while I was engaged for the duration of the film, the story takes place over just a few months out of Garland’s long & trying life, and I would have liked to see a more encompassing portrait of her.
3. PAIN & GLORY (in theaters Oct. 4, 2019)
Antonio Banderas won the 2019 Cannes award for Best Actor for his role in Pain & Glory.
STARRING: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz
Acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar recreates a heart-tugging tale bred from his own experiences about an aging filmmaker on the back end of his success, desperate for a spark of inspiration that will return him to his art. Art, in its many forms, plays a key role in this film, acting as both a plot point and a set dressing. Not only does the story muse about art, the film is art, with a beautiful, colorful visual style that will make you want to jump on the next plane to Madrid.
It’s a fine little story, a Film with a capital F, so if you’re into movies about movies and art about art, you’ll really enjoy this. And as with most films about Art with a capital A, expect some drug use, mental illness, repressed sexuality, and unrequited love.
4. MARRIAGE STORY (on Netflix Dec. 6, 2019)
STARRING: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern
This deeply honest, ironically titled film follows a young couple as they navigate their divorce from each other. Amicable though they intend to be, reality and desperation set in as they realize that they can’t both get what they want — namely, their young son.
This is an emotional gut-punch of a movie, and believe me, they pull no punches. It will surely resonate with anyone who has ever been through a divorce, and really anyone who has ever been in a relationship. But even while it seems very sad on the surface, the film is packed full of humor, keeping audiences constantly hung between tears of laughter and sorrow. It’s superbly acted, entertaining, and unique. I enjoyed every second of it. It does stumble in a few places, keeping it from that perfect A+ score, but not too bad and never for long.
5. THE REPORT (on Amazon Nov. 15, 2019)
STARRING: Adam Driver, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Morrison
Based on true events, The Report follows FBI agent Daniel Jones (Driver) as he attempts to prove that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA against prisoners held under suspicion of connection to 9/11 and the Al Qaeda terrorist organization were in violation of the United Nations torture stance.
As with many films of this kind, what you think it will be is exactly what it is. It’s a lot of names and information, but if you can follow it it does a good job of keeping your attention. It uses flashbacks to help dramatize some of the more mundane bits (as really all that Jones did was sift through thousands of classified CIA files), and it gets in its excitement where it can. There’s solid performances all around, it’s an interesting topic, and it does its best to convey need-to-know information without overloading, but it loses points for me because the story isn’t presented in any new or innovative way and it doesn’t hold a lot of tension because, well, if the report didn’t get out there wouldn’t be a movie on it.
6. THE AERONAUTS (on Amazon Dec. 6, 2019)
STARRING: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
A high-flying historical drama wrapped in a bright visual style, The Aeronauts follows early 20th century scientist James Glashier and eccentric adventure-seeker Amelia Wren as they attempt to break the world record for highest hot air balloon expedition. But venture quickly turns into a fight for survival after the balloon gets caught in a nasty storm.
It’s a perfectly watchable film with nothing terribly wrong with it, but its familiar plot structure and story beats keep it from being truly spectacular. The use of flashbacks killed the tension for me, and while Jones’ character is interesting, Redmayne’s falls flat.
7. LYREBIRD (in theaters Sept. 11, 2019)
Ridley Scott produces this period drama inspired by true events. Source: Imperative Entertainment.
STARRING: Claes Bang, Guy Pearce, Vicky Krieps
Part mystery, part courtroom drama, this film tells the true story of Han van Meegeren — a Dutch artist accused of selling a very precious Vermeer painting to Nazi leaders. The truth of his crime, and of this film, however, is not so simple.
While watching this film, in the first half I already had my mind made up about the score I would give it: B-, only scraping above a C because of the beautiful direction and Guy Pearce’s electric performance. But then the third act hits and the score improves significantly. It is a really engaging finale that had me sitting up in my seat and eager for more. Unfortunately, it takes a long and admittedly confusing route to its satisfying end, but I do think the ending is a worthy payoff for the watch. If you can get to it, the ending definitely does not disappoint.
8. WAVES (in theaters Nov. 1, 2019)
STARRING: Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Lucas Hedges
It was only a matter of time before we reached a film I disliked on this list. I’ll be interested to see whether I’m in the minority or the majority here, but I really disliked Waves. The premise of this film was “A suburban African-American family – led by a well-intentioned, but domineering father – navigate love, forgiveness, and coming together in the aftermath of a loss,” and I found almost none of that to be true. They are an African-American family. That’s it.
I had a lot of problems with Waves (obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have given it such a low score), but my main issue was the extreme melodrama that seemed to come from no motivation. It wants you to believe that this is a grand and poignant story, but at its heart it’s an overcooked teen drama. It hits all of the same exhausted beats of a teen drama, but seems to think its message (whatever in fact that is) is much more universal and profound. It’s not.
9. PARASITE (in select theaters Oct. 11, 2019)
STARRING: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee
Dripping with irony, humor, and just a little bit of blood, this Korean dark comedy/thriller is a stand out this awards season. When a young boy from a dirt-broke yet cunning family is offered the opportunity to tutor the daughter of rich yet gullible suburbanites, he thinks up a brilliant, diabolical plan to get his whole clan in on the cashflow, at the quite literal expense of the wealthy Park family. This creative idea comes from the mind of director Joon-ho Bong, who penned the script as well.
Lots of critics have called this film a masterpiece of utter perfection, and while I wouldn’t quite go that far, I’d definitely recommend checking this out. It’s absolutely bonkers at times, but so clever, hilarious, and powerful at others. What keeps this from a perfect score for me is the second half of the film, which Bong stated was not originally part of the idea for the film. It’s pretty clear when you watch that the second half was developed much later than the first half, with the later being the superior of the two. I really enjoyed the humor and social commentary in this film, and I think it was at its strongest when it was conveying a message about the imbalance of status and wealth. It still hits when it’s going for shock, but I’ve always been more for substance than style.
There were a few films in the Telluride lineup that I didn’t catch (MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, FORD V. FERRARI, TWO POPES, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE), but of the ones I did see, my festival favorites were Marriage Story and Parasite.
TELL US: Which of these films are you most excited to see?