I happened upon a nine year-old interview on NPR yesterday in which Scott Simon was asking a film critic about one of the primary distinctions of the Telluride Film Festival—the fact that attendees show up based on sheer faith, lacking any knowledge of the program until the festival begins. And even then there are daily surprises over the course of the festival.
Each year, Telluride’s founders carefully choose films for the festival’s line up and while not explicitly stated, there are some underlying themes that tie together the annual collection of movies. I’d say with great certainty, that like the festival itself, one of the primary themes this year was that of faith. Faith that the work, the journey, the effort will get you home again or at least to a better place. Whether it is a musician trying to make it big, an elderly man on an existential quest or a woman orbiting her broken life, this year’s movie collection was about finding a way back or at least a way forward.
Below are short descriptions with links to trailers of each film we saw (consult this year’s program for the complete list) to help guide your fall/winter movie-going. Of course, my taste is not yours and movies, like any form of art, are highly personal. So instead of providing some long (snore) review, I took a stab at giving you a simple reason why you may (or may not) want to see each movie, followed by a brief synopsis. And let me be bold enough to suggest you walk in to one or two of these with very little information, but a whole lot of faith in the choice you’ve made. Whatever the hell that means.
Why you should see it…
Because it’s outstanding: Twelve Years a Slave—A powerful and compelling true story about a free black man living with his family in New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s. This movie is incredibly well-acted, yet graphic–but as Steve McQueen (the director) said, ‘Until this point, most stories of slavery have been sanitized or satirized.’ I am certain this will win the Best Picture Oscar and will garner several other nominations, including Best Actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor (who was also in Dirty Pretty Things—another great movie). It is an incredibly important movie about our history—not easy to watch, yet captivating all at the same time.
Because this is life. Maybe even yours: Nebraska—On the surface, Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, The Descendants) has directed a movie about an older man who is on a quest to claim a million dollar sweepstakes prize that his family and the audience know is a scam. Beneath the surface, it’s a movie about life’s choices—the large existential questions and the smaller, more mundane decisions that may have a larger impact than you think. It’s a movie that really does touch every emotion—you will likely laugh a lot and cry just a bit and experience everything in between. It’s so beautifully shot and acted—Bruce Dern will give Chiwetel Ejiofor a run for his money for best actor and it will definitely get a best picture nomination.
Because you want a sure thing. Tim’s Vermeer—This was the ‘breakout’ hit of the festival. It’s the first full length feature documentary by Penn & Teller and it follows the story of a (non-artist) friend of theirs who sets out to paint a Vermeer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Vermeer. Is it a movie about art? Sort of. Is it a movie about science? Kind of. Is it a movie where you are immediately rooting for the protagonist? Absolutely. It’s a compelling, enjoyable and fascinating film that may not sound interesting on paper (or on canvas), but is such a well told story. It’s truly a sure thing for anyone in any mood or with any taste in movies. Total win.
Because you like music, but not musicals. Or maybe you just want to see Justin Timberlake in an un-ironic turtleneck: Inside Llewyn Davis—This is now my favorite Coen Brother’s movie (note: I am not a huge Coen Brother’s fan, but I loved this one). It follows a fictional, albeit based on a Real Somebody, folk singer trying to make it big in the early ‘60’s (barely pre-Dylan). It’s a small film that feels at times like a documentary without all the direct eye contact interviews and hand-held camera work. The performances, both acting and singing, are outstanding with some fun cameos thrown in. Every moment of this movie was a pleasure, even if the main character isn’t himself such a good time.
Because it’s hot and sticky sweet. And tense. So very tense. Labor Day—This is the first adapted screenplay by Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), based on Joyce Maynard’s book by the same name. Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet find themselves in a sticky (at one point, literally) situation over the course of Labor Day weekend. Reitman said he wanted to capture the emotion he felt through reading the book, so it’s a precise adaptation of the story. I wouldn’t call this a chick flick, nor would I call it a thriller, but it has elements of many genres. It’s a story that is at once really simple and really complicated. In another director’s hands, I may have been less captivated, but given his sort of Hitchcock meets romance approach, I’d call it a winner.
Because you made someone watch one too many rom coms and now it’s payback time. Prisoners—This is a movie I would never see in the theater because it is a tense thriller/whodunit, a la Seven or Zodiac. It is supremely acted by Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard, Jake Gyllenhal and Paul Dano. We were both on the edges of our seats the entire movie and it’s relatively unpredictable, making it engaging the entire way through. I was glad we saw it during the day, but maybe I’m more of a wimp than the rest of you. If you like tense well-acted, well-written head-scratchers, this one’s for you.
Because any well-told story is better told when it takes place in France. The Past—A sweet story by the same director who did A Separation, which won Best Foreign Language film last year. It’s about a couple in France finalizing their divorce and a misunderstanding that involves New Boyfriend, Ex-Step Daughter, New Stepson, Wife in Coma and sundry other characters. It was a pleasure to watch, as the writing and acting was very good. It’s one that immediately reels you in, no matter your mood or your taste. You know, assuming you’re okay reading your movies.
Because any well-told story is better told in France, but only when it is less than three hours long. (too bad that’s not the case with this one). Blue is the Warmest Color—Winner of the Palm d ’Or at Cannes this year, this is a coming of age movie about a high school girl who falls in love for the first time. It is immediately compelling, well-acted and written. There has been a lot of controversy regarding some graphic and long (so very long) sex scenes, which we only judged due to the film’s three hour length. If the director shortens it, I’d feel better about recommending it.
Because you love special effects and hate good dialogue. Gravity—You will hear a lot of hype about this Sandra Bullock/George Clooney movie and it will most certainly get Best Picture and Best Actress nominations. Hearing the director and screenwriter talk about how it was made, one can’t help but have an incredible amount of respect for the process. I’ll also say that the effects and use of 3D are spot on. But we found the dialogue increasingly ridiculous and despite expecting a lack of reality, the plot quickly moved from plausible to unwatchable.
It is easy to spend days upon days embedded in a beautiful place and immersed in watching other peoples’ lives. But I can say with great certainty that spending another glorious long weekend in that sweet mountain town only further validated that there is no life represented on screen that is nearly as remarkable as my own. And I have a whole lot of faith that it will just keep getting better.