45th Annual Telluride Film Festival: A Preview for What Could Head to the Oscars

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It’s hard to believe that another year has passed, but here we are again, at the precipice of the 2018 award’s season. As September swiftly approaches, Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York (among others) will launch their fantastic film festivals and begin to paint the picture of the race – molding the films, performances, and crafts that will have us fine-tuning our predictions and debating our claims for the next several months. There will be alterations in the race as smear campaigns are plotted behind closed doors. We will all lay witness to the ebb and flow of who and what the internet determines the front-runner as one would catch the rise and fall of the tide. Proclamations will be made. People will talk in absolutes. And we will all be at each other’s throats as we pick which pony to back in the often contentious race.

It’s a great time to be alive!

For those new to/unfamiliar with the Oscar race, you might read this introduction and run straight for the hills. However, for those who live and breathe this marathon as we do, you completely understand how exciting and barbarous the pursuit of gold is. While most of you head for the hills above, I’ll be venturing to an even higher elevation – the San Juan Mountains of Telluride, Colorado – to cover the 45th Telluride Film Festival. It is my fourth consecutive year covering the fest for this site, something that still feels like a dream to me.

The festival begins one month from the time I write this preview, running Friday, August 31 through Monday, September 3. Unlike most festivals, Telluride keeps their slate of films a secret up until the proverbial last minute, which is both thrilling and sadistic. This unique approach leaves us with plenty of time to speculate on what might play at this crucial stop on the awards circuit (no film has won Best Picture without playing at Telluride since 2007 – “No Country for Old Men”). With an itinerary shrouded in mystery, assumptions are often made by reading the tea leaves of your local teahouse’s Earl Grey (with extra bergamot, of course). For others, simply paying attention to the verbiage used by Venice, Toronto, and New York in their festival lineup announcement can be very telling. So, for example, if Toronto uses the phrase “North American Premiere” in front of a film, it won’t be coming to Telluride. If they just announce the film with no accompaniment, then you can pretty much guess it’s world/North American premiere will be with us in Colorado.

One might also make assumptions based on film studios and directors who often take their films to Telluride. But this is traditionally a more wicked game to play, see: Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” which will make its first stop at Toronto. Before this announcement, Jenkins’ film would have been the safest bet for Telluride, given his long relationship with the festival and the success “Moonlight” achieved following its world premiere there. The excitement to predict what might or might not show is part of the fun of Telluride. So much so, in fact, that festival-buddy of mine, Michael Patterson, dedicates his entire site to forecasting the slate. He’s the best there is at this game, in my opinion, so definitely check him out for the latest on Telluride rumors and buzz.


Great! So let’s do some speculatin’.

10 Films We Think Might Play at Telluride


Film: “Roma” (Netflix)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Yalitza Aparico and Marina de Tavira
Synopsis: A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

Additional Thoughts: The verbiage in the Toronto and New York Festival press release signifies a North American premiere before, which leaves Telluride as the most likely landing spot. For the rest of the films on this list that involve this same explanation, I will just say “Toronto/New York verbiage,” because, well, you get it at this point.

Cuaron’s Spanish-language film is backed by Netflix, who has been working to breakthrough into the Oscar game for several years. It is playing first at Venice, and then later at Toronto and New York, touching all bases on the festival circuit. “Roma” should be an interesting option to check-out due to the credentials of its Oscar-winning director (“Gravity”), despite the lack of star-power on screen.

firstmanFilm: “First Man” (Universal Pictures)

Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Ciaran Hinds, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ethan Embry, and Lukas Haas
Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Additional Thoughts: “La La Land” found great success here – including tying the Academy Award record of 14 total nominations, and bringing Chazelle the Oscar for Best Director. “La La Land” was the opening-night film in Venice, something that “First Man” will duplicate this year.

Fox Searchlight

Film: “The Old Man & the Gun” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Directed by: David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissey Spacek, Elisabeth Moss, John David Washington, Danny Glover, and Tike Sumpter
Synopsis: Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public.

Additional Thoughts: Toronto verbiage. Also seems like a traditional film for Telluride – the type of film that could use the early festival buzz to garner later nominations for its lead actor, and more.

the frontrunner hugh jackmanFilm: “The Front Runner” (Sony Pictures)

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, and J.K. Simmons
Synopsis: American Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1988 is derailed when he’s caught in a scandalous love affair.

Additional Thoughts: Toronto verbiage lists the film as an international premiere, which means there is a high possibility “The Front Runner” will land in the mountains. Reitman’s “Juno” and “Up in the Air” played in Telluride as well, so it’s possible he’s become comfortable bringing his films to Colorado.

canyoueverforgivemeFilm: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Directed by: Marielle Heller
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Julie Ann Emery, and Jane Curtin
Synopsis: When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception. An adaptation of the memoir “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Lee Israel.

Additional thoughts: If she hits the right notes, Melissa McCarthy’s dramatic turn could likely be the type of performance that is most-discussed following the festival. Telluride has done an exceptional job bringing in films directed by and starring women, in recent years – think: “Lady Bird (directed by Greta Gerwig),” “Battle of the Sexes (co-directed by a Valerie Faris),” “First They Killed My Father (directed by Angelina Jolie),” to name a few from last year. Could Marielle Heller’s second feature (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) be another to fit that bill?

Film: “The Favourite” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Hoult, and Joe Alwyn
Synopsis: In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne, and her close friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) governs the country in her stead. When a new servant Abigail (Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.

Additional Thoughts: “The Favourite” is the Opening Night film for NY, but is not listed as their premiere. It seems we will have a lot of royal period piece films (oh, joy!) this year, as Lanthimos’ film will have Josie Rourke’s “Mary Queen of Scots” as a lordly companion piece this season. While the former stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, the other will match Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan on the silver screen. It will be exciting to see what pair of fantastic actresses stands out in the Oscar race, if not the entire foursome. The Academy has also proven to be suckers for the visual feast that period pieces tend to offer up, so the potential is high that these films square off all season in Production Design, Makeup, Costume Design, and Cinematography as well.

whiteboyrickFilm: “White Boy Rick” (Sony Pictures)

Directed by: Yann Demange
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Eddie Marsan, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie, Rory Cochrane, and Bel Powley
Synopsis: The story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

Additional Thoughts: DeMange brought his debut film, “’71,” here before in 2014, so it is entirely possible he brings his sophomore effort through the same route. McConaughey looks to be in prime form, here, so a campaign is likely to arise for the Oscar-winning actor (“Dallas Buyer’s Club”) if all the stars align. The same may be possible for newcomer Richie Merritt, who, based on the trailer, has the potential to tear up the screen in his inaugural role.

peterlooFilm: “Peterloo” (Amazon Studios)

Directed by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, and Pearce Quigley
Synopsis: The story of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre where British forces attacked a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Manchester.

Additional Thoughts: Mike Leigh has brought films to the fest before, including “Mr. Turner,” (2014), most recently, as well as my personal favorite of his, “Another Year” (2010). The track record is there, as well as the same type of awards-driven possibilities that are mentioned above for “The Favourite.”

backseatFilm: “Untitled Dick Cheney Biopic” (Annapurna Pictures)

Directed by: Adam McKay
Starring: Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Sam Rockwell, Cailee Spaeny, Alison Pill, Tyler Perry, Eddie Marsan, Lily Rabe, and Bill Camp
Synopsis: The story of Dick Cheney, the most powerful Vice President in history, and how his policies changed the world as we know it.

Additional Thoughts: This is my sleeper pick for the fest. In the same vein as something along the lines of “Steve Jobs” (2015), perhaps. Make of that what you will, but it feels like Telluride needs a heavy-hitter like this in its lineup this year, since a lot of the more prestige-labeled films are premiering at Toronto, or skipping Telluride after premiering at Venice. If Annapurna, who brought “Foxcatcher” to Telluride in 2014, wants to get in on the action, this might be the best bet. Just a hunch.

shopliftersFilm: “Shoplifters” (Magnolia Pictures)

Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Lily Franky, Kirin Kiki, and Yoko Moriguchi
Synopsis: A family of small-time crooks takes in a child they find on the street.

Additional Thoughts: Toronto verbiage. “Shoplifters” bowed in Cannes, and is likely to be highly sought out as the trendy Foreign Language contender following its Palme d’Or win overseas. I expect it to land here as it continues its charge toward Oscar.

Well, that’s a wrap on the preview. Stay tuned, folks. The rumors and speculation are sure to uncover new surprises over the further weeks.

Do you have any guesses for the Telluride slate? Comment below and share!

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Written by Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Game of Thrones, Lost, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.


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When is the announcement?


You’re so lucky. I want to see almost all the films you listed, especially “Cheney.” Have a good time.

Michael R

Have a great time Mark. My choice for a screening at Telluride would be A Star is Born.


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