Well folks, the 44th Telluride Film Festival is in the books. It came as quickly as it went, as it surely does every year. But not without first placing its stamp on the Oscar season ahead. Things have begun to take shape now that Telluride and Venice have wrapped up, and soon the Toronto and New York festival reviews will weigh in to solidify the films we will be talking about for the next five or six months.

The annual Telluride gala was perfectly ran and hosted, the slate of films was superb, and the intimate moments created at the fest were as unforgettable as ever: from watching Werner Herzog award Christian Bale with the honorary tribute, to sitting on an outdoor patio listening to Guillermo del Toro wax poetic about life, love, and film – the three major themes in his instant classic, “The Shape of Water.” Other stars in attendance that I got to meet, see, and/or listen to speak include Alexander Payne, Hong Chau, Gary Oldman, Joe Wright, Ben Mendelsohn, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Tracy Letts, Greta Gerwig, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Christopher Quinn, Scott Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Todd Haynes, Millicent Simmonds, Richard Jenkins, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, Emma Stone, and the legendary tennis great, Billie Jean King.

I was able to take in nine films, including “Downsizing,” “Darkest Hour,” “First They Killed My Father,” “Wonderstruck,” “Battle of the Sexes,” “Hostiles,” “The Shape of Water,” “Lady Bird,” and “Eating Animals.” I most regret missing “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” “The Rider,” “A Fantastic Woman,” “Lean on Pete,” “Loving Vincent,” and “The Venerable W.” But there is only so much time in three and a half days, especially when you need to create space for writing and (occasionally) eating and sleeping.

Here is how I would rank the films I saw, with potential Oscar impacts next to each film:

  1. The Shape of Water” – Picture, Director, Actress (Hawkins), Supporting Actor (Jenkins, Shannon), Supporting Actress (Spencer), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Hair and Makeup, Score, Costume Design, and Film Editing
  2. Darkest Hour” – Picture, Director, Actor (Oldman), Supporting Actor (Mendelsohn), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Hair and Makeup, Score, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing
  3. Hostiles” – Cinematography
  4. Battle of the Sexes” – Picture, Director, Actress (Stone), Supporting Actor (Carell; if he goes that route), Original Screenplay, Hair and Makeup, Score, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing
  5. First They Killed My Father” – Director, Cinematography, Foreign Language Film (if eligible)
  6. Eating Animals” – Documentary
  7. Lady Bird” – Actress (Ronan), Supporting Actress (Metcalf), and Original Screenplay
  8. Downsizing” – Original Screenplay
  9. Wonderstruck” – Cinematography, Production Design, Hair and Makeup, Score, Costume Design, and Film Editing

If the streak is to continue, I think “Battle of the Sexes” has the best shot to win Best Picture of this group.

The fest, however, is more than just great films and stars in attendance. Telluride also offers the most quaint of towns, with the most cordial people, and the most gorgeous of backdrops. Many of my favorite writers are also present, including my hero, mentor, and friend Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, who took me under her wing during the 2015 festival, and has graciously allowed me to stay with her and our good friend Michael ever since. Some of the best moments I have in Telluride are back at the condo with just the three of us and Sasha’s dogs.

It was terrific to see online friends like Tomris Laffly and her uber-charming husband, Eric, Michael Patterson, Kenny Miles, Jeff Wells, and new friend Jorge Birnam.

Like every year, I must express the most heartfelt gratitude to Clayton, our fearless leader (and another hero of mine), for his continued support and for allowing me to attend. He, along with my wife and kids, have permitted me to live out my most incredible fantasy by taking part in the festival the last three years (and, God willing, many more). I’d also like to thank my great friend, Chelsea, for the rides to and from the airport and other miscellaneous administrative tasks she handled so I could relax before, during, and after the long weekend. I also want to thank all the readers, friends, and staff members of Awards Circuit for reading and sharing my posts. The interactions online make all the hard work that goes into covering this fantastic shindig all worth the while. So thanks to all of you, I get to live out a dream and create memories that will last a lifetime.

It’s Labor Day afternoon as I sit writing this recap from the backseat of the shuttle that will escort me from Telluride to Montrose, Colorado, before heading home to my beloved Ohio the following day. In between words, I find the time to take in the beautiful world we live in, with Southwest Colorado at the apex of its beauty.

I sit gazing at an overcast horizon, when suddenly the clouds part and a dollop of sun shines splendidly upon the face of the densely forested mountain. And for a brief and fleeting moment, you can see every shade in the green palette: from the mustardy, sun-stained yellow-strewn hues of green, to greens so dark and earthy you would swear they were black if not for the familiarity of their foliage.

My heart is so full, and tomorrow, when I hold my sons, it will overflow.