Telluride Recap: Out of the Mountains an Oscar Front-Runner Emerges

As the dust settles on the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival, I find myself once again in awe at the opportunity that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of. The majestic and misty mountains that surround the quaint and isolated village of Telluride are a treat in itself. The second you arrive, you know you have found a very special place. Then you pass Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood on the street, and someone has to pinch you to see if you are in heaven.

“Is this heaven?”
“No, it’s Iowa Telluride!”

I arrived on Thursday, the day before the festival began, in order to give myself some time to take in the wonderful setting that took me weeks to recover from last year. To my satisfaction, the village and mountains surrounding the fest were as gorgeous and as placid as I had remembered. Telluride sits at an elevation of 8,750 feet, and if you aren’t careful, you might experience altitude sickness. Ingram Falls is visible from town, running down the San Juan mountains and flowing through the town, creating one of the most beautiful natural images I have ever seen.


On Friday, the madness began with Emma Stone and director Damien Chazelle. The pair introduced the secret screening of “La La Land,” and as I wrote in my review, this is probably the film to beat this Oscar season. It could very well find its way sweeping across the board, and most likely tops my personal list for best of the year. It’s just that undeniably marvelous. Awards Daily’s Sasha Stone and I took in “Manchester by the Sea” that evening, preceded by a tribute to Casey Affleck. While I was a little more tempered on the movie than most, I believe it is a great film that I will need to revisit as soon as it comes to the motherland of Cleveland.

Saturday brought Eastwood’s terrific “Sully,” with a Q&A that featured Eastwood and stars Hanks, Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney. If it makes a decent amount of money, I think it could be this year’s “Bridge of Spies” – another Hanks film to receive a Best Picture nomination. Denis Villeneuve then blew my mind with “Arrival,” prefaced with a fantastic tribute to star Amy Adams. I think it will be a tough sell for the Academy, but it was instantly one of my favorite films of the decade.

Sunday was a bit of a challenge, as I raced against time to see “Toni Erdmann,” “Una,” “Wakefield” and “Bleed for This.” It’s one thing to squeeze four films in a day, but it’s another to race from one end of the village to the other back and forth all day, and then have to write reviews for each. Trust me, in no way am I complaining – and I would do it all again tomorrow if I could – it was just an exhausting day. “Erdmann” was introduced by its star, Peter Simonischek, and will be a strong contender in the Foreign Language Oscar race (Germany). “Una” was presented by director Benedict Andrews and star Rooney Mara (*faints*). “Wakefield” director, Robin Swicord, was joined by Jennifer Garner and Heisenberg himself, Bryan Cranston, to present their film. Ben Younger and stars Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart (the star of this year’s festival) did the same for “Bleed for This.” The highlight of the day was running into, and being turned down for a picture with, legendary actress Faye Dunaway.

Monday, we wrapped the festival by seeing Barry Jenkins‘ “Moonlight,” with the director in tow to present alongside stars Mahershala Ali and Trevante Rhodes. It was a great way to end this terrific festival.

If you asked me to rank the films I saw, I would probably say this:

  1. La La Land
  2. Arrival
  3. Moonlight
  4. Sully
  5. Manchester by the Sea
  6. Bleed for This
  7. Wakefield
  8. Toni Erdmann
  9. Una


As I departed my favorite place on Earth, I couldn’t help having the same worries I did last year. The hope that I would one day return consumes my thoughts once again, as I rush home to my wife and kids, and the ordinary-yet-fantastic everyday life I lead. I feel very blessed and do not take for granted one moment I had in Telluride. I am very grateful to Clayton for allowing me the fortuitous opportunity, and for all the staff’s support retweeting my reactions as the credits of each film rolled. I am so content to be part of such a great team and community here at Awards Circuit, and thankful to the friends I’ve made at the past two Telluride Film Festivals, including Sasha Stone and Michael Grei (my roommates this year), Tomris Laffly and her husband Eric, Kenny Miles (who once wrote for me when I ran Award Contenders), Alex Billington, Michael Patterson and Jeff Wells.

I will treasure these memories for a lifetime. And until the hallowed grounds of Telluride call my name once more, I will dream of mountains.

What do you think?

AC Fan

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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