I’m just going to cough this up and let the chips fall…
The four finest films of the 2023 Telluride Film Festival — the ones that boasted the highest levels of craftsmanship, and which will really get through to Average Joes and Janes and cause their hearts and minds to snap to attention — are Alexander Payne‘s The Holdovers (a ’70s film, yes, but a first-rate specimen of this type), Tran Anh Hung‘s The Taste of Things (i.e., The Pot-au-Feu), Yorgos Lanthimos‘ Poor Things and lastly Ilker Çatak’s The Teacher’s Lounge, the official German submission for Best Int’l feature.
Okay, I’ll make it five — Errol Morris‘s The Pigeon Tunnel, a richly visual, beautifully scored doc about John le Carre…enveloping and rather dazzling.
Actually there’s a sixth that got me — Aki Kaurismäki‘s Fallen Leaves, a Chaplinesque, slightly glum relationship comedy-drama. Costars Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen deliver quietly touching performances.
On my last day (i.e., yesterday) I saw and rather liked Pawo Choyning Dorji‘s The Monk and the Gun. I wasn’t floored but enjoyed it for the most part. Set in Bhutan in 2006, it’s an ensemble comedy about the citizens of that land-locked Asian country having their first encounter with democracy. I’ll write about it later this week.
There’s also Justine Triet‘s Anatomy of a Fall — a smart (if somewhat muted) mixture of an investigative procedural and courtroom drama. Fully respectable and recommended, but rather long.
So I saw four big winners, one striking documentary destined to endure, an adult-angled investigative whodunit, and two films that are entirely decent and winning in unusual ways. Eight in all.
None of the other films shown at Telluride really stuck to the wall, and will almost certainly not stir much excitement when they open commercially.
Yes, Poor Things was the biggest conversation flick, but the gymnastic “furious jumping” scenes and the generally bawdy “Bride of Frankenstein” sexuality will probably diminish enthusiasm among older industry audiences. SAG members will nominate Emma Stone for Best Actress, of course, but overall the Poor Things carnality has a vibe that comes close to what used to be called hard-R exploitation, except in this instance it’s very Terry Gilliam-esque. Several noms in various categories are likely, but I suspect that over-40 voters will withdraw a bit.
I felt mildly diverted by George C. Wolfe’s Rustin, but never gripped. The movie is just okay; it certainly never winds you up. If Colman Domingo’s spirited performance as civil rights leader Bayard Rustin lands a Best Actor Oscar nomination, fine. But it’ll be a gimmee…a political gesture that everyone will feel obliged to ratify and approve. If the Obamas were truly enthusiastic about this film they would have attended Telluride, or so my gut tells me. Their absence spoke volumes.
I didn’t see Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Nyad (Netflix), but the general reaction seemed to be that Annette Bening‘s performance is highly respectable but her Diana Nyad is a real bitch. People never just vote for the craft aspect — they also vote the character. If the character is seriously unlikable…
The Telluride foo-foos can enthuse all they want about Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers. It’s a very soulful film, gently haunting and certainly well-crafted in many respects, but I know what older straight guys tend to feel and respond to, and a lot of them are going to quietly clear their throats during the sex scenes, which happen between the talented and genuine Andrew Scott and the hugely annoying Paul Mescal. If Mescal’s boyfriend character had been played by a Brad Pitt-level hottie in his late 20s or early 30s, fine, but Mescal is impossible. You can’t expect older straight guys to feel charged about watching a couple of British guys with heavy beard stubble (and one with a dorky moustache)…enough said.
Forget Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders — it didn’t work at the festival and it won’t happen when it opens. Ditto Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, which is basically shallow, glossy trash. Watching Barry Keoghan play a creep is a chore. I really hated it, and so did a lot of other Telluride viewers.
I didn’t see Ethan Hawke‘s Wildcat, a narrative drama about Flannery O’Connor, but everyone told me it wasn’t very good. I’m sorry but no one spoke up for it.
I also couldn’t fit in Daddio, the dialogue-driven two-hander with Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn.
I watched the slow-moving Janet Planet for about an hour on my final day…not my cup.