Kenneth Branagh‘s Belfast, Jane Campion‘s The Power of the Dog and Pablo Larrain‘s Spencer screened in Telluride last weekend, and in my opinion they’re all shortfallers. Certainly as far as the Movie Godz are concerned.
Each is destined to slam into a big thick concrete wall. Joe Popcorn and your straight-shooting, shake-it-off Academy and guild types will see to that. Every year we have to re-learn the difference between rarified mountain-air reactions vs. sea-level reality. We’re about to be schooled yet again.
There was only one film that hit a grand slam last weekend, and that’s Reinaldo Marcus Green, Zach Baylin and Will Smith‘s King Richard — period. A Best Picture Oscar nom is 100% assured, and even at this early date the odds seem to favor a win. Not to mention a Best Actor trophy for Smith, and a likely Best Supporting Actress nom for Aunjanue Ellis, who memorably portrays the brutally honest wife of Smith’s Richard Williams and the mother of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams.
Right now certain critics, award-season handicappers and industry voices are telling each other that Belfast, The Power of the Dog and Spencer are award-season hotties. They’ll continue to insist upon this narrative for the next two or three months, and eventually the smoke will clear.
Belfast (Focus Features, 11.12), which producer Sid Ganis believes to be one of the best films he’s ever seen in his life, is a mawkish family drama that channels The Wonder Years, and delivers a vague impression of the “troubles” that plagued northern Ireland in the ’60s and ’70s. Plus a monochrome palette, perhaps the most insufferably cute and endearing performance by a child actor (Jude Hill) in film history, a dab or two of puppy love, Cieran Hinds‘ genuinely charming performance as a kindly grandpa, and loads and loads of Van Morrison. Then again the curious affection some have for this film (watch it win the TIFF audience award) may keep the torches burning.
The Power of the Dog is a chilly and perverse cattle-ranch drama that insists over and over that it’s a very bad thing for toxic males to suppress their homosexuality. (HE agrees.) Campion is a top-tier filmmaker but Dog‘s milieu is grim and stifling and melancholy, like the dark side of the moon. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as the enraged and closeted Phil, but he’s basically doing Daniel Day Lewis‘s “Bill the Butcher” in Gangs of New York. Or, if you will, “Daniel Plainview” in There Will Be Blood.
Spencer is an oddly surreal dreamscape flick that uses Lady Diana‘s anguished and loveless marriage to Prince Charles and a 1991 Christmas celebration at Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham estate as the basis of what boils down to an elite psychological meltdown flick…”poor free-spirited, pheasant-sympathizing, pearl necklace-loathing Diana vs. the cold, bloodless gargoyle royals,” etc. Yes, Stewart will most likely be Oscar-nominated for Best Actress — her performance is definitely commendable.