By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 16, 2013 at 6:19AM
The fall film festivals are a crucible that send winners out into the award fracas and losers to lick their wounds. And many new pickups won't be released until 2014.
2013 marked a watershed year for Telluride, which has long tried to fly under the radar of the fall fests by refusing to announce its lineup in advance and avoiding the usual "World Premiere" nomenclature. After a steady stream of Oscar winners, from "The King's Speech" to "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Argo," Telluride has become a destination for awards contenders and a growing media presence. It may prove more difficult going forward for the festival co-directors to maintain their free-and-easy ways, as Venice and Toronto both state that they will be enforcing world premieres and prime-time gala slots against Telluride. If you want an opening weekend slot at Toronto, says TIFF's Cameron Bailey, you may not be able to debut at Telluride anymore.
So who came out ahead?
TOP OSCAR CONTENDERS
1. "12 Years a Slave." Ecstatically received at Telluride and by a wider swath of audiences and press at Toronto, where it won the coveted audience award taken by Oscar-winner "Slumdog Millionaire," among others, Steve McQueen and John Ridley's true story of Solomon Northup, who spent a dozen years enslaved, broke ahead of the awards pack. The approbation is universal; the film, which Fox Searchlight will open October 18, is sure to proceed into serious Oscar contention in multiple categories; for now Chiwetel Ejiofor is at the top of the Best Actor heap, with Michael Fassbender in the supporting actor race.
2. "Gravity." Alfonso Cuaron's long-awaited space drama debuted to raves in Venice and moved on to Telluride and Toronto, where the upbeat reviews continued to swell. This one will be another top awards contender with Sandra Bullock giving Cate Blanchett some competition for Best Actress and many tech awards including VFX in the bag. This innovative space movie follows in the honorable 3-D footsteps of "Avatar" and "Life of Pi."
3. "August: Osage County." The Weinsteins launched John Wells' top-flight acting ensemble at Toronto (which put its foot down on the Telluride issue), where it played well as a crowdpleaser and pushed both Meryl Streep (who did not attend) and Julia Roberts (who charmed the press corps) into the Best Actress category. Respected supporting players Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale could also register with Oscar voters.
4. "All is Lost." J.C. Chandor's Cannes entry in many ways compares to "Gravity" as another story about a lone survivor fighting adversity against all odds; a strong Telluride performance solidifies Robert Redford's position as a Best Actor contender. The Roadside Attractions film skipped Toronto en route to a New York Film Fest berth.
5. 'Nebraska." Also in the Best Actor race is another 77-year-old Hollywood veteran, Cannes Best Actor winner Bruce Dern. After Cannes, Alexander Payne trimmed the road movie family comedy; the Paramount release played like a comedy for welcoming Telluride crowds, and could prove to be this year's "Silver Linings Playbook"-- an American zeitgeist movie that tells us something about ourselves.
6. "Inside Llewyn Davis." Also skipping Toronto en route to New York were the Coen brothers, who went from Cannes to first-time attendees at Telluride, where they enjoyed themselves during a tribute with their musical collaborator T-Bone Burnett. Oscar Isaac, with enough critical support, could enter the crowded Best Actor fray, thanks to the high degree of difficulty of his performance in a musically demanding role. CBS Films co-president Terry Press is a veteran Oscar campaigner who recognizes this film's appeal with the Academy, who know the ups and downs of making it as an artist in a competitive world.
7. "Tracks." The Weinsteins picked up John Curran's gorgeously mounted "Tracks" out of Venice, where it scored with critics; the Australian camel trek movie went on to earn raves at Telluride as well as Toronto. Aussie Mia Wasikowska could be a long shot for Best Actress--if TWC decides to release the movie before year's end. They already have a lot on their awards plate.
8. "Enough Said." Nicole Holofcener's latest relationship comedy is her most accessible so far, and boasts a heartbreakingly strong performance from the late great James Gandolfini. Fox Searchlight will help push this film into the mainstream. Posthumous Oscar nominations are not unknown, from cinematographer Conrad Hall (who won for "The Road to Perdition") and Peter Finch (who won for "Network") to nominees Anthony Minghella, James Dean and Heath Ledger.
9. "Rush." Ron Howard's Formula 1 racing flick was well-launched in Toronto as a mainstream commercial feature; its Oscar prospects are less clear, although Daniel Bruhl made an impact as racer Niki Lauda opposite the hunky Chris Hemsworth as his arch-rival, James Hunt.
10. "Blue is the Warmest Color." The Palme d'Or winner generated controversy at Telluride and Toronto, as the film's director Abdellatif Kechiche responded to how his two stars, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux (who for the first time shared the award with their director), candidly characterized their lengthy--and sexy-- five-month improvisatory collaboration. Controversy could boost the film at the box office. But Sundance Selects and the filmmakers opted for a strong post-October 1 opening slot in France over an Oscar-qualifying date, so the film's Oscar chances depend on Exarchopoulos's long-shot chances as Best Actress.
Other films that played well at Telluride and/or Toronto may or may not muster the right stuff to enter the Oscar race.
Weinstein introduced Stephen Frears' "Philomena" at Venice, where they launched Judi Dench into the Best Actress race, as well as Toronto opener "One Chance," starring James Corden as Paul Potts, whose life changed overnight on Britain's Got Talent. Not obtaining awards lift-off was Toronto play “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," starring Idris Elba.
Denis Villeneuve's well-executed and unpredictable genre mystery "Prisoners" earned high marks all round in Telluride and Toronto, thanks to superb performances from Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano. In a competitive awards season, this Warner Bros. missing-child drama could prove more commercial than Oscar-worthy.
Matthew McConaughey (who is overdue for Oscar recognition) and supporting player Jared Leto won plaudits at Toronto for their performances in sprawling AIDS drama "The Dallas Buyers' Club," which Focus will shepherd through Oscar season.
"The Past," from Asghar Farhardi, the Iranian director of "A Separation," despite taking home a Cannes Best Actress win for Berenice Bejo, who will be backed by Sony Pictures Classics in the Best Actress race, isn't the foreign language submission from France (it's "Renoir").
Also from Sony Pictures Classics, heart-tugging Mumbai romance "The Lunchbox," starring Irrfan Khan, was one of the hits of Telluride and Toronto, and is building momentum for an Indian Oscar submission.
Jason Reitman's "Labor Day" seems to play better for women than men, who often dismiss it as a chick flick fantasy. Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet have earned some strong reviews, but this Paramount release may play better for audiences than critics and Oscar voters.
Smaller Toronto pictures that earned some praise include Roger Michel's smart relationship comedy about Brit seniors on vacation in Paris, "Le Weekend," Kelly Reichardt's noirish psychological thriller, "Night Moves," starring Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgard and Dakota Fanning, "Belle," a straightforward costume drama about a real-life out-of-wedlock mulatto girl who is raised by a noble British family (Fox Searchlight, 2014) and Telluride and Toronto title "Palo Alto," which proved to be strong debut for Gia Coppola, 25, who showed her chops working with a cast of young actors. The film could play to young audiences. It's awaiting a distributor.
Among Telluride and Toronto documentaries, earning raves was Penn & Teller's "Tim's Vermeer," about recreating the technology that allowed Vermeer to paint. Errol Morris's "The Unknown Known" didn't deliver the knockout to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that some audiences were hoping for. Alex Gibney's engrossing and intimate "The Armstrong Lie" may prove a tad late, as the revelations in this long-in-the-works Lance Armstrong portrait have been well-covered by other media. TWC's Shane Salerno "Salinger" and book tie-in earned plenty of coverage, but mixed reviews.
Among the high-profile pickups--some 21 sales to major U.S. distributors-- are three Weinstein buys: "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her," starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, John Carney's musical "Can A Song Save Your Life?" (which went for $7 million U.S. rights in a bidding war), and "The Railway Man," a World War II war drama starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, which Weinstein acquired just as they announced that the two stars would voice a "Paddington Bear" flick.
Fred Schepisi's "Words and Pictures," starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche as rival prep school teachers, was picked up by Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate, as well as David Gordon Green's well-reviewed homeless drama "Joe," starring Nicolas Cage, and the Elmore Leonard adaptation “Life of Crime."
Open Road nabbed John Ridley's strong sophomore directing effort "All Is By My Side," starring a convincing Andre Benjamin as guitarist Jimi Hendrix and winning Imogen Poots as mentor Linda Keith, while Jonathan Glazer's divisive and sexy "Under the Skin," starring Scarlett Johannson, went to hot young distributor A24. Other key acquisitions include: Jason Bateman's "Bad Words" (sold to Focus Features for $7 million), bee doc "Burt’s Buzz" (FilmBuff), John Turturro's comedy "Fading Gigolo," starring Woody Allen (Millennium Entertainment), and "The F Word," starring Daniel Radcliffe (CBS Films). More agreements are in the works.
The Festival’s TIFF Industry Office accredited 4,743 industry delegates this year – a 10% growth over 2012 – representing 2,588 companies and 80 countries. All territories saw an increase in delegate numbers – most notably Africa which increased by 50%, followed closely by Central America (43%), Canada (18%) and the U.S. (7%).
Among the TIFF awards, the FIPRESCI jury, comprised of six members from the International Federation of Film Critics, presented two prizes at an awards ceremony held Sunday in Toronto. The International Critics Prize for Special Presentations went to Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida." The International Critics Prize for the Discovery Programme went to Claudia Sainte-Luce for "The Amazing Catfish."
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award went to Sion Sono’s "Why Don't You Play in Hell?" and The BlackBerry People’s Choice Documentary Award went to Jehane Noujaim for "The Square."