Fighting The Good Fight: Films of Telluride (12 Years A Slave, Prisoners, Blue, and More)

This year’s lineup at the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival was nothing short of epic.  The amount of diversity and talent introduced this year was immensely overwhelming, and such wide range of styles and artistic value was truly an impressive thing to witness.  As an awards junky, I couldn’t help but squeal being able to see some of these films that have such huge Oscar implications but aren’t coming out for months.  But getting past those few layers, I tried to allow myself to appreciate the film itself and not worry about how the film will play out in front of the Academy.  Overall, I didn’t hate any film, on the contrary, I thought I appreciated almost everything I’ve seen.  Maybe it’s my change of attitude to the creative process of filmmaking, but overall, I haven’t had any kind of cinematic experience like I had in Telluride, and I’m pretty sure nothing will come close…until I go back of course.

12 Years A Slave

Easily the movie everyone is talking about.  I’m a fan of Steve McQueen, and his earlier work qualifies himself as a natural artist, but integrating himself into a story like Solomon Northup is quite innovating but yet understandably sensible, and there’s no other director I would’ve rather have seen take this story and making into something more.  I greatly appreciated his ability to put the audience and his main protagonist with a little bit of separation emotionally.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some scenes in the film that make you cry and destroy you inside, but overall, there isn’t this automatic connection we have with Northup, and at first, I was a little confused by that.  I thought it would easily be about how the audience will relate and throw themselves to the screen for this unbelievable true story about survival and hope, but McQueen doesn’t use cheap tactics to get his story more appealing.  The free African-American who was enslaved illegally for 12 years has enough gravitas to be the centerpiece, and McQueen allows it to be, which is a lot easier said than done.  With some pretty career-defining performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o and consistently solid work from Michael Fassbender, we have a tour de force here.  I had some issues with the film (the music sounds like Inception!) as I do with any film, but overall, it’s immaculate work that deserves much praise.  Don’t be surprised if we already have our Best Picture winner (as it should).

Prisoners

Although it was already released in the States by now so much of my opinions or thoughts on the film is meaningless (that may be true for all films), I thought Prisoners played like a really well done thriller.  I love Dennis Villeneuve’s direction in this well crafted film about child abduction and a father’s rage that consumes him.  I’m not sure if it was The Palm’s intense sound system, but the film is one of the most suspenseful experiences I’ve had at a theater.  I’ve never been on the edge of my seat more than I’ve had in Prisoners, and it’s a testament to characters and the look & feel of the film itself.  The ending felt a little too “of course” for me, and it be almost two hours and 30 minutes is a little redundant, but Prisoners took me out of my seat and gave me an entertaining show.  Awards implications?  Not really.  Even in a less competitive year, I’d say it’d be a long shot, but especially this year?  No way.  But it’s going to do well in the box office so hip hip.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour

My favorite film of Telluride.  I literally want to write a thesis on this film, from all the different themes and elements it portrays about love, humanity, sexuality, and all things surrounded on the coming-of-age story.  It is the best coming-of-age story I’ve  ever seen, and it plays out as one of the best human dramas ever seen on screen.  Big words I’m stating, but as the film plays out on screen, it sent me to another dimension, letting go of all the films I saw prior, and totally divulging into this story about Adele and her discovery of her own identity.  The two leads in Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are incredible, allowing these characters to become their own selves, and getting the simplest of details on point.  It’s debatable how people will react to watching something like this, especially with the controversial 10-15 minute lesbian sex scene that has been labeled as “grotesque, gratuitous, and borderline pornography”.  First off, if you’ve seen porn, you’ll know this is not porn.  And second, the sexual connection the two characters have is rare and special, having it be a part of their foundation in their relationship, and that chemistry and sexual intensity that they have is a necessary component for us as audience members to see.  I don’t argue with people who may see it the other way, it’s a truly polarizing film, but for me, it worked in every way imaginable, and this was the one film that entranced me in ways I’ve rarely ever been in movies.  Only the French can make movies like this.  What a shame for the States.  Awards?  Maybe.  Winning Cannes helped, but I can imagine the Academy not doing so well with French lesbian films.

Gravity

If there was a real polarizing film in regards to audience reactions, Gravity wins the award for it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s an unreal visual journey that we are taking with Sandra Bullock’s character, and the film itself is a complete 90-minute thrill ride, never letting go of its audience in ways that may be completely new for people.  I’ll say this: some are going to completely love this movie, and some are going to hate it.  For those who hate it, before we start criticizing the film for what it was and how it ended, you need to ask questions before labeling and operating on the film, and why the story took us there.  It’s so easy to point out different reasons why a film doesn’t work, but in general, you need to ask these difficult questions and try to see the purpose in it all.  I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t a huge fan, which broke my heart cause Alfonso Cuaron is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, but as I gave myself more time to think about it, the film is one giant metaphor, and my issues with the film started to heal as I thought about the choices and the reasons things were done.  It made me actually appreciate those pinpoints more, and my overall feel for the film is very much in appreciation.  When it comes out in a week, I think I’ll have a more firm understanding of where I stand, but if anything, the execution of Gravity is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and visually, it’s up there with anything we’ve ever seen before on screen.  Gravity will be a frontrunner throughout the awards season, and look for a large amount of nominations.

Nebraska

Alexander’s Payne newest installment, Nebraska is a different kind of drama that doesn’t necessarily fit the filmmaker’s typical style or direction, but I really appreciated what he did here.  Considering this is the first film he’s done that’s not from his own original writing, I can see the stark change and tonal diversities, which was interesting to watch as you sometimes felt this wasn’t a Payne film, though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  What I love about Nebraska is the simplicity of its story and its characters, never overdrawing or over-complicating a family’s situation more than it needs to be.  Bruce Dern puts on a heck of performance, saying less than usual, but being more powerful.  I don’t know how well it’ll do come awards time because of the competition this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it being snubbed in some of the major categories.

It’s almost impossible to discuss about all the films I watched, including Labor Day by Jason Reitman, All Is Lost by J.C. Chandor, The Past, and the beautiful Ida. but in general, all these films left a mark, and I greatly respect and adore these filmmakers and what they’re able to transpire on film.

Top Five of Telluride

1.  Blue Is The Warmest Colour

2.  The Past

3.  Ida

4.  12 Years A Slave

5.  Labor Day

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