04. September 2006

TELLURIDE, Colo. (Hollywood Reporter) - Oscar hopefuls such as "Volver," "Babel," "Little Children," "The Last King of Scotland," "Infamous" and "Fur" had movie fans buzzing at the 33rd annual Telluride Film Festival, which wrapped in the Colorado Rockies resort Monday.
Festival organizers Bill Pence, who announced his retirement, and Tom Luddy knew it was going to be a tall order to top last year's event, which launched successful Oscar campaigns for "Brokeback Mountain," "Walk the Line" and "Capote." But several specialty film distributors triggered strong Oscar buzz for their films.
Sony Pictures Classics brought director Pedro Almodovar's Cannes Film Festival hit "Volver," starring Penelope Cruz, who is considered a strong candidate for a best actress nomination for her role as a beleaguered mother visited by ghosts.
Another Cannes hit, Paramount Vantage's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film "Babel" -- a complex tapestry of miscommunication -- played well to the Telluride cognoscenti, though some felt that the 2-1/2-hour film, which stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, ran a tad long.
New Line Cinema presented "Little Children," writer-director Todd Field's ambitious suburban satire based on "Election" novelist Tom Perrotta's book. It generated Oscar talk for a deglamorized Kate Winslet as a conflicted stay-at-home mom who has an affair, and for Broadway actress Phyllis Somerville as the doting mother of a convicted sex offender, played by former teen star Jackie Earl Haley, in his first major film performance in 30 years.
"Humor is based on one thing: pain," Field said. "This is a satirical melodrama, not a black comedy, not drama, not ironic. It's satiric, like Thackeray."
Industry folks debated whether Fox Searchlight should campaign for Forest Whitaker, who dominates Kevin Macdonald's "The Last King of Scotland" as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, for best actor or supporting actor. Some compared the film, which follows a thrill-seeking young Scottish doctor (James McAvoy) to Uganda during Amin's reign of terror, to 2004's African tragedy "Hotel Rwanda," which broke out of the art house circuit after Don Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar for best actor.
Focus Features' "Catch a Fire," directed by Phillip Noyce, tells the real-life story of a South African oil refinery worker, Patrick Chamuso (Derek Luke), who becomes radicalized after he is targeted and tortured by a South African security officer (Tim Robbins). While Luke could score a nomination depending on how competitive the field becomes, the movie might need careful marketing and sustained critical and audience support to survive the competitive Oscar season.
Writer-director Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck's film debut, "The Lives of Others," offered a chilling portrait of the last days of the Stasi, the corrupt East German Secret Police, focusing on the transformation of one committed Stasi agent (Ulrich Muhe) as he listens in on the lives of a decent, successful playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his ambitious actress wife and muse (Martina Gedeck). Sony Classics acquired it in May after it became a surprise hit in Germany. If Germany submits the film for Oscar consideration, it could well land a nomination.
Miramax Films should have no difficulty landing a best actor nomination for Peter O'Toole, who ably carries Roger Michell's "Venus" as an aging London actor who falls for the young niece of a friend. Written by Hanif Kureishi, the film movingly portrays the aging roue's fascination with a rude rube of a girl. The movie wowed the Telluride crowds and should prove an easy sell to older members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Because Sony Classics' "Capote" was set for release in the fall, Mark Gill, then-president of Warner Independent Pictures, decided a year ago to postpone Douglas McGrath's "Infamous," which covers similar terrain, to this year's Oscar season. WIP is counting on moviegoers' willingness to see another take on Truman Capote. McGrath's screenplay digs deeper into the prison relationship between Capote (Toby Jones) and Perry Smith (Daniel Craig), the murderer depicted in his novel "In Cold Blood." With a push from critics, Craig's powerful performance could secure a supporting actor shot.
Picturehouse's Bob Berney unveiled Steve Shainberg's "Fur" at Telluride in advance of its "official" world premiere at the RomaCinemaFest next month. An arty delicacy, the film got a mixed response. Instead of using Patricia Bosworth's biography of Diane Arbus to craft a conventional biopic, writer Erin Cressida Wilson and Shainberg created an imaginative portrait of the period in her life when Arbus stopped assisting her husband in his portrait studio and started taking her own photographs.
As played by Nicole Kidman in tightly cinched '50s dresses, Arbus dives down the rabbit hole into a wonderland peopled by freaks, including a man completely covered with hair -- he's a fictional construct based on a real person whom Arbus never met -- played by Robert Downey Jr. Many at Telluride wanted the movie to spend more time exploring Arbus' iconic photography.
"That would have been boring," Shainberg said at his Q&A. "You already know about that."
Also making a rousing Telluride world debut was Mira Nair and Sooni Taraporevala's adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's culture clash novel "The Namesake," which spans two generations and the distant worlds of Calcutta and New York. Fox Searchlight has pushed the film back to March to give the distributor more time to build awareness for a movie chock full of Bollywood stars who are not known stateside.
On the documentary front, David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," which Lionsgate will release September 15, provoked laughter and tears at its screenings.
Among the films that lacked distribution, only thrill-seeking documentarian Asger Leth's "Ghosts of Cite Soleil" generated any interest from buyers. A shocking cinema verite, it follows a fearless blond French relief worker into the inner sanctum of the vicious gangs running Haiti's notorious slum, Cite de Soleil.
One invited film never made it to Telluride: Werner Herzog's recently completed feature "Rescue Dawn," starring Christian Bale as Deiter Dengler, an American pilot whose story was told in Herzog's 1997 documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly."
Herzog said he couldn't get the money to free the print from the lab. In Telluride, one distributor reported that he had screened and liked the movie, but the film was so tied up with multiple producers and accounting issues that it would be difficult to negotiate a sale. There is still a question as to whether "Rescue Dawn" will make its scheduled dates at the Toronto International Film Festival, which opens Thursday.