As the four-day Telluride Film Festival wraps Sept. 1, the big awards question is: Did we see the 2014 Oscar best-pic winner?
Since Telluride has screened the winner in five of the last six years, it’s a valid question. The answer is that there was no slam dunk. But three films that debuted here are clear possibilities for a best-pic nomination and maybe more: “Birdman,” “The Imitation Game” and “Wild.” The festival also offered Sony Classics’ “Foxcatcher,” which had bowed at Cannes and which seems destined to be a golden player in all categories.
“Foxcatcher” is universally admired; no one seems to dislike it, and some love it. “Birdman” is inspiring the most animated discussions, with many enthusing about the content and the technical magic. But it is too early to declare either film a front-runner.
Aside from those four, Telluride offered films that had premiered at other fests and that could be possibilities in various awards categories, including “The Homesman,” “Mr. Turner,” “99 Homes” and “Two Days, One Night.”
The fest here also premiered “Rosewater.” The Jon Stewart film is a gem, and audiences have been enthused. But awards chances? Ask again in December. For right now, Open Road needs to build word of mouth but to manage audience expectations on the film, so it seems unfair to burden “Rosewater” with awards talk at this point.
And that is the double-edged sword of mixing kudos campaigns with film festivals.
Some think it’s heretical to bring awards into a conversation about festivals, which in theory are about showcasing need-to-be-seen pics. Yes, film is an art, fests are showcases and awards are for excellence, but all of them are also businesses.
Telluride has cultivated its reputation as an awards launch pad, premiering four of the last six best-pic Oscar winners (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech,” “Argo” and “12 Years a Slave”) and screening one that had bowed at Cannes (“The Artist”). So out of six years, Telluride only skipped “Hurt Locker.”
But sometimes award talk can get out of hand. Last year, a few overeager bloggers here declared “12 Years a Slave” the inevitable Oscar winner. As it turns out, they were right, though the season offered more competition and more plot twists than they had expected.
This year, it’s too early to declare a front-runner, but three things are clear. First, it is shaping up to be another good year. Second, awards talk is a valid part of fest conversations, but not the only part. And third, it’s six months until the Feb. 22 Oscar ceremony. So fasten your seat belts.