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Telluride: Where Will Scott Cooper’s ‘Hostiles’ Land?

TELLURIDE, Colo. — It’s rare for there to be a hot acquisitions title in the Telluride lineup poised to make a mark on awards season, but Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles” fits the bill. The “Black Mass” director has returned with a potent, muscular western — made with an independent spirit outside the studio system — that has prospective buyers circling, as they have been for weeks. On a wave of positive critical notices coming out of the fest, Cooper and the film’s producers, John Lesher and Ken Kao, could have a lot more leverage than they did a few days ago.

“We just want someone who loves the movie,” Lesher said at a private dinner event for the film Sunday night. “It’s nice to be in that position [to be able to pick and choose].”

Part of the fuss is a jaw-dropping performance from Christian Bale that easily ranks among the greatest he’s given, one that could become an instant Oscar contender in the right hands. It seems Cooper is uniquely capable of drawing out Bale’s very best work, as the actor’s performances in both “Hostiles” and 2013’s “Out of the Furnace” are natural, unfussy efforts that stand in direct contrast to some of the showier (though no less brilliant) portrayals he’s come to be known for.

Cooper helped usher Jeff Bridges to his first Oscar eight years ago for “Crazy Heart,” while Johnny Depp’s critically lauded work in “Black Mass” landed the embattled star a Screen Actors Guild nomination. And with Bale packing on the pounds (as well as sporting bleached eyebrows) for his portrayal of Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s upcoming political drama “Backseat,” audiences and Oscar voters would be staring at empirical evidence throughout the season of the actor’s staggering range. Indeed, Bale received a Telluride tribute this year that does a great job of showcasing that range.

“That was weird,” the notoriously private actor quipped at the dinner. It’s rare for him to agree to that sort of pageantry.

Also a stand-out is Rosamund Pike as a forthright woman who violently suffers loss in the film’s opening moments. Masanobu Takayanagi’s beautiful landscape photography and expressive interior lighting further establish the cinematographer as Cooper’s vital secret weapon, while Max Richter’s elegiac score adds considerably to the emotional heft of the picture. Nominations for all are on the table. But, again, it depends on who acquires the film.

Everyone from Annapurna Pictures to Netflix is rumored to be in the mix, and it’s clear Tom Bernard and Michael Barker at Sony Pictures Classics are interested, too, as they could be seen wooing Cooper at the annual Patrons Brunch Friday morning. None of the sales agents are in town, however, and Telluride isn’t an acquisitions festival anyway, so don’t expect any movement until Toronto, perhaps as early as next week.

“Honestly, I just make them,” Cooper told me. “It’s that experience that is most meaningful to me. I believe in the movie. Whatever comes will be.”

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