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Early Oscar Buzz: ’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Prisoners’ Rock Telluride

Pair of dramas provoke powerful reactions

The 40th edition of the Telluride Film Festival has provided solid awards-season launches for  “12 Years a Slave” and “Prisoners” — both last-minute additions to the lineup as “sneak” screenings.

12 Years a Slave,” the 19th century real-life drama from Fox Searchlight, produced a standing ovation and rave reviews on Friday night.

Director Steve McQueen and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt attended a Q and A after the film.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen the film, and honestly, I’m a little taken aback,” said Fassbender, who has collaborated with McQueen on “Hunger” and “Shame.”

“I think it might be more productive if we all just had a group walk around the block or something,” Pitt added.

But it was Ejiofor who drew the most praise with Oscar pundits, some already putting the actor down as the front-runner to win Best Oscar this awards season.

Variety’s Peter Debruge said of his performance, “Though the film brims with memorable characters, the show ultimately belongs to Ejiofor, who upholds the character’s dignity throughout.”

Popular on Variety

As for “Prisoners,” Variety’s Scott Foundas called it “a spellbinding, sensationally effective thriller with a complex moral center.”

The “Prisoners” screening did not include stars Hugh Jackman or Jake Gyllenhall, Director Denis Villeneuve and producers Kira Davis, Andrew Kosove, Broderick Johnson, and Adam Kolbrenner attended a Q and A, where  Villeneuve indicated Jackman had expressed initial reservations about taking on the role as an angry father trying to punish the suspected abductor (played by Paul Dano) of his daughter and another girl.

Unlike the Venice and Toronto fests, Telluride organizers opt for a straightforward presentation without red carpets or awards competitions and the organizers refuse to tout any title as a “premiere.” So the official premieres of both “Prisoners” and “12 Years” will take place next week in Toronto on Sept. 6.

Warner Bros.’ “Prisoners” will open Sept. 20. Gyllenhaal portrays the police detective.

Despite the relative lack of fanfare, Telluride’s seen an impressive list of awards contenders in recent years, serving as the awards-season launching pad for “Argo,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Descendants,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Juno,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

SEE ALSO: Telluride Film Festival Unveils Eclectic Lineup

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