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Best Actor Oscar Contenders Land in Telluride

TELLURIDE, Colo. — We’re in the earliest of stages for this year’s Oscar race, but as it happens every year, the landscape is shifting into focus as contenders from Italy to Colorado join the discussion. At Telluride in particular this year, a number of lead actor candidates are making a case.

Beginning with one of the year’s tributes, Casey Affleck, the “Manchester by the Sea” star has popped once again after a big coming-out at the Sundance Film Festival last January. The film made for Friday night’s hottest ticket here, up against major debuts like “Bleed For This,” “Moonlight” and “Sully.” And it’s one of the first you’ll hear when quizzing attendees on their favorites.

Speaking of “Bleed For This” and “Sully,” both feature actors that are making a splash here: Miles Teller and Tom Hanks, respectively. Each participated in an afternoon outdoor seminar Sunday, trading stories on preparing for their real-life characters.

Teller, who quipped that he was thankful for whoever must have bowed out of the panel for him to be there alongside Hanks, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Eckhart, dropped 20 pounds and 13% body fat to play the role of boxer Vinny Pazienza, but initially he was skeptical of his own chops. “I thought this would be a great part for someone else,” he said.

Teller is fierce and committed in the role, exactly the kind of scrappy player that could resonate amid more familiar contenders.

Hanks, meanwhile, takes on the persona of pilot Chesley Sullenberger for Clint Eastwood’s film. He’s no stranger to playing real-life characters, whether they be astronaut Jim Lovell, Texas politician Charlie Wilson, cargo ship captain Richard Phillips or Walt Disney himself. Hanks said at the seminar that, though Sullenberger’s refrain may be that he is not a hero for his actions on January 15, 2009, he and pilots like him nevertheless enter a heroic “social contract” each and every day by telling air travelers, “I will get you there safely. That’s a guy taking on a burden,” Hanks said.

The performance is very reserved, controlled — just like Sullenberger had to be in the cockpit of US Airways Flight 1549.

One of the real discoveries of the fest in this particular race is Richard Gere, whose performance in Joseph Cedar’s “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” is one of his best in years. By way of introduction, Cedar described the eponymous Norman Oppenheimer — a man who lives to grease the rails of influence, no matter how minor — as that relative who you know is embarrassing. Indeed, the desperation Gere weaves into the character is defining, but and the lack of a backstory only served to further the mystery around a guy who lies as easy as he breathes.

“This is someone who is a void,” Gere said at a Q&A session Sunday. “But by not giving a background, it’s a universal character.”

And finally, though Robin Swicord’s “Wakefield” does not have a distributor yet, Cranston’s performance as a man who literally puts his work and family lives on hold by retreating to his garage attic to observe his wife and children from close range bears mentioning. The burden of carrying the film rests squarely on Cranston’s shoulders as he narrates the drama (adapted from an E.L. Doctorow short story originally conceived by Nathaniel Hawthorne) and never really engages with other actors on screen. But given the character’s actions, he’s obviously difficult to like.

“I lamented on the fact that the character is anything but a hero,” Cranston said at the Sunday seminar. “But [as actors] I don’t know that there is a great need to find heroes as much as explore humanity. If we move you to nothing we all fail. Boredom is the enemy.”

Other visible contenders at this year’s fest include “La La Land’s” Ryan Gosling, “Una’s” Ben Mendelsohn, “Toni Erdmann’s” Peter Simonischek and “Neruda’s” Gael Garcia Bernal.

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