The Telluride Film Festival came to a close yesterday while the Venice Film Festival has reached its halfway point, so it might be a good time to take a look at news and reviews that have emerged from the mountains and canals to see what they might tell us about this fall in movies.
We learned last week that a bunch of big-name actors — Rachel Weisz, Amanda Peet, Michael Sheen — were cut entirely from Terrence Malick's latest, To The Wonder, but what of the actors who survived the final cut? Well, it seems that at least one, Ben Affleck, barely has any lines. In fact there's not a lot of dialogue in the film over all, with Venice audiences describing it as "the least narrative" of Malick's movies. Which, um, yikes. The Tree of Life was certainly not very narrative! But it would seem that this new one, which focuses on Affleck and Olga Kurylenko as newlyweds in the Midwest, is even less so. Supposedly it's mostly voiceover, which is a hallmark of Malick's films, but usually there's at least some talking, too. Response to the film is said to be mixed, but that's usually the case with Terrence Malick. Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem also feature in the film, though their roles are said to be fairly small.
Affleck seems to have fared better, or at least had a bit more of a voice, with the premiere of his latest directorial effort Argo, the true-life Iran hostage crisis thriller he also stars in. The film debuted at Telluride to resoundingly positive reviews, with critics praising the film's attention to detail, its nail-bitey tension, and its surprising humor. If these early reviews represent a broader consensus, that would make a steady three-for-three for Affleck the director, likely setting him up as one of the Big Name directors. Which would be exciting! Nice to see a Boston boy do good, especially one that floundered for so long in things like Gigli, Daredevil, and Reindeer Games.
Another movie earning heaps of praise is Sally Potter's Ginger & Rosa, with critics especially pointing to young Elle Fanning's performance, saying the sister of Dakota "exhibits an amazing range." So, much like Elizabeth went serious and indie after Mary-Kate and Ashley did mainstream cheese, Elle avoids the Cat in the Hat and Man on Fire stuff and goes straight for the high-quality festival bait. And we're rooting for her! Hell, anything that will potentially keep that Chloe Moretz person from getting roles is worth supporting, right? Ginger & Rosa, about an English teen swept up in 1960s nuclear panic, will also screen at the Toronto Film Festival, so we'll have to see if Fanning earns the same kind of praise there.
Over in Venice, Joe Wright's big, artsy Anna Karenina adaptation was well-received, which is good news for fans of depressing Russian literature and for Keira Knightley's Oscar chances. The Academy does so love an elegant period piece with British accents, after all.
But will they love Hyde Park on Hudson, the "FDR meets the royals" comedy that seems squarely aimed at the King's Speech slot of feel-good historical pieces that attract a broad audience and lots of awards? It seems the movie is an amusing trifle, and that Bill Murray is pretty good as FDR, but that ultimately the whole thing is flimsy and shallow. Sight unseen, we're predicting that Murray will still get an Oscar nomination, because it's the kind of role the Academy loves, and everyone still feels bad about Lost in Translation.
Of course the real Oscar-bait movie everyone's chattering about so far this year is The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's look at a Scientology-like cult. It's basically dominating awards discussion in Venice, which is unsurprising for the slobberingly anticipated movie. Still, some critics caution that the film, which opens on September 21, is not exactly the "Scientology exposé" some had hoped for or expected. It seems we'll have to rely on Vanity Fair for that. Of course, no matter what the film is actually about, it's still a must-see, at least if you plan on having anything to say at pretentious dinner parties this fall.
Meanwhile, some smaller awards hopefuls screened at Telluride. Marion Cotillard was in Colorado to both endure a special career tribute and attend the first North American showing of her Cannes-sensation film Rust & Bone. She's getting lots of acclaim for her performance, playing a disabled whale trainer (yup!), which has us eager to see what all the fuss is about. Also from France was Michael Haneke's Amour, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and earned another raft of praise in Telluride. It seems a shoe-in for a foreign language Academy Award, though so did The White Ribbon. Surprisingly, considering it's a Haneke film, Amour is not some violent nightmare about people being horrible, it's simply a story about an elderly couple dealing with Alzheimer's. Which is certainly its own kind of nightmare, but at least there's no murder.