And the Hits Keep Coming

After a festival season last year that included quite a few high-profile flops, it’s nice to see that many of the most hyped titles this year are apparently delivering on their potential. Telluride in particular seems to be cranking out hit after hit.

First up: “Never Let Me Go,” my most anticipated film at the festival. While critical reaction appears to be generally positive, there definitely seem to be some reservations out there with Mark Romanek’s sophomore feature. The most common criticism aimed at the film seems to be that it is too emotionally distant, but some reviews I’ve read claim to have been incredibly moved. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that Carey Mulligan is fantastic, proving that her performance in “An Education” last year was no fluke and we have a bona-fide brilliant new talent on our hands. Fairly brief reviews available here from Awards Daily and In Contention.

Meanwhile, famed documentarian Errol Morris (“Standard Operating Procedure,” “The Fog of War,” “The Thin Blue Line”) seems to have hit gold again with his film “Tabloid,” a look at beauty/tabloid queen Joyce McKinney, who, in 1977, kidnapped her one-time Mormon sweetheart and tied him up in a rural English cottage. Hard to miss with such bizarre material to work with, so it’s reasonable to expect a stunner from someone as talented as Morris (one of the best living directors; check out his astoundingly philosophical debut feature about a pet cemetery, “Gates of Heaven”).

Peter Weir’s “The Way Back,” which was apparently almost lost to straight-to-DVD purgatory, is drawing comparisons to the epic work of David Lean, and seems to be a return to the classic form of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” for the director. It is apparently still up in the air whether or not the film will receive an Oscar-qualifying run in December, but if it does, campaigns for at least Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, score and cinematography seem to be safe bets. Glowing words from Kris Tapley:

The film is unconventional in its depiction of a long march by Siberian Gulag escapees out of Communist Russia. But rather than becoming repetitive or aimless, the film’s series of vignettes depicting the mundane particulars of survival (be it physical or psychological) is incredibly moving and consistently engaging.

And that’s not even for the movie he calls “the film of the festival.” That honor goes to “The King’s Speech,” which I probably severely underestimated in my first round of Oscar predictions. The Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt sings the praises of the three leads, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter:

Firth doesn’t just make a British king vulnerable and insecure, he shows the fierce courage and stamina beneath the insecurities that will see him through his kingship. It’s not just marvelous acting, it’s an actor who understands the flesh-and-blood reality of the moment and not its history. It’s an actor who admires his character not in spite of his flaws but because of them.

Rush is absolutely wonderful, and Hooper shoots him with all sorts of angles, lighting and strange positions that makes him look like an alien landed in 1930s London. Nothing much impresses him, and he is supremely confident in his own expertise, even when challenged by a star pupil and his coterie of advisers. He won’t yield an inch.

Carter is a revelation here despite a long career as a leading lady. She makes Bertie’s wife into not just a warm and caring soul but a witty and attractive woman who understands her husband much better than he does himself.

If Carter gets aligned as a Supporting Actress, she’s probably a lock for a nomination; she’s well-respected, only has one previous nomination under her belt, and good will left over from being the only real bright spot of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” earlier this year. Considering that large contingent of British voters in the Academy, it looks like we definitely have an across-the-boards contender, along the lines of “The Queen” in 2006.

Praise for Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” is just about as universal, though its awards prospects seem much murkier. Boyle appears to have brought his usual visual and kinetic energy to the life story of Aron Ralston, which was an absolute necessity if a chamber piece like this was going to get off the ground. But most critical of all, James Franco appears to have delivered the performance we’ve been waiting for, confirming the flashes of brilliant talent he’s demonstrated in the past. A film like this demands a stunning lead performance to keep the audience engaged, something like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” Adrien Brody in “The Pianist” or Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild” (still a crime the Academy overlooked that one, by the way). It’s now safe to write down Franco’s name in pen for predictions. Whether the Academy will respond to the piece as a whole (recall that “Slumdog Millionaire” was a very unconventional move by AMPAS), especially considering the very gruesome, very explicit scene of Ralston amputating his arm, remains to be seen.

Phew. What’s left? Ah, yes, that other little film festival going on over in Italy. Nothing to rival “Black Swan” or Telluride’s barrage of contenders, but I am quietly excited for “Meek’s Cutoff,” a revisionist Western in the tradition of Terrence Malick’s films from the 1970’s and starring Michelle Williams, which is receiving glowing reviews. With luck, this and “True Grit” will help revive discussion and fondness for the most American of genres.

I think that’s it. Hooray for really premature reactions!

4 thoughts on “And the Hits Keep Coming

  1. Yayy!!

    On the criticism of “Never Let Me Go” being too emotionally distant, I just read the book and it’s written in a very subtle, almost muted way that remains engaging and almost makes it more emotionally demanding for the reader because he has to fill in the emotions and pain for himself instead of being overwhelmed in it. It’s a very muted pain, a buried anguish, that carries the book through and pierces the reader, a deadening, leaden hurt that we feel possibly more deeply than a violent stab to the heart, that we carry with us for longer.

    So, I don’t know if the movie gets that across, but if it manages to do so like the book, I can see why people think that it’s emotionally distant, but I think it’s a layered distance that makes you work for it but feel it even more. And I really hope they manage to capture it!!!

  2. Oh. Sorry for waxing lyrical about the novel. I might have gotten away with myself… did I mention I really loved it? 😀

    I’m so offended right now. WordPress just told me to “slow down” because I was posting comments too quickly. Whatever. Think faster, WordPress.

  3. One more and I promise I’ll stop: what’s Saoirse Ronan in this year? (Is that her in the top picture?)

    I should really collect all my thoughts and then post one, cohesive comment, but I really had to rant about “Never Let Me Go” first…

  4. She’s in “The Way Back.”

    It sounds like a tricky line that “Never Let Me Go” walks with that muted emotional tone; probably just depends on personal opinion whether you think the director pulls it off or not. Can’t wait to see for myself, in any case.

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