Two big films premeired at the Telluride Film Festival, one looks to be a taut thriller with minimal Oscar potential, the other could be an Oscar breakthrough.
Prisoners, from director Denis Villeneuve, and featuring a stunning cast including Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, all of whom are apparently on their A-game. However the premise of the film, along with its first descriptions, do not particularly reek of Oscar bait. That doesn't mean it isn't in play for a lot of categories, it just means that it is not going to the top of pile. That being said, the reviews so far have been pretty darn good:
Scott Foundas at Variety disagrees, and thinks that it is definitely a major awards contender writing:
"Powered by an unusually rich, twisty script by Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”) and career-best performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, this tale of two Pennsylvania families searching for their kidnapped daughters sustains an almost unbearable tension for two-and-a-half hours of screen time, satisfying as both a high-end genre exercise and a searing adult drama of the sort Hollywood almost never makes anymore. Fully deserving of mention in the same breath as “Seven,” “Mystic River” and “In the Bedroom,” this Sept. 20 Warners release may prove too intense for some viewers, but should ride strong reviews and word of mouth to above-average R-rated returns. It immediately enters the ring as an awards-season heavyweight."
Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter on the other hand sees the same concerns that I do:
"Having caught up with Prisoners this morning at its second screening, I have to say that doesn't surprise me: it's a well-made and immensely gripping film, featuring outstanding performances from each member of its distinguished ensemble...All that being said, I'm not sure that I see a clear path for Prisoners through the awards season. It reminds me a lot of another excellent whodunnit from Warners, Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone (2007), which had a similar underlying premise and also deserved awards recognition -- but wound up with just a best supporting actress Oscar nom for Amy Ryan. Because of that film's dark subject matter, the large number of its actors who shine in the film and the Academy's longstanding genre biases, it mostly slipped through the cracks. Unfortunately, I think Prisoners might too."
The other film that had a big break at Telluride is 12 Years a Slave, which so far has received nothing less than stellar Oscar buzz. It is apparently brutal, something I would expect coming from Steve McQueen. But apparently, that is not enough to turn off the pouring of praise that is coming from critics and the tidalwave of Oscar buzz. I still think we need to approach this with a bit of caution, and see what a bigger audience of viewers and critics thinks before we jump on the bandwagon. But, I will say that for the moment, it looks good for the film and its cast.
Peter Debruge of Variety writes:
"Had Steve McQueen not already christened his previous picture thus, “Shame” would have been the perfect one-word title to capture the gut-wrenching impact of his third and most essential feature, “12 Years a Slave.” Based on the true story of free black American Solomon Northrup’s kidnapping and imposed bondage from 1841 to 1853, this epic account of an unbreakable soul makes even Scarlett O’Hara’s struggles seem petty by comparison. But will audiences have the stomach for a film that rubs their faces in injustice? As performed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Northrup’s astounding story is too compelling not to connect with American audiences, and important enough to do decent business abroad as well."
Eric Kohn from Indiewire writes:
"It's all so credibly enacted that once Brad Pitt (whose Plan B productions produced the film) arrives in a bit part as a kind-hearted Canadian who visits the plantation and speaks out against slavery, the character's messianic qualities seem like a bit much. Yet by the time we get there, it's hard not to plead for an end to Northup's battle. More than a powerful elegy, "12 Years a Slave" is a mesmerizing triumph of art and polemics: McQueen turns a topic rendered distant by history into an experience that, short of living through the terrible era it depicts, makes you feel as if you've been there."