If there was any lingering doubt about the Telluride Film Festival's place in the annual film awards season, this year's Oscars outcome ought to finally settle them. With its victory Sunday night, “Birdman” became the sixth Best Picture winner in seven years to screen at the Labor Day Colorado event.
The festival's press profile increased more and more in the wake of big early bows of films like “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote” and “Juno.” “Slumdog Millionaire” really lit the fuse in 2008 and with it, films like “The King's Speech,” “Argo” and “12 Years a Slave” have begun their journeys there “unofficially” before “official” world premieres at the Toronto Film Festival, while others like “The Artist” and “Birdman” made it priority to stop there on the way to awards season releases.
Other major awards season players that have played the festival as of late include “Up in the Air,” “Black Swan,” “127 Hours,” “The Descendants,” “Gravity” and “The Imitation Game.”
Of course, this recent string hasn't been without its share of controversy. Telluride's tendency to sneak those “unofficial” bows into the program was a bone of contention for the Venice and particularly Toronto film festivals, the latter instituting a stipulation this year restricting its first weekend scheduling to movies that have not played another North American festival. The studios, however, proceeded as they have, leveraging Telluride and its bounty of Academy member attendees. The most significant exclusive awards season player Toronto ended up with was “The Theory of Everything.”
And what potential 2015 awards season titles might we see pop up at the Rockies this year? First and foremost, “Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu is a Telluride devotee who makes the trip even if he doesn't have a film in play. So “The Revenant,” assuming it's ready in time, would be worth a bet. The Weinstein Company have seen luck with “The King's Speech,” “The Artist” and “The Imitation Game” in recent years while Todd Haynes' “I'm Not There.” premiered there in 2007. So “Carol” is probably a good bet, too (after a world premiere in Cannes, perhaps).
Warner Bros. has turned up there a couple of times with films like “Argo” and “Gravity,” so Jeff Nichols' “Midnight Special” is possible, or Scott Cooper's “Black Mass.”
We'll know all of that in due time. For now, though, it should be clear to anyone who plays the game that Telluride is a bit of a lucky charm these days.