‘Imitation Game’ wins the festival and 7 other takeaways from Telluride 2014

TELLURIDE – The 41st Annual Telluride Film Festival is over, and as noted by HitFix's own Kris Tapley, it has provided an important awards season kickoff for films such as “Birdman,” “The Imitation Game,” “Wild,” “Rosewater” and “Foxcatcher.” Even with the recent star power of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, Telluride has been able to hang on to its singular charms as a non-red carpet, low-key, cinephile event (even if there were two new Canadian journalists on hand to check everything out and report back to the motherland).  



Yes, much to the chagrin of the Telluride organizers, the TIFF vs. Telluride (vs. Venice) story just won't go away. Even festival regulars who have attended for decades gossiped about how they couldn't believe how much press the story had gotten. Happily, it wasn't the only takeaway from another beautiful festival in the Colorado mountains.

'The Imitation Game' is the festival crowd-pleaser
There is no question about it: Morten Tyldum's “Imitation Game” won the 2014 Telluride Film Festival. This pundit may have significant problems with the ending (not Cumberbatch, mind you), but it had to be the favorite film of at least nine out of 10 people spoken to. That's great news for The Weinstein Company, which could have a sleeper hit on its hands (not to mention a likely Best Picture nominee).

No middle ground in theaters
Like Sundance, Telluride has a slight problem with a number of large venues to handle the more anticipated movies and a number of smaller 140-150 seat venues for the rest of the programming. The problem is that often unexpected buzzworthy titles get relegated to the smaller venues for all of their screenings (this year, “Wild Tales,” a few years ago, “A Separation”), which means many regular pass holders can't get in unless they can stay until Tuesday morning (in fact, a “Wild Tales” screening added to a large theater Monday night). Granted, you can't see every movie at every film festival (well, maybe the main Cannes slates you can), but Telluride is supposed to come close. Throwing a few more late night screenings into the mix might alleviate the problem.

Steve Carell rules Telluride
Yes, lots of people wanted to say hello to Channing Tatum, Reese Witherspoon and Jon Stewart as they walked through town. That being said, Tatum's “Foxcatcher” co-star Steve Carell ruled the weekend, and he probably didn't even know it. Case in point, with notables such as Hilary Swank, Mike Leigh, Gael García Bernal, Witherspoon and Stewart in attendance, Carell was clearly the most popular person at the annual patron kick-off picnic. He actually had so many well wishers I'd guess he probably walked no more than 50 feet in the entire party space (I hope someone brought him an omelette).

Sometimes a Telluride movie isn't a Telluride movie
It happens at every festival. A movie filmmakers or studios think is a perfect fit just doesn't play as well as they would hope. There were no disasters this year (“Inside Llewyn Davis” was close in 2013), but there were often only polite comments about some films (“Foxcatcher,” and, surprisingly, “Mommy”) and barely a trickle about others (“Mr. Turner,” “The Homesman”). 

The festival can't expand to five days even if it wanted to
Because Telluride celebrated 40 years in 2013, the festival gave attendees a bonus with an extra day of screenings. With so many movies to see, that added day was tremendously helpful and gave the fest an even more leisurely pace than it normally has. Colleagues must have brought up how much they missed the “extra” day numerous times during this year's “normal” length installment. Speaking to a member of the festival board, it became clear how difficult it would be for Telluride to do that on a regular basis. It's not about cost. The problem is it would mean the pre-festival setup would cut into the use of two local school buildings during the first week of classes. Will the fest try and make it work on other special occasions? Sure, but even as demand increases, Telluride is stuck at its current time frame…for now.

The Herzog is the new SHOW palace
It used to be that all the big premieres were at one of two venues: the Palm (at one time the biggest theater) and the Galaxy (the second largest). Even with the opening of the new Herzog with its 650 seats last year, the must-see world premieres were mostly at the other two aforementioned venues (“Gravity” was the notable exception). That all changed in 2014. The Herzog got almost everything. And if it wasn't there it was at the Galaxy. Moreover, for the first time in five years, the Palm (“Black Swan,” “Under the Skin,” “The King's Speech,” among others) didn't enjoy my presence once.

No one wants to go to Toronto
Listen, we're not trying to rag on the competing festival in the Great White North and, to be clear, no one from the festival said a word about it (or wanted to). However, the number of times someone would mention how much they were dreading going to Toronto later this week bordered on the comical. The contrasts in style and locale have a lot to do with it, but I can't remember the last time there was so much angst about TIFF.  From the acquisition side there is concern there aren't that many good pickups screening, and on the press side, the media is looking at the slate and seeing very few movies that even have the potential to be something special. Let's hope we're wrong.

Will a new wave of press attendees annoy the old timers?
As someone in line for a movie put it so eloquently, “You don't have to worry about the riff-raff up here.” That means celebrity gawkers just in town to take a photo of their favorite stars or locals who really aren't every day movie lovers. Yes, there are a ton of rich people up here (hearing people wax about their homes in Napa, the Hamptons, Vail or Santa Barbara before a film is a common occurrence), but for the most part there are enough cinephiles or true movie fans to outweigh them and minimize their presence. Perhaps thanks to all the Toronto vs. TIFF vs. Venice buzz there were markedly more new press members this year than ever before. Managing how much publicity a festival like Telluride should receive is a difficult balancing act. In the past, the organizers had the fact that there were no free media passes to stifle too much attention (you have to pay like everyone else). As news outlets continue to realize the festival's prominence in the pantheon of great worldwide film festivals, it may start to become a problem.

What films are you most excited about after the buzz from Telluride and Venice? Share your thoughts below.