On Telluride’s newfound place in the season, and a modest glimpse ahead

The dust has settled. I've had an opportunity to go back and look at the Oscars telecast away from a work setting (let's finally leave poor John Travolta alone). The 86th annual Academy Awards are a memory, and today, Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave” is available on DVD and Blu-ray (nice timing, folks). It was a wild ride, an unpredictable one, and one that started in the mountains of Colorado.

I was talking recently with someone about how the groundwork for phase two of a given awards season – that period of time when ballots are in hand and winners are being decided – is really laid in phase one, if not earlier. By the time you get to phase two, more or less, everyone knows what they're voting for. It almost becomes a formality.

Plenty of it has to do with the movies, of course. Studios like Paramount – which does a great job of landing nominations, often against significant odds, yet has had a tough time picking up picture, director, actor or actress wins as of late – are only at the whim of the potential for movies like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Nebraska” to push past the other highlights of the year. And in the case of those two movies, by the way, the former didn't arrive until December while the latter stumbled out of the gate at Cannes before eventually gaining its composure.

Basically, putting your best foot forward early seems to be the secret. And the Telluride Film Festival has become a great launching pad for awards season success, largely because of the press boom it has received in the last five years. Prior to that, it was a nice, tucked-away secret without much of a media platform, but in the wake of “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King's Speech,” “Argo” and now “12 Years a Slave,” all of which launched at Telluride before winning Best Picture (and add to that “The Artist,” which kept its festival stride going there out of Cannes), it's clear there's something about kicking off your season in the Rockies, and I think it has something to do with setting a tone.

By the time Toronto rolls around, with its media-heavy environment and tons of press and interviews being banked for fall releases, a certain tune has been struck. And that's not to take anything away from Toronto, which plays a heavy hand in this, too, but certainly after September, everyone is sort of playing to whatever that tune may already be. A wave of consistency has set in, and it has a lot to do with the big burst of Telluride media exposure netted for the few films that are able to play on that slate. When the press wasn't as attuned to the festival, the Oscar successes out of it were more modest. But something has clearly changed, and the only operative, noticeable thing, as far as I can tell, is the spike in coverage.

Of course, that comes with a caveat. Proclamations like “this film WILL WIN BEST PICTURE,” even if they (barely) pan out, remain asinine. And you'll continue to get journalists there looking to make a name, clamoring for attention, attempting to anoint and paint bull's-eyes on films' backs. But it can be helpful, too, particularly for films that aren't such obvious players primed and ready for the awards circuit as it is.

Tickets for the 2014 Telluride Film Festival go on sale this week, and I can only imagine that a year after the fest's 40th anniversary drove record sales and attendance, it will be even more on fire after its impact, perceived or otherwise, on this season. I also imagine a number of studios and filmmakers will be desperate for a big reveal on that stage.

Warner Bros., after “Argo” and “Gravity,” has obviously done well there. This year they have the Paul Thomas Anderson production “Inherent Vice.” “The Master” was a possibility a few years ago but didn't end up on the slate (the reasoning varying depending on who you talk to). So that would be at the top of my list of guesses.

Noah Baumbach launched “Frances Ha” at Telluride and has another Greta Gerwig collaboration on the way. That could show up. Depending on how long Sony Classics wants to hold it, a possibility last year, Bennett Miller's “Foxcatcher,” could show up. Or Alejandro González Iñárritu's “Birdman.” Or films by any number of auteurs, from Todd Haynes to Terence Malick.

(Of course, Toronto has put its foot down about studios going to Telluride, disallowing an opening weekend gala if they do so. I don't imagine that will make anyone flinch, however, as it's really win/win, pushing some of the bigger titles to the back end of Toronto rather than making it a front-loaded mess.)

This isn't a Telluride guessing game column, though, so much as a segue to looking ahead. We abandoned year-in-advance Oscar predictions long ago, and God bless those who still bother (we'll hold off until post-Cannes, when there is actual paint on the canvas). But just to casually glance at the upcoming awards season, it's obvious that Angelina Jolie's “Unbroken” could be a major player, and you can bet Universal Pictures will be eager to get back into the game after a bit of a dry spell. We took care of Emmanuel Lubezki's Oscar this year. Could Roger Deakins finally be on deck with this film?

I imagine Mike Leigh's J.M.W. Turner biopic “Mr. Turner” will be a fixture, and who knows how well films that straddle prestige and populist lines like David Fincher's “Gone Girl” and Christopher Nolan's “Interstellar” will fare? We've already seen movies like “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” launch at Sundance and Berlin respectively and make a case for being remembered by year's end, and I'm sure I'll be pulling for folks like Jeff Nichols (“Midnight Special”), Jon Stewart (“Rosewater”) and more, in addition to the Telluride guesses above.

It promises to be an interesting season, but if it's half as compelling as the one we just wrapped up, then it will be a special one indeed.

So until the craziness begins anew, read my final thoughts on the 2013-2014 Oscar season here, take in Guy's take here, get a load of Gerard's final crafts category analysis here and listen to the swan song edition of Oscar Talk here. Greg will be back soon enough with a list of lessons learned this season, but I know the one I learned: TAKE A VACATION. So I'll try to find some time for that shortly.

Thanks, as always, for reading and engaging. We appreciate you.