Telluride Roundup: ‘A Royal Affair,’ ‘Iceman,’ ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’

It will painful for the organizers to hear this, but it was hard to find anyone who thought this was a strong year for the Telluride Film Festival.  The 39th edition featured tributes to Marion Cotillard and Mads Mikkelsen, but only one or two films that had the attendees raving. Longtime festival goers didn’t seem to mind that much, however, as they see the annual Labor Day event as a time to catch up with old cinephile friends from around the country.  

Telluride doesn’t like to think of itself as an industry festival, but it clearly is. As HitFix and In Contention readers have been reminded numerous times, Telluride is a toe dipping event for potential Oscar players and this year’s big winner is “Argo.”  To say that Warner Bros. has something on their hands with “Argo” is an massive understatement.  Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort was universal praised and it was usually the first movie anyone mentioned when quizzed about what they liked. The reaction was so strong from industry veterans at the festival that “Argo” has already taken the frontrunner mantle before its “official” Toronto International Film Festival world premiere.  Score one for Warner Bros.

This pundit has already weighed in on “Francis Ha” and “Ginger and Rosa,” but here’s a rundown of reactions from other pictures that screened at Telluride over the weekend.

“At Any Price”
Award Season Prospects:  Dennis Quaid has an outside chance at a best actor nomination if Sony Classics qualifies “Price” with a one-week run in December (the studio says it plans to release “Price” in 2013).
Lowdown: Ramin Bahrani’s drama has some nice moments, but falters under Quaid’s somewhat hammy performance and a third act turn that feels both unnecessary and forced. Zac Efron is fine as Quaid’s rebellious son although it may yes somewhat telling that his most memorable moment is a sex scene with Heather Graham.  The real standout, is relative newcomer Maika Monroe who delivers a performance that feels more authentic to the picture’s Midwest setting than any of her more established peers.

“A Royal Affair”
Award Season Prospects: If it becomes Denmark’s submission in the foreign language race it could have an excellent shot at making the final five.  The picture’s costumes, production design and cinematography could also score nominations if U.S. distributor Magnolia Pictures campaigns it (a big if).
Lowdown: Based on the true story of a scandalous affair between the Queen of Denmark and the King’s personal doctor in the 17th century, Nikolaj Arcel’s drama is an entertaining addition to the historical romance genre.  Perhaps a good 15 minutes too long (the one universal complaint from Telluride) its driven by superb turns from Mad Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander and Mikkel Boe Folsgaard as King Christian VII (who in a perfect world would have a legitimate shot for a best supporting actor nod).

“The Iceman”
Award Season Prospects: Michael Shannon is absolutely superb as notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski.  The question is whether the film’s violence and genre flavor will quash any chance for Shannon to land a best actor nomination.  However, if the film is released this year he could certainly land an Independent Spirit nod.  Ray Liotta is also fantastic in familiar mob thriller territory, but best supporting actor recognition is gonna be hard to come by.
Lowdown: Another true life tale, Shannon shoots, kicks, kills and carries this film on his back from beginning to end.  Aided by nice turns by Chris Evans, Liotta, Robert Davi and David Schwimmer’s pornstache and Winona “don’t call it a proper comeback” Ryder, “Iceman” is more entertaining than you’d expect it to be. There was debate in Telluride over how commercial the picture is (it could easily be a sleeper hit in my opinion), but producer Avi Lerner of Millennium Films will likely hold out for an acquisition price from a major distributor that he’ll never get.  Millennium has had better luck releasing on their own (see “Bernie”) so there’s hope “Iceman” could get the theatrical release it deserves.

Grade: B-
Award Season Prospects: A clear player as Austria’s submission for foreign language film and stars Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant both have a shot for acting nominations.
Lowdown: Many critics and cinephiles adore Michael Haneke’s touching Palm D’Or winner, but I’m not one of them. It features superb performances by Trintignant and Riva, no doubt.  What may disappoint some, however, is the lack of intimacy Haneke allows the viewer to experience with his subjects.  It isn’t a requirement to have an emotional reaction at the end of a film, but just as many Telluride attendees didn’t react to “Amour” as those who did.  Is it a foreign language player?  Yes. Will certain critics make it a staple of year-end top 10 lists? Yes.  Is it a general best picture player? Not in my opinion, but it’s early.

“Hyde Park on Hudson”

Grade: C
Award Season Prospects: In theory, a best picture player, Laura Linney for best actress and Bill Murray for best actor.
Lowdown: The biggest disappointment at Telluride, “Hudson” just feels like a misfire all around.  The film is really about FDR’s romantic relationship with his cousin, Margaret Stuckley (Linney), and that would be fine if their pairing wasn’t a complete bore. Murray is, um, good (?) as FDR, but it feels like something is missing from his performance.  Overall, the film is devoid of energy and the storyline’s central event – the visit of King George and Queen Consort Elizabeth – feels incredibly drawn out (something you have to blame director Roger Michell for).  Focus may be able to swing some art house coin on this one based on Murray and Linney toplining, but awards season kudos will be tough to come by.

“Rust & Bone”
Grade: B+
Award Season Prospects: The picture should be France’s foreign language submission (assuming they don’t go with “The Intouchables”), but Marion Cotillard is a slam dunk in the best actress category.  
Lowdown: Jacques Audiard’s original drama suffers from some awkward plot devices (Cotillard is a killer whale handler in an aquatic park, Matthias Schoenaerts is a future MMA fighter) and the storyline gets a tad too melodramatic in the third act, but “Rust & Bone” could be a very nice art house hit for Sony Classics. The film’s tone and storyline feels more American and therefore more relatable to U.S. audiences than a typical French film (a criticism by some French at Cannes). Whether that’s enough to fuel a surprise nomination for the superb Schoenaerts (“Bullhead”) remains to be seen.

“The Gatekeepers”

Grade: B+
Awards Season Prospects: An easy nominee in the best documentary category if Sony Classics decides to qualify it for this year.
Lowdown: Dror Moreh’s doc chronicles the history of Israel’s Shin Bet and that country’s decades old conflict with the Palestinian people and now Palestinian state.  Remarkably, Moreh gets four former heads of the Shin Bet to speak on camera about their experiences and the quartet are shockingly blunt about where they see the conflict going. It’s a fantastic historical record of the Shin Bet, but if MOreh thinks it might have an effect on the situation today his own subjects make that a hard proposition to swallow.

Next up, Toronto.  What will the reaction to “The Master” be on this side of the Atlantic?  Will “To The Wonder” find more love north of the border?  Can “Cloud Atlas” win over the critics? Can “Silver Lining Playbook” and “The Impossible” make significant moves in the best picture race?  Does CBS Films have a screenplay player in “Seven Psychopaths”? Will Kristen Stewart actually show up for the “On The Road” special screening? (Sorry, had to go there.)  Find out every day as HitFix’s Drew McWeeny and myself hustle across downtown Toronto beginning tomorrow.