Twenty seven films will play during the four days of the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, one of the three major fall festivals viewed as a predictor of the Academy Award nominations, along with the Toronto International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. With the official 2015 Telluride film festival lineup being this Thursday, 24 hours before the festival is due to begin on Friday, cinephiles are undoubtedly busy wondering which of these highly-anticipated films will end up taking home the trophy for Best Picture at the 88th Oscars next February.
It's statistically likely that our next Best Picture winner is hiding somewhere in that list of 27 titles. Four of the past seven winners of the big prize had their world premieres at Telluride (12 Years A Slave, Argo, The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire) and two more (Birdman, The Artist) also screened at the festival despite having already premiered elsewhere. In fact, since 2008, only one Best Picture winner (The Hurt Locker) didn't play Telluride at all.
Could one of these seven movies — which were already gaining plenty of Oscar buzz even before being announced as official Telluride selections — be the one that will be anointed as the singular "best" of 2015?
Beasts Of No Nation
This movie by director Cary Fukunaga (who directed all of True Detective Season 1 — and none of Season 2) and starring Idris Elba has already stirred up plenty of controversy, as it will be the first feature film ever to be released simultaneously in theaters and on Netflix. This decision has caused the country's four biggest cinema chains to boycott the film (so don't go looking for it at your local AMC, Carmike, Cinemark, or Regal). But it's possible that Academy voters could award Beast's unflinchingly brutal depiction of West African child soldiers.
A biopic about Whitey Bulger, the real life Boston mob boss who inspired Jack Nicholson's character in Martin Scorsese's 2006 Best Picture winner The Departed, this film feels like a direct response to all those critics saying Johnny Depp had lost his touch in all those Pirates Of The Caribbean movies. With a veritable who's who of character actors — Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, Adam Scott, Jesse Plemons — Black Mass is almost certain to be a crowd pleaser.
Most predictions will likely place this period piece, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as lovers in 1950s New York, high on their list of Best Picture contenders. The parallels between Carol and The Artist are clear: both films premiered at Cannes before going on to play at Telluride, and both their lead actors won the top prize at Cannes. (Jean Dujardin for The Artist, Mara in a surprise upset over her co-lead Blanchett for Carol). Will the parallels continue all the way to the Oscars?
Another literary adaptation starring a possible Best Actress contender, this film — about a young mother raising her son in captivity after having been abducted years earlier — will likely prove too small to break into some of the bigger races (Picture, Director), but Actress and Screenplay (author Emma Donoghue adapted her own novel) should be well within reach. And never discount the magic of Telluride to propel the film higher than expected.
This is a movie based on a true story about the Boston journalists who won a Pulitzer for exposing the Catholic sex abuse scandal, starring the Oscar-nominated lead actor of last year's Best Picture winner (Michael Keaton), a couple of other Oscar nominees (Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci), and a bevy of beloved supporting players (Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup)? Sounds like a recipe for instant Oscar gold.
In 2008, Danny Boyle started the current trend of Telluride/Oscar correlations with his effervescent Slumdog Millionaire. Now, he's returning to the festival with a biopic about one of the preeminent tech geniuses of modern times, scripted by one of the preeminent writing geniuses of modern times, Aaron Sorkin. Can Boyle replicate his own success? Academy voters do love a good biopic, and a supporting cast including Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and Seth Rogen certainly won't hurt.
Queen Meryl herself will personally vie for her 20th Academy Award nomination for her role as real-life leader of the British women's suffrage movement, Emmeline Pankhurst. But she's hardly the only draw here. Academy Award nominees Carey Mulligan (An Education) and Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech) join the fight to rock the vote in a rare Oscar contender that's both written and directed by women. A Best Picture win for Suffragette would certainly be a timely and satisfying victory.
And no matter which one of these films takes the prize (if any), they're sure to be the movies we wind up talking about well into the beginning of 2016.
Images: The Weinstein Company; Bleecker Street; Warner Bros. Pictures; A24; Open Road Films; Universal Pictures; Focus Features