Tag Archives: Telluride Film Festival

Independent film studio A24 is a powerhouse that just won’t stop

In 2013, A24 made waves promoting the wild indie film Spring Breakers, even going so far as to launch an Oscar campaign for James Franco with the slogan “Consider this sh*t.” Immediately, they were different. Immediately, they were refreshing.

In 2014, A24 distributed critical gems still talked about today. Most notably among them were Enemy, Under the Skin, Locke, Obvious Child and A Most Violent Year.

In 2015, A24 didn’t just stick its foot in the Oscar door — it shoved it open and sweeped nametags off the table to make a spot for itself. Ex Machina won Best Visual Effects. Brie Larson won Best Lead Actress for Room. Amy won Best Documentary Feature. And they still made other darlings: Slow West, While We’re Young and The End of the Tour.

In 2016, A24 made history, as Moonlight won Best Motion Picture, making it the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBTQ+ film to do so.

David Bornfriend/A24/Courtesy

Its other films that year continued to expand how we perceive cinema. The Witch further defined the contemporary horror film. Krisha introduced us to Trey Edward Shults. Green Room reminded us of Jeremy Saulnier. 20th Century Women made the word “sublime” tangible. And The Lobster and Swiss Army Man are two of the most fucking bizarre and wonderful movies of recent memory.

And in 2017, A24 looks to do more.

In an age where film is dying in a bland spate of sameness, A24 not only knows to be different, but to have a purpose and to be true. That’s why each film it distributes feels specifically like an A24 film, like a part of the A24 brand. Nothing really feels out of place or, what would be worse, indistinguishable, as the creatives are like gallery curators with little of the stereotypical snob and far more fun.

They go from making a Tinder account for the artificially intelligent robot in Ex Machina to starting a Twitter page for the goat in The Witch, from sending media physical messages in a bottle for Swiss Army Man to opening a shop with ghost sheets for A Ghost Story. And it’s not just out-there gestures like these; A24 hosts meticulously designed plans that place each film in a spot to succeed.

A24/Courtesy

The company also knows to diversify within that brand. This isn’t your Fox Searchlights or your Sony Pictures Classics, where there’s almost too much that’s indistinguishable. With A24, even films seen by only a few feel singular in and of themselves. Free Fire is an action packed, guns-ablazing joy ride, with ravishingly badass posters to accompany. The Lovers is an odd yet deeply realized, deeply felt and deeply funny romantic comedy that’s a bit more friendly to an older crowd, featuring the ever wonderful Debra Winger and Tracy Letts. It Comes At Night haunts our paranoid nightmares, subverting horror expectations and getting people talking. Good Time is a neon trip — a frenetic, chaotic and deliciously addictive crime film with a Robert Pattinson we’ve never met before. And A Ghost Story transcends the dimensions of cinema, glaring into our bodies and our souls like only the most profound pieces of art can.

That’s only what A24 has released in 2017 so far. It would be tough to be evaluative of an upcoming slate, but it’s not surprising that A24 films are the current talk of the festival circuit, as the company has four more that could make their own weird and gleeful stamp on the year.

First, at the beginning of October, comes The Florida Project, from Tangerine director Sean Baker. A testament to diversifying, the film stars children, with the lead, Brooklynn Prince, being merely 7. Critics have already deemed it as one of the great films about childhood with others guaranteeing that Willem Dafoe is nominated for an Oscar.

A24/Courtesy

Nearing Halloween, the more horrific side of Yorgos Lanthimos, director of The Lobster, will be unveiled with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. A Cannes premiere like The Florida Project, Sacred Deer has been received with a bit less unanimity than Baker’s film, but the intensity of the divide makes it all the more fascinating. A24 is a distributor that will take chances, a distributor that wants to make “radical work,” and Lanthimos’ picture certainly falls in that realm.

As November comes, something quite special arrives: Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird. An incredibly successful writer and actor already, giving one of her most moving performances in A24’s 20th Century Women, Gerwig is a talent that needs further platform, and for good reason. Premiering at Telluride Film Festival and moving to Toronto International Film Festival, Lady Bird is one of the most lovingly spoken about films to have traveled to one or both of those cities. More than a few critics have deemed it their favorite of the Colorado festival, and as it’s traveled to Canada, some have even expected the film to resonate in a similarly way to the landmark Boyhood, which, in turn, could lead to a legitimate Oscar threat.

Wrapping up the busy year, A24 will release The Disaster Artist, the James Franco-directed-and-uarring film about the making of the iconically trashed The Room, in December. The film visited South by Southwest as a work in progress, and was lauded at the time. Screening as a prepared cut last night at Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness, the film received a standing ovation from the crowd, who stayed on their feet throughout the entire Q&A afterward, something many festival frequenters had never seen before. Maybe with The Disaster Artist, an A24 James Franco awards campaign could have some results. “Oh, hi Oscars.”

A24/Courtesy

No other distributor (and production company) garners buzz quite like this. The Shape of Water premiered to adoration, but no one is really mentioning Fox Searchlight. Call Me by Your Name is said to be one of the most emotionally affecting films of the year, but few go out of their way to talk about it within the context of the Sony Pictures Classics brand. None of this is to put down those films, but it really does make something clear.

A24 isn’t just a vehicle through which its movies are funneled. It becomes a part of the movies themselves, almost as an auteur figure behind them, which is undoubtedly a reason why, by the end of the year, A24 will be the studio that stands out the most. Its films are almost like events nowadays, something previously ascribed only to studio blockbusters.

But most importantly, A24 is making the movies fun again — not just the movies themselves, but the anticipation of them, the promotional and paratextual consumption of them and the discourse created in their aftermath. Movie-going isn’t just sitting in a theater; it’s everything else too. And if companies like A24 keep innovating, the movies might have a chance.

Featured image via A24.

Saoirse Ronan breaks from small town cage in first trailer for Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut ‘Lady Bird’

Greta Gerwig has had an incredibly successful acting and writing career, working on scripts with Noah Baumbach for Frances Ha and Mistress America, among others, and delivering wonderful performances in those films as well as, most recently, in 20th Century Women. And now, Gerwig is stepping behind the camera for her directorial debut Lady Bird, which is a semi-autobiographical story following Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) as a high school senior trying to leave Northern California for the East Coast. A24 released the first trailer for Lady Bird today.

The film premiered at Telluride this past Friday, where many critics hailed it as their favorite of the Colorado film festival, which also played host to films like HostilesFirst They Killed My Father, Battle of the SexesThe Shape of Water and Darkest Hour. Variety has even posited Ronan as, currently, one of the stronger contenders for Best Lead Actress.

Lady Bird also stars Laurie Metcalf as McPherson’s mother — a central role as many are calling this a mother-daughter story, and praising Metcalf for her work — Tracy Letts as her father, Lucas Hedges as a good friend and Timothée Chalamet as a love interest. The film is set to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival later this week as well as at New York Film Festival in October before releasing on November 10.

Saoirse Ronan recently started filming the Beau Willimon written, Josie Rourke directed Mary, Queen of Scots, which is eyeing a 2018 premiere and also stars Margot Robbie and David Tennant. Greta Gerwig will provide voice work for Wes Anderson’s animated project Isle of Dogs, which will hit the big screen on March 23, 2018. A24 has a fairly full slate this fall/winter with The Florida ProjectThe Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Disaster Artist all set to release.

Featured image via A24.

Christian Bale is a Western cavalryman in first ‘Hostiles’ trailer

Christian Bale and writer-director Scott Cooper have reteamed, after Out of the Furnace, for the upcoming Western Hostiles, which follows Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Bale) as he reluctantly escorts a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and a grieving woman (Rosamund Pike) through hostile territory. The film premiered this weekend at Telluride Film Festival to incredible acclaim, with The Hollywood Reporter and Variety saying that Bale could be a very strong Oscar contender for his performance. Riding that buzz, Hostiles has dropped its first trailer, released through Deadline Hollywood.

Hostiles finds itself in a very unique position this fall, currently without a distributor, which may be why the trailer landed with Deadline instead of being released through a film company online. The film accompanied a tribute to Christian Bale’s career at Telluride, which started the buzz of who might acquire the title — with companies such as Annapurna (new to distribution), Sony Pictures Classics and Netflix rumored as in the mix. But Variety says that Telluride isn’t particularly a festival where titles get picked up and suggests that there won’t be any official news until, at the earliest, Toronto International Film Festival, where the film is set to screen next on September 11.

With a trailer dropping, it seems as though the film is eyeing a 2017 release, considering that, with the Oscar buzz, it would be a strange move to release a trailer now and then wait over a year to release it next fall. A distributor would have to act fast to put together a marketing campaign that can get enough people in the theater to then realize that awards potential. And it also seems, with the subject matter, that 2017 is the prime window for a release, as the film deals with themes of hatred, racism and reconciliation, and can compare to today’s times, as talked about by Scott Cooper in Variety’s film podcast Playback.

Featured image via Lorey Sebastian, Le Grisbi Productions and Waypoint Entertainment.

Top ten films premiered at Telluride Film Festival since 2010

Amid the swaths of festivals, Telluride, taking place between September 1-4, stands out as an unpretentious yet incredibly prestigious venue for some of the most honest films of the year. Like the town in which it takes place, Telluride is small and intimate. It evokes the best of what a film community can be, in genuine artistry, but also in just being fans of movies and of movie-makers; it was a key moment in the great friendship between the La La Land and Moonlight creative teams, which maintained despite the audience split that sprouted during the awards season. And while many of the Oscar hopefuls look to the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival for their starts, the quieter premieres at Telluride often have the grander impact. Since 2010, the best of the best from Telluride Film Festival are breathtaking. From Oscar winners to profound independents to landmark documentaries, the top ten Telluride films of the last seven years show the best of what cinema can be.

10. Wild

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

While many may point to Dallas Buyers Club and Big Little Lies when thinking of Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, it would be a shame to ignore the gem that is Wild. First and foremost, any film that features the sublime, timeless, astounding Laura Dern in even just a slightly weighty role is one to adore. But Wild crafts not only its character, Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl, so instinctively, but it also crafts the journey of Cheryl so tenderly and affectingly. Cheryl confronts the wild in her long walk from the top of the U.S. to the bottom, and the film follows suit, embracing a sort of vulnerable physicality in its color palette, in its subtle sound and intimate cinematography. Wild may not be the most jaw-dropping or impressive film, but it’s one that finds its way underneath one’s skin and into one’s bones because it is so human.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Frances Ha

IFC Films/Courtesy

Frances Ha is director Noah Baumbach’s ebullient tribute to the cinema of the French New Wave. We follow the titular Frances (the incredible Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach) as she meets friends, moves from apartment to apartment and tries to reconcile her dreams of dancing with the possibility that they’ll remain dreams and nothing more. Though the film is in black and white, the spread of emotions that Frances endures is hardly so — the film pinwheels from her trademark levity to crushing lows, before rising to a strained melancholy and finally settling on a relieved contentedness. That such dichotomies coexist in the film isn’t jarring, but rather endearing. We’ve all had nights that started out perfectly, but then take a hard left into awfulness that only seems to get worse, and that’s a sentiment that the film understands and addresses with humor and sensitivity. Befittingly, the film isn’t reliant on plot, but that’s okay — we’re happy to have known Frances, if but for an hour and a half.

— Harrison Tunggal

8. The Descendants

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

Against all odds, Alexander Payne’s 2011 film The Descendants pairs adultery, comatose spouses and Hawaiian real estate in a simultaneously heartwrenching and hilarious examination of what family really means. The film follows Matt King (George Clooney) as his wife is injured in a jetskiing accident and he is forced to decide whether or not to leave his now comatose wife on life support — a decision made more difficult by the realization that she had been having an affair. Clooney and Shailene Woodley, in arguably both their finest work to date, carry the film on their transparently expressive faces, captured lovingly in close-up by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. True to the book on which it is based, The Descendants almost veers too far into cruel, biting satire at times, but no one is better suited to walk the balance between bleak humanity and the humor found in everyday life than Alexander Payne. While certain scenes stand out as all-timers (Clooney’s famous hospital monologue, Woodley’s character revealing her mother’s affair), The Descendants in its entirety is a hard look at dealing with the past, managing the present and confronting the future.

— Kate Halliwell

7. Steve Jobs

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Steve Jobs had such a dramatic journey to the big screen — an intensely buzzed-about Aaron Sorkin script originally connected to David Fincher and with Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale rumored to star. But the creative team it ended up with was a perfect match. Danny Boyle’s high-energy direction scores Jobs with an electric edge and Michael Fassbender transforms subtly yet entirely, embodying the icon with a domineering physicality, especially in vocal tone, while deconstructing his problematic persona and humanizing his core — not necessarily sacrificing one for the other. The film has massive ambitions, with a story structure similar to a play and carrying a character in light of Citizen Kane. It might not reach all of its goals, but it finds a place in contemporary cinema that so many films have tried for but failed.

— KK

6. Under the Skin

A24/Courtesy

On very simple terms, Under the Skin is an astonishing vehicle for the auric, subtle physicality that Scarlett Johansson can take hold of in a performance, as well as for the viscerally invasive work of composer Mica Levi — many critics still cite her score as one of the best of the 21st century. But, quite obviously, Under the Skin is anything but simple. Delving deep into the avant garde, as well as other more visually focused traditions, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi picture, about an alluring woman, is oftentimes terrifying without us even realizing how intensely so until afterward, or until the pop of a body contorted by forces beyond its control. As viewers, we oftentimes feel like a victim trapped beneath — a purposeful effect that produces a pure sense of the image, oftentimes simple in color and composition but wildly unnerving in context, that only cinema could. Of course, this leaves little easy explanation and few paths for traditional absorption, making Under the Skin difficult to encounter. But if we surrender ourselves to visual language, the film will prove deeply human, without much of the sentimentality, and gendered in its experience, deconstructivist in its angle and, honestly, just fucking weird — in a good way.

— KK

5. Prisoners

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The sense of mounting dread that director Denis Villeneuve builds in Prisoners is staggering to behold. Drenched in darkness and shadow by the master himself, Roger Deakins, this film transports the viewer into a world of ubiquitous horror, one where corpses fill basements, families descend into violence and even moments of reprieve contort into the realization that we’re all shackled to those we love, for better or worse. This is a film where your heart keep sinking to depths you didn’t know existed, right to its final shot. Prisoners also sports a stellar cast firing on all cylinders — Hugh Jackman’s intensity makes his performance in this film one of his finest, Jake Gyllenhaal showcases the cold determination he would later dial to eleven in Nightcrawler and Paul Dano ratchets up the tension by keeping the audience on its toes. Additionally, Viola Davis brings her eminent gravitas while Terrence Howard matches Jackman’s fear and desperation as they search for their missing daughters. Prisoners is arguably Denis Villeneuve’s best film, and we can’t wait to see how his sensibilities translate to Blade Runner 2049 and other future projects.

— HT

4. Anomalisa

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

This stop-motion picture is difficult to confront, venturing into the abstract in many areas. But, as one should expect with Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa, a film without actual humans, is filled with a humanity unlike most other films. It is, in large part, because of the voice work. David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh provide an affectingly raw basis within this world, conveying vulnerability and the weight of the human condition through tiny inflections. And Tom Noonan, literally voicing every other figure, is shockingly hilarious and horrifyingly scary at the same time. Yet, the voices become that profound because of the imagery within which they inhabit. Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson frame each shot with a deep understanding of theme, that everything so blandly and terrifyingly blends together, that the world is unrewarding and depressing, that finding someone within the void is miraculous and losing them to the blend is a nightmare. The amalgamation brings about an intimacy that only a masterful film could build.

— KK

3. Room

A24/Courtesy

Book-to-movie adaptations, as a rule, are difficult to pull off, and that challenge increases exponentially when the source material in question is narrated in entirety by a five year old boy with a limited understanding of the world. It gets even harder when that world consists of a tiny one-room shed, and the boy’s mother — the room’s only other occupant — chooses to raise him as if that one room really is the entire universe. So begins Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Room, starring Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson as a mother and son held in captivity until their eventual escape. Room is effectively split in two halves, which places the duo’s plotting and escape at odds with their tentative transition back into the outside world. The film would go on to win Larson her first Oscar and cement Tremblay’s place as Hollywood’s cutest kid, but it served as far more than a vehicle for its stars-to-be. Bleak, hard-to-watch moments combine with an enduring sense of childlike curiosity in what is already deservedly considered to be one of the best book adaptations of all time.

— KH

2. The Act of Killing

Final Cut for Real/Courtesy

The Act of Killing is a difficult film to watch, and if you’re at all connected to the killings that took place in Indonesia from 1965-1966, then Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary is downright excruciating. The film’s two main subjects, Anwar Congo and Herman Koto, belonged to a government death squad that extorted from and killed more than one million communists and Chinese Indonesians. They gloat about the lives they took and how they took them, going to obscene lengths to reenact their methods. It’s a sick parody of cinephilia — Congo and Koto claim to be inspired by the violence in the films they idolized, and some of the reenactments are draped in the trappings of their favorite genres. And these are just barely the reasons why The Act of Killing is a disturbing watch — ultimately, we’re left wondering if there’s redemption in remorse. After seeing the utter impunity of the murderers, such a question becomes disturbingly difficult, if not impossible, to answer. Unpleasant as it may be, The Act of Killing is truly an essential film, reminding us that the soul is at stake when blind nationalism supersedes morality.

— HT

1. Moonlight

David Bornfriend/A24/Courtesy

With a rare 99 on Metacritic, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is cinematic perfection. For anyone who’s seen the film, such a statement stands on its own, though additional validation comes from its historic Best Picture win at the 89th Academy Awards. But forget the craziness surrounding the moment of its victory — such things are much too loud for a film like Moonlight. It is a film predicated on an intimate viewing experience, one in which quiet subtleties in the performances of its all black cast and precise details in the filmmaking precipitate an immense significance. From the close-ups of Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland as their characters reunite, we see heartbreak and hope at the same time, and years of toxic, performative masculinity erode with just one look. From the final embrace of these two men, we see a moment of LGBTQ+ representation that is executed with the utmost sensitivity and tenderness. Then there’s James Laxton’s cinematography, where a shallow depth of field puts us with the characters, exacting a sense of empathy that lends the film its total hold over our emotions. It is impossible to overstate the significance of Moonlight, especially when empathy and sensitivity are becoming ever rarer, but with Barry Jenkins behind the camera, there’s hope that such qualities will persevere, at least on the big screen.

— HT

Featured image (modified) via Ken Lund.