Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The word from Telluride and Venice

It’s barely the penumbra of awards season, but praise is bubbling for 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and Philomena

Sat, Aug 31, 2013, 22:06


Greetings from Venice where we are not. We are not at Telluride either. But it’s worth having a glance at the gossip emerging from those two places as the absurdly long run-in to Oscar season creaks into action. Firstly, hats off to Paul Duane and David Cairns whose fine Irish documentary Natan — a study of film pioneer Bernard Natan — played to some acclaim at Telluride. That Colorado festival often deals in sneak, surprise previews of hot films and the push for Natan should propel it in further worthwhile directions.

The Telluride and Venice events engage with those films that weren’t quite ready for Cannes or whose releases have been positioned to attract Oscar voters attention at the end of the year. This process really kicks into gear with Toronto in a few day’s time.

Put simply, if the critics are to be believed, everyone has delivered so far. Playing in a sneak before its official premiere at Toronto, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave — the story of a man sold into bondage — has received the sort of reviews any director would kill for. The Variety notice has good words to say about everyone: director McQueen; star Chiwitel Ejiofor; even composer Hans Zimmer. “It’s a shame that such injustice was allowed to exist for so long — 12 years for Northrup and nearly 250 for those less fortunate — and an even bigger disgrace that it takes a British director to stare the issue in its face,” the trade magazine notes. They have a point. It is somewhat astonishing to note how little interest Hollywood has, to this point, paid to the subject of slavery. Other reviews have been equally strong.

Over at the Lido, events kicked off with Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Again, the critics have been blown away. Featuring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts cast adrift after being struck by debris, the picture is being praised as an unusually well-crafted action romp. The reliable Stephanie Zacharek from the Village Voice notes:  “Gravity is harrowing and comforting, intimate and glorious, the kind of movie that makes you feel more connected to the world rather than less.” Phew!

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What about Stephen Frears’s Philomena? This, as you will probably be aware, is the heart-tugger, largely filmed in our northern counties, about an older woman who sets out to locate the son she unwillingly gave up for adoption many years previously. By all accounts, they were alternately blubbing and cheering in the aisles. The word that has been most often used is “crowd-pleaser”. As Xan Brooks put it in the Guardian:  ”Philomena, which bowed to rapturous applause at the Venice film festival, is an ongoing, confounding delight of a film.” Judi Dench stars alongside Steve Coogan.

Also picking up good reviews are David Gordon Green’s Joe, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves and Lukas Moodysson’s We are the Best. The race is on.

Oh, and since you ask, we will see almost none of these films before Christmas. The one exception is Philomena which will be with us on November 1st. Stay in this place for our own assessments.