Telluride 34 is over, and here are some preliminary thoughts, plus my five favorite things.
+ Perspeolis. A lovely, funny animated movie about growing up and out of Shah-controlled Iran.
+ The movie I did not see that got tremendous buzz: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, starring Mathieu Almaric and Max von Sydow.
+ People on Sunday, in 1929 one of the peaks of silent cinema, was conceived and filmed by the young quartet of Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and Edgar Ulmer with non-actors playing themselves. Accompanied live by the Mont Alto Orchestra, seeing this was a rare privilege.
+ Rails and Ties is the worst movie I've seen in a long time, and its inclusion tarnishes the reputation of Telluride. It's a manipulative cancer soap opera perpetrated by inept screenwriter Micky Levy and Clint Eastwood's director daughter, who have kidnapped Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden and thurst them into the ugliest roles of their careers. There are no words. Well, maybe four: don't see this movie.
And now for the top five:
5. Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There. Audiences swung from praise to indifference to condemnation of Haynes' opus, but everyone agreed on one thing: Blanchett is a sensation. She looks the part of Bob Dylan, but physicality only goes so far. She's burning from the inside out here, and I couldn't take my eyes of the flames.
4. Encounters at the End of the World. Watch the absurd quest of Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo and then watch the "absurd" quests of the people Herzog follows around Antarctica. The quotation marks are significant. They represent the hopefulness (I dare not say mellowing) of Werner Herzog. In Encounters, he explores our motives for studying the inhospitable environment of the South Pole and, therefore, our motives for seeking adventure and knowledge and for struggling to place ourselves in and transcend our Earth. This is Herzog's most accessible movie -- so accessible it will play on basic cable (the Discovery Channel) -- but that does not diminish its value.
3. The Band's Visit. Eight members of an Egyptian police orchestra end up in a remote Israeli village on the way to a gig. What results is a wonderfully controlled concerto of deadpan humor and reveling in the slight or deep connections between people of different nationalities and similar lonelinesses. This is a very funny movie -- the TFF program accurately compares its minimalist humor to Tati and Jarmusch -- that turns beautiful and a little profound at the end.
2. Juno. This movie deserves the success hijacked by Little Miss Sunshine last year, yet make no mistake: Juno gets nowhere near LMS's forced quirkness despite being the most original, snappily written high school romantic comedy in forever. Sixteen-year-old Juno (Ellen Page, alchemizing the best traits of Janeane Garofalo and Christina Ricci) gets pregnant by Michael Cera (who else?) and decides to have the baby and let it be adopted by a nicely manicured couple (Jason Bateman and a revelatory Jennifer Garner), all under the weary and bemused eyes of her brusque father (J.K. Simmons, in a role that finally allows him to show his talents) and perpetually turtlenecked stepmom (Allison Janney, that delight of delights). The best thing about Juno -- other than its energizing pace and sardonically eloquent dialogue by rookie writer Diablo Cody -- is that its characters sidestep every cliche without making a stink about it; Juno isn't just a smartass, the adoptive mother of her child isn't just a hypertense Home-and-Garden creep and Juno's stepmom isn't just a prickly interloper. These characters are complex and they are played with love.
"Who's ready to laugh?" asked director Jason Reitman when he introduced the movie. The audience applauded, the movie started, we all laughed and laughed (I'm saying a good hearty laugh at least once a minute), and at the end the audience erupted in cheers and whistles. Some people even stood. I saw 12 movies and five shorts and this is the only time there was a swelling, elated response from an audience.
There is nothing as exciting as a movie that starts breathing on its own. Know what I mean? When a movie is totally confidant, competently assembled and executed with verve and passion. Juno breathes on its own right away and never stops or hiccups. The laughs keep on coming, the cast is sterling and the movie, most importantly, has joy and heart -- not the cutesy Sundance-y joy and heart of LMS, or the insipid manufactured cultiness of The Movie That Dare Not Speak Its Name, but something far more edifying. I will cease with my praising. I don't want to set you up with too-high expectations. Let me simply revel in one of the great lines and moments in the movie: "In a couple years, when you move out, I'm gonna get Weimaraners."
1. Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild. Holbrook plays Ron Franz, an elderly retired military man who lost his wife and son in an auto accident 40 years prior to his meeting Chris McCandless, the foolish and passionate 23-year-old vagabond whom he picks up on the side of the road. Franz has compartmentalized himself in his quaint one-story house in the Southwest, venturing only as far as his garage, where he makes leather. His rendezvous with McCandless incites a verbal and tacit struggle between lust and restraint, adventure and reservation. Franz recognizes and reproaches the selfish and futile aspects of McCandless' quest, but he is at the same time liberated by this passionate young man who acts both as a son figure and as a motivator to not only live out one's days but to live them out in the extreme. The way Holbrook reacts to this sudden shakeup of his life is masterful and grounding. He enters the movie in its final 20 minutes and temporarilty elevates it to excellence, sidestepping the opportunity to play Franz as a goofy old coot or a stone-cold curmudgeon. What Holbrook accomplishes is very real, familiar and moving.