Telluride 2015 Diary #1: ‘Anomalisa’, ‘Taxi’, ‘He Named Me Malala’ + Awards Buzz

     September 6, 2015


If you follow the fall film festival circuit you’ve probably already read about how unique the Telluride Film Festival is. But since this is the first time that Collider has gone, I’m going to post a few thoughts about the festival, and include some quick thoughts on a few of the screenings that I’ve attended.

Firstly, Telluride is difficult to get to, but as its nestled in the southern portion of the Rocky Mountain high country it’s a pleasant extra one or two hour drive from the small Grand Junction or Montrose airports. The actual site of the town and festival is breathtaking. There are magpies in the many trees, waterfalls accessible nearby, and many river walk paths that you can take to the different theater sites.

Image via TFF

As someone who grew up in the Mountain West, I’ve seen a few cute boutique-y and antique-y blocks in small mountain towns, but usually they only extend for a block. Telluride’s beautifully maintained old west look extends for many blocks, and during the festival, you might run into Michael Keaton at the post office, Elisabeth Shue in the coffee shop, or get to tell Rooney Mara on the sidewalk that you loved the film she’s there to support. Everything is more laid back here— festival-wise—between the theater goers, the talent, and the volunteers. Everyone is ridiculously nice and chatty. There’s even a gondola ride up the mountain to one of the theaters. It’s a small enough festival that within one day you’ll make festival buddies. They even close down the street to wine and dine badge holders with local food. It’s kinda like a summer camp that has great filmmakers and actors as the wildlife.

Oh, and great films as well. This is the 42nd Telluride Film Festival, and over the last decade the festival has become the de facto kickoff of the Oscar season, as it gets a week head start on the Toronto International Film Festival. Telluride has the distinction of having screened the eventual Best Picture winner—as a premiere or North American premiere—for the past ten years. The last one to not screen here and win was The Departed.

I kicked off our coverage yesterday with the North American premiere of Todd Haynes’ Carol, and below are a few smaller films that I caught during the first two days of the festival. Plus, a little buzz from the early screenings.

It’s only been two days, and as a festival, Telluride is already my favorite that I’ve attended.


Image via TIFF

Charlie Kaufman‘s sound intensive play “Anomalisa” has been given the feature film, stop-motion treatment in Anomalisa. This is perhaps the most straight-forward narrative from the Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind screenwriter. But while it isn’t a mind-mender, it does have the author’s caustic wit, loathsome image of self, and a total disconnect from modern civilization.

Set in 2005, the film follows a customer service megastar Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) during an overnight stay in a posh Cincinnati hotel before he gives another speech on how to increase sales by 90% by smiling and being more human. Every person he encounters is voiced by Tom Noonan because, well, everyone in this world now has the same voice. And it’s tiring him. This is something that is never explained in the film, so it is a little jarring when his ex-lover and wife both have Noonan’s voice. Eventually you are aware that this is the source of his hatred of people (we can assume that everyone having his voice was once a pleasurable ego boost). When Stone overhears a woman in the hallway who has an individual—and feminine—voice, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) his lust for life and romance is rekindled (it probably doesn’t hurt that she’s a fan of his book, and therefore his ego of brilliance remains in tact). Anomalisa has great animation work from fellow director Duke Johnson, and some very funny moments (including a repeated tagline for the Cincinnati Zoo being “Zoo-Sized”), but the film works best as a curiosity: What would it be like to watch the zany Kaufman commit to one single idea?

Anomalisa currently does not have a release date or a distributor, but an announcement during Telluride or the Toronto International Film Festival could be forthcoming. Also, look for a more in-depth review from Collider during TIFF.


Image via Fox Searchlight

He Named Me Malala is a necessary documentary—if you’re not already very familiar with the touching and galvanizing story of Malala Yousafzai. But even if you’re familiar with the teenaged woman’s rights activist who survived a gunshot to the head from the Taliban for speaking up for the necessity of girls being able to attend school, the film will still be incredibly touching, infuriating and inspiring, even if many of the talking points have already been covered extensively in years of international interviews. Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) assembles Yousafzai’s entire story into a compact 90-minute package, complete with animation, more footage from her village and closer access to her activist father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. It’s as digestible as a book report, but not probing.

For the less-acquainted, totally oblivious, and/or the very aware social justice follower, He Named Me Malala should be an eye-opening experience, and gain many more fans to her necessary cause to grant education to women worldwide—and be a normal teenage girl.

He Named Me Malala will be released in select theaters on October 2, 2015.


Image via Kino Lorber

For the unaware, Jafar Pahani is currently redefining what a movie can be. And his latest, Taxi, will serve as both a great introduction to the filmmaker, and a rewarding experience for his fans. Panahi was sentenced to prison by the Iranian government for his films that were critical of the government. But since he is a major international director, it was reduced to a mere 20 years of house arrest and Pahani was forbidden to make movies. Taxi is Pahani’s second film that he’s made whilst being under house arrest, but Taxi is more daring–and funny—than This Is Not a Film. Armed with a dashboard camera, Pahani directly confronts his sentence by making a film where he is a taxi driver, picking up actors for pre set-up scenes and (maybe) a few strangers.

The first half of the film is very, very funny. To give away who his passengers are or what happens would be a disservice. But I would like to highlight his niece, and the bootleg DVD swindler. The second half of the film directly names—and breaks—every rule that a film must follow in order to be screened in Iran. The spirit of the film is similar to Richard Linklater‘s Slacker—picking up new characters for discussions of current life—except it’s funnier, more polemic, and a champion of every film ever made. It’s a very rewarding and eye-opening film that should be sought out by anyone interested in the experimental (and life-affirming) films of Linklater and Chris Marker.

Taxi will be released in New York City on October 2, 2015, with select cities to follow.


Awards: What’s the Buzz from Telluride?

The film that has gotten the biggest boost from the Telluride audience is Room, starring Brie Larson as a woman who was kidnapped and confined to a room at age 17. The film begins as she cares for her five-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay) and attempts to get him into the outside world for the first time. Room has had two screenings thus far, and each ended with a multiple standing ovations. The buzz in the festival queue-lines and Telluride taverns is that Larson gives a natural, captivating performance, but the most gushing praise has been reserved for Tremblay, who could potentially become one of the youngest Oscar nominees—if nominated. Room is definitely one to watch out for when it plays at TIFF to see if the reaction is as strong as it has been here. It is by far the most talked about film.

Another awards tidbit that I hope to be false is that Rooney Mara might be positioned as Best Supporting Actress for Carol in favor of pitting her co-star Cate Blanchett in the Best Actress slot—even though Mara has more screen time. Mara won Best Actress at Cannes, and slotting her below Blanchett would not only be a disservice to an extremely worthy lead performance, but it would also be category fraud.

Check back for more memos and reviews from Telluride 2015. The festival ends on Labor Day. Click here for all of our Telluride 2015 coverage, including the other reviews, below:

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