It's a busy time on the film festival circuit:: Gravity is getting raves at Venice, Toronto is just about to begin, and at Telluride last night, Juno director Jason Reitman made an Oscar pitch. The results, however, were mixed.
Reitman's romantic drama, Labor Day, opened the festival in the "Patron's Preview" slot, which played host to Ben Affleck's best picture winner Argo in 2012 and to Alexander Payne's best picture nominee The Descendants in 2011. Based on a 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, the dark drama tells the story of a mother (Kate Winslet) who takes in a criminal (Josh Brolin). Scott Feinberg of the Hollywood Reporter believes the film will generate acting nominations —"Brolin has only rarely played parts worthy of his talents and/or made the very most of his parts, and on this film he does both," Feinberg writes — but doesn't have the "social significance" to make waves in the best picture race.
Others critics and awards watchers are similarly divided. One awards blogger, Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, calls the film "beautifully rendered;" another, Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere, says it "doesn't work." Anne Thompson at Indiewire writes that "by film's end, much of the audience at the mountain top Chuck Jones Theatre was in tears," adding, "Reitman has pulled off a deceptively straightforward romance that seems almost old-fashioned given the current studio antipathy toward dramas." Her Indiewire colleague, The Playlist's Chris Willman, had very different feelings, explaining that the "laboriousness of the plot's romance-novel machinations ensures there'll be at least a few dry eyes in the house."
Of course, Labor Day—which opens this Christmas— is just the first of many movies that film fans are going to be buzzing about at Telluride. (Like many of the big-name festivals, the Telluride lineup is a clutter of awards hopefuls, but what makes this particular assemblage stand out, explains Feinberg, is that it's "the first real sense of what the Oscar field is going to look like.") The Steve McQueen-directed drama 12 Years a Slave is one of the films that has been added as a surprise entry to the festival—"ratcheting up the Oscar contender wattage considerably," according to Deadline's Pete Hammond—and films like Inside Llewyn Davis, All Is Lost, and Nebraska will have North American premieres. But it's a long road ahead before the big ceremony in March.