Every year some of the films selected for the Telluride Film Festival make Oscar runs. This time around there were seven, nominated for a total of 23 Oscars. I didn’t see all of them last Labor Day weekend, but I did eavesdrop on some of the stars: actors, directors, writers. Some of them, no doubt, will be clutching statuettes tonight.
Daniel Day-Lewis is a likely candidate. He was a 2007 Telluride tributee, and he’s up for best actor in There Will Be Blood. He’d been to Telluride before, in 1989, with the film that first demonstrated his spooky ability to completely inhabit a role, My Left Foot. It was the story of Christy Brown, an angry, wheelchair-bound Irishman who painted holding the brushes with his toes.
Day-Lewis becomes this new character, too – a driven, early 20th century American oil man. It’s an astonishing transformation in body and voice. But in Telluride, though he was asked repeatedly, he seemed loath to talk about his craft. “Words often kill that discovery,” he said, “the looking for those things you need to look for” in developing a role. He preferred to talk about his 5-year-old son and the obsession they both share with the silver breakfast tureen in the James Dean classic, Giant.
I didn’t see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but I did sit in front of its director, Julian Schnabel, at another film showing. He, too, had been to Telluride before, as the poster artist for the 29th TFF, in 2002. True to his reputation as a bombastic Neo-Expressionist, the poster had nothing to do with Telluride; it featured a photograph of a green Sphinx. Now here he was, having re-invented himself as a film director, wearing what appeared to be black pajamas, beads and yellow-tinted Buddy Holly glasses.
Schnabel and his entourage had come, as I had, to see Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, which is up for two Oscars, including Hal Holbrook for best supporting actor. I wished Holbrook had come to Telluride. But Penn, wound taut as a spring, was pretty interesting. He talked about the fact that it had taken him 10 years to get film rights from Chris McCandless’s grieving family. And when someone asked him what had touched him the most in making the picture, Penn described the marooned school bus in the Alaskan bush in which McCandless had died. “I walked in the bus. His boots were still there on the floor.”
Cate Blanchett is nominated twice, for the lead in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and for her turn as Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There, which premiered in Telluride. She was brilliant as the early-career Dylan on his first tour of England: big hair, sharp tongue, squinting in the haze of her own smoke. Haynes was asked at a seminar why he had had six different actors portray Dylan. “As opposed to 37?” he shot back, smiling.
The straight-talking, wild-haired Iranian cartoonist, Marjane Satrapi, sat at the same seminar table. She was asked “Why a graphic memoir?” about her coming of age in the Ayatollah’s Iran. She answered, “Images allow me to find the humor. Without pictures, I write crap.” By the time I finally got to see Persepolis (nominated for best animated feature), Satrapi had left town. But Ringmaster Seth Berg did her proud in his introduction. He repeated what she’d told him, that she is a descendant of a 19th century Shah. But that there isn’t anything special about that. “There are 10,000 princesses in Iran!” she exclaimed. Berg concluded, however, that there could only be one “love child of Art Spiegelman and Lynda Barry.”
Juno is up for four Oscars, including best picture and best original screenplay (Diablo Cody). It snuck into Telluride as a “Sneak Preview” and quickly generated a lot of buzz. I didn’t get to see it, but I did hear Cody speaking at the Monday seminar under the cottonwoods in Town Park. The topic was the over-broad “women in the film world.” But the women present tore into their (post-feminist?) frustrations nevertheless.
Cody wrote Juno, in part she said, because she was “concerned with the precious, rhinestone-studded cell phone thing for teenage girls today.”
Laura Linney (nominated for best actress in The Savages) growled, “Aaaah. I’m so allergic to these topics… I was the mistress in Dave, my first role, and he dies on top of me. I guess we could start there.”
Tamara Jenkins, who wrote The Savages and is also nominated for best original screenplay, added that the “You-go-girl” mantra of the 1970s, “is kind of depressing.” But, she insisted, progress has been made. “Laura’s character is not just a girlfriend, not just a wife. Yes, she has ovaries, but she gets to say some funny lines.”
Seminar moderator Steve Wasserman wrapped it up finally with a word of encouragement for the ladies. “Remember what Woody Guthrie said: ‘Take it easy. But take it.’”
I guess that sentiment might apply to Oscar Night as well.