Book Lodging

Highlights from the 2014 Telluride Film Festival

Wednesday • September 3, 2014

The Telluride Film Festival (TFF) is one of my favorite festivals in Telluride each year, and this year’s festival didn’t disappoint.  While it’s hard to beat the 2013 Telluride FIlm Festival line up (12 Years a Slave, Gravity, …), the 2014 line up had several solid films.  

There were more big name stars in town than normal for TFF.  I managed to see Reese Witherspoon, Channing Tatum, Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Jon Stewart, Steve Carell , and Laura Dern, just to name a few.

I caught 13 films over the weekend, and I hope to see a couple more this week.  Below is my summary of the films I saw.  

Foxcatcher – I liked this movie primarily because I was impressed by Steve Carrell’s portrayal of John DuPont.  Bennett Miller’s directing was a bit too subtle for my taste.  The result was that I was far less emotionally connected with the characters.  Also, I was surprised that the movie didn’t include some of the most interesting aspects of the story that took place after the movie ended.   The TFF buzz was very mixed.  Some people really liked it and one person said it was one of the worst movies he’d seen in 35 years of attending the festival.  I’ll rate it 3 stars.

The Homesman – This was a dark story about life in the frontier in the 1800’s.  I found very little redeeming about the story, and I thought it was a waste of the talents of Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank.  The vast majority of the people I talked to didn’t like the movie.  I’ll rate it 2 stars.

Wild – I really wanted to like this movie about a solo 1,000 hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and in the end it was fine.  However, after reading the book and seeing Cheryl Strayed talk about her experiences in person, the movie just couldn’t live up to my expectations.  I just didn’t feel like the movie conveyed the extreme physical challenge it was for Cheryl to make the hike.  Most people who read the book seemed to share my opinion, while those who hadn’t read the book liked the movie more.  It was a must-see movie at TFF, primarily because Reese Witherspoon was here in person.  No doubt it will show up in theaters throughout the country.  I’ll rate it 3 ½ stars.

The Imitation Game – This story of WWII code breakers  was by far the most consistent crowd favorite, and it was my favorite movie of the festival.  The only disappointment was that I don’t think Benedict Cumberbatch ever showed up as planned.  Benedict did a great job and the story was excellent.  It wasn’t everyone’s favorite movie, but it seemed to be in the top 5 for everyone.  I’ll rate it 4 ½ stars.

Mr. Turner – This movie is an excellent example of why a good story is critical for a film.  The acting was great, the cinemaphotography was excellent, but I felt the story was boring as watching paint dry.  In fact, I would have preferred to watch the paint dry on the paintings of J.M.W. Turner, who was the subject of this movie.  There were some people who really enjoyed this movie, but most people seemed to share my opinion of it being a boring story.  I’ll rate it 2 stars.

Mommy – To me, this is a classic TFF film.  It’s disturbing, features great acting, with subtitles, and was directed by a 25-year-old brilliant director.  I liked it, but the TFF crowd was quite divided by it.  This story of a psychopathic boy, Steve, being cared for by his mother was difficult to watch.  In fact, I saw more people walk out of this film than any other film at the festival.  I think Antoine Olivier Pilon did a brilliant job as Steve. I’ll rate this a 3 ½ stars.

Rosewater – This movie about a journalist who was imprisoned in Iran had huge buzz at the TFF.  It was Jon Stewart’s first time as a director, and it was impressive.  Of course, some of the buzz was simply due to the fact that Stewart was highly accessible throughout most of the festival.  In the end, it was usually in people’s top 5, but no one listed it as the best.   I feel the same way.  I’ll rate it 4 stars.

Wild Tales – This collection of short stories with the common theme of revenge was definitely a crowd favorite.  It had some of the biggest laughs of the festival.  While I liked it, it was a bit dark for my taste.  I’ll rate it 3 ½ stars.

Birdman – While I’ll put Birdman in my top 5 favorites of the festival, I don’t think that opinion was shared by the majority of festival goers.  I absolutely loved how the movie was filmed and I think Michael Keaton did an excellent job in the starring role.  The people who didn’t like it thought the story was just too weird and hard to follow.  There were some great laughs and I felt connected to story for the vast majority of the film.  I’ll rate it 4 stars.

Dancing Arabs – This film about an Israeli film about an Arab boy who struggles with his identity as he attends an elite Jewish school in Israel was well received by the TFF audience.   I’ll rate it 3 ½ stars.

Merchants of Doubt – This expose on the manipulation of the media by large corporate interests felt more like a classic MountainFilm showing versus something meant for TFF.  If you attend MountainFilm, which I have for the past 5 years, there’s very little new in this movie.  I think there is an interesting movie to be found in this subject, but this movie just didn’t do it for me.  I heard absolutely no buzz about this movie.  I’ll rate it 2 ½ stars.

Seymour – At 81 minutes, this story of Seymour Bernstein, a former concert pianist, wasn’t quite feature length, but certainly not a short.  However, it was a wonderful biography of an interesting man.  Ethan Hawke directed this gem.  I’ll rate this 4 stars.

Escobar: Paradise Lost – This Sneak Preview featured Josh Hutcherson as a Canadian who falls in love with the niece of a Columbian drug trafficker.  I was not a fan of Hutcherson in the Hunger Games films, but I thought he did better here.  The story was fine, but not exceptional.  I’ll rate this 3 stars. 

In addition to these films, I hear great buzz about the following movies:


  • Two Days, One Night

  • ‘71

  • Red Army

  • Diplomacy

  • 99 Homes