What we learned and loved at the Telluride Film Festival

A man and a woman decorate a Christmas tree in the movie "All of Us Strangers."
Jamie Bell and Claire Foy play ghostly parents in “All of Us Strangers,” a Telluride sensation.
(Chris Harris / Searchlight Pictures)

I realize “Jeopardy!” tapes weeks in advance, so it’s probably not possible to add the following category to the quiz show when it returns from hiatus in the next few days. But here goes:

Contestant: Yes ... I’ll take “Contemptible Corporations” for $800.

Ken Jennings: This greedy blockhead treated consumers with contempt while his company’s public stance was that it was fighting to protect them.

[Contestant, ringing in] Who is Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger?

Jennings: Correct. We also would have accepted Charter Communications.


I’m Glenn Whipp, columnist for the Los Angeles Times and host of The Envelope’s Friday newsletter. I’m back from Colorado and preemptively cranking up the A/C while on hold with Frontier. Let’s take a look at the week’s news.

The highs and lows of the 2023 Telluride Film Festival

Standing in line to see the Saturday evening premiere of “Poor Things,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ audacious inquisition into what it means to be human (as well as how a crossbred duck-dog might act), I bumped into director Emerald Fennell, and we got to talking about how her movie, the button-pushing psychological thriller “Saltburn,” had gotten people talking.

“I think we can all relate,” she said of her film. Relate to what, I wondered. The feelings of envy that the main character in “Saltburn,” played by Barry Keoghan, nurses toward cool, rich kids ignoring him at Oxford? Of being an outsider, looking in?

“I think just the wanting,” Fennell said. “Aren’t we all wanting? More cinema. More beauty. More, more, more. Look around.” I did as instructed, taking in the crowd of people standing outside an elementary school gymnasium that, for a few days a year, is converted into a movie theater showing some of the season’s most anticipated films. Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen was standing behind me, waiting patiently, as the festival’s biggest donors were ushered in. (“The super patrons must be served,” he said without a trace of resentment.)

What are all these privileged people wanting? Another great cinematic offering? A heavier Patagonia fleece to counter the cold mountain air? A decent margarita to toast the dearly departed Jimmy Buffett?

I sat down with my pal, Times film critic Justin Chang, shortly before leaving Telluride to discuss the films we saw and missed, loved and hated, and what they portend for a movie industry still being affected by the writers’ and actors’ strikes. My favorite? Andrew Haigh’s beautiful ghost story, “All of Us Strangers.” The bad news: You have to wait until Dec. 22 for it to arrive in theaters.


Emma Stone stands in an outdoor market looking up in "Poor Things."
Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” a sensation at the Telluride Film Festival.
(Atsushi Nishijima / Searchlight Pictures)

The eight best films we saw at Telluride

So I already mentioned “All of Us Strangers,” a movie about a gay screenwriter reconnecting with his parents (who just happen to be dead) in an attempt to deal with grief and things that were left unsaid. That leaves seven more films, and Justin and I contributed a couple each, as did Times movie writer Josh Rottenberg and film editor Joshua Rothkopf, one of my overlords at the paper and the man kind enough to buy us all a fancy dinner one night.

The other movie I highlighted was “Fallen Leaves,” the latest from Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki. I heard a few dismiss “Fallen Leaves” as just another deadpan Kaurismäki feature ... like that’s not something to celebrate and cherish. I don’t know that it was my second favorite film, but I wanted to hear what my colleagues had to say about “Poor Things” and “The Zone of Interest.” Here’s the list. Bookmark it because you’ll want to find all these films this fall.

A man and woman sit across from each other at the dinner table in “Fallen Leaves.”
Jussi Vatanen and Alma Pöysti in “Fallen Leaves.”
(Cannes Film Festival)

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‘People are terrified about the optics’

The last time Bradley Cooper took a movie to the Venice Film Festival, his leading lady, Gaga, made a grand entrance by boat — twice. On the red carpet, the two stars held hands and reveled in a sudden rainstorm; at a press conference, they talked about how hopelessly devoted they were to each other.

“There can be 100 people in the room and 99 don’t believe in you, and you just need one to believe in you, and that was him,” Gaga said for the first time — but not the last, as she’d repeat the line about Cooper ad infinitum while promoting the movie.

When Cooper’s directorial follow-up, the Leonard Bernstein biopic “Maestro,” premiered at Venice on Saturday, he wasn’t on the Lido to talk about it, bask in the glow of a standing ovation after the movie ended or speak of his admiration for co-star Carey Mulligan, who plays Bernstein’s wife, actress Felicia Montealegre. Mulligan didn’t attend either, nor did most of the stars headlining movies premiering at the event. The ongoing actors’ and writers’ strikes had them pretty much sitting on the sidelines this year.

The major fall film festivals — Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York — traditionally serve as launchpads for some of the year’s most anticipated movies, as well as the start of the awards season that culminates with the Oscars in March. Studios fly their movies’ headlining actors to these events to attend premieres, engage in countless interviews, accept tribute awards and glad-hand anyone who might help hype their projects. They’re Hollywood’s equivalent of what political candidates endure at the Iowa State Fair — but with better wardrobes and stylists.

This year, because SAG-AFTRA rules prohibit striking actors from doing promotional interviews, the stars mostly haven’t been out at the festivals. And even in the cases of actors in independent movies that have signed interim agreements with the guild, allowing — even encouraging — them to show up and talk about their work, the level of engagement has been tentative. I wrote about how that might affect the movies you see, as well as the upcoming awards season in a recent column. The upshot? Get ready for a “Barbenheimer” sequel at the Oscars.

photo illustration of an oscar statue holding a picket sign
(Jim Cooke/Los Angeles Times)


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