Venice and Telluride festival roundup: Glory for Gerwig, some hard knocks for Clooney

“Lady Bird” writer-director Greta Gerwig promotes her indie movie at the Telluride Film Festival.
(Aurore Marechal/Abaca Press/TNS)

Film festivals in Telluride and Venice are in full swing. What movies are earning the longest standing ovations? Let’s survey the field.

“Lady Bird”: “Moonlight” writer-director Barry Jenkins returned to Telluride to introduce indie actress Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, an autobiographical coming-of-age drama starring Saoirse Ronan.

Jenkins called “Lady Bird” (which Gerwig also wrote) “all kinds of lovely,” and critics agreed. Time Out New York’s Tomris Laffly called it a “sweet, deeply personal portrayal of female adolescence,” while IndieWire critic Eric Kohn noted that “Gerwig’s plucky screen presence translates into a richly confident filmmaking voice.”

Ronan earned strong praise for her portrait of a rebellious Catholic high schooler looking to escape Sacramento, with the headline for Kohn’s review calling the film “her greatest role.” (Better than her Oscar-nominated turn in “Brooklyn”? Consider us intrigued.)


“Lady Bird” will head off to the Toronto International Film Festival before arriving in theaters Nov. 10. As it’s from A24 (the company behind the Oscar-winning “Moonlight”) and producer Scott Rudin (an aggressive awards campaigner), be prepared to hear a lot about Gerwig’s film in the coming months. It looks like something quite special.

“Darkest Hour”: The culmination (?) of our current age of Peak Winston Churchill, Joe Wright’s movie tells the story of the British prime minister’s early days when Nazi Germany had overrun France and Belgium, and was launching massive air strikes on Great Britain.

Playing Churchill, Gary Oldman, unrecognizable with fake jowls and receding headline, has already been declared the instant Oscar front-runner for lead actor, a distinction made possible because no one has yet seen Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming movie about the London fashion world.

Oldman is a superb actor, and the reviews indicate he’s great as Churchill. But John Lithgow just delivered a master class in acting playing Churchill on the Netflix TV series “The Crown.” The Times’ Mary McNamara called Michael Gambon “the Churchill of all Churchills” in “Churchill’s Secret,” which aired last September on PBS’ “Masterpiece.” And Brian Cox was excellent in “Churchill,” a little-seen theatrical release from earlier this year that explored the prime minister’s actions before D-Day.


You get the picture? It makes you wonder: Does Oldman bring anything to the table that we haven’t seen recently and quite often? Is there such a thing as too much Churchill? If the rousing Telluride reviews for “Darkest Hour” are any indication, it would seem as if there might be room for at least one more chapter.

“First They Killed My Father”: Angelina Jolie’s latest movie as a director is an adaption of Loung Ung’s memoir about her terrifying childhood in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime.

After its Telluride debut Saturday, many critics called it Jolie’s best work behind the camera, though several noted that it could use some tightening. The film could well be Cambodia’s entry for the academy’s foreign language film Oscar.

“Suburbicon”: The George Clooney-directed dark comedy about Eisenhower-era hypocrisy, rewritten with partner Grant Heslov from a decades-old Coen brothers script, premiered in Venice to mixed reviews.

Variety’s David Rooney declared that Clooney tailored the Coens’ work to his “own less cheeky, more personal temperament,” a “period-piece ‘Fargo’ with more sleaze and less irony.” Rooney’s verdict: Lightly sneaky and entertaining. The Guardian’s Xan Brooks wasn’t impressed, calling it “too lightweight and mannered; it lacks proper fury. Watching it is like having your trouser-leg savaged by an energetic small dog.”

What kind of savaging are we talking about here?

“Battle of the Sexes”: Finally, this Telluride premiere, which is a retelling of the famous tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), received some crazy enthusiasm on social media, with many attendees love, love, loving the middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser.

Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson called the film a “bright, rousing, intermittently hokey sports drama.” Hollywood Reporter awards columnist Scott Feinberg cautioned that critics might not go for it but added that mediocre reviews didn’t dissuade the academy from nominating movies such as “The Blind Side” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.”


Which prompts two thoughts: 1) It should have. And 2) Uh-oh.

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Twitter: @glennwhipp

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