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Wed. Jun 3rd, 2020

Telluride Reviews: Oscar Hopefuls ‘The Imitation Game,’ ‘Rosewater,’ ‘Wild’

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The 41st Telluride Film Festival is underway and classically it’s one of the shortest high profile film festivals around. With just five days to pack in as many heavy-hitter Oscar hopefuls as possible, it’s like the high-octane, concentrated version of its main rival, the Toronto International Film Festival. We’ve collected some bits and bytes of reviews from The Imitation Game, Rosewater and Wild for your reading pleasure, all premieres getting their first looks and first reviews. AwardsWatch is not at Telluride this year but we wanted to collect from the likes of Justin Chang (Variety), Rodrigo Perez (The Playlist), Gregory Ellwood (HitFix) and Sasha Stone (Awardsdaily) and share them with you, our readers.

THE IMITATION GAME
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist (B): After a bumpy opening of unnecessary voice-over and on-the-nose dialogue, “The Imitation Game” takes off with a skillful immediacy. The thriller wastes no time explaining its stakes and then raising them concurrently, creating the interpersonal conflicts of the difficult and singular-minded Turing and his more socialized colleagues.
Handsomely, if safely directed by Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”) with clerical efficiency, it comes as no surprise that the helmer cut his teeth on years of Scandinavian TV. It makes for a picture that’s classically proficient, but also a little distancing with its anonymous and homogenous nature.

That said, Cumberbatch makes the movie easy to watch with his harsh, inhuman-like personality that surely must have veered somewhere near the autism spectrum. Knightley, also a member of the team, is quite good with what she’s given, but is somewhat subsidiary to the narrative as many female roles unfortunately are these days.

“The Imitation Game” feels competent and mostly involving, but never quite deeply connects beyond the race-against-time that is the narrative thrust of the movie – the longer the code breakers cannot solve Enigma, the more lives of allies and loved ones are lost.

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Gregory Ellwood, HitFix: The movie fashions the adult Turing as a genius, but also as obsessive, socially awkward and self-involved. As you’d expect, Cumberbatch does a wonderful job bringing this characterization to life and it’s often his performance that overcomes some of the film’s melodramatic tendencies (Alexandre Desplat’s fine score often helps to smooth out these bumpy spots as well). The “Sherlock” star also has the unique ability to create sympathy for a character who could come across as cold and callous in another actor’s hands.

To be honest, the more I ponder the ending of the film the more frustrated I become. In effect, much of Turing’s gay life is completely washed over. He says he had numerous affairs/lovers, but the film pushes the central relationship between his one-time finance Clarke as the most prominent. That’s somewhat odd after Turing justifies the entire engagement as his way to keep her working on the secret project. Let’s be clear, Turing was one of the greatest gay men of the 20th century whose life was destroyed by an archaic charge in 1952. It’s almost head-scratching how the film could be structured to diminish this part of his life.

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Sasha Stone (Awardsdaily): What I loved about The Imitation Game was the rich development of the characters, particularly the two leads — the sublime Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, and Keira Knightley, who plays what would have been Turing’s beard, had Turing been the kind of man to live that way.

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ROSEWATER
Gregory Ellwood, HitFix: Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay, includes a number of funny moments between Bahari and Rosewater that viewers should realize are actually in the book. Rosewater was ignorant of many things outside of his job and obsessed with the American state of New Jersey as well as how many of Bahari’s co-workers he’d slept with. One of the ways Bahari kept his sanity and amused himself was by indulging Rosewater with stories on those subjects (and who seemingly believed them).

Another portion of the film where Stewart shows real skill as a filmmaker are the scenes between Bahari and his father. Stewart and his editor, Jay Rabinowitz, always let you hear the father, but in an inventive twist they cut between the actor being in the shot with Bernal or Bernal seemingly speaking to thin air.

Where Stewart shows his limitations is his decision to impose computer graphics over a live action scene. This is mostly used to depict the advent of social media fueling the protests in Iran, but just feels out of context (and feels too similar to Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate” where it didn’t work either). Stewart is also hamstrung by so much of the movie needing to take place in either Bahari’s cell or Rosewater’s interrogation room. This causes the film to drag a bit, especially when Rosewater is repeating the same talking points again and again to Bahari.

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Sasha Stone (Awardsdaily): It’s a film about oppression of voice, the eternal and ultimately futile quest to destroy the brave act of bearing witness against corrupt regimes. The more people see it, the more they will know what the fuck went on in Iran during this time, but really, it is less about Iran specifically as it is about the nature of oppression and torture.
Stewart approaches the work as he approaches his own career, refusing to define it as any one thing — humor is woven throughout, with much of the film looking like news footage we’ve seen and ignored every day of our lives as it blares out in monotone on international news programs like CNN.

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WILD
Justin Chang, Variety: “Wild,” a ruggedly beautiful and emotionally resonant saga of perseverance and self-discovery that represents a fine addition to the recent bumper crop of bigscreen survival stories.
It’s no surprise that the versatile Vallee, who recently directed two Oscar-winning performances in “Dallas Buyers Club,” has elicited from Witherspoon an intensely committed turn that, in its blend of grit, vulnerability, physical bravery and emotional immediacy, represents easily her most affecting and substantial work in the nine years since “Walk the Line.”

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Gregory Ellwood, HitFix: Vallée and Hornby use the flashbacks of the film to contrast Strayed’s difficulty on the trail with the dramatic experiences of her past, but they would be nowhere without Witherspoon, who gives it her all in the “present.” She gets dirty, she wades through creeks, she shows the extreme exhaustion of such a major trek, but it’s in the flashbacks that she truly shines. Often playing almost half her age, she has to bring Strayed to rock bottom in what could be constituted as a second arc for the character. Witherspoon is so good many will argue this is the best performance of her career. That may not be giving her work in “Mud” and “Walk the Line” its due, but “Wild” is clearly her most transformative work to date.

For those curious about the film’s awards season prospects, Witherspoon clearly moves to the front of the pack of Best Actress contenders. Dern has a shot for Best Supporting Actress depending on the field, and Hornby could find himself with his second Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. “Wild’s” Best Picture nomination prospects will depend on Fox Searchlight’s ability to channel a passionate fan base for the film.

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Sasha Stone (Awardsdaily): Witherspoon is rough around the edges, raw as you’d expect, given Jean Marc Vallee’s style. She plays a slightly unlikable, prickly character who doesn’t mince words.
I think the film achieves the goal it set out to reach and it’s refreshing, frankly, to see a movie that’s about a woman that isn’t necessarily about her relationship to a man. It is a film that celebrates the importance of mothers as teachers and isn’t afraid of the emotions that brings us.

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Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist (C-): A fascinating story, but as reimagined by screenwriter by screenwriter Nick Hornsby and director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”), “Wild” starring Reese Witherspoon is a well-intentioned, but misguided and occasionally even garish adaptation of spiritual redemption that never connects or finds itself.

Witherspoon is valiantly unvarnished and raw in the movie, but let’s not mistake some nudity and no make-up for a tour-de-force performance. “Wild” consists of Witherspoon grimacing through the hardships of her self-imposed atonement wander while reflecting back on her life and not a lot more. And her spiritually worn-out and emotionally fatigued act tends to grow as tired as the narrative. It’s a respectable performance especially when compared to her last few years of vapid roles, but certainly not transformative; the premature predictions of the “Reese-surgence” have already been overstated.

“Wild” never really earns its hard-fought struggle for redemption and personal reinvention. Witherspoon’s walkabout is punishing physically, but never as remotely emotionally affecting as any of the survival narratives that dominated 2012 (even “Gravity” carried more emotional weight and that’s not saying a lot). Instead, the movie mistakes suffering and hardship for accomplishment; every grunt, scrape, bruise and laceration is meant to grant gravitas to Witherspoon’s ordeal. “Wild” attempts to say something about personal paths, journeys and the search for oneself when spiritually unmoored, but the quest rarely plumbs beneath the Oprah’s Book Club-friendly surface.

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