Pete Hammond

Over the course of its four days, the Telluride Film Festival  has certainly become a key early player in setting at least part of  the table for Hollywood’s awards season. I have seen numerous Academy voting members wandering in and out of the state-of-the-art screening venues around town getting an early look at some films certain to be contenders — and some that clearly won’t. Academy Award winner Bruce Cohen (American Beauty), this year’s co-producer (with Don Mischer) of the Oscars, has even come here to check out potential movies he will likely be showcasing come February 27th and was lining up all day long soaking up the cinema. At last week’s Emmys he was frequently caught on camera in the booth during the show (which Mischer also produced) so I asked him what he learned from that experience. “Fast. Fast. Faster,” was his instant answer expressing the reality that you gotta keep the show moving like a speeding train. He’s infectiously enthusiastic about the task he’s been given this year and at Sunday night’s festival party was already talking up possibilities for musical numbers from films he’s seeing. “Of course we have to see what the actual nominees are going to be first,” he laughed. Minor detail.

One film  strongly Oscar-buzzed at that party, on the gondolas and just about everywhere you go in Telluride this weekend is The King’s Speech, The Weinstein Company’s historical drama about King George VI’s stuttering problems and his relationship with the Australian speech therapist who gave him strength and ultimately a lifelong friendship. It was unveiled to one of this fest’s rare standing ovations for the first time anywhere here this weekend. Colin Firth is George and Geoffrey Rush is the therapist in director Tom Hooper’s outstanding film that can count on major awards love after it opens this Thanksgiving holiday, at least if the praise Telluriders are giving it is any indication.

One person leaving Monday’s screening said, “It makes up for all the bleakness,” referring to the great number of dark films showing at this year’s fest. Both stars and Hooper were surrounded by well-wishers at last night’s packed party. Firth and Rush are sure-thing nominees and the film itself is a strong Best Picture prospect to say the least. Harvey’s back in the Oscar game with this one, no doubt.

Firth was the subject of packed major tributes here Sunday night and Monday morning. (At this fest, the honoree gets feted twice.) “That’s something I’m genuinely not ready for. I don’t know what that’s gonna be like,”  he said referring to the double dose of love when we sat down for a pre-first tribute interview. He says  his virgin  Telluride experience has been extremely gratifying in every way. “It feels more like a community than a festival, It’s not a market or a press-feeding frenzy. It’s so pure. This one seems to be just for the love of film. It doesn’t get better,”  he says. Firth notes he and Rush have been stopped everywhere, getting applauded in bars and restaurants or just crossing the street. Telluride is certainly providing the actor a nice ego boost, if nothing else, but he’s genuinely thrilled to see the reaction to his performance.

He knew it was a great part right after he read it for the first time. “In terms of something rich it’s a great big juicy piece of meat for me to chew on, as well as being a beautifully crafted script, as well as having the finest direction you can find and a cast that is a gift. It’s rather extraordinary I’ve had these opportunities twice in a row,” he says referring to his award-winning run last season in Tom Ford’s  A Single Man.

 

I asked Firth if he has any has trepidations about being thrust onto the awards circuit again so soon after last year’s experience, which earned him the Venice Film Festival’s Volpi for Best Actor, a BAFTA award and his first Oscar nomination among others. “Well, so far it’s just a film festival this year but there’s no simple answer to it. Some of it was fun and you would not wish any of that away, but I did speak to more than one person on that circuit, because you often see a lot of the same people on the red carpets, and one or two said in different ways ‘Whatever I do  next I want to make sure it’s totally mediocre’,” he laughed. “What it’s not is serene. There’s very little calm and people need calm.  It’s sort of a job. Some of it is delightful but some of it is turbulent.”

Firth better get used to another bumpy ride because I have a feeling he’s going to be on a lot more red carpets this season.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.