Pete Hammond

On the heels of their world premieres at the Venice Film Festival, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Steve McQueen’s Shame had their North American premieres at Telluride on Sunday. Both films star Michael Fassbender, and in the controversial latter film, he really reveals all as does co-star Carey Mulligan. The sexually provocative scenes were enough to guarantee an NC-17 rating, which made at least three potential distributors who saw it here skittish. One told me that without the 55-plus crowd this art picture will die and the potential NC-17 will drive them away. But McQueen isn’t editing it even if distribs suggest cuts. (For instance, Mulligan who plays a night club singer does a rendition of New York, New York that lasted longer than the Spanish Civil War.) Despite the film’s attributes, Shame will be a very tough sell even with sex scenes as marketing bait. McQueen was still in Venice and couldn’t make it to the Rockies. But he sent a video introduction. Reaction among the packed audiences for the first two showings of Shame today were mixed. Some hated it and some appreciated it, but no seemed to be doing cartwheels except critics in Venice.

One thing is clear, however: Fassbender is a definite star, not only in McQueen’s film but also in A Dangerous Method, playing Swiss doctor Carl Jung opposite his intellectual equal, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). He keeps his clothes on in this one. A Dangerous Method is a film of ideas, and those are rare. It’s also a film of words. Lots of them. Cronenberg was still in Venice, but screenwriter Christopher Hampton was here explaining how he came full circle from writing a screenplay based on the John Kerr book, turning it into a play, and then back again after Cronenberg expressed interest. The play was called The Talking Cure, but apparently no one got the cure because these guys just keep talking. Fortunately, Hampton’s dialogue is in the hands of skilled actors and a filmmaker who knows how to get nice visuals on the screen. Method goes out via Sony Classics on November 23. I ran into SPC President Michael Barker, who flew in from Venice on Friday night. He told me he thinks he can get Oscar nominations for all the stars of the film.

He’s also very high on his other three Telluride debuts, Agnieszka Holland’s Polish Oscar entry, In Darkness, Cannes Best Screenplay winner Footnote from Israel,  and the Iranian film A Separation, which won raves from the fest-goers I polled as they exited the film’s first showing this morning. The provocative film should be a contender for Iran in the Foreign Language Oscar competition, barring internal politics — which is one reason the Academy should change the rules that allow each country to choose it’s entry.

Barker also was still talking up Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which became the second-most-successful film in SPC history (after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The film has been playing since May and was re-released on several hundred screens last weekend, just in time for Hurricane Irene which Barker admitted killed business. But he said the movie shot up dramatically this weekend, making the decision to expand more viable for SPC. The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and in honor of that, Barker and co-president Tom Bernard threw a dinner Saturday night at La Marmotte. However, Bernard was a no-show as other commitments kept him from Telluride for the first time in about three decades, and he reportedly was very upset having to miss it.

Another company throwing a party (Sunday afternoon) was Oscilloscope in honor of the Telluride tribute to Tilda Swinton. She stars in their post-Cannes pickup We Need to Talk About Kevin, which started screening here today. How Swinton lost the Cannes Best Actress award is still a head-scratcher. In Cannes I suggested to Swinton that she bring the film to Telluride, and then I tracked down fest co-directors Tom Luddy and Gary Meyer to tell them she was interested. Lo and behold, she’s here getting toasted. But even though she says she’s trying to see other movies, she’s busy with her own and wants to come back as a guest director maybe as soon as next year.

She’s very proud of her Oscar-winning performance in Michael Clayton (she gave the statuette to her agent WME’s Brian Swardstrom, and it is still his, she says). The film has been prominent here. It screened in Elks Park on Thursday night, and clips were included in both her tribute and George Clooney’s. She also praised one of the few films she has seen here, Clooney’s The Descendants. She told me it makes her want to go to the less-traveled parts of Hawaii that the film shows. She also said she recalls the ovation of several minutes that her film got in Cannes. That’s par for the course for Cannes, but Swinton says it is even more pronounced in Italy. She participated in the first of her two tributes here Sunday night and will do another Monday morning. (There are always two complete tributes for each person at Telluride for some reason.) Kevin director Lynne Ramsey made the trip to Telluride, too, and told me she loves it so much she wants to skip Cannes from now on and only come to Telluride.

Oscilloscope has big Oscar campaign plans for Swinton and Kevin, and have kept their relationship with awards maven Cynthia Swartz, who just ankled 42 West for her own company, Strategy PR/Consulting. Two years ago, Swartz cooked up a campaign that landed Oscilloscope’s underdog, The Messenger, two major Oscar nominations. Exec David Finkel told me they plan to do a one-week run on December 4 in Los Angeles and then reopen at the end of January when nominations are announced. Swinton plans to be in Los Angeles doing appearances with the film for much of November. That’s a good thing because many Academy members might want to avoid the searing subject matter of this uncompromising movie. Finkel said the company has the money for the campaign and plans to spend it to secure awards recognition. He said they were smitten with the dark, tough film from the moment they saw it in Cannes.

Meanwhile, on Day 4 of our Telluride George Clooney Watch, George did the second of his tributes this morning and was in rare comic form. Having just turned 50, he described himself as “AARP’s Sexiest Man still alive”. He also  is pretty savvy about the longevity of careers in show business these days, saying his Aunt Rosemary’s up-and-down career taught him a valuable lesson. “I knew you weren’t gonna be in front for very long. There is a sell-by date,” he said. He added that he always thought of himself as a film actor even when he was only appearing on the sitcom The Facts of Life. “Film actors look down on TV actors, and TV actors look down on reality fuckers,” is how he described the pecking order in Hollywood. Words to live by. And with that he was off to the airport, but not before asking me if I was going to be at the Toronto Film Festival next week. The answer is “yes” as the fall fest madness continues.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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