Pete Hammond

It was the first full day of movies and events at the 40th Telluride Film Festival. Nebraska‘s Bruce Dern and another potential Best Actor contender this year, All Is Lost‘s Robert Redford met up at the picnic and sat together talking with another legend, Francis Coppola. Of course Redford and Dern co-starred in 1974′s The Great Gatsby, but Dern told me he hasn’t seen the new version. Redford is, the subject of a Telluride tribute and seemed to be having a great time catching up with old friends during his first visit to this festival. His late entrance to the picnic caused a stir with lots of cameras whirring. Coppola is returning to Telluride after several decades and supporting his granddaughter Gia Coppola’s feature film directorial debut, Palo Alto, which premiered Friday night and next heads to Toronto. The proud grandpa told me Gia represents the fourth generation of his family in the movie business - father Carmine (an Oscar winner for music), himself, kids Roman and Sofia.  But back to Dern, who is here for screenings of his new film Nebraska and made very clear to me where he stands on the issue of being recognized this awards season.

The Internet recently offered Dern and the movie’s distributor Paramount unsolicited advice on which category – lead actor or supporting – he belongs in for his terrific performance in the Alexander Payne film releasing November 22nd. The thinking is that, because he is an older veteran actor, he could instantly become a frontrunner in the supporting category (like Christopher Plummer in Beginners or James Coburn in Affliction). Whereas the Lead Actor race is overcrowded and he could be squeezed out of even a nomination.Dern is aware of the Internet chatter but completely dismisses it. “I don’t know why they are saying that. I suppose they could take a stopwatch and say someone else has one minute and 45 seconds more screen time than I do so that makes me supporting. But I say ‘get the f**k out of here’,” he told me at Thursday’s opening picnic.

The fact is Dern had been waiting a long time for a big-scale leading role like this, and now has a Cannes Film Festival Best Actor prize to go with it. Certainly as a veteran actor who has been in front of the cameras since his debut well over half a century ago, Dern knows the difference between a leading and supporting role. So do his fellow actors who ultimately make the determination anyway – and don’t necessarily base it on studio suggestions. As Woody Grant in Nebraska (which had its first screenings here Wednesday afternoon), he is the one who instigates the action and is on screen for most of the movie. Even though he plays opposite Will Forte (co-starring as his son), it’s definitely a far larger part than past leading acting winners such as Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou, Anthony Hopkins in Silence Of The Lambs, Patricia Neal in Hud, or Frances McDormand in Fargo, to name a few. You have to applaud Dern for sticking to his guns, no matter what the eventual outcome. And Paramount already has stepped up to the plate with a very smart stealth campaign consisting of small screenings and intimate gatherings in support of Dern’s role for groups of Academy acting branch members at various Los Angeles locationsng on November 22nd. It’s going to be fun to have Dern out in full force this season.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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