Directors Rule at Telluride at Dartmouth

  • Ethan Hawke co-stars in "First Reformed," directed by Paul Schrader. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Kristen Wiig, center left, and Matt Damon, center right, star in Alexander Payne's new film, "Downsizing," one of the Telluride at Dartmouth selections.

  • Bryan Cranston and Sally Hawkins star in Guillermo del Toro's new film, "The Shape of Water," one of the selections for this year's Telluride at Dartmouth screenings.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, September 01, 2017

This year’s Telluride at Dartmouth, which runs from Friday, Sept. 15 through Thursday, Sept. 21, might be called Director’s Cut, as it brings back four famous directors, one rising director whose first film earned its lead actor an Oscar, and one Scottish director whose career has been made largely in British television but who takes on the kind of subject matter Hollywood loves best: Hollywood itself.

The Telluride Film Festival, which takes place every Labor Day weekend in Colorado, tends to separate the wheat from the chaff, said Sydney Stowe, the acting director of Hopkins Center Film at the college.

It’s at Telluride that advance word begins to build on the films and performances that are likely to be nominated for Oscars.

Telluride also begins the lead-in to the other big North American festivals, with Toronto and the New York Film Festival following.

This is the 32nd year that audiences in the Upper Valley have been able to take a sneak peek at what often turn out to be classics — and this year’s slate of films at Dartmouth should be no exception. Somewhat unusually there are no documentaries this year, and only one foreign-language film. But the line-up of features is promising.

All Telluride at Dartmouth screenings are in Spaulding Auditorium in the Hopkins Center at 4 and 7 p.m.

In order, the films are:

The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo de Toro; Friday, Sept. 15.

One might call this a variation on the theme of Beauty and the Beast, and also King Kong. In Cold War Baltimore, a young woman working in a government lab (Sally Hawkins) befriends a creature, an essence, that is being studied by a cold-hearted government agent (Michael Shannon). As a bond forms between Hawkins and the beast, the question arises: what will become of this creature? Also starring Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins.

Hostiles, directed by Scott Cooper; Saturday, Sept. 16.

Take all the Westerns of John Ford and Anthony Mann, run them through a contemporary sensibility and voice, and you may arrive at Hostiles, starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike.

Cooper received critical notice for his 2009 film Crazy Heart, which starred Jeff Bridges as Otis “Bad” Blake, an alcoholic country singer looking either for redemption or one last drink, or both; Bridges won the Academy Award for his performance.

In Hostiles, Cooper turns again to the West, but this time to the 19th century “closing of the frontier.” Bale is an Army officer in 1892 New Mexico, who reluctantly accepts the job of escorting a dying Cheyenne leader through hostile territory. Pike plays a widow who has seen horrendous frontier violence. The cast also includes such formidable actors as Wes Studi (who is of Cherokee descent), Adam Beach (the Saulteaux nation in Canada) and David Midthunder (of the Sioux and Assiniboine nations).

Downsizing, directed by Alexander Payne; Sunday, Sept. 17.

A new Alexander Payne film is always cause for a huzzah. Is he the 21st century Preston Sturges? You can make a case for the comparison. Here, Payne, who has given us Election, Citizen Ruth, Nebraska and Sideways, takes the term “downsizing” to its logical, if fanciful, conclusion.

On an overcrowded, overpopulated planet, scientists have managed to shrink humans to a few inches in size. Matt Damon plays Paul, an occupational therapist in Omaha, Neb., (Payne’s hometown) who learns to live small. The film also stars Kristen Wiig as Paul’s wife, Audrey, Christoph Waltz as a swinging neighbor, Jason Sudeikis, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris and Hong Chau as a Vietnamese woman who becomes close to Paul.

The Other Side of Hope, directed by Aki Kaurismäki; Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Unusually for Telluride at Dartmouth, said Stowe, this is the only foreign-language movie in this year’s six-film slate. Finnish director Kaurismäki tells the story of a Syrian refugee who arrives in the capital Helsinki and befriends a dour, taciturn businessman who wants to open a restaurant. If you’ve seen Kaurismäki’s Le Havre, which turned on the tale of a young man from North Africa who finds his way to France, you can expect that The Other Side of Hope will share the earlier film’s warmth, deadpan humor and affection for the eccentricities of life.

First Reformed, directed by Paul Schrader; Wednesday, Sept. 20.

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried have the lead roles in a film from the man who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull for Scorsese, and who directed the woefully-underrated films Patty Hearst (1988) and Affliction (1997).

Set in upstate New York, First Reformed follows Rev. Toller (Hawke), who ministers to a small flock, as he advises a young woman (Seyfried) whose husband is a militant environmentalist. Toller faces a series of consequential moral choices. Schrader may be one of the few directors from the so-called Golden Age of 1970s American film still working who is unafraid to take on the question of what it means to live a moral life.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, directed by Paul McGuigan; Thursday, Sept. 21.

First of all, any film that is about the great 1940s and 1950s Hollywood femme fatale Gloria Grahame gets my vote. Second, she’s played by Annette Bening, whose wonderfully spiky and unapologetic performance in last year’s 20th Century Women was shamefully neglected by just about every awards-granting organization. And Grahame, if you haven’t seen her on film, was sensational in the classics In A Lonely Place, The Bad and the Beautiful (for which she won an Oscar) and The Big Heat.

Here, Grahame, well after the peak of her career, has ended up in the U.K. in the 1980s and has an affair with a much younger man, Peter Turner, played by Jamie Bell. When she is diagnosed with stomach cancer she depends on Turner to take care of her; he moves her in with his family in Liverpool.

This has a dream cast of women: Vanessa Redgrave and Julie Walters star in addition to Bening. Director McGuigan isn’t a household name, but if you have seen Benedict Cumberbatch in his breakout role as Sherlock Holmes, then you know McGuigan’s directorial work.

Tickets for individual screenings ($15) and passes for the full slate of six films ($75) go on sale Sept. 6. They will be available online at hop.dartmouth.edu, by phone at 603-646-2422 or in person at the Hopkins Center Box Office.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.