On a day chock full of World Premieres here in Telluride, The Weinstein Company which has used this festival for North American launches of The King’s Speech and The Artist, and saw both go on to win Best Picture Oscars, just might be on to another major Best Picture contender after its first public screening of the Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game. Of course it is easy this time of year to go into just about every film that hits the Fall Festival circuit as a potential awards player after a large drought of Oscar- quality films for the first eight months of the year, but this one just has Academy Award nominations written all over it. Not just in the Best Picture race where a slot seems likely, but also directing for Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), debuting screenwriter Graham Moore, and certainly the stunning lead actor performance of new Emmy winner Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, the brilliant British math nerd who cracked the code of Nazi Germany’s military maneuvers , but also led a complex, and ultimately tragic, personal life. Also sure to get strong consideration is Keira Knightley, as good as she has ever been, as a colleague of Turing who becomes so much more. Although she has lead billing with Cumberbatch, producers tell me they plan to put her in Supporting Actress and that seems appropriate unless the actors branch who votes on these things disagrees, but the thrust of the film is really Cumberbatch.
After the premiere screening at the packed Werner Herzog Theatre on Friday night, I moderated a 15-minute discussion with Tyldum, Moore and producers Teddy Schwarzman of Black Bear Pictures, and Bristol Automotive’s Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky. Cumberbatch was listed in the official Telluride program as coming to the festival, but I am told he couldn’t get sprung from a current production commitment. Ostrowsky and Grossman had learned of Turing’s remarkable story and optioned Andrew Hodges’ definitive biography on him. That led to a meeting with self-confessed computer nerd and Turing aficionado Moore which resulted in his blacklisted script that not only brilliantly covers Turing’s obsessive career, but also personal travails and gives what might have been a dry story real emotional punch. Another Best Picture winner to which it could be favorably compared to is Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, but this film seems to have even more humanity in the way Turing’s life is portrayed. “This was a much-beloved screenplay that Hollywood studios didn’t want to make. And it was one of those opportunities where a studio says ‘no’ and it becomes available to be made completely independently. And that’s what we did,” said Schwarzman, who described why they brought in a Norwegian director who had never made an English-language film. “We tried to find a leader who understood the thematic significance of this film, and the importance from a historical standpoint and who could hopefully provide some greater themes to the movie as far as just not all the amazing accomplishments of Alan Turning, which from our standpoint are exceptional, but also tackling the ability to be different, and to accept being different and to do great things by that self-confidence. I think when we met Morten Tyldum, he encapsulated all of that, and then we really had the beginnings of a movie.”
Tyldum said he is not particularly a fan of period films, but the theme of the importance of not following the norm and being different really won him over in taking on this project. Also drawn to the film was Harvey Weinstein who picked it up after seeing just 15-minutes of footage. “It was good to have someone coming in at that process and to push us to do a little bit more because we have lived with this story for so long,” said Ostrowsky. Weinstein came to Telluride for the premiere, but when I asked him afterwards about it, he really deferred to the filmmakers praising their work. He’s obviously high on this one’s Oscar prospects and also told me he expects big things in the awards season from the December release of Tim Burton’s Big Eyes which stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. The Imitation Game opens November 21st. This is a significant date for Weinstein as both King’s Speech and The Artist opened the same week in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Since both won Best Picture it looks like a good luck date for The Weinstein Company. I would be surprised if this one doesn’t firmly put them in the 2014 race.
At any rate Tyldum is happy with the Telluride debut. “It’s now off. It’s not our film anymore. Now anyone who’s seen it and talks about it, it’s their film,” he said. Moore added that he hopes people take from it a portrait of a completely singular and unique man. ” He was treated very badly and his life ended very sadly, but he deserves to be celebrated,” he said.