Opening day at the 43rd Annual Telluride Film Festival was one for the guys, at least in terms of awards buzz for the Best Actor Oscar race. Sully had its first screening Friday night and immediately drew lots of talk for star Tom Hanks who was so unfairly passed over in recent years for superb, if subtle, performances in Captain Phillips and Bridge Of Spies. His latest turn as heroic airline pilot Sully Sullenberger drew very good early reviews and a new chance to go for a third Oscar. Casey Affleck, the subject of a tribute here, has been drawing awards heat since Sundance for his sensational turn in Manchester By The Sea. 

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And that is only intensifying in Telluride after Friday night’s first screening and the tribute program. Having its World Premiere here in Colorado, Bleed For

Warner Bros.

This, the great boxing biopic of Vinny Pazienza from Open Road, not only won praise after its debut but seems certain to put star Miles Teller in the center of the Best Actor conversation for what is his best film work to date. It’s an irresistible role and he’s a knockout, as is Aaron Eckhart as trainer Kevin Rooney in the Ben Younger-directed film. Eckhart, who is also in Sully, could be in line for a Supporting Actor nomination.

La La Land , just as it did in Venice,  has wowed Telluride too after its first three screenings today in its North American debut. The intensifying Oscar talk about this film can only help Ryan Gosling land a well-deserved Best Actor nod. In the role of an aspiring jazz pianist he really proves he can do it all, learning to play jazz piano for the film, singing, dancing, comic and dramatic scenes. It is his best screen work in my view. In a decade of coming to Telluride, La La Land is the first film I had already seen that I went to see again. The audience at this afternoon’s first screening ate it up. Afterwards Jennifer Garner, in town to support her new film Wakefield, was visibly moved by Damien Chazelle’s innovative musical, telling me it hit all the right beats. She was clearly blown away by it.

By the way, her Wakefield co-star Bryan Cranston might be included in awards conversation too if his film gets picked up for distribution after

Bleed For This Release Date
Open Road Films

its World Premiere here (to be followed closely by Toronto). The film, written and directed by Robin Swicord, is the most mentioned acquisition  title

La La Land
Summit Entertainment

when I ask distributors which movie they want to see. Cranston landed his first Oscar nomination for Trumbo last year.

Another movie that had its World Premiere here last night was A24 and Plan B’s moving story of black life in contemporary America, Moonlight from writer/director Barry Jenkins. Initial reviews are raves and I would say the mostly male cast will definitely be heard from this season including the three enormously impressive young actors who share the key role of Chiron at different ages: Alex R. Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders. Emmy nominee Mahershala Ali (House Of Cards) is also very fine as the young Chiron’s mentor, as is Andre Sanders and Jharrel Jerome who have key scenes as Chiron’s friend Kevin. The film is broken into three chapters of his life and deals not only with being a young black man in America, but also the true meaning of masculinity. A24’s David Fenkel told me it is their first in-house production, and they were attracted not only by the script but also the prospect of working with Jenkins. It got a very strong reaction from the opening night crowd.

Though Telluride’s first day was dominated by strong male performances, both Emma Stone, who introduced La La Land with Chazelle, and Naomie Harris, as a crack-addicted mother in Moonlight, clearly planted their flags in the Oscar race as well.