They may not be popular with some sectors of the movie industry, and the big exhibitors want nothing to do with them, but if the reception to their films at this year’s Telluride Film Festival is any indication Streamers are here to stay. Netflix with this weekend’s World Premiere of The Two Popes, along with the critically acclaimed Marriage Story straight from its Venice triumph; and Amazon with the World Premiere of Aeronauts, along with The Report (which started life at Sundance) are getting lots of buzz at this cathedral of cinema not used to celebrating movies that play briefly in smaller theatres before hitting TV screens. But celebrate they are and based on reaction as well as the quality of the movies, Netflix especially looks to have a very good Fall after using this ultimate theatrical setting to launch their hopefuls.
Marriage Story which stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in a divorce story from writer/director Noah Baumbach has had lots of buzz coming in from Venice, and it was just as warmly received in its debut here Saturday night winning high praise for Baumbach’s very personal screenplay, and its stars and supporting cast including a right -on-target Laura Dern , veteran Alan Alda , and Ray Liotta as the lawyers dragging them through the muck. It didn’t disappoint , alternately funny and poignant with razor sharp dialogue , a great score by Randy Newman, and a smart look at divorce that seems entirely fresh . Baumbach has never made a better film that is aptly named because ultimately it really is a marriage story , one that manages to still leave us with hope. It will play the month of November exclusively in theatres before hitting streaming at the beginning of December.
Netflix is also gaining perhaps the most buzz of their Fall movies with Martin Scorsese’s three hour and twenty minute -or so- gangster epic , The Irishman which opens the New York Film Festival at the end of the month. Scorsese was in town, not for Irishman , but instead the Agnes Varda tribute as well as presenting Driver , also in The Report , with a Silver Medallion. However, the streamer may have an unexpected surprise brewing if Telluride reaction to director Fernando Meirelles’ splendid The Two Popes is any indication. Buzz on the street was palpable after its first two screenings which I heard whether I sat with moviegoers on the Gondola, and next to at other films. “This is the best film I have seen at the festival” was a common refrain. I heard the same thing from top Academy members here in town including Sid Ganis and Kathleen Kennedy who were singing its praises to me.
With a brilliant screenplay from Anthony McCarten (The Theory Of Everything, Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour), the film takes its inspiration from the fact that two popes , Benedict who renounced his papacy, the first Pope to do so in 700 years, and current Pope Francis had actually met privately on three different occasions. McCarten then imagines what those conversations were about, thanks to extensive research on both. To see it on Sunday morning was cinematic religion for me and many others, gaining surprising , sometimes even raucous laughter and tears in about equal measure. Its stars Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis are at the very top of their game here , a match made in heaven as it were. If Irishman and Marriage Story were considered Netflix’s best bets to gain another Best Picture nomination this year, you can now add a third.
“It’s the second time for me in Telluride. They say that you are invited to Telluride twice in your career, once on the way up and once on the way down, so I am glad to be here, ” laughed McCarten when he was introduced to the crowd before the film started. I can assure you that on the basis of this film at least, he is far from the latter. Pryce got a roaring standing ovation when he came out after it finished. At a small Rustico lunch afterwards he praised his director as well as co-star Hopkins. They have such pitch perfect chemistry I asked how much time they had to rehearse. “Actually I have been preparing for this for 47 years,” he said by way of emphasizing he and Hopkins were on the same wavelength from the beginning. Hopkins, who couldn’t be in Telluride , has a scene where he gets to play the piano , something Benedict does well. Pryce said it was all Hopkins, who is very musical and even wrote some of what he was playing. Pryce said this was the first time he got to play a Pope, but he has been a Cardinal at least twice before so he knew how the clothing fit.
McCarten said that a friend of his in New York felt it was a very Jewish film. “When I asked him why he said that the type of theological debate going on here is very similar to the very ancient debates going on over scripture in the Jewish religion. So this was the leap of faith that I make in telling this story, very much making it real, honoring historical points by putting them into conflict with each other, ” he said of the script he calls a “speculative imagining of the conversation between these two people”.
For Amazon , Telluride was the choice to launch the World Premiere of their period Hot Air Balloon adventure, Aeronauts from director Tom Harper and reuniting The Theory Of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones who are once again superb together in this rollicking and exciting tale of two pioneers who want to ascend higher than any human in the history of the world. It is beautifully made and acted, a family film in the spirit of Jules Vernes stories. It feels like something Disney might have made at one time, a real old fashioned movie that still works.
This is the kind of film studios don’t seem interested in anymore but if audiences go they will love it. Ironically its producers Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman’s Mandeville Films is based on the Disney lot where they have made movies like Muppets Most Wanted and Beauty And The Beast live action musical among many others. Maybe with Disney+ sreaming service this kind of film will find new life. I don’t understand why Amazon Studios decided to limit its theatrical exposure to just two weeks before hitting streaming. This actually would soar in IMAX and should be seen in theatres on the biggest screen imaginable. Fortunately that is how we got to see it in Telluride, which unlike Cannes has actually been increasingly bracing streamers and will continue to do so as long as the movies are as good as these.