And just like that, the Telluride Film Festival is over — the sequestered Colorado tradition known for anointing and/or unveiling awards-season front-runners en route to Toronto and beyond. But with no Juno this year to charm visiting critics and distribution bosses alike, Labor Day came and went instead with rangy early takes on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher's long-awaited (and reportedly just long) saga of Brad Pitt aging backwards. While we had pretty much gotten used to the film's stirring Spanish-language trailer, a few closer reads of previews emerging from the Rockies suggest the final result might be a little more complex: Extraordinary digital effects! Romance! And, alas, disappointment:
What worked for Paul Thomas Anderson the year before seemed to backfire this time. ... Fincher couldn't show one long sequence—the usual practice— because he needed to show the passage of time and the different faces of Button (Brad Pitt), so the concept of the movie would be clear. (Telluride wanted fewer, longer clips, but didn't get them until the eve of the showing.)
The other difference between Button and There Will Be Blood is the difference between a Paramount Vantage indie directed by PTA and a big studio director who has commandeered a major movie star and $150-million in big-Paramount resources. Insiders can't help but speculate on the eventual outcome of the movie. Will it get good reviews and be an Oscar contender? Will it lose a fortune? (Is it Memoirs of a Geisha all over again?) The real folks in Telluride will spread good word in their communities, which was Paramount's intention here. But the fanboys are interested in this movie too, and it may not be for them.
To wit, one Fincher obsessive took a stick to Button's tender skin ("I’m still excited to see the finished product, I’m just a little disappointed. Could it be that the film wasn’t what I expected, or maybe not what I wanted?"), while Fincher himself insisted the preview wasn't about marketing or "positioning" — i.e. situating Brad Pitt's name alongside Viggo Mortensen's in the early Oscar brackets. Which, of course, is where it landed almost instantly upon screening. Hats off. Meanwhile, in Paul Schrader's Adam Resurrected, Jeff Goldblum drew accolades for portraying, and we quote, "a Berlin cabaret performer who survived a concentration camp by playing a dog for a commandant." And if there is a Juno-esque revelation to emerge literally out of thin air, handicappers had an eye on Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's chronicle of an Indian slum kid who wins on his country's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. And why not: Fox Searchlight has a horse in the race every year, and even without a stripper-screenwriter subplot or some ensemble, yellow-bus witchcraft, critics love Boyle, and the studio has spun gold from less-likely sources like Once. Look for more after the Toronto Film Festival, which begins Thursday and will define the film's trajectory — if Hollywood ever makes it to Canada, that is. Good luck with that!