Renee Zellweger, Adam Sandler, Christian Bale, and Matt Damon earn standout notices from critics at the awards-positioning Telluride Film Festival

By Joey Nolfi
August 31, 2019 at 12:17 PM EDT
David Hindley/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions; Merrick Morton/Fox; A24

It’s critics gone wild as film journalists gush over a trio of potential awards contenders at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival.

Renee Zellweger’s Judy Garland biopic, Adam Sandler‘s Safdie brothers thriller Uncut Gems, and the Christian Bale/Matt Damon historical action-drama Ford v Ferrari have garnered significant acclaim, with the actors’ performances courting particular praise out of the pre-Oscar event.

EW’s Leah Greenblatt singles out Zellweger and Sandler in her day-one roundup from the Colorado festival, calling Judy “a small movie with a huge performance by Zellweger, who doesn’t just play the Wizard of Oz actress in the last year of her life; she makes it feel like a full-body possession” while highlighting Sandler’s “fantastic” turn as a gritty New York City jeweler who embroils himself in a dangerous plot after acquiring a rare opal. She also notes that festival attendees could be heard “trading bets on [Zellweger’s] award prospects” after the festival’s tribute event, which honored the Oscar-winning Cold Mountain star as she prepares to mount a bid for the Academy’s Best Actress statuette. 

Writing for The Wrap, Awards Daily founder Sasha Stone calls Judy “easily the best performance of Zellweger’s career,” adding that she “likely lands in the Oscar race with this performance. It is not just the best thing she’s ever done, but a tender, memorable realization of a star who once shined very brightly but whose light was never built to last.”

According to attendees onsite, Ford v Ferrari —  James Mangold’s  retelling of engineers Carroll Shelby (Damon) and Ken Miles’ (Bale) work in helping Ford Motor Company go head-to-head with Ferrari at the 1966 “24 Hours of Le Mans” endurance race — also contains career-defining work from Bale, as Oscar blogger Erik Anderson of AwardsWatch calls it “his very best” performance to date.

“Amid a sea of independents that dominate festival season [Ford v Ferrari proves] what big studios can do at their best,” Stone — who says the film’s acting is “top notch,” though the film “belongs to Christian Bale” — Stone adds in her review for The Wrap. “The best films are made for the pure love of the thing, too, as are the best performances. Here we have that all-too-rare animal, a studio film that tells an intimate story of love and friendship, but also one whose thrills comes just from a camera shooting a fast car in a competitive race. It is a reminder of just how few films of this kind, at this scale, are even being made, let alone released in movie theaters. A movie this good ought to have people lining up to see it, and will it likely have end of the year awards play too.”

Finally, though the tone of the Safdie brothers’ gritty Uncut Gems has seemingly tested critics’ patience, Sandler’s lead performance has been well received.

“Adam Sandler rules,” tweeted IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, while The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg shared: “Uncut Gems is gonna strongly divide people, just like the Safdies’ last film, Good Time. I was entertained. Think Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets A Serious Man… with Adam Sandler as the poor schmuck at the center of it all!”

Next Best Picture‘s Matt Neglia agrees, tweeting that the film “features Adam Sandler’s best performance to date,” though “this movie is loud, deranged and quite frankly, unpleasant at times. It never lets up with its blasting score, and overlapping dialogue screamed so loudly that you care barely make anything out.”

One of the most influential film festivals in the world, Telluride traditionally catapults those vying for Oscar glory into the race, often as the first stop on the fall festival trail — which also includes high-profile events in TorontoVenice, and New York. In the recent past, eventual Best Picture winners and nominees like Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, Argo, Gravity, 12 Years a SlaveMoonlight, The Shape of Water, and Roma have all premiered (or simply screened) at the event since 2008.

The 2019 Telluride Film Festival runs through Monday. Read on for more reviews for Judy, Uncut Gems, and Ford v Ferrari in the excerpts and social media reactions below.

Judy

Leah Greenblatt (EW)
Judy is a small movie with a huge performance by Zellweger, who doesn’t just play the Wizard of Oz actress in the last year of her life; she makes it feel like a full-body possession.”

Sasha Stone (The Wrap/Awards Daily)
“[Judy] contains what is easily the best performance of Zellweger’s career. The film itself works best as a showcase for the actress’ extraordinary turn as she transforms herself into Judy Garland, focusing on the last performances of Garland’s career in the months leading up to her tragic death at the age of 47. Zellweger has always been good — probably better than many of the roles she’s been given, especially the ones early in her career. She gets to the core of Garland with a raw intensity of a woman in a spiral…. Zellweger captures Garland’s thin and slightly twitchy body, her voice and even her makeup and mannerisms. Things as subtle as how Garland pronounces the word “wonderful” are not missed by the exacting Zellweger, who has brought the legend to vivid, full-color life. Zellweger’s even navigates the singing parts exceptionally well, capturing the spirit of how Garland sang, even if she can’t quite match the beauty of that famous voice.”

Stephen Farber (The Hollywood Reporter)
“[Director Rupert] Goold is known primarily as a theater director; he was nominated for a Tony this year for his direction of Ink, a play about the rise of Rupert Murdoch and tabloid journalism. He sometimes tries a little too hard to make the material cinematic, but he certainly works beautifully with Zellweger, who brings off a bravura performance that even the notoriously sharp-witted Garland would have applauded.”

Guy Lodge (Variety)
“A climactic performance of ‘Over the Rainbow’ is superbly played by Zellweger as part stream-of-consciousness confessional, part return-to-innocence reset; rarely since its original Wizard of Oz incarnation has the old chestnut been so stirringly used on screen. Even around the time she was hoofing to Oscar-nominated effect in Chicago — and sure enough, you can draw a jagged line from the stage-hungry striver Zellweger played there to her spotlight-trained, love-starved Garland — it would have been near-impossible to imagine the actress in this role. Nearly two decades later, the casting makes bittersweet sense: A onetime American sweetheart who relinquished the burdensome title, she plays Garland, with palpable affection and feeling, as one who’s been over the rainbow and back again.”

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
“[Judy is] the most relaxed and personal performance we have seen from Zellweger in a while…. Zellweger rises resolutely to the challenge of playing Judy on stage and off: her eyes crinkle in tandem with a tremulous pout when her feelings are hurt, and sometimes when they are the opposite of hurt, although she is perhaps less convincing…. Zellweger gives us a tribute to Judy Garland’s flair and to that ethos of the show needing to go on being both a burden and driving force.”

Uncut Gems

A24

Leah Greenblatt (EW)
Gems is a jittery, manic baby-Mean Streets of a movie, itchy and overrun with hectic dialogue; more than a few older festival goers walked out in irritation or defeat. But Sandler, as a New York jeweler with a rare black opal, no impulse control, and a lot of very bad men after him, is fantastic, and so is the score, by Daniel Lopatin. It also has one of the most shocking and satisfying endings of just about any movie this year.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)
“Audiences have been comparing Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems to a cocaine rush since it premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. I wouldn’t know, but it’s a trip all right: Like a cross between a seat-of-your-pants heist movie and a protracted heart attack, this virtuoso character portrait grabs viewers by the lapels and thrusts them into the mind of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), which is not a place most moviegoers would care to spend much time. That’s because most moviegoers are looking for simple escapism, whereas Uncut Gems feels like being locked inside the pinwheeling brain of a lunatic for more than two hours — and guess what: It’s a gas!”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire)
Uncut Gems won’t sit well with anyone who prefers protagonists easy to like or stories with a clean moral compass. But there’s a genuine subversive glee involved in following Howard through his inane quest for all the money he can score, and watching him set himself up for failure with such conviction the whole way through. Howard may be doomed from the start, but in the process of resisting his inevitable fate, “Uncut Gems” makes his ludicrous plan infectious.”

K. Austin Collins (Vanity Fair)
“A Sandler/Safdie collaboration should frankly have felt inevitable, but for the fact that (Punch-Drunk Love excepted) Sandler hasn’t frequently leant his celebrity to independent fare. It couldn’t have worked out better, in this case. I’m a longtime fan of Sandler, and of his schtick; I know his grab-bag of gestures and jokes as well as any other living actor’s. And yet I wasn’t prepared for Uncut Gems, which pushes his comic persona far toward the malicious insecurities that have long given Sandler his fire. Classic Safdie characters are brash, volatile—as are Sandler’s. Here, juiced up with an awful mustache and a personal style befitting his awful merchandise, he unleashes untold reserves of mania and panic. I can barely think of a moment in the film in which Sandler isn’t screaming.”

Ford v Ferrari

Leah Greenblatt (EW)
“It’s a very le manly movie: a big, horse-powered crowd-pleaser that hits pretty much all its laugh lines and emotional beats bang-on. And it’s fun, too, to see a lean, brown Christian Bale — about a thousand miles away from his swollen-tick Dick Cheney in Vice — getting to act in something close to his own British accent for the first time in a while.”

Erik Anderson (AwardsWatch)
“Christian Bale is known for his physically transformative performances. Less than a year ago we just saw him as former Vice President Dick Cheney. In Ford v Ferrari he yo-yo’s back to his much thinner self, nearly gaunt once again, his features so sharp and pointed as if he has a metal endoskeleton lurking just underneath his skin. His work here is far more than appearance though, it’s truly one of his very best ever. Navigating a character who is so uniquely talented, balancing just the right amount of hubris that it takes to take so many risks and have them pay off, Bale makes it seem effortless. Like Ken Miles, there are simply things that only Christian Bale can do and do right.”

Sasha Stone (The Wrap/Awards Daily)
“The best films are made for the pure love of the thing, too, as are the best performances. Here we have that all-too-rare animal, a studio film that tells an intimate story of love and friendship, but also one whose thrills comes just from a camera shooting a fast car in a competitive race. It is a reminder of just how few films of this kind, at this scale, are even being made, let alone released in movie theaters. A movie this good ought to have people lining up to see it, and will it likely have end of the year awards play too.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)
“[The fact that no CGI was used during the race scenes] brings the attention back to the acting, which is where the movie excels. Damon’s role may not be as showy, but he gets most of the meaty confrontations, including one in which he locks Beebe in his office and takes Ford for a breakneck ride. Bale has shed the weight he gained to play Dick Cheney in “Vice,” working with the fact that some scenes call for him to use his whole body, at which point there’s a clownishness to his movements, while others play out across a face half-hidden by helmet and sunglasses, the embodiment of focus.”

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“The characters can seldom compete with the cars in auto racing movies, but that’s not the case with Ford v Ferrari, a full-bodied and exciting true-life story in which the men behind the wheels are just as dynamic as the machines they drive. Fronted by fine lead performances by Christian Bale and Matt Damon as, respectively, racing legends Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby, this is a well-built vehicle in every respect that should make a good run through theaters and a substantial home-viewing afterlife…. Bale and Damon seem enthusiastically immersed in the colorful characters they play here and they spar well together very engagingly, both when in cahoots and at odds.”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire)
“Damon and Bale are such magnetic onscreen figures that it doesn’t take much to inject their various arguments, smarmy asides, and high-stakes bets with plenty of intrigue. They’re surrounded by a pileup of strategy sessions involving powerful men in boardrooms that help orient the story, but no amount of narrative padding can match the sheer energy of the climactic race.”

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