By Leah Greenblatt
August 31, 2019 at 10:30 AM EDT
A24

Every film festival has its draws: the Continental glamour of Cannes and Venice; the still-scrappy discovery of Sundance; the sheer size of Toronto. But nothing quite compares to Telluride — a bucolic long weekend in the Colorado mountains that also just happens to hold the coming awards season in the palm of its hand. (For reference, The Favourite, First Man, Roma, Cold War, Free Solo, and Can You Ever Forgive Me all saw their world or American premieres here last year.)

It’s the kind of place where Jennifer Lawrence is on your commercial flight to Denver, looking fresher than any human being should at 7am; where documentary godhead Ken Burns holds court at the little coffee stand on Main Street, and Oprah and Ralph Lauren, who both own homes nearby, sometimes stop by. Where every gondola ride from the hotels up in Mountain Village to the main town below is a social experiment; a chance to end up swinging hundreds of feet over the valley below with an off-duty ski instructor or a cinematographer or the star of the movie you spent 90 minutes waiting in line for last night.

And of course, it’s where thousands of dealmakers and die-hard cinephiles converge, in makeshift theaters and high school gymnasiums, to gorge on a lineup that this year includes the racing biopic Ford Vs. Ferrari, Noah Baumbach’s hotly anticipated domestic drama Marriage Story, and 19th-century adventure epic The Aeronauts, which reunites The Theory of Everything costars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in a hot-air balloon. (Yes, these movie synopses sound like IMDB Madlibs sometimes.)

The festival officially kicked off, per tradition, with a Friday brunch where assorted movie stars — Adam Driver, Antonio Banderas, Redmayne, and Jones — mingle with well-heeled patrons who pay $4,900 for all-access passes, and a few scrappy journalists. There are artfully placed hay bales and champagne mimosas and lots of talk about the altitude (it’s approximately 8,700 feet above sea level, and you can feel it).

But the films are what people come for, and the opening-night slate included a tribute to honor Renee Zellweger, who watched a highlight reel that included clips from Cold Mountain, Chicago, and assorted Bridget Joneses alongside the audience before stepping on stage for a brief Q&A and graciously accepting the honor as a reward for “30 years of greedy behavior.”

Then it was time for the world premiere of the Judy Garland biopic 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. Afterwards, people streamed out of the theater wiping their eyes, trading bets on her award prospects, and furiously wikipedia-ing things like “Judy Garland fifth husband.”

Next up for maximum narrative whiplash came Uncut Gems, the latest from brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie (Good Times) — or as star Adam Sandler fondly called them from the stage, “the Safdie boys.”

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, zero 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.

One more gondola ride in the dark, and that’s the end of Day One. Until tomorrow!

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