‘Birdman’ and ‘Foxcatcher’ Leave Telluride Audiences Blissed Out and Bowled Over

New Michael Keaton and Steve Carell movies make their U.S. debuts, kicking off what might be an awards-season battle

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu at Telluride
Chris Willman

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman” had first earned its wings with a world premiere at the Venice Film Festival a few days earlier, but the director has a particular love for the Telluride Film Festival, bringing his much-anticipated film to a fest he attends even when he doesn’t have a movie to show.

Introducing the American premiere of “Birdman” in Telluride on Saturday night, Iñárritu gushed that the festival “always feels like a Disneyland for adults. It’s a weekend in paradise. If heaven has a form for cinephiles, it would be Telluride.”

It turns out Iñárritu can give back as good as he gets on the rapture front, because attendees left gushing — in so many words — that if heaven has a particular movie for cinephiles, it would be “Birdman.” Some were comparing Iñárritu’s knockout to a smash that debuted in the same Saturday slot at Telluride last year, “Gravity,” for its technological achievements and mind-blowingly fluid cinematography (not incidentally by the same lensman, Emmanuel Lubezki).

Also read: ‘Birdman’ Venice Review: Michael Keaton as an Actor With Caped-Crusader Issues

But as a film that combines the unlikely elements of backstage farce and soul-searching nervous-breakdown drama with recurring fantastical elements, “Birdman” also picked up seemingly random comparisons to everything from “Noises Off” and “Soapdish” to “Black Swan” and “The Fisher King.” It’s that kind of movie — which is to say, unlike any you’ve seen previously.

At a post-screening Q&A (photo at top), Iñárritu was asked how he pulled off a two-hour film that was made to create the illusion of one continual take, and at the very least did seem to involve its ensemble cast in a lot of 10-minute-plus shots. “I sent the actors a photograph of Philippe Petit crossing the high wire between the twin towers, saying, ‘This is the film we are doing, guys’,” Iñárritu told the crowd.

The actors went into production, he added, “knowing if there is something wrong, you would not even be able to hide it, because I would not be able to take out a thing that doesn’t work, because everything was attached.”

See video: Michael Keaton’s Life ‘Smells Like Balls’ in Full ‘Birdman’ Trailer (Video)

In a way, the director indicated, he made the seamless “Birdman” in reaction to his previous, highly fractured omnibus films like “Babel.” “Maybe I’m the last person to realize this, but always I have been playing with structures,” he said, “and editing for me always seems the tool that I love.

“But suddenly, maybe too late, I realize that my life and everybody’s life is a continuous Steadicam shot.”

None of his cast members — who include Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Emma Stone all doing close to their best work — were on hand for the U.S. unveiling; perhaps they’ve been told to hold their firepower for the next American showing, when it closes the New York Film Festival on Oct. 12. But he thanked them for giving him his first “fun” time during production.

“This is the first time in my life that I have a laugh on a set,” Iñárritu admitted. (For all its psychologically harrowing moments, rest assured that this is a film the Golden Globes will be nominating as a comedy.) His gratitude went “especially to Keaton, who got naked spiritually and physically, very hotly” … and who may be holding a naked golden man in six months.

Also read: 22 Fall Movies We’re Dying to See – From ‘Interstellar’ to ‘The Interview’

One of Keaton’s best-actor competitors did come to Telluride, in the form of Steve Carell. The actor stars in Bennett Miller’s intense drama “Foxcatcher” — previously seen at Cannes — which had its American bow at the festival Friday night, also leaving audiences bowled over, if necessarily not as blissed out as the “Birdman” crowd.

Carell and “Foxcatcher” co-star Channing Tatum were making the rounds for their major awards contender over the weekend, including dining with press at a Sony Classics dinner. “Birdman” distributor Fox Searchlight held a press confab at the same time, offering a symbolic tease of just what kind of healthy rivalry “Birdman” and “Foxcatcher” are destined to have as awards conjecturing gets heavier in the months ahead.

See video: Steve Carrell’s Creepy, Violent Obsession Drives Latest ‘Foxcatcher’ Trailer (Video)

In addition to a number of Venice and Cannes transfers, Saturday saw two world premieres in Telluride, neither one destined for major awards glory.

A visually sumptuous new adaptation of “Madame Bovary” made its bow in the afternoon, with director Sophie Barthes (“Cold Souls”) noting that star Mia Wasikowska was unable to attend because she was shooting “Alice in Wonderland 2” overseas. This version of what could effectively be called “Alice in Bad Creditland” left a lot of souls cold, despite the widescreen English-countryside eye candy.

Looking like a 17-year-old indie-rock kid, co-star Ezra Miller makes no attempt to do anything other than a 21st-century American accent, which makes his scenes with Wasikowska (an Australian who sounds inexplicably American half the time herself) come off like the world’s most expensive and visually lavish high school production. Having the title character’s death scene serve as the movie’s very opening also isn’t a major suspense builder for those who haven’t read the book or seen the 10 previous screen adaptations.

“Escobar: Paradise Lost” bowed in a “sneak preview” slot late Saturday night, with actor turned first-time writer/director Andrea Di Stefano clearly ecstatic to screen his film for the first time publicly to an audience that included hero Francis Coppola. The violent drama, set in Columbia circa 1991, features a deliciously good turn by Benicio del Toro as drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and a less effective one in the lead by Josh Hutcherson, playing a presumably fictional Canadian who somehow ends up wanting to marry into the Escobar family.

The bloody action doesn’t end happily for much of anyone, except maybe del Toro fans who thinks it’s worth sitting through a whole lot of a “Hunger Games” heartthrob to get a few choice scenes involving a great actor, perfectly cast.