Telluride 2021 Preview: 10 Must-See Films To Watch

It’s that most wonderful, debilitating time of the year. The Fall Film Festival Season gives us myriad new films and ensures that some of us don’t go outdoors for about two weeks straight at the beginning of September. Such are the sacrifices we make for cinema. The Venice Film Festival has already kicked off today, and starting tomorrow, after a year away thanks to COVID-19, the Telluride Film Festival returns and returns rather triumphantly at that. Tucked away in the mountains of Colorado, Telluride is always seen as the true official start to Oscar season; the place becomes inundated with Academy members as well, no joke.

READ MORE: Fall 2021 Movie Preview: 60+ Must-See Films

While they don’t call them premieres, technically, Telluride definitely has a few major world premieres including, Joe Wright’s “Cyrano” and Will Smith‘s “King Richard,” neither of which is playing any of the other four major fall film festivals this September, a true coup for the festival. Additional world premieres include Mike Mills‘ “C’mon, C’mon” with Joaquin Phoenix, Kenneth Branagh‘s “Belfast” with Caitriona Balfe, “The Electric Life Of Louis Wain,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the sci-fi film “Encounter” with Riz Ahmed, and a few more to boot. Here’s a quick preview of the major highlights.

READ MORE: Venice Film Festival 2021 Preview: 12 Must-See Films To Watch

Renowned director/thespian Kenneth Branagh has dubbed his upcoming film “Belfast” as his “most personal” yet. The story of a boy’s tumultuous 1960s childhood, Branagh describes the movie as one about “coming home.” Starring Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds, and newcomer Jude Hill, the film was actually shot after “Murder on the Orient Express” sequel “Death on the Nile”—delayed due to COVID-19 concerns and now set for 2022 release, likely also to distance itself from the Armie Hammer drama.

C’mon C’mon
Following up the acclaimed “20th Century Women,” which garnered the writer/director Mike Mills an Oscar nomination, he’s teamed with Joaquin Phoenix for “C’Mon C’Mon,” a movie following a caring radio journalist (Phoenix), whose current project entails interviewing children across the U.S., asking about the unknown future that awaits us all. We were recently treated to a beautiful black and white still for the film, making one wonder if Mills may be gifting us with his take on the “Alice and the Cities”/”Paper Moon” parental road trip formula.

Best known for lavish period dramas such as “Pride & Prejudice,” and a bold re-imagining of “Anna Karenina,” Joe Wright always seems to circle back to his comfort zone after his career zigs zags—see: “Hanna” or the trashy “Women in the Window”—and “Cyrano” fits what the British director does best like a glove. Casting the former Hand of the King himself, Peter Dinklage, in the titular role of Cyrano de Bergerac, the mythic scribe of old. Also starring Haley Bennet, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Ben Mendelsohn, “Cyrano” should play well for fest crowds and awards pundits.  

If one had any doubts about Riz Ahmed’s talents, look no further than last year’s exceptional “Sound of Metal” and the more recent “Mogul Mowgli.” The kind of performer whose creative passion makes a project instantly worth looking into, the hip-hop artist next leads the sci-fi venture with “Encounter,” following a Marine father on a mission to save his sons from evil alien bugs. Directed by Michael Pearce, the global invasion thriller also stars Octavia Spencer and Rory Cochran, owing much to classics of the genre and looking to turn its gaze onto horrors of the American heartland.  

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song
Executive produced by Morgan Neville, a hot topic figure in documentary discourse these days, “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song” looks to take an intimately specific look at the legendary poet/songwriter; as one can probably infer from the title, the movie views Cohen’s life through the prism of his arguably most well-known work, Zack Snyder’s favorite hymn, “Hallelujah.” There may be little shortage of great music documentaries across today’s streaming landscape, but Cohen is one of those artists whose work deservedly continues to be reappraised and celebrated.

King Richard
Will Smith is  back on the hunt for Oscar gold with “King Richard.” Based on the true story of Richard Williams, a father who was key to raising a pair of sisters-turned-tennis-superstars you might have heard about, named Venus and Serena. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and shot by famed cinematographer Robert Elswit, Smith has always had a soft spot for sports story underdog projects like “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” or “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and his latest—which also features Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, and Jon Bernthal—aims to resurrect his ‘90s success. 

The Electric Life Of Louis Wain
Benedict Cumberbatch has a couple of projects screening in Colorado, including a biopic on anthropomorphic cat artist Louis Wain (what a gig!). Japanese-English actor/filmmaker Will Sharpe co-wrote and directed the upcoming dramatization of the acclaimed illustrator who allegedly also had schizophrenia. Sporting an incredible cast including Claire Foy, Jamie Demetriou, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Olivia Colman, Taika Waititi, and Nick Cave as H.G. Wells (which reminds one of Bowie playing Tesla in “The Prestige”), hopefully, Cumberbatch’s newest won’t fall prey to getting lost in the release calendar like “The Current War” did. 

The Power Of The Dog
While already spotlighted in our Venice Preview, Jane Campion’s eagerly awaited “The Power of the Dog” released its first teaser last week. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as cruel rancher Rick Burbank, the outstanding trailer gives off major “There Will Be Blood” vibes—the film being scored by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, best known for his acclaimed Paul Thomas Anderson collaborations. Campion’s first feature film in over a decade—she’s since been busy helming the disturbing crime series “Top of the Lake,” her latest finds her returning to her period filmmaking roots, and the strong ensemble also including Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Keith Carradine, and Thomasin McKenzie

The Rescue
A nail-biting account of the rescue of a Thai soccer team and their coach in 2018, Oscar-winning filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin were given exclusive access to never before seen footage from the disaster. In contrast to the intense rock climbing of “Free Solo,” “The Rescue” looks into the dangerous task of life or death cave diving. A story of survival, community, and sacrifice, it can be difficult for documentaries to capture high stakes that take your breath away, but, never fear, this directing pair already have a bit of experience in that field.

One of this year’s biggest Oscar hopefuls is the latest feature from “Ema” and “Jackie” filmmaker Pablo Larrain, returning with “Spencer.” Led by actress Kristen Stewart, “Spencer” tells the story of a dramatic time in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, as she has to come to terms with the fact that her husband likely cheated on her and what she must do moving forward. The film is expected to be a major contender during this year’s awards season, and judging by Larrain’s previous film (also released in 2021), “Ema,” the filmmaker seems to be in top form.

Honorable Mentions
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. NatGeo is about to dominate the documentary front at the festival, with the aforementioned ‘Rescue,’ but also with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s public servant doc, “Fauci” and director Liz Garbus‘ “Becoming Cousteau.” Also of interest is Ry Russo-Young‘s new HBO doc, “Nuclear Family.” Other additional highlights include Mia Hansen-Løve‘s “Bergman Island,” Sam Pollard‘s new Arthur Ashe doc “Citizen Ashe,” Paolo Sorrentino‘s “The Hand Of God,” which is premiering in Venice, Asghar Farhadi‘s “A Hero,Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter,” Robert Greene‘s “Procession,” Sean Baker‘s Cannes drama “Red Rocket” and many many more. Riches await, and we wish you were here.

Follow along with our full coverage from the 2021 Telluride Film Festival here.