‘Women Talking’ Soars at Telluride, Sarah Polley Could Be Third Consecutive Female Director Oscar Winner

Could Sarah Polley join the ranks of Jane Campion, Chloe Zhao and Kathryn Bigelow by becoming only the fourth female filmmaker to win an Oscar for directing? Based on the rapturous reception that “Women Talking” received at the Telluride Film Festival on Friday, it certainly seems possible.

Even if that doesn’t happen, the ambitious film, a drama about a group of women in a tight-knit religious community grappling with a legacy of abuse, has put a stake in the ground as the festival’s first slam dunk best picture candidate. In fact, I think it’s going to be a contender across the board.

In a Telluride lineup that is heavy on documentaries and Cannes titles, Polley’s film is one of only four World Premieres for narrative features. But what a launching pad Telluride is shaping up to be for the film and its director, a critical favorite for her work in front of the camera in “The Sweet Hereafter” and behind with the likes of “Away From Her.” The premiere for “Women Talking” kicked off with a tribute to Polley, who was presented with the Silver Medallion by Frances McDormand, who produced and stars in “Women Talking.”

God bless the awards team whose job it is to get any of the outstanding actors in this film nominated because there’s an overabundance of compelling performances that merit recognition.

“Women Talking” is a true ensemble piece and an extraordinary assembly of both new and veteran female stars who will inspire a lot of debate about who is the standout.

Jessie Buckley, fresh off her first nom for “The Lost Daughter,” and Claire Foy, still looking for retribution for her unjustly ignored turn in “First Man,” may be the strongest contenders. They have some of the film’s most memorable lines and convey the mounting rage felt by the characters in the movie over the way the male leaders of their sect dismissed their allegations of abuse.

But there’s also Broadway legend Judith Ivey, a two-time Tony winner who will find a pocket of support that can bring her to the forefront. Expect the SAG community to possibly give her a boost, or a group like the New York Film Critics Circle to crown her as a contender.

Rooney Mara, her character beaming with positivity despite the horrors she’s endured, delivers her best outing since “Carol” (2015). If there’s any cast member that can campaign in the leading category, she could be it, which would help make room for some of the other candidates.

There’s one actor who is almost assured an invite to the Oscars. That’s Ben Whishaw, the stage and screen star who is best known for playing Q in the James Bond series, who gets one of the best roles of his career as a sensitive schoolteacher ally of the women. In a female-heavy ensemble, with a lot of great performances vying for just a few spots, Whishaw will have a clearer road. Despite acclaimed turns in the likes of “Bright Star” and “The Lobster,” Whishaw has never been nominated. His big moment is coming this season.

McDormand’s role is very brief. So her road to Oscar glory will come as one the producers, alongside Oscar-winners Dede Gardener and Jeremy Kleiner, previously recognized for “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight.” McDormand’s nomination would be historic, making her the only woman be nominated two times for producing a movie she also starred in. She’s already a three-time winner for “Fargo” (1996), “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2018) and “Nomadland” (2020), for which she also won best picture. A win for best picture would extend Gardener’s record for the most wins as a producer with three. McDormand would be right behind with two.

Then there’s the below-the-line categories. Because the film unfolds in one central location, production design could be a stretch. However, the gray and dark hues that cinematographer Luc Montpellier paints with are worthy of a nod. Editor Roslyn Kalloo Is a prime candidate to be the first female winner of the category since Margaret Sixel for “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), guiding “Women Talking” to a fleet 97-minute runtime. And composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, a previous winner for “Joker,” brings a fresh and dynamic score reminiscent of Gustavo Santaolla’s winning notes from “Babel” (2006).

As TIFF approaches, bringing with it the World Premiere of “The Fabelmans,” “Women Talking” has just sent a clear message. Your move Spielberg.

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