Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn” brings style, swag and a whole lot of Barry Keoghan’s manhood to the award race. After having its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on Thursday night, festivalgoers were in for a wild bonanza of colors, lights and one of the sexiest films to grace the big screen so far this year.
Fennell’s previous film as a director, 2020’s “Promising Young Woman,” was a hit with Oscar voters, scoring five nominations, including one for best picture. But “Saltburn” looks to be much more divisive with critics and audiences.
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“Saltburn” follows a college student named Oliver (Keoghan), as he finds himself drawn into the world of a charming and aristocratic classmate (Jacob Elordi) after he is invited to his eccentric family’s sprawling estate for a summer.
“Saltburn” feels like Fennell’s version of “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Early reviews include some passionate admirers (I’m in that boat), and some vociferous naysayers. To be clear, being polarizing didn’t stop films like “Vice” or “Joker” from picking up a substantial number of noms and wins. However, gonzo films like last year’s Hollywood-mania movie “Babylon” can sometimes be too much for voters to embrace.
When Fennell was nominated in 2020 alongside eventual winner Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland,” it marked the first time multiple women were nominated for directing. Another prominent female director in the race, “Barbie” helmer Greta Gerwig, is also a former nominee for “Lady Bird.” Both women could score their second directing nominations. Jane Campion, a nominee for “The Piano” and a winner for “The Power of the Dog,” is the only female filmmaker to be nominated twice for directing.
Fennell also produces alongside Josey McNamara and Margot Robbie, who is also a co-producer on “Barbie” and a bona fide lead actress candidate.
Coming off his inaugural Oscar nom for best supporting actor for his turn in “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Keoghan proves he’s now a genuine leading man. Baring it all, Keoghan leads the film in a terrifying, yet captivating manner, though I’m a little worried that Keoghan is starting to be typecast as the “creepy” dude. While the role asks for more than that from him, and is the type of movie you want to watch multiple times to pick up on new gems, voters could miss why he’s so brilliant. His dancing sequence finale will be talked about for years to come. As I mentioned in a 2022 column, male frontal nudity can be a difficult sell for voters (i.e., Simon Rex in “Red Rocket” and Bradley Cooper in “Nightmare Alley”).
The SAG Awards ensemble prize would be a fitting way to reward the cast that surrounds Keoghan.
For example, I want a TV show that stars Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike as the deadpan yet flamboyant parental figures, and I could have watched Carey Mulligan’s hilarious four-minute stint for another four hours. Pike will be the closest candidate for a supporting actress nom.
Elordi surprised me greatly. As the magnetic Felix, the classmate with whom Keoghan becomes obsessed, he plays it more tenderly than expected, similarly to Timothee Chalamet in “Call Me by Your Name.” It’s a performance the Golden Globes or Critics Choice awards might embrace.
Technically, the movie is among the most gorgeous of the year so far, with cinematographer Linus Sandgren possibly even surpassing his Oscar-winning work on “La La Land.” Production, costumes and editing could all garner support, while sound design, which evokes tub-water slurping plus cool needle drops, should be within reach.
At this point, it’s hard to predict where a movie like this lands in awards season — I’d believe anything from 10 noms to a complete shutout. My guess is that it lands somewhere in the middle. With Telluride as it only stop on the festival train (so far), we’ll have to monitor it closely for the next few months.
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