Hidden in a small Colorado town is one of the most important film festivals of the year. Any film critic, especially anyone with an eye on awards season, will be carefully monitoring the reaction at the Telluride film festival.

This year has propelled some awards hopefuls to the front of the race, and potentially swung the entire season around. With Birth of a Nation nowhere to be seen, this was an opportune moment for its rivals to steal the spotlight and capitalise on Nate Parker’s ongoing PR nightmare.

Ready and waiting to step up was Damien Chazelle’s La La Land – a colourful musical which Clayton Davis claimed had ‘danced its way straight to the top of the Oscar race’. While The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg tweeted how packed the festival coverage was for the film.

La La Land is certainly the big winner, and its star Emma Stone has garnered heaps of praise for her all-singing, all-dancing lead. If ever you wanted evidence of how the start of awards season never really gets going until September, this is it.

However, La La Land was not the only film to make a name for itself at Telluride. Flying the diversity flag in almost every way possible is Moonlight, which David Ehrlich calls an ‘utterly symphonic portrait of masculinity in the modern world’.

Barry Jenkins’ drama about the Miami drug world follows an African-American gay man through his life in what is essentially a coming of age drama set to a backdrop that really packs a punch, and the Telluride crowds loved it. The Brad Pitt owned Plan B will now be backing it hugely through awards season.

Moonlight could fill a gap left by the somewhat tarnished Birth of a Nation. As filmmaker Nate Parker struggles to bury old skeletons, films like Moonlight and Loving can fill the void. Voters will be keen to back a strong diversity-led film this year, and if this early praise is anything to go by, Moonlight is one to watch.

Then there is the sci-fi drama Arrival – a big film with a huge cast. Amy Adams has two possible nominations on the cards this year with this and Nocturnal Animals vying for attention, but reaction to Denis Villeneuve’s alien movie has been very strong. The Martian and Gravity have championed science fiction in the major categories recently, so it would not be out of the question to see this go all the way.

Festivals offer only a small indication of awards season, and once Toronto kicks off in a few days we will get a much better idea of how things will shape up. Telluride has been a fantastic springboard for both La La Land and Moonlight, as well as Isabelle Huppert who is campaigning hard for her leading performance in Elle. But when a small festival only shows a sample of this year’s contenders it is easier to stand out.

The test will come next week – how will they take this momentum into the big festivals against the other major players? The likes of Manchester by the SeaSilence and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk remain big contenders.

Were you at Telluride? Comment below and tell us your highlights.