This recap takes the form of the third edition of this column so far this season. The first was a mid-year analysis of what was already looking good, while the second previewed what those fests might be about to say. This edition won't attempt anything so extensive. Once Toronto has come and gone, it'll take a more detailed look at what these fests have suggested about this year's fall fare. But in the meantime, there's an opportunity for a little mid-madness housekeeping and to be quickly brought up to date.
Between Telluride and Venice, essentially five films that were thought of to have good awards chances have been screened and reviewed: Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina," Ben Affleck's "Argo," Roger Michell's "Hyde Park on Hudson," Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" and Terrence Malick's "To The Wonder." Clearly expectations were much higher for some than others, but here's where they seem to have risen or fallen thanks to first impressions:
Joe Wright's Tolstoy adaptation actually didn't screen at Venice or Telluride. It just happened to have its UK premiere during those fests (and ahead of its official debut in Toronto tonight). While Toronto may make things a little more clear, reviews out of the UK were generally quite positive. Critics unanimously championed the design (costume design and art direction are absolute locks at this point), though were more mixed on the film itself. Though such was the story for Wright's "Atonement," which ended up with a best picture nod. At this point, call it a reasonable bet for a few major nods. Keira Knightley and newcomer Alicia Vikander are among those possibilities in the actress and supporting actress categories, respectively. But if the rest of the year is stronger than average, it might be tough.
Probably the film that got the biggest boost in the past week, Warner Brothers' "Argo" seems assured to get Ben Affleck his first best picture nod for his third directorial effort. The comedic historical thriller (partially about the movie business, which Oscar loves) managed mostly raves in its Telluride secret screening (it makes its official debut tonight in Toronto at the same time as "Anna"), and while Affleck's chances at a nod are much more likely for director than actor, a supporting cast including Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston each got their fair share of notices as the film's standout. They could cancel each other out in the end, though at this point Arkin and maybe Goodman as well (he's never been nominated!) both stand decent chances at being part of this award season's mix.
"Hyde Park On Hudson"
On the flipside, the film that was hurt the most by the fall festivals so far was Roger Michell's FDR biopic "Hyde Park On Hudson." People had been predicting it an Oscar fave since it announced production, particularly with regard to statuette-less Bill Murray's role as FDR himself. But its Telluride debut was not met with too many raves, for the film or for Murray (Indiewire's Eric Kohn called his performance "uneven"). It's still a biopic about important historical figures with an impressive ensemble (Laura Linney, Olivia Williams and Olivia Colman also are in it, and found a few nice notices here and there), which is so up Oscar's alley it's not even funny. In the end, maybe the critics won't matter. But so far, they haven't helped the case for "Hyde Park," and we can at the very least count out its chances for a best picture nomination.
Reviews for Paul Thomas Anderson's intensely anticipated and thinly veiled take on Scientology's origins had been trickling in ahead of its Venice premiere, and the premiere itself confirmed what those reviews had suggested: "The Master" should be a major Oscar player. It's clearly a challenging work that may not appeal to all voters (especially those that share a church with Tom Cruise), but nominations across the board seem likely, including best picture, best director and acting nods for Phillip Seymour Hoffman (best supporting actor), Amy Adams (best supporting actress) and Jaoquin Phoenix (best actor, where he has a very good shot at winning). It opens in theaters next weekend, where box office dollars will give us another clue as to whether Harvey Weinstein and company can make Anderson go all the way for the first time.
"To The Wonder"
The only film on this list without distribution, Terrence Malick's "To The Wonder" is looking pretty unlikely as a second consecutive best picture nomination for the director. Critics were much more divided than they were for "The Tree of Life," and its been noted that "Wonder" is even more experimental than its predecessor. But if it is indeed picked up and released before year's end, a best cinematography nomination for Emmanuel Lubezki (who still hasn't won, despite the assumption he would last year for "Tree") is the film's best bet at making Oscar's cut.
Check out Indiewire's latest chart of Oscar predictions here.