The year in cinema is about to get a whole lot busier. With the summer behind us, the big fall festivals are about to unleash a grab-bag of new movies that will launch awards season along with a range of conversations about filmmakers, actors and the future of the film industry.
Here’s what we’re expecting to learn in the next few days and weeks.
1. Gary Oldman will become an Oscar contender.
Respected for decades for such colorful turns as “Sid & Nancy” and “Dracula,” Gary Oldman finally landed an Oscar nomination for “Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy,” and may get another shot to win the prize. So why the buzz on the British actor as Winston Churchill, a story we think we have seen before? Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour” does not give us the doddering Prime Minister hanging onto power by his fingernails, but the somewhat younger Churchill who takes on the Nazi threat, fearing the fate of the western world is at stake. The film is set to screen at the holy trifecta of Venice, Telluride and Toronto. If there was ever an actor who could benefit from the “it’s his time” narrative that often gives lauded veterans a leg-up in awards season, it’s Oldman, and this is exactly the sort of safe, consequential material to put him at the center of the conversation.
But he’ll get some competition from his fellow countrymen. Andrew Garfield could give him a run for his money in the Oscar race for his moving performance in the true story “Breathe” (Bleecker Street) as Robin Cavendish, a man who beat the odds against surviving polio with the support of his clever wife (“The Crown” Emmy contender Claire Foy) and friends in Andy Serkis’ directorial debut. And Benedict Cumberbatch returns in “The Imitation Game” brainy inventor mode in Weinstein Co.’s solo fall awards entry, “The Current Wars,” as Thomas Edison racing to electrify America against George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon).
2. Netflix will up its movie game.
The studio made international headlines earlier this year at Cannes, when “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” premiered in competition despite the consternation of French exhibitors over both films not playing in traditional theatrical release. Now, Netflix is heading into the fall with two major fall movies — Dee Rees’ Sundance-acclaimed period epic “Mudbound” and Angelina Jolie’s Cambodia-set drama “First They Killed My Father” — which will generate more conversations about whether the company can make its in-house productions succeed in the midst of a crowded fall season.
The last time Netflix pushed a potential Oscar contender at this time of the year, it brought “Beasts of No Nation” to Telluride, only to throw the movie into brief release and fall short of generating much awards traction. With Rees and Jolie both heading to Telluride and TIFF (while “The Meyerowitz Stories” will get another push at NYFF), expect to see a whole new round of debates about whether Netflix can hack the Oscars, beating the studios at their own game. Speaking of which…
3. Director Angelina Jolie could deliver her best film.
The actor-turned-filmmaker first showed her potential behind the camera with her artfully shot Serbian genocide thriller “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which also happened to be a foreign language film. “Unbroken” was an impressive World War II survival story as gripping as anything made on that scale by more seasoned filmmakers. More recently, she turned her skills to a more painfully intimate direction with “By the Sea,” an European-inflected movie co-starring French-speaker Brad Pitt that unfortunately became seen as a template for the news of the couple’s divorce that followed a year later.
Now she’s back to steadier turf with Netflix-financed “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers,” another international look at wartime trauma. This one adapts the experiences of activist Loung Ung, who survived a harrowing childhood under the Khmer Rouge dictatorship. Jolie shares a screenwriting credit with Ung, and the movie counts seminal Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh (“The Missing Picture”) among its producers. Early buzz for the film, which will premiere at Telluride ahead of its TIFF screenings, suggests it could be Jolie’s best movie to date, a tense drama with cinematic depth to spare (with first-rate cinematography by veteran Anthony Dod Mantle to boot). After a year of dodging slimy tabloid coverage, Jolie may have delivered just the thing to remind people that her celebrity stature has yet to eclipse her artistry.
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