It’s the battle of the returning Oscar contenders this year, as Barry Jenkins (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), Damien Chazelle (Venice opener “First Man”), Steven Spielberg (“Ready Player One”), Adam McKay (“Vice”), and Alfonso Cuaron (NYFF Centerpiece “Roma”) are all in the mix. Where they wind up will depend on how well their films balance artful gravitas and mainstream genre elements — that’s also the question for Ryan Coogler. Will he land a nod for historic Marvel entry “Black Panther”? Right now, cinematic tour-de-force “Roma” is leading the fray.
First teased at CinemaCon in April, then hitting the fall festival circuit, “Widows” (Fox) gives Steve McQueen a chance to play with the thriller genre, while Belgian Oscar-nominee Felix Van Groeningen tackles Amazon’s father-son book adaptation “Beautiful Boy,” an addiction drama starring Steve Carell and hot-as-flapjacks rising star Timothee Chalamet. Two actor-directors could factor: Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased” (Focus Features) stars Lucas Hedges as a gay teen in conversion therapy, while Bradley Cooper makes his directing debut with studio blockbuster “A Star Is Born” (Warner Bros.) in which he sings live with Lady Gaga. This is the current Oscar frontrunner.
The Cannes jury gave the Grand Prix to Spike Lee’s return with 70s drama “BlacKkKlansman” (August 10, Focus Features) about an African-American undercover cop (emerging star John David Washington, son of Denzel) who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan.
Fall festival hits include Cuaron’s autobiographical black-and-white evocation of his Mexico City childhood “Roma” (Netflix), Damien Chazelle’s portrait of Neil Armtrong’s mission to the moon (“First Man” (Universal), Yorgos Lanthimos’ period royal court three-hander “The Favourite” (Fox Searchlight), starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, and Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book,” a true road movie starring Mahershala Ali as a jazz musician touring the 60s south, and Viggo Mortensen as the Bronx bouncer hired to protect him.
Will any women directors follow Greta Gerwig into the final five? Critical faves “You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsey, Amazon) and Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” will try to penetrate the crowded awards corridor, and Tamara Jenkins, Marielle Heller, Mimi Leder, and Karyn Kusama will be in the conversation, but will need critical raves.
No movie will be deemed a frontrunner until I have seen it. Lists in alphabetical order.
Damien Chazelle (“First Man”)
Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”)
Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”)
Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”)
Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”)
Peter Farrelly (“Green Book”)
Debra Granik (“Leave No Trace”)
Barry Jenkins (“If Beale Street Could Talk”)
Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”)
Joel Edgerton (“Boy Erased”)
Paul Greengrass (“22 July”)
Marielle Heller (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”)
Tamara Jenkins (“Private Life”)
Karyn Kusama (“Destroyer”)
Mimi Leder (“On the Basis of Sex”)
Adam McKay (“Vice”)
Steve McQueen (“Widows”)
Lynne Ramsay (“You Were Never Really Here”)
Julian Schnabel (“At Eternity’s Gate”)
Steven Spielberg (“Ready Player One”)
Robert Zemeckis (“Welcome to Marwen”)