Rookie director Bradley Cooper’s $45-million musical retelling of “A Star is Born” (October 5, Warner Bros.), in which he stars opposite emerging movie star Lady Gaga, has exploded out of Venice and Toronto (Metascore: 88) and will become an enormous popular hit. At Sunday night’s North American premiere at TIFF, the audience broke into applause during the film and rose to its feet at the end, cheering. During the Q&A, when Cooper’s cowboy-hatted musical collaborator Lukas Nelson (son of Willie), told silver-sheathed Lady Gaga, “You destroyed every scene you were in,” the Elgin Theatre stood up again with deafening applause. Lady Gaga was finally overwhelmed with tears. “I wouldn’t be here without you,” she told Cooper.
As her character Ally is brought to stardom by hard-drinking music icon Jackson Maine in the movie, so does Cooper turn Lady Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) into a movie star. Ugly duckling singer-actress Barbra Streisand swanned to stardom in her mid-20s with “Funny Girl” on stage and screen, carrying a music and acting career through five decades — and starred in the second remake of “A Star is Born” opposite Kris Kristofferson in 1976, scoring a Golden Globe for Best Musical Actress and Best Song Oscar (with Paul Williams) for “Evergreen.” At 32, Lady Gaga’s music career is in full bloom; she now has an Oscar Best Actress nomination in her sights as Ally, whose star rises as her alcoholic husband’s falls. Two original songs, hair-raising “Shallow,” which she sings the first time she steps on stage, and the movie’s closer, “I’ll Never Love Again,” could score Oscar nominations. The movie will dominate the Globe Musical/Comedy nominations.
Talk about evergreen. This chestnut has worked three times before — with Streisand, Janet Gaynor (1937), and Judy Garland (1954) as the soaring singer —and it kills again. Cooper has fashioned a naturalistic live musical with a carefully crafted screenplay by Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth; producer Billy Gerber developed the Kurt Cobain-inspired script over a dozen years with Clint Eastwood and Beyonce, and a string of top male stars. Finally, he gave it to Cooper to direct.
Those who know Cooper are not surprised that the French-fluent brainiac and three-time Oscar acting nominee who likes Proust for bedtime reading and received a Tony nomination on Broadway as the twisted Elephant Man was capable of pulling off this feat. He learned to sing and play guitar, lowering his voice in a version of Sam Elliott’s inimitable growl (in a small role, Elliott is superb as his older brother) and staging multiple live performances at Coachella and The Shrine, among other locations.
Likely Oscar nominations: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Sound Editing and Mixing, Song.
Another tragic love story comes into the Oscar race a little more quietly. Annapurna chose to take producer Plan B’s period drama, “If Beale Street Could Talk” (November 30), Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Oscar-winner “Moonlight,” to world premiere at Toronto rather than Telluride. (It will have its New York Film Festival premiere at The Apollo.) Adapted over some years by Jenkins from James Baldwin’s Harlem-set novel, this ‘60s story about young sculptor Alonzo (Stephan James) in love with Tish, his best chum since childhood (discovery KiKi Layne) is gorgeously mounted by Jenkins’ “Moonlight” team.
New York has never looked more beautiful, even as its lovely young lovers walk through its toughest neighborhoods. They want to move up in the world, find a loft, get married. But a racist white cop intervenes to falsely accuse Alonzo of raping a Puerto Rican woman who does what she is told, picking him out in a lineup. The carefully constructed story unfolds in shifting time frames, with some narration by Tish, who tells Alonzo and then both their families that she is pregnant. The supporting cast led by Regina King and Colman Domingo as Tish’s parents are all superb.
Jenkins uses this elegantly paced, classic fiction set three decades in the past to illuminate our present, where fighting for #BlackLivesMatter is still a fact of life. While this stately film will likely stay in the art-film realm — it’s not a mainstream play — the Academy will recognize its many virtues. Expect “If Beale Street Could Talk” to wind up on many year-end Ten Best lists and dominate the Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards.
Possible Oscar nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Costumes, Editing, Score.