Three major Oscar players emerged from Venice and Telluride, wowing press and audiences at both festivals, including two Best-Director Oscar-winners, Damien Chazelle and Alfonso Cuaron, whose “First Man” and “Roma” now lead the Oscar race. They are joined by Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” and Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born,” which is heading for commercial success and at minimum, a Best Actress nomination for Lady Gaga. The musical did not play in the rarified air of Telluride, so Toronto will test its long-term awards prospects.
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“First Man” (October 12, Universal): Chazelle follows up Oscar-winner “La La Land” with this riveting mission-to-the-moon drama, focused on what it took for astronaut Neil Armstrong to land on the moon. Nerves of steel, for one thing. “La La Land” star Ryan Gosling gives an intense, contained, and emotive performance as a brainy test pilot and engineer who, after the heartbreaking loss of his young daughter to cancer, gives his all to NASA’s 1961-1969 push to beat Russia to the moon.
Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) devote as much time at home in Houston with Armstrong’s kids and wife Janet (“The Crown” star Claire Foy), and the various (sometimes disastrous) missions that led to Apollo 11, as the successful moon landing and return. Some moviegoers will debate the movie’s truth vs. fiction, but the intimate focus on Armstrong’s point-of-view contrasted with stunning spacescapes will not only wow Academy voters but audiences all over the world. (Liberal Academy members will only be more sympathetic to the movie after recent Republican attacks on its patriotic bonafides.)
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Likely nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing, Sound Editing and Mixing, Score, VFX.
“Roma” (December 14, Netflix): Mexican director Cuaron convinced Participant’s David Linde to help him finance his most ambitious, personal, and autobiographical film, the Spanish-language upstairs/downstairs family drama “Roma,” which he shot himself in black-and-white with the Arri Alexa 65 camera and layered Dolby Atmos sound on location in the Mexico City environs where he was raised. “Roma” is extraordinary immersive cinema. Packed with detail, it carries you away. The sound is as important as the images. The star of the show is newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, a schoolteacher whose natural empathy with her students convinced Cuaron to hire her to play Cleo, based on his real-life (and still living) family nanny. Over a series of stunning long-take set pieces, we follow Cleo and the extended family through everyday challenges like the parents’ breakup and Cleo’s sexy romance with a man who first abandons her and then turns up unexpectedly during a violent student uprising. Netflix acquired the film, and is putting it in multiple festivals and in some theaters with enhanced 7K sound, if not Dolby Atmos.
Likely nominations: Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Sound Editing and Mixing, Editing, Foreign-Language. Netflix is pushing Aparicio as a Best Actress contender, who could follow other first-time actor Oscar-winners such as “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “The Killing Fields” respective Supporting Actors Harold Russell and Haing S. Ngor.
“The Favourite” (November 23, Fox Searchlight): Lanthimos’ most accessible, expensive, rollicking and wicked film to date — his first full-on period film — is still confounding to some, who demand explanations they will never receive for its inexplicable ending, for one thing. At one Q&A, Lanthimos said that he doesn’t think about the audience when he makes his movies. “Clearly!” responded Emma Stone, who plays an upstart scullery maid with an instinct for survival. The Telluride tributee holds her own on her first British-accent movie with Lanthimos vet Rachel Weisz (“The Lobster”) as ruthless Lady Marlborough, who runs the 18th-century court of the crazy Queen Anne, who is played by the amazing Olivia Colman (who has taken over from Foy in “The Crown”). Searchlight is still debating how to campaign this equal triangle of mighty actresses — the two Oscar-winners Stone (“La La Land”) and Weisz (“The Constant Gardener”) could run in supporting with Colman in lead, but it could also work the other way, too. Whichever way it goes, Colman could win.
Likely nominations: Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes, Editing.
The strong Telluride program featured many audience hits that will go on to score in theaters around the country.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (October 19, Fox Searchlight): “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” director Marielle Heller’s follow-up stars comedienne Melissa McCarthy in a dramatic role as a sad sack with writers’ block — and Richard E. Grant as her flamboyant, entertaining, drug-dealer drinking buddy. Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty wrote the witty screenplay adaptation of Lee Israel’s memoir about her criminal career as a literary forger.
Likely Nominations: Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay.
“The Old Man & the Gun” (September 28, Fox Searchlight): This slight charmer from writer-director David Lowery boasts delightful performances from Robert Redford as an aging bank robber who loves his job and Sissy Spacek, who amazingly had never worked with Redford before. “Manchester By the Sea” Oscar-winner Casey Affleck does his best with a laconic supporting role as the detective on Redford’s trail. The movie adapted by Lowery from David Grann’s New Yorker story should play well to older audiences, but may not carry enough weight for the crowded awards season.
Likely nomination: Searchlight could push the last-performance Redford meme to a long-shot Best Actor nod.
“The Front Runner” (November 7, Sony): Set amid the ferment heading into the 1988 presidential election, Telluride vet Jason Reitman’s sprawling “The Front Runner” stars Hugh Jackman as Colorado Senator Gary Hart, the charismatic and brainy policy wonk who fiercely protected his privacy and his beloved wife, Lee (Vera Farmiga), to whom he is still married after 32 years. Hart was the frontrunner in the Democratic race for president, until the Miami Herald reported on his affair with Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), a turning point in political media coverage. “The Front Runner” raises many timely questions about transparency, character, journalism, morality, and ethics that will keep audiences talking long after the credits roll. Critics were mixed at Telluride; Toronto could turn the tide.
Likely nomination: If the movie works with audiences and liberal Academy voters, Jackman could wind up in the Actor race.
“White Boy Rick” (September 14, Section 8/Sony). It’s been four years since British filmmaker Yann Demange’s superb Telluride actioner “’71,” which broke out Jack O’Connell. After developing several abortive projects, Demange settled on the true Detroit teen drug-runner story “White Boy Rick,” which earned a standing ovation from a teary-eyed packed Telluride house. Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) gives one of his best performances in years as the loving but not-so-paternal gun-selling father to a runaway drug addict (Bel Powley) and high-school dropout-turned-FBI informant (Baltimore discovery Richie Merritt). This commercially potent, entertaining, hardboiled family drama could work with audiences.
Likely nomination: If it does well, McConaughey could land in the Supporting Actor race.
“Boy Erased” (November 2, Focus Features). Joel Edgerton’s agit-prop drama about gay conversion therapy is sincere, oddly structured, and slightly flat. (He worked in the editing room until the last possible moment.) “Manchester by the Sea” nominee Lucas Hedges is strong and relatable as the gay son of a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) who cannot accept him; the best scenes in the movie are between the son and his mother, Nicole Kidman, who also starred as a kickass warrior in another Telluride film, Karyn Kusama’s future mystery thriller “Destroyer” (December 25, Annapurna), which drew mixed reactions.
Likely nominations: Actor, Supporting Actress.
“Free Solo” (National Geographic): This buzzy premiere should pop out of the Oscar pack, both visually and viscerally. Alex Honnold is the first person to climb El Capitan’s 3,000-foot sheer granite rock face without ropes, and brilliant mountaineer and cinematographer Jimmy Chin was there to document it, partnering for the second time with his documentarian wife E. Chai Vaserhelyi for their follow-up to “Meru.”
Likely nomination: Best Feature Documentary.
“Watergate” (October 12, HISTORY): Oscar-winning “Inside Job” director Charles Ferguson’s fascinating — and timely — four-hour cut of his comprehensive six-hour, three-part Watergate conspiracy documentary played well in Telluride before its New York Film Festival slot. Those who witnessed the original Watergate scandal unfold in 1972 recall such key players as Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, John Dean, Jill Wine-Banks, and Richard Ben-Veniste, all interviewed for the film. Festival attendees debated the use of enactments of president Richard Nixon and his team in the Oval Office, using actual transcripts of the recordings.
Likely nomination: Best Feature Documentary.
Still to come:
Debuting in Toronto this coming Sunday night — the same night as the “A Star Is Born” gala — is “If Beale Street Could Talk” (November 30, Plan B/Annapurna), Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Oscar-winner “Moonlight,” a Harlem romance adapted from the James Baldwin novel with a sprawling African-American cast led by Regina King. And one well-reviewed Venice player skipping Telluride and Toronto on the way to closing night at the New York Film Festival is Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” whose star Willem Dafoe earned raves as Vincent Van Gogh.
Many of the top-notch foreign-language titles in Telluride, from Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War” to Cannes Palm d’Or-winner “Shoplifters,” will move on to build momentum in Toronto and New York.