Will This Fall’s Film Festivals Finally Kick Off a Normal Awards Season?

The Venice, Telluride and Toronto festival will launch a season that really needs to generate more heat than the past two years have done

Empire of Light - Bardo - Glass Onion
"Empire of Light" (TIFF), "Bardo" (Netflix), "Glass Onion" (Netflix)

The 2022-2023 movie awards season arrives in full force on Wednesday with the first screenings at the Venice Film Festival, and this year the season is going to arrive in force after two lackluster years.

Right?  It is going to arrive in force, isn’t it?


That’s the feeling in the community I like to think of as Hollywood’s Kudo-Industrial Complex. That community limped through one year, 2020, in which theaters were closed, film festivals were canceled or moved online and almost all the shows were virtual; and a second year, 2021, that started out to be a cautiously muted season but was then blindsided by a COVID resurgence that forced a return to streaming and virtual events.

Now, as the Venice Film Festival begins on Wednesday, followed by the three-day Telluride Film Festival on Friday and then the mammoth Toronto International Film Festival next Thursday, there’s a palpable yearning for things to return to normal. In fact, you could say it’s a desperation for the days of packed screenings and delirious crowds on the Lido or in the mountains or on the Canadian streets.

After all, here’s a touch of what the next two-and-a-half weeks will bring:

Noah Baumbach! Alejandro G. Inarritu! Sam Mendes!

Darren Aronofsky, Martin McDonagh, Werner Herzog, Rian Johnson, Peter Farrelly, Gina Prince-Bythewood!

Steven Spielberg!!

Plus, onscreen appearances from Jennifer Lawrence, Colin Farrell, Hugh Jackman, Olivia Colman, Jessica Chastain, Eddie Redmayne, Nicholas Cage, Viola Davis, Daniel Craig and double doses of both Florence Pugh and Harry Styles!

No constant COVID-19 testing! Fewer travel restrictions!

But just as the box-office revenues came roaring back with “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Elvis” a few months ago, only to peter out as studios wavered in their commitment to theatrical exhibition, there’s no real guarantee that the fall festivals – the overlapping Venice/Telluride/Toronto trio, followed two weeks later by the New York Film Festival – will all run smoothly and healthily. Nor that they will lay the groundwork for the kind of robust awards season that everybody so desperately wants to see.

As usual, Venice is long on prestige films and international productions — but it’s also got a fair number of films whose makers and backers have awards aspirations beyond the international categories. The first of those is Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel “White Noise,” starring Adam Driver, which opened the festival on Wednesday.

Other Venice entries include Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” with a reportedly career-reviving performance from Brendan Fraser as an obese man trying to reconnect with his daughter; “The Banshees of Inisherin,” in which Irish playwright and director Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) reunites with his “In Bruges” stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson; Andrew Dominick’s “Blonde,” with Ana De Armas as a fictionalized version of Marilyn Monroe; “The Son,” with Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern starring in “The Father” director Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his stage play; Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling,” with Florence Pugh and Harry Styles; and “Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” a Spanish-language fantasia from Alejandro G. Inarritu, which is following the path of Inarritu’s Oscar-winning “Birdman” by playing Venice and Telluride but not Toronto.

At least we think it’s going to Telluride as of this writing. The Colorado festival plays it coy and doesn’t announce its lineup until the day before the event begins – which this year means the slate will be revealed on Thursday, Sept. 1 and the first screenings will happen on Friday. Still, it’s no secret that “Bardo” will likely be there, along with the world premieres of Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light,” set around a movie theater in a coastal English town in the 1980s; Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” with a cast that includes Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara and Jessie Buckley; “The Wonder,” with Florence Pugh and Ciaran Hinds in a film by director Sebastian Lelio, whose “A Fantastic Woman” won the international Oscar a few years ago; and “Theater of Thought,” a new documentary from a director, Werner Herzog, who goes to Telluride so frequently that he has a theater there named in his honor.

Other likely Telluride bookings include the first U.S. exposure of films that have debuted at European festivals, including several from Venice and others from Cannes, among them James Gray’s autobiographical “Armageddon Time,” Ali Abassi’s harrowing “Holy Spider” and Charlotte Wells’ romance “Aftersun.”

The Toronto fest comes last (though it begins before Venice ends) and is by far the biggest of the three events; a hefty number of the films from Venice and Telluride are headed to Toronto as well. But TIFF also has some prestige world premieres of its own, with a particularly impressive Saturday-night one-two punch on Sept. 10: Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” sequel “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” at 6 p.m., followed by Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” at 9:30. The Spielberg film in particular is a major coup for Toronto, with the director typically forgoing the fall festivals and premiering his films later in the year.

Other TIFF premieres will include “The Good Nurse” with Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, “The Woman King” with Viola Davis starring for director Gina Prince-Bythewood, “Butcher’s Crossing” with Nicholas Cage, “Bros” starring Billy Eichner, “Causeway” with Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry and “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” which probably isn’t an awards movie but will provide the strange spectacle of Daniel Radcliffe playing Weird Al Yankovic in a no-doubt-mock biopic.

And while most of the most notable TIFF titles will premiere between the festival’s opening on Sept. 8 and its first Monday, Sept. 12, it’s worth waiting for a film that isn’t premiering until Sept. 13. In 2018, Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” had something of a stealth opening in Toronto on that Tuesday night, slipping into the festival after the presumed major players had all screened; it ended up winning the TIFF audience award and later the Oscar for Best Picture. So it’s probably no surprise that Farrelly’s new movie, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” with Zac Efron, is taking that same Tuesday-night slot.

On paper, “Beer Run” doesn’t seem to be one of the biggest awards contenders; that list would probably start with “Empire of Light” and “The Fabelmans” and also include “Bardo.”

But really, we don’t need to know yet which films will come out of this string of festivals in the strongest position. What’s more important to contenders, campaigners and observers alike is that Venice, Telluride and Toronto are regular film festivals again – which is to say, crowded and communal and as COVID-free as possible.

If that happens, we could be on our way to a normal awards season, or at least a reasonable facsimile of one. And wouldn’t that be nice for a change?