As hard as it is to make any definitive statements about awards season from the vantage point of August, it’s safe to say that the fall festivals could launch a very crowded year for films vying for gold statuettes.
If nothing else, just look at the sheer quantity of Oscar-endorsed directors who will have films premiering at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. The back-to-back-to-back fests will showcase dozens of contenders and pretenders, beginning with Venice’s launch on August 29 and continuing through the conclusion of Toronto on September 16.
All four of the directors involved in the two most hard-fought recent Oscar showdowns — the one between Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” and Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” in 2017, and between Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” and Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” in 2014 — will be back with new features.
Chazelle has “First Man,” starring Ryan Gosling as astronaut Neil Armstrong; Jenkins has his James Baldwin adaptation “If Beale Street Could Talk”; Cuaron has the Spanish-language, highly personal “Roma,” based on his own childhood memories; and McQueen has “Widows,” a heist thriller starring Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez.
Among other directors who’ve had recent films in the Oscar race, “Hell or High Water” director David Mackenzie returns with the Toronto opening-night period drama “Outlaw King.” So does “Call Me by Your Name” director Luca Guadagnino with his horror-movie remake “Suspiria,” “Captain Phillips” director Paul Greengrass with another fact-based story, “22 July,” and “Up in the Air” and “Juno” director Jason Reitman with his Gary Hart political drama, “The Front Runner.”
And if you look at international directors who’ve had films nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film recently, the festivals will bring a bumper crop that includes the directors of the last five winners in the category: Sebastian Lelio (who won with “A Fantastic Woman” and is back with “Gloria Bell”), Asghar Farhadi (won with “The Salesman,” back with “Everybody Knows”), Laszlo Nemes (won with “Son of Saul,” back with “Sunset”), Pawel Pawlikowski (won with “Ida,” back with “Cold War”) and Paolo Sorrentino (won with “The Great Beauty,” back with “Loro”).
Recent nominees Felix van Groeningen, Thomas Vinterberg, Rithy Panh, Jacques Audiard, Yorgos Lanthimos, Kim Nguyen and Ciro Guerra are also in the race, as are Canadian Denys Arcand (whose “The Barbarian Invasions” won in 2004) and German Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (whose “The Lives of Others” won in 2007).
In the documentary arena, returning past winners Michael Moore with his Donald Trump takedown “Fahrenheit 11/9” and Errol Morris with the Steve Bannon doc “American Dharma.” In addition, “The Missing Picture” director Rithy Panh will debut “Graves Without a Name” and perennial contender Werner Herzog will bring “Meeting Gorbachev.”
Venice is the first of the awards season festivals to hit, and it does so with the formidable one-two punch of “First Man” and “Roma” in its first two days, followed by Bradley Cooper’s new version of “A Star Is Born,” co-starring Lady Gaga.
Also in Venice, the period drama “The Favourite” may show whether Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”) is still too weird for mainstream moviegoers (and Academy members), while “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” will show the Coen brothers taking a project that began as an anthology TV series and turning it into a single film.
“Suspiria,” “22 July,” French director Jacques Audiard’s Western “The Sisters Brothers,” Brady Corbet’s “Vox Lux” and Julian Schnabel’s Van Gogh story “At Eternity’s Gate” will also screen in Venice, which ought to place a handful of films in the thick of the awards race.
Telluride launches on August 31, only two days after Venice begins, with a three-day, tightly curated blast of Oscar hopefuls. The festival only announces its lineup the day before it begins, but this year’s slate is expected to include “First Man” and “Roma,” as well as the premieres of “The Front Runner,” Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased,” Mike Leigh’s “Peterloo” and David Lowery’s “The Old Man & the Gun,” with a performance that Robert Redford has said will be his last.
And then Toronto brings more than 200 films north of the border, including the world premieres of “If Beale Street Could Talk” (a surprise, since Barry Jenkins has longstanding ties to Telluride), Felix van Groeningen’s “Beautiful Boy,” with Timothée Chalamet, Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book,” with Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9.”
Even when TIFF winds to a close in mid-September, we’re not done with film festivals and awards movies. The 56th New York Film Festival follows in late September, but for the first time in years its centerpiece films — “The Favourite” to open, “At Eternity’s Gate” to close and “Roma” in between — do not include the world premieres of any major awards contenders.
The BFI London Film Festival will follow in October with two intriguing premieres: Peter Jackson’s World War I movie “They Shall Not Grow Old,” and John S. Baird’s “Stan & Ollie,” starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as the legendary comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.
Two Los Angeles festivals, the reconfigured Los Angeles Film Festival and the AFI Fest, will also take place this fall, with the latter likely to host the premieres of some late-arriving awards films. (Four distinct possibilities are Robert Zemeckis’ “Welcome to Marwen,” Josie Rourke’s “Mary, Queen of Scots,” Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney movie “Backseat” and Mimi Leder’s “On the Basis of Sex.”)
And while it’s true that you can never completely trust the buzz coming out of film festivals, lots of awards season questions are likely to be answered over the next month. Can Damien Chazelle show as much flair with a drama that goes into space as he did with a musical set in Los Angeles? Can Alfonso Cuaron come out of space and attract an audience to a black-and-white Spanish-language film that meticulously recreates his childhood? Can Bradley Cooper make the fourth time a charm for “A Star Is Born?”
And simplest of all, who will crash and burn along the canals in Venice, in the hills of Colorado or in the shadow of the CN Tower in Toronto? And who will thrive there?
Stay tuned. Awards season is about to get very interesting, and very crowded.