The Oscar Meter at Deadline is working overtime as the race for the 96th Annual Academy Awards is shifting into higher gear as summer turns to fall this weekend.
The official start of the very long six month+ awards season is now behind us as we made it through the Fall Festival Trifecta of Venice/Telluride/Toronto that has always launched the season, and we are one week away from the start of two more important autumn fests with New York Film Festival getting underway on September 29th and London Film Festival beginning a week later. Those fests, unlike the Trifecta, aren’t big on World Premieres, but rather will help put the crop of already premiered contenders at 2023 festivals that also include last January’s Sundance, and May’s Cannes further into laser focus as to their actual chances of ultimately landing Oscar nominations. New York though is offering a World Premiere of Amazon/MGM’s sci fi drama Foe with past Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal, and London has the always welcome animated Aardman entry, this time a sequel – Chicken Run: Dawn Of The Nugget.
The race is very fluid at the moment, but it is safe to say that three of the ten Best Picture Oscar slots are already taken from debuts earlier in the year. Cannes cemented one of those slots for Apple/Paramount and Martin Scorsese’s 3 1/2 hour epic Killers Of The Flower Moon. Its release doesn’t happen until October 20 (after an October 6th opening was scratched) but will finally make its Fall Fest debut when it plays London on October 7th. The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon that began July 21st with the unlikely dual blockbuster runs of Barbie and Oppenheimer has, with critical and box office success, put both squarely into the inevitable Best Picture lineup. These three films are locks. Take it to the bank.
This all leaves seven more slots for that coveted Best Picture nomination. How many have been revealed at the Fall Festival Trifecta? Plenty of possibilities here, and they also include reaction to North American premieres of other Cannes titles, notably the two films that finished first in the Official Selection Competition (Flower Moon was out of competition) in France: Palme d’Or winner Anatomy Of A Fall, and Grand Prize winner The Zone Of Interest.
The latter has just this week been selected as the UK entry for the Best International Film Oscar race due to the fact it was directed by Brit Jonathan Glazer. The former, as I predicted might happen all the way back in my May Cannes wrap-up piece on what might happen Oscar-wise, was snubbed by the French nominating committee in favor of another Cannes winner (for Best Director) Pot Au Feu now retitled for English appetites, The Taste Of Things, a wonderful, and much more French film than Anatomy Of A Fall which had to have a stopwatch to determine if it violated Academy rules regarding use of the English Language. Campaigners for that film were quick to go to twitter and emails yesterday to emphasize, as I also said back in May, that NEON would be campaigning the movie forcefully for Best Picture, Director (Justine Triet), Actress (Sandra Huller), and Screenplay. I would add Supporting Actor for the film’s canine, Messi but the Academy has never nominated a dog.
With NEON, which shepherded another Palme d’Or winner Parasite to an Oscar sweep in 2019, behind the campaign for Anatomy Of A Fall, and two-time Oscar winning (Moonlight, Everything Everywhere All At Once ) A24 Films handling the campaign for The Zone Of Interest, plus the heavily increased International presence in the Academy’s membership, both of these movies would seem major bets to land Best Picture nominations. In fact, though they said they would welcome an International Film nomination, A24 heads Daniel Katz and David Fenkel told me a couple of months ago they were determined to bring home Best Picture, Directing, Screenplay, and other nominations for The Zone Of Interest (and that could include Best Supporting Actress for the aforementioned Sandra Huller, giving her two acting noms). That is the master plan for both these “foreign” highly acclaimed films.
So there you have it, what I think will be five of the ten likely Best Picture nominees, all for movies first seen and reviewed before we hit August, an impressive early crop, and this is not to discount the chances for movies like Air, BlackBerry, Past Lives that have also drawn buzz from their releases in the first half of the year. Sony also believes their blockbuster sequel, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is primed for a rare animated film to break into the Best Picture contest as well, and will be heavily campaigning not just for Animated Feature (the first film won there) but also the biggest prize of all. They will have to overcome Oscar voters generally feeling animated belongs in its own lane.
But the high quality of new contenders unveiled earlier this month at the Fall Festivals means a really competitive race is brewing to edge their way into Best Picture contention. Leading that pack I think are two films that scored big in multiple Fall Fests. Searchlight’s Poor Things from director Yorgas Lanthimos, no stranger to Oscars with past success with The Favourite, and starring Oscar winner Emma Stone in a tour de force portrayal. It not only won the Golden Lion at Venice, it got a roaring reception at Telluride as well, and now heads to New York and London where more acclaim inevitably awaits. This December release looks headed easily into the Best Picture race, with Stone, and supporting actors Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo both possibly landing nominations too.
Alexander Payne’s wonderful comedy, The Holdovers will also handily put Payne and Focus Features back into the Picture race after a reception at Telluride where many Oscar voters told me it was their favorite there, and at Toronto where it nearly won the very predictive and desired People’s Choice Award, coming in as first runner up to ultimate winner, American Fiction. And speaking of the latter, that film from new feature film helmer Cord Jefferson and starring Jeffrey Wright in an Oscar buzzed lead performance, has now become the prime candidate for Amazon/MGM/Orion’s chances to land in the Best Picture race, something the distributor immediately recognized by moving their release into a great December spot on the calendar (it had been November 3).
Netflix has in the past few years been good for at least one, and usually more, Best Picture nominations, and based on a strong reception in Venice, although not placing among the award winners there, and now headed to New York Film Festival for its North American premiere, Bradley Cooper’s terrific Leonard Bernstein film Maestro looks to claim a spot not just for the film, but in multiple categories including lead actor and actress for Cooper and Carey Mulligan (it also will play AFI later in L.A.). Also New York could be a pivotal moment for Netflix’s Cannes pickup, Todd Haynes’ highly entertaining May December when it opens that festival next Friday night. The film which stars Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore also hopes to land both former Best Actress winners new nominations and have always planned to split them up, Portman in lead (she drives the story and is also a producer) and Moore in support.
After its strong receptions in Telluride and Toronto, Netflix’s Rustin also could be in contention for Best Picture, and certainly for Colman Domingo’s lead performance as the Civil Rights hero. And though the actors couldn’t appear to support the film in Telluride and Toronto, Annette Bening and Jodie Foster in Nyad both laid claim to respectively Lead and Supporting Actress nominations based on reactions at those festivals. The streamer also picked up (for a whopping $20 million) Richard Linklater’s divine comedy Hit Man starring and co-written by Glen Powell which could be a contender depending on release date (as yet unannounced ) qualification after strong reaction in Venice and Toronto.
There are numerous other films out of the fests that can land slots. Sony’s Dumb Money played great at its Toronto premiere and is now in theatres, and the studio plans to campaign it. NEON picked up Ava DuVernay’s powerful Origin after its eight minute standing ovation in Venice, and later got strong reception at Toronto. NEON head Tom Quinn told me at TIFF he is very high on this film – and he should be. He is also high on Venice debut Ferrari from Michael Mann which features fine performances from Adam Driver, and in a scorching supporting turn Penelope Cruz. It also has some spectacular racing sequences.
Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders opened Telluride to strong response launching its campaign where Disney stablemate Searchlight also started buzz for the well-received drama from Andrew Haigh, All Of Us Strangers which features especially strong performances from Andrew Scott and Claire Foy. At Toronto, though not previously buzzed much, Amazon’s rousing Jamie Foxx/Tommy Lee Jones legal dramedy The Burial, and A24’s hilariously inventive comedy Dream Scenario both wowed audiences. Though comedy is overlooked often, both Foxx, and especially Nicolas Cage in Dream Scenario deserve to be considered this season.
David Fincher who last landed Oscar nominations in 2020 for Mank , and Emerald Fennell who won the Original Screenplay prize that same year for Promising Young Woman, were back on the festival circuit. Fincher’s The Killer with Michael Fassbender was unveiled in Venice, but is hoping for better awards buzz coming out of New York than it got there. Fennell’s edgy Saltburn had been heavily buzzed going into Telluride but its reception was decidedly mixed there, and now Amazon/MGM has high hopes for what awaits with its London Film Festival debut. Searchlight chose Toronto to debut the latest from Taika Waititi, Next Goal Wins, but though engaging it proved to be strictly a commercial choice, not an awards play despite their previous collaboration with the director, JoJo Rabbit winning the TIFF People’s Choice award and going on to win a Original Screenplay Oscar for Waititi along with a Best Picture nomination.
Documentaries that played Telluride got a big boost including American Symphony , The Mission, Beyond Utopia (originally at Sundance), Hollywoodgate (which also played Venice), and The Pigeon Tunnel. A true sleeper in the international category was The Monk And The Gun which is still looking for distribution but will be Bhutan’s entry for the Oscars where it has a good chance to be that country’s second nominee after the same filmmaker’s A Yak In The Classroom made the cut as an underdog in 2019. Italy’s Io Capitano and Spain’s Society Of The Snow got big boosts out of Venice on their way to be chosen by their respective countries for the International Film race, as did likely Danish entry The Promised Land. Agnieszka Holland’s harrowing Green Border won a prize in Venice and deserves to be the Polish entry, but local politics in her home country may KO its chances, yet another example of why the Academy should revamp their rules for qualifying in the International category.
There were a lot of disappointments too , as there always are but none more disappointing that Chris Pine’s directing debut, Poolman, a dreadful misfire that also starred Annette Bening and Danny DeVito and pretty much emptied the theatre in Toronto even before the Q&A started. Fortunately the Actors Strike kept the usually terrific and likeable Pine away. It next heads to London in a couple of weeks. Beware, Brits.