The season is upon us. After taking a bit of a break, working on our house and focusing on family and work, it is time to get back into the swing of things and what better time to begin then with the beginning of the “quality” film season. The Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals have all concluded over the past few weeks and if there is one clear headline to come out of all three, it is that, as of right now, there is not a clear frontrunner for Best Picture. Last year, La La Land, premiered and was heavily lauded by the film fest crowds and was automatically deemed “the one to beat.” That did not turn out the way that crew wanted it too, but the hype train can be a detriment to a films presumed Oscar certainty. With no frontrunner, it is going to make for one hell of a season and one that will be extremely exciting.
I would say the films that shined the brightest, regardless of Oscar possibility, are The Shape of Water (Golden Lion winner at Venice), Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (Audience winner at Toronto), Lady Bird, Darkest Hour, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project, mother! (let’s hope some of the elderly Oscar crowd watches it because it is fantastic), Battle of the Sexes, First They Killed My Father, Mudbound, and Molly’s Game. That is quite a group of films that have the chance to not only be in Oscar contention, but to end up on numerous top ten and best of lists. The thing is is that not one of the films has taken off like La La Land did last year. There was not a consensus of agreed approval and acceptance for one singular film. People liked this one or that one, but were also divisive on almost everything. In my opinion, that is beyond exciting. The possibilities are endless and we could see an Oscar race go down to the wire with numerous films up for the big prize.
Having said that, we still have some heavy weights still to be seen. Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, Steven Spielberg’s The Post (obviously with Hanks, Streep and that phenomenal supporting cast), Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled film (or possible titled Phantom Thread), Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, Michael Gracey’s The Greatest Showman and maybe Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris. How will these films play out during the race?
Then you have the earlier released films from this year that will be vying for a spot with Dunkirk (maybe the closest to a front runner, but no certainty that is for sure), Get Out, Logan, The Big Sick, The Beguiled, A Ghost Story, War for the Planet of the Apes and Wonder Woman. All of these films were great in their own way and could easily play out during awards season. All were appreciated, and dissected, previously and will not be thrown to the wayside. That is a lot to digest and it appears there are just a lot of good films out there this year.
Then we break down into the specific categories and the Best Actress field is stacked. I wish we could have ten nominees because we still would not have enough room for all of the amazing performances. The ones that really stuck out from the early festival circuit include Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri), Glenn Close (The Wife), Jennifer Lawrence (mother!), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Annette Bening (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool), Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul), Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project), Carey Mulligan (Mudbound), and Daniela Vega (A Fantastic Woman). Wow! Then you still have the consistent and enigmatic Meryl Streep (The Post) to deal with and Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World). That is a phenomenal list of women and how exciting to see this many quality and significant roles being brought to the front line. That is just fantastic and will make this race one of the most anticipated this awards season.
When talking about the thin Best Actor field, Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) might have this thing already locked up. Long overdue and many missed nominations, he is supposedly brilliant and what a way to honor a true acting legend. We will still have to fight off two legends, and both as consistent and brilliant as Streep is, with the unseen Daniel Day-Lewis (untitled PTA film) and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) in what some were saying is a mediocre follow-up from Nightcrawler writer-director Dan Gilroy. Tom Hanks (The Post) will easily be in contention as well. Then comes the wild card and the one that could throw a wrinkle into the Oldman automatic win, Timothee Chalet (Call Me By Your Name). He is already a new rising star and could be the big upset win come Oscar time.
The supporting categories are still up in the air, but much like the push for Oldman to win his first Oscar, there also seems to be a strong push for Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) to win his first. He is receiving rave notices for his work in a film that has garnered great reviews since it’s premiere at Cannes. There will be stiff completion from Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg (both in Call Me By Your Name), Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) garnered great notices and I am sure someone from The Post will stand out as well. Laurie Metcalf has received maybe the best reviews of her career for Lady Bird and then you have Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Allison Janney (I, Tonya), and Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour) will all be in competition.
All of these films and performances shined, but a few films hit a bit of a road block coming out of the early festival circuit. The biggest one being Alexander Payne’s Downsizing. The buzz was fairly strong from it’s premiere at Venice, but that dissipated a bit once hitting Telluride and Toronto. I am not saying it is completely out of the picture, but it is going to be an uphill climb for almost automatic Payne. Same can be said for Gilroy’s Roman J. Israel, Esq., where Denzel Washington received raves, but the film was deemed mediocre. Acting nominations might be the only one’s received for Stephen Frears Victoria and Abdul, where the performances seem to outshine the entirety of the film.
Being that there is not a clear front runner is cause for excitement at the beginning of the race. There are some strong films from earlier this year, as well as the summer, and many good films coming out of the fall film festivals. This could be an Oscar race that goes down to wire, even with the nominations and the Best Actress is killer this year! It is going to be one hell of an awards season!