MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

24 Weeks To Oscar: Lots of Festivals, Few Surprises

Interesting couple of weeks in Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

Here’s my perspective. Venice means nothing to Oscar. Sorry. Just reality. Never has changed the field. Never will. It’s Italy. You can put it on an ad, but what happens in the Oscar vote happens in the U.S.

After a wrestling match with Toronto over premieres, Telluride lost some opportunities this season, but more than made up for it by making (and being offered) the right choices. La La Land, Manchester By The Sea (first at Sundance), Arrival, Moonlight. Two Best Picture locks and two with a real shot.

Fair enough.

In the end, much as I love Telluride, it is not the place of the first screening that makes the film… it is the film that makes the film. Especially for films that will make that Oscar run from September. If the film doesn’t cut it – awards-wise – it won’t make through five months of judgement.

In any case, those four “Oscar movies” are the norm for Telluride in the decade since Juno. And then there is Toronto, “Oscar launchpad” since American Beauty in 1999. And when those who go to both festivals get to Toronto, the norm has been that there are still about 10 contenders on the plate as you land in “Clean NYC.” Obviously, not all of those will make it. But it has been a part of the weeding process, year after year after year.

So last year, for example, Telluride had a huge awards showing, with Room, Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Black Mass, Suffragette, Beasts of No Nation, Anomalisa and the previously fested Carol and 45 Years.

But even with that haul, TIFF still had The Danish Girl (by way of Venice), Brooklyn (from Sundance), The Martian, Trumbo, Where To Invade Next, Our Brand Is Crisis, I Saw The Light, Lady In The Van, The Program and Truth, as well as others waiting to be vetted by audiences and media.

As it worked out, Spotlight premiered at Venice before Telluride and Toronto, leaving only the unexpected Room as a pure Telluride launch. Both went to Toronto and got Best Picture noms.

Only The Martian launched to Best Picture from Toronto, while the Sundance-launched Brooklyn made it all the way from its second launch at TIFF.

Mad Max: Fury Road opened Cannes, in the way commercial films do. The Big Short opened AFI, suffered for it, but recovered. Bridge of Spies launched as a “sneak” at New York. And The Revenant launched without a fest of any kind.

So… seven films got Best Picture nominations after festival launches last year… launched from seven different festivals.

In other words… there is no awards magic to any of these festivals (though they all have their own magic). What works is what works. Period. Exclamation point!

And as it stands today, of the four Telluride films with a real Best Picture shot… one premiered in Sundance, two premiered in Venice, and only Moonlight premiered at Telluride.

But this is all a long road around my original issue… the TIFF line-up, loaded to the gills with great, good, and fascinating films, didn’t even demand a lot of attention as a place to vet awards movies this year, post-Venice/Telluride. Basically, it was six films.

American Pastoral
Denial
Jackie
Lion
A Monster Calls
Nocturnal Animals

No one saw Jackie coming. Everyone saw Nocturnal Animals coming, but when it landed in Toronto, the general consensus was that it was more a commercial play than an awards play (except for Michael Shannon). But both of these films premiered at Venice first. It is true, however, that Jackie was so low-key, even at Venice, that it felt like an event at Toronto (where Fox Searchlight finally bought it, as it once had The Wrestler post-Venice).

Only American Pastoral undeniably flopped at TIFF. Denial had a love/hate launch (I am on the love side.) A Monster Calls found many fans… but the ability to make this gloriously odd combination of adult emotion and “kid” elements go is a daunting challenge.

Lion, a Weinstein film, remains on the charts as a possible Best Picture challenger. It came in second for the audience award, which is an indication of fandom. Word on the film – which I didn’t see – was that the kid who plays the young version of the Dev Patel character is the movie stealer.

In an odd way, the biggest awards even at TIFF this year was not a festival movie, but an extended preview (about 12 minutes) of footage from December/January’s Hidden Figures, a clearly commercial movie with a diversity-positive theme that now makes it a likely Best Picture nominee in the vein of The Help. And it didn’t hurt to have a five-song Pharrell concert to boot.

Another very popular event that seems to be targeting… well, something… was a full screening of December’s Sing!, the first animated jukebox musical with animals voiced by celebrities singing already-hit songs.

Even more so than Hidden Figures, the Sing! event, pleasant though it was (with live singing from Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson), made me wonder what the hell was going on at TIFF. I will write a different column about this issue, but a Peter Debruge column in Variety, which overstates some of the issues and ignores other, does a strong job of setting the tone for what it is like to try to cover Toronto these days. As this column argues that the awards focus is getting thinner for TIFF, the sense in that column that the festival is now greedily gobbling up every ounce of space that it can, leaving attendees more frustrated than satisfied, is a parallel thought worth considering.

But back to Oscar for a moment, as that is the focus of this column…

Aside From Jackie (which showed up on Monday) and the Hidden Figures event (that really had no place at TIFF, however much I enjoyed it), TIFF was a bit of a bust this year. I mean, it was great to see La La Land again with a different audience in a different country, but… I’m not sure I needed to be in Toronto to do that.

It is possible that this is all cyclical and that next year, TIFF will be The Place for award season. But I personally believe that whole festival circuit is now being marginalized by an ever-shrinking world that doesn’t need market festivals the way it once did and in which taking advantage of the benefits of a festival is becoming more and more of a challenge. Sundance is really the exception here in the US, as the focus of the indie world continues to be there for world premieres from anyone and everyone who matters in that domestic universe. SXSW and Tribeca haven’t put a dent in Sundance. So, with mostly lower numbers, Sundance remains a legit and critical sales festival. And wonderful as Cannes is, the odd combination of fairly incestuous competition line-ups with a market that ranges from the lowest brow to the highest, is becoming increasingly marginalized.

Serious contenders still in the hopper…

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – at NYFF
Allied – likely AFI
Hidden Fences – likely AFI
Hacksaw Ridge – release in November
Silence – Who knows?

My latest Top 10 for Best Picture is:

Allied (unseen)
Arrival
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
(unseen)
Fences
Hidden Figures (unseen-ish)
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Loving
Manchester by the Sea

Right outside and pushing are A Monster Calls, Moonlight, and Silence (unseen).

Best Actress
Emma Stone
Amy Adams
Natalie Portman
Viola Davis

Meryl Streep
Taraji Henson

Kate Beckinsale
Annette Bening
Marion Cotillard
Jessica Chastain
Sally Field
Isabelle Huppert
Ruth Negga
Kristen Stewart
Rachel Weisz

Best Actor
Casey Affleck
Denzel Washington
Ryan Gosling

Joel Edgerton
Tom Hanks

Joe Alwyn
Andrew Garfield
Brad Pitt
Miles Teller

9 Responses to “24 Weeks To Oscar: Lots of Festivals, Few Surprises”

  1. The Pope says:

    Hello David,
    I am rarely prompted to counter your position, but for Best Actress
    Ruth Negga will be nominated alongside Viola Davis, Taraji P Henson, Natalie Portman and… after that I don’t know. Likely, Emma Stone. But I do know this. There is a better chance of Trump revealing his tax returns than Meryl Streep being nominated. Jenkins is a terrible film with a performance that reeks like cured ham.

  2. Daniella Isaacs says:

    87% of the critics and everyone I know disagrees with you about FFJenkins, Pope. Streep is not quite a shoo-in, but has at least a 50-50 shot at another Oscar nod for this, methinks.

  3. The pope says:

    I can’t and won’t argue with such overwhelming statistics. But I still think it’s a terrible film with a terrible title performance. But Hugh Grant is a small surprise.

  4. Chris L. says:

    I too am wondering why Edgerton is top 5 for Best Actor while his leading lady is nowhere. Best Actress has a deeper roster, for certain, but nearly every review praised Ruth Negga more lavishly as the emotional center of the film.

    After typing all this I realize it’s probably just an oversight anyway. But I do hope there’s a way around the automatic Streep nod, whether 20 is a nice round number or not. (She challenged herself far more in Ricki and the Flash, so of course that one fell by the wayside.)

  5. bob says:

    Re: TIFF getting too big – TIFF has been as big as it is for as long as I can remember. It is neither getting bigger nor smaller. You could argue its too big, but it’s nothing new.

  6. Patryk says:

    STONE/DAVIS/PORTMAN/NEGGA/ADAMS

    AFFLECK/GOSLING/WASHINGTON/EDGERTON/HANKS

    Adams fatigue may be a factor. If so, 5th spot goes to Bening. The race is over, however. Just give it to Stone.

    And forget about Pitt, unfortunately.

    That one goes to Affleck.

  7. Glamourboy says:

    I loved FFJenkins, so did everyone I’ve talked to…in fact, you are the only dissenter I’ve encountered And I think it is in the top tier of Streep performances…there is so much going on through those eyes..the sense of madness..reality knocking at the door….the illusion that she needs just to be able to live..her fear of that illusion being knocked down at any moment….this role could and would have been played as one dimensional by almost any other actress (Cate Blanchett might also have been amazing)…but Streep gives much more than the material asks of her. Simon Helberg was also amazing..so much so that I ended up doing research on the true life character afterwards…he made that much of an impression with a relatively minor role.

  8. YancySkancy says:

    “Adams fatigue may be a factor.” I know she’s been nominated several times, but I’d like to think the fatigue wouldn’t set in until she actually won one.

  9. The Pope says:

    @ Glamourboy, I feel like I am King Canute fighting against the tide. But I will stand my ground even if I end up being washed away by the awards’ season!

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