Yesterday we discussed the year thus far…the hits, the misses, and the passion that carries us forward.
Today, we dig into the nitty-gritty.
The awards season starts in earnest within the next few weeks. The Venice Film Festival, as always, kicks us off starting this Wednesday. Telluride joins the party this Friday, 9/4. The biggie, at least in terms of sheer size, is the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs 9/10-9/20. The New York Film Festival picks right up where TIFF leaves off, running 9/25-10/11. Austin’s ever-expanding Fantastic Fest runs 9/24-10/1. The BFI London Film Festival runs 10/7-10/18. And AFI Fest extends the fun into November, running 11/5-11/12.
With the timeline established, I hate to further turn this season’s inaugural post into a data dump, just listing all the titles at each fest. It would get redundant, to be sure, but also take two days to write and three days to read, since on last count, my tertiary listing of just the major releases being showcased at TIFF alone yielded a count of 53. So, yeah, the field is ridiculously crowded. Easy to get bogged down.
Instead, I’ll try to chart the paths of some of these major releases. That can be a difficult and often foolhardy task, since there’s so much crossover and so many shifting decisions leading up to a film’s screening that it’s hard to track. But nevertheless, the festival plans of a given film can sometimes shed some light on a studio’s forthcoming awards season strategy.
Sometimes blanket coverage is a strategy in itself. There is already a high number of films playing at least two festivals, among them Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, Todd Haynes’ Carol, Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, and Julie Delpy’s Lolo. Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight is playing several fall fests, likely in an effort to saturate eyeballs and, thus, make people forget about McCarthy’s bomb from earlier this year, The Cobbler.
And it doesn’t stop there. On the documentary side, joining Moore’s sure-to-be-controversial return are Amy Berg’s Janis: Little Girl Blue, a chronicling of Janis Joplin’s life and work; Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s De Palma, exploring the life of the eponymous legendary filmmaker; and In Jackson Heights, the long-gestating latest film from Frederick Wiseman, the grandfather of documentary filmmaking. On the narrative side, the most intriguing of the multiple-fest entrants are: Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, which would be exciting enough as the French auteur’s follow-up to the masterful A Prophet and Rust and Bone, but it also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year; Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman’s long-awaited return, in the form of a stop-motion fantasy co-directed by Duke Johnson; and, of course, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, and if you’ve seen Dogtooth and Alps, no explanation is necessary. If you haven’t seen those films, stop reading and do it now.
The notion of where a film chooses to premiere is also an intriguing aspect of the early-season awards game. Toronto has typically been the highest-profile showcase for an aspiring Oscar contender, though the tectonic plates are shifting…or at least some festival programmers are making that shift happen. Gravity premiered at Venice two years ago, and what a heralded awards run that resulted in. Of course, that film came up short in the Best Picture race against 12 Years a Slave, which played at TIFF but premiered at Telluride. Last year, Birdman premiered at Venice, then played Telluride, skipped TIFF altogether, then went on to play New York and London. Argo premiered at Telluride. The King’s Speech premiered at Telluride. In fact, the last Best Picture winner to not premiere at Telluride was The Artist, which didn’t go to Telluride, period – it premiered at Cannes and then played TIFF and New York.
So, what films are premiering at Telluride this year? I can’t tell you that, since Telluride isn’t telling me…or anyone else, for that matter. The programmers for the still-quaint but increasingly powerful Colorado-based festival always keep their lineup under wraps until the last minute. And based on the fact that at least a handful of their eventual lineup will consist of films already scheduled to play at other fests, there is an element of last-second undercutting that comes into play. Clearly, the festival circuit is getting just as contentious as the Oscar season it helps create. There are plenty of predictions and theories out there, and many of them include the likes of Everest, Beasts of No Nation, Anomalisa, and Black Mass, all of which are scheduled to play at Venice (which starts two days prior to Telluride) and TIFF (which starts three days after Telluride ends). Venice is touting Everest as an Opening Night World Premiere. Spotlight and Beasts of No Nation play at Venice on 9/3, meaning they won’t be premiering at Telluride. The rest are up for grabs, so to speak.
It’s all really about posturing and rhetoric – the Best Picture winner could just as likely be released at a later festival, or skip the festival circuit altogether. But as more emphasis is placed on the fall festivals as the launching pads for Oscar contenders, and as the festivals themselves vie for positioning for a select group of titles, the more it gets woven into the presumed narrative. Outside that vaunted Venice-Telluride-Toronto window, the New York Film Festival has positioned itself as a slightly later alternative to launch prestigious Oscar players. This year, Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk is the Opening Night World Premiere at NYFF, and Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, is the Closing Night World Premiere. The big story from two weeks ago was that Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies would also premiere at NYFF. Paul Thomas Anderson’s secret documentary, Junun, is also set to premiere at NYFF…though Telluride loves PTA, so who knows if there will be a surprise in store there. Plenty of festival holdovers also play New York – Carol, The Lobster, Where to Invade Next, John Crowley’s Brooklyn, and Laszlo Nemes’ purportedly shattering Holocaust drama Son of Saul (which many have posited as a possible Telluride title as well, though it premiered at Cannes). Another NYFF player is Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, which isn’t currently scheduled to play prior, but which could wind up on the Telluride slate. Both Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours debuted at Telluride, in case you were wondering. Though Aaron Sorkin’s last, Oscar-winning screenplay was for The Social Network, which premiered at NYFF. Get it? It’s a total crapshoot.
As for Toronto, they are premiering Jean-Marc Vallee’s Demolition, which could be an Oscar vehicle for Jake Gyllenhaal…but not this year, since the film was pushed to a 2016 release. Also, Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong drama The Program, Ridley Scott’s star-studded The Martian, a Tom Hardy double-dip in Brian Helgeland’s Legend, David Gordon Green’s Our Brand Is Crisis, Sandra Bullock’s latest Oscar vehicle (and one which was originally written for a man, until Bullock lobbied the filmmakers to change the character’s gender) and Jay Roach’s Trumbo, with Bryan Cranston acting as The One Who Knocks on Oscar’s Door.
The list continues, into what seems like perpetuity. Oscar chances vary for some of the smaller entries, from moderate to non-existent. But all are exciting and invigorating, giving us plenty of reasons to be engaged with cinema as we edge closer to the end of the year. Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, Josh Mond’s James White, Nicholas Hytner’s The Lady in the Van, Peter Sollett’s Freeheld, Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, Gaby Dellal’s About Ray, Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter, Nanni Morretti’s Mia Madre, Hsiao-hsien Hou’s The Assassin, Johnny To’s Office, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, and Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea (which is, incidentally premiering on opening night of AFI Fest).
Of course, here I said I wasn’t going to go just listing titles. But looking at this list is analysis enough, isn’t it? The coming awards season is as full – and as exciting – as it can be. I can’t wait to give myself a headache trying to figure it all out.