13 Oscar Contenders That Emerged Out of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto Fests

·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in 'La La Land' (Lionsgate)
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in ‘La La Land’ (Lionsgate)

The Oscars are still five months away, but consider awards season under way now that Hollywood has returned home from film festivals in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. (So yes, that means awards season pretty much runs for half a calendar year.)

For evidence that these three fall fests lay the groundwork for the coming year’s Academy Awards race, look no further than our same report a year ago. Those predictions included future winners Spotlight (Best Picture), Room (Best Actress), and The Danish Girl (Best Supporting Actress), plus other heavily nominated films like The Martian, Brooklyn, Carol, and Steve Jobs.

There are plenty of major contenders still to be unveiled — prestige projects like Ang Lee’s Billy Lyn’s Long Halftime Walk and Denzel Washington’s Fences, to name a couple. But here are 13 films that already have a leg up in the marathon known as the Oscar race.

Related: From ‘La La Land’ to ‘Katwe’: Best of the Toronto International Film Festival

  1. La La Land

Festivals Screened: Venice, Telluride, Toronto

The Buzz: Damien Chazelle’s contemporary musical reteaming Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling for a third charming time is No. 1 with a bullet, having put an exclamation point on its trifecta of festival raves by winning the People’s Choice Award at Toronto. It’s the rare film that audiences and critics are both falling equally hard for, so don’t be surprised if La La Land rides its momentum all the way to dominating the Oscars come Feb. 26.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Chazelle), Best Actor (Gosling), Best Actress (Stone), plus a bounty of below-the-line categories like Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and more

Related: Emma Stone on Reteaming With Ryan Gosling in ‘La La Land’ and Her New Appreciation of Los Angeles

2. Manchester by the Sea

Festivals Screened: Telluride, Toronto

The Buzz: Strong word-of-mouth for (and tales of severe heartbreak over) Kenneth Lonergan’s emotionally grueling family drama began way back in January at the Sundance Film Festival. The sensationally acted film could land four of its performers in the acting races, though Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and revelatory newcomer Lucas Hedges (who adds some much needed levity to all the distress) are the surest bets.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Lonergan), Best Actor (Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Williams), Best Supporting Actor (Kyle Chandler)

3. Moonlight

Festivals Screened: Telluride, Toronto

The Buzz: The first film produced in-house by cool-kid distributor A24 (Amy, Spring Breakers) is a critically adored drama about a young gay black man at three different stages in his life grappling his sexuality. Moonlight has been called “breathtaking,” “mesmeric,” and “beautiful.” It’s too early to say if the film will catch on like A24’s 2015 awards darling, Room, but this film is clearly shining bright for the time being.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Barry Jenkins), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris)

4. Jackie

Festivals Screened: Venice, Toronto

The Buzz: Jackie might be the film whose profile grew the most through fall festival stops; this is a movie that didn’t even have a distributor entering its world premiere in Italy (it was snatched up by Fox Searchlight in Toronto). Natalie Portman’s performance as a grieving Jackie Kennedy in the days following JFK’s assassination is being called her best work yet — and remember, she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2011 for Black Swan.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Direcotor (Pablo Larrain), Best Actress (Portman), Best Supporting Actor (Peter Sarsgaard)

Related: How Natalie Portman Got Into Character as Jackie Kennedy

5. The Birth of a Nation

Festivals Screened: Toronto

The Buzz: Like Manchester, Birth became a legit contender, if not a favorite, a full year before the Oscar ceremony … and then we all know what happened. If distributor Fox Searchlight hoped to steer the narrative away from actor-director Nate Parker’s checkered past and back to the acclaimed film itself (which received two standing ovations in Toronto), the studio might have been wise to avoid media opps. Instead Fox Searchlight held a junket and one very tense press conference. Whether or not Birth can overcome its filmmaker’s troubles will be a major story line through February.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Parker), Best Actor (Parker), Best Supporting Actor (Armie Hammer), Best Supporting Actress (Aja Naomi King)

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Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in ‘Loving’ (Focus)

6. Loving

Festivals Screened: Toronto

The Buzz: This understated, quietly powerful true-life drama about Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple arrested for having the nerve to marry each other in 1950s Virginia, also came to Toronto pre-approved after big cheers at Cannes. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are both sensational in the leads, and pundits see them each as serious contenders to compete for gold.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Jeff Nichols), Best Actor (Edgerton), Best Actress (Negga)

7. Lion

Festivals Screened: Toronto

The Buzz: Oscar prognosticators are already noting that this emotional drama about a grown-up Indian slumdog (Slumdog Millionaire alum Dev Patel) attempting to track down his birth parents 25 years after being adopted by an Australian couple will have some extra wind behind its sails being the sole awards hope of legendary gold-rusher Harvey Weinstein. The reviews out of Toronto were solid, but hardly unanimous in praise.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman)

8. Sully

Festivals Screened: Telluride

The Buzz: Clint Eastwood’s biopic of heroic pilot Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) premiered in Colorado just days before opening in theaters, and has since been flying high at the box office. It hasn’t registered as well with younger viewers, but, as we know, it’s the more, experienced demographic that rules the Academy’s voting body.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Eastwood), Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Supporting Actor (Aaron Eckhart)

9. Arrival

Festivals Screened: Venice, Telluride, Toronto

The Buzz: Dennis Villeneuve’s slow-burn sci-fi drama that enlists Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner to determine why 12 massive UFOs have touched down on Earth has critic’s darling written all over it. It’s still a mystery if the film will ultimately connect at the box office, but Arrival is the likelier of two Venice/Toronto favorites to land the excellent Adams her sixth Oscar nomination in 11 years.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Adams)

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Amy Adams in ‘Arrival’ (Paramount)

Related: Will This Finally Be Amy Adams’s Year? Actress Gives Pair of A-Grade Performances in ‘Arrival’ and ‘Animals’

10. Nocturnal Animals

Festivals Screened: Venice, Toronto

The Buzz: Though far from perfect, and not necessarily feeling like an Oscar movie, Tom Ford’s dark story-within-a-story is so fascinating, beautifully shot, and well-acted that it could turn some heads. At the very least it needs to be seen for the masterful work of Michael Shannon, who steals the whole damn thing as a tough-talking, hard-coughing small-town cop.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jake Gyllenhaal), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Shannon), Best Supporting Actor (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)

11. A Monster Calls

Festivals Screened: Toronto

The Buzz: No film made Canadian audiences sob as hard as this stylish drama about a boy visited by a big, not-quite-as-friendly giant as his mother succumbs to terminal illness. Of Felicity Jones’s three fall releases — she also has Rogue One and InfernoMonster is the least commercially viable, yet it’s the one that could send the Theory of Everything actress back to the Oscars for a second time.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Jones)

Related: Felicity Jones on Making Toronto Cry With ‘A Monster Calls,’ How Ripley in ‘Aliens’ Helped Inspire Jyn Erso in ‘Rogue One’

12. Hacksaw Ridge

Festivals Screened: Venice

The Buzz: It’s the only movie on this list not to premiere in North America, but reaction was so positive to Mel Gibson’s first stint behind the camera in a decade — helming the story of a WWII medic (Andrew Garfield) refusing to take arms in battle — that critics have predicted the film could break the beleaguered actor-turned-director out of Hollywood jail. Even if Gibson himself is unlikely to score a nomination.

Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Garfield)

13. Denial

Festivals Screened: Toronto

The Buzz: Mick Jackson’s bio-drama about historian Deborah E. Lipstadt’s legal battle with infamous Holocaust denier David Irving is a little light on big surprises and suspense. But it has two fantastic performances from Rachel Weisz (perhaps outdoing her Oscar-winning work in Constant Gardner) and Timothy Spall (who so is perfectly deplorable).

Possible Nominations: Best Actress (Weisz), Best Supporting Actor (Spall)