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The 2019 Academy Awards are still almost half a calendar year away, but as we’ve learned in recent years, Oscar season never stops and starts: It’s everlasting, with folks predicting nominees as early as January (at Sundance) or February (with releases like Get Out and Black Panther), before the previous year’s ceremony has even taken place.
Oscar season really kicks into gear, though, with a trifecta of back-to-back-to-back film festivals set over the course of a frantic few weeks from late August to early September, as movie studios unspool many of their most prestigious projects at high-profile festivals in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto.
Here are 10 early contenders, some surprising (Peter Farrelly’s Green Book), others not (Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma), that you’ll be hearing a lot about — for better or worse — over the next five months in Hollywood’s long crawl to Oscar night.
Lady Gaga, Oscar nominee? That presumptuous spin from early looks at her film-starring debut in the Bradley Cooper-directed remake got a few octaves closer to reality after rapturous responses in Venice and Toronto, where Gaga (née Stefani Germanotta) was even on schmoozing and selfie duty with awards voters and pundits. It’s going to be a crowded race for Best Actress, with potential seven-time nominee Glenn Close (The Wife) already in waiting and a gaggle of other strong female performances to emerge from the fall festival circuit, but you can bet your bottom dollar she’s got a Golden Globe nomination locked up (even if, surprisingly, it sounds like Warner Bros will move to compete in the drama categories over the less competitive Musical/Comedy races). Cooper, delivering a career-best performance in a nearly unrecognizable turn, should be an easier lock and is my way-too-early pick to win.
Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Bradley Cooper), Best Actress (Lady Gaga), Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Elliott)
Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white period piece about a year in the life of a Mexico City family is already being hailed as a masterpiece and probably received the most impressive across-the-board reviews of any film to premiere in recent weeks after screening at all three festivals. That it’s another filmmaking triumph for Gravity and Children of Men director Cuarón is hardly a surprise; that it could catapult Mexican actresses hardly known to stateside audiences like Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira into the Oscar race is a nice subplot. Roma will also be closely watched, as it could mark Netflix’s first Best Picture nomination, potentially putting a wrap on the stigma surrounding streaming titles and their place in the awards race.
Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio), Best Supporting Actress (Marina de Tavira)
Barry Jenkins follows up his (very, uh, unconventionally) Best Picture-winning Moonlight with another beautiful, poetic, and quietly potent romantic drama, this an adaptation of James Baldwin’s summer-reading-list staple. There was scattered sniffling among the audience at the Toronto premiere, and there’s already a debate growing over which Jenkins movie is better. It’s hard to see Beale Street not competing in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, but its best chances at winning may be for Jenkins’s screenplay and a scene-stealing turn by Regina King, who just won her third Emmy and could be adding an Oscar to her trophy case in no time. (Here’s hoping she has a trophy case, because this should be just the start of the Regina King award tour.)
Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Barry Jenkins), Best Actress (Kiki Layne), Best Supporting Actress (Regina King)
Damien Chazelle’s technically stunning drama about Apollo 11’s 1969 moon mission premiered to high marks at all three festivals, though those reactions were tempered by a touch of (ridiculous) controversy and some apprehension that the film’s emotional weight doesn’t match its visual power. Still, it has to be considered a heavy favorite at least as far as nominations go for Best Picture and Best Director, while one of the biggest questions will be whether or not Ryan Gosling lands his third nomination for playing the troubled and oft-“cold” real-life space hero Neil Armstrong.
Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Damien Chazelle), Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Supporting Actress (Claire Foy)
On the surface, it looked like it might be a derivative racial drama cut from the mold of Driving Miss Daisy and The Help, but this true tale of a Bronx bouncer (Viggo Mortensen, going full bada bing!) who chauffeurs a black piano virtuoso (Mahershala Ali) through the Jim Crow South proved the biggest surprise of the fall festival circuit when it took home the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Nine out of the last 10 movies to take that honor have gone on to Best Picture nominations at the Oscars, with three (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, 12 Years a Slave) winning. Suddenly Peter Farrelly — the co-director of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, and most recently The Three Stooges, Movie 43, and Dumb and Dumber To — is a true-blue Oscar contender.
Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Farrelly), Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Supporting Actress (Linda Cardellini)
Five years after the soul-stirring 12 Years a Slave won Oscar’s biggest prize, Steve McQueen returns with a much more “commercial” outing: a heist movie about three women (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki) who plot a robbery after their husbands’ deaths leave them all in dire straits. Genre or not, it feels like the work of a master, which should be enough to steal it nominations in the top two races. Otherwise, bet on Davis being back in the mix two years after winning for Fences and Daniel Kaluuya repeating an awards run (a year after Get Out) for his surprisingly terrifying turn as a trigger-happy ganglord underboss.
Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Actress (Viola Davis), Best Supporting Actress (Elizabeth Debicki), Best Supporting Actor (Daniel Kaluuya)
Yorgos Lanthimos’s last two films (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) have endeared the Greek director of breakouts Alps and Dogtooth to a wider audience, but it should get even broader with this cutting period piece about the relationships of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) with two sparring advisers (Rachel Weisz’s Sarah Churchill and Emma Stone’s Abigail Masham) in 18th-century England. Weisz and Stone are said to be predictably stellar, but it’s Colman (The Night Manager) who’s been favo(u)rited coming out of the film’s premieres in Venice and Telluride.
Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos), Best Actress (Olivia Colman), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone), Best Supporting Actress (Rachel Weisz)
Next to Green Book, the biggest surprise of the fall fests might be just how well this sharp-witted biopic of celebrity biographer-turned-forger Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) turned out. It’s a crowd-pleasing, near-perfect account that balances weighty drama and big laughs, thanks in large part to sensational performances by McCarthy (who somehow makes us root for the curmudgeonly Israel by the end of it) and Richard E. Grant (who bursts with deviant energy as her tragicomic accomplice). This film should compete for Best Picture, and though the odds are probably stacked against her, it’d be nice to see Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) crack what looks to be yet another all-male directorial race.
Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Marielle Heller), Best Actress (Melissa McCarthy), Best Supporting Actor (Richard E. Grant)
Uncertainty accompanied Felix Van Groeningen’s adaptation of a pair of memoirs by father and son David and Nic Sheff before its Toronto premiere with rumors that the film was rejected by Venice (I don’t buy it). The drama, about the desperate attempts of a man (Steve Carell) to steer his drug addict son (Timothée Chalamet) into recovery, is a brutal, deeply difficult watch. It’s also one of those films whose performances are better than the movie itself, but Chalamet fans will be excited to see that the young actor (excellent once again) will return to the Oscars a year after his nominated breakout in Call Me by Your Name.
Possible nominations: Best Actor (Steve Carell), Best Supporting Actor (Timothée Chalamet)
Julian Schnabel’s fittingly artsy and moody portrait of the final years in the life of Vincent van Gogh won’t be for everyone (there are touches that recall Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, if that gives you any indication). But what a performance Venice audiences were treated to by Willem Dafoe, who puts us right into the shaky mind of Van Gogh as he simultaneously reaches his peak as a painter and descends into madness. Expect Dafoe to be back in the Oscars race a year after most likely playing runner-up to winner Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) for his winning turn in The Florida Project.
Possible nominations: Best Actor (Willem Dafoe)
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