From Joker to Jojo Rabbit, check out the most anticipated releases from the fall festival season. As the summer moviegoing season comes to an end and the major glut of blockbusters dries up until Christmas, Hollywood’s focus turns to fall and the endless chaos of awards season.
Typically, the lion’s share of releases that come under this umbrella start in September and run until the end of December, which is the cut-off date for Oscars' qualifications. This year, there are plenty of potential candidates vying for critics’ and audiences’ attention, and most of them will be making their debuts during the major film festivals of the fall season. The four biggest festivals of this period are - in chronological order - Venice, Toronto, Telluride, and New York. These are the festivals you can expect the most hyped-movies of awards season to play at in some capacity, and for good reason.
The past two winners of the Golden Lion, Venice's highest honor, were nominated for or won Best Picture. Nine of the past decade's 10 winners of the Toronto People's Choice Award either won or were nominated for Best Picture, too. The batting average for fall festival season and Oscar success is too good to ignore, so studios jostle for attention amid crowded slates. This year, the stakes seem higher than ever and the offerings more varied and exciting than we’ve seen in a while. Here are some of the most anticipated releases from the major fall film festivals of 2019.
Once Warner Bros. decided not to take Todd Phillips’s reimagining of the Joker’s origin story to San Diego Comic-Con (along with the rest of their upcoming titles), rumors swirled that it was because they were choosing to submit it to festival season instead. However, even the most optimistic fans could not have predicted just how much hope the studio has in this movie. Not only will Joker make its world premiere playing in competition at the Venice Film Festival, but it will also make its North American debut in Toronto soon after, followed by its New York premiere at NYFF. It’s not uncommon for one movie to play all three festivals but unheard of for a comic book title to do so. Make no mistake: Warner Bros. is hoping to take Joker all the way to the Oscars. This build-up of hype and critical clout is certainly an excellent strategy for doing so, with the film’s star, Joaquin Phoenix, having previously won Best Actor at Venice and set to receive TIFF’s very first Best Actor award next month.
This will be the first year of Fox Searchlight working under the Disney banner, and critics are eager to see how invested the company is in releasing the kind of esoteric, small-scale, and awards-baity titles that the studio has made their name from. The biggest and possibly most controversial title on their slate in 2019 is Jojo Rabbit. Directed by Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a young German boy during World War 2 who is fiercely dedicated to the Hitler Youth, and how his life changes when he discovers his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. He also has an imaginary best friend who is Adolf Hitler, played by Waititi himself. It’s certainly a movie that will incite conversations, and alleged Disney sources have already started talking to the trades about their concerns with such a potentially shocking movie. However, Waititi is a master of tone, who can juggle big laughs with darker emotional beats, and this is the kind of story that only he could make for general audiences. All eyes will be on Jojo Rabbit for its world premiere at TIFF, where Waititi will also receive the festival’s new director award.
A new Martin Scorsese movie is always a cause for celebration, and The Irishman is a long-time passion project the director has wanted to make for many years now. His first feature film since 2016's Silence - which was a box office disappointment - The Irishman brings together some of Scorsese’s most iconic collaborators, from Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci to editor Thelma Schoonmaker and screenwriter Steven Zaillian. Based on the story of Frank Sheeran, The Irishman follows the life of a mob hitman and his involvement in the Bufalino crime family as well as the role he may have played in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Not only is it Scorsese's most expensive movie, with a reported budget of $200 million, but it's Netflix's priciest endeavor, too. The streaming service remains a much-contested topic on the festival circuit, but it will be hard for even the biggest skeptics to avoid or dismiss The Irishman as it makes its world premiere at the New York Film Festival.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Last year, the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, about the life of beloved children’s entertainer Mr. Rogers, was a surprise box office hit. Now, the biopic is here with none other than Tom Hanks, taking on the lofty role of one of the nation’s most popular pop culture figures. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood comes to us courtesy of Marielle Heller, who made waves last year with the Oscar-nominated drama Can You Ever Forgive Me?. Her take on the Mr. Rogers story follows an elderly Fred Rogers as he is being profiled for a magazine piece by a cynical journalist, played by Matthew Rhys. Marielle Heller has a deft and layered approach to biopics that helps her stand out in a saturated field, and the prospect of Hanks playing this universally adored figure is sure to set off many an awards prediction. Expect floods of tears at screenings when A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood premieres at TIFF.
One of only a handful of titles playing at Venice, Toronto, and New York, Noah Baumbach’s latest drama, Marriage Story, to be released by Netflix, sees him once again returning to deeply personal territory. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as a married couple whose coast-to-coast divorce begins to push them to extremes neither could have predicted. Baumbach is no stranger to making movies about divorce. 2005's The Squid and the Whale was a semi-autobiographical exploration of his own parents' split. The buzz around Marriage Story has been especially loud, with praise singled out for both Johansson and Driver, the latter of whom has a very busy year ahead of him between this, The Report (also playing the festival season), and, of course, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Netflix has a full slate this year for awards season, so expect them to push this hard.
Oscar-winning actress Renée Zellweger was everywhere in the early 2000s but took an extended break in 2010, appearing only sporadically in projects. In 2019, she's attempting a comeback by playing one of the most beloved and recognizable figures in Hollywood: the oft-imitated but never replicated Judy Garland. Judy, directed by British theater director Rupert Goold, will have its world premiere at TIFF in what is sure to be a much-talked-about screening. The story takes place in 1969 when Garland, at the very end of her life, headed to London to perform a series of sell-out shows that were some of her very last concerts. Biopics are a staple of festival season and sure to make an impression with Oscar voters, but Zellweger has a tough job ahead of her with Judy, especially since she seems to be doing all her own singing in the role.
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Writer-director Armando Iannucci is best known for his political satires, from The Death of Stalin to award-winning TV series like Veep and The Thick of It. The Personal History of David Copperfield takes him deep into the Dickensian territory but don't be too quick to write this off as just another historical drama. Dev Patel plays the eponymous protagonist while an all-star cast, including Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Peter Capaldi, Benedict Wong, and Gwendoline Christie, fill out the illustrious ensemble. Making its world premiere at TIFF, with its British premiere to follow at the London Film Festival, David Copperfield was recently picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight, which signals at least some positive things for the company under Disney’s ownership.
There are a surprising amount of movies playing at this year’s festival season that are adapted from articles. Hustlers may be the most anticipated of this bunch, if only because of its truly irresistible hook. Based on a piece from New York magazine, Hustlers follows a group of strippers, led by Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez, who decide to take on the rich Wall Street jerks who visit their club every night and fleece them for all they have. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, with Adam McKay and Will Ferrell on producer duties, Hustlers has a tricky tone to nail. How do you tackle what these women did, acknowledge the Robin Hood-esque fantasy of it, but not romanticize just how dark the truth got? It’s a tough job but the movie also has serious indie breakout potential and it remains depressingly rare to see a film with a female majority cast alongside a woman director. Hustlers will make its world premiere at TIFF.
Donna Tartt, despite having only written three novels, is one of the most celebrated American authors of her generation, and her third novel, The Goldfinch, won her the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the major impact she has had on literature and pop culture, Hollywood has never dared to adapt one of her meaty and extremely long books until now. Clocking in at over 800 pages, turning The Goldfinch into a movie was always going to be an immense undertaking, and one sure to be highly anticipated by the millions who read it. Directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn) and starring Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, and Sarah Paulson, the drama follows the coming-of-age of a young man who survives a terrorist attack in an art museum and the painting he clings to as a source of hope as his life spirals downwards. Tartt's work has always embraced the Dickensian in its scope and emotional depths, so taking a book this long and condensing it two-and-a-half hours will not be easy. The Goldfinch has its world premiere at TIFF, one week before it opens nationwide on September 13.
Director James Gray is a critical darling, but his work has struggled to find commercial success in the United States (although he remains extremely popular in Europe, especially France). However, Ad Astra has the potential to break out in a bigger way. Brad Pitt stars in the lead role, following on from a strong summer with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as an astronaut sent on a life-changing mission. He journeys to the outer edges of the solar system in hopes of finding his father (played by Tommy Lee Jones), a fellow astronaut who mysteriously disappeared many years before. Gray compared the story to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and noted his desire to make as realistic a depiction of space travel as possible, which is a fascinating direction for him to take with his first foray into science-fiction. The movie has had its release date bumped around a lot this year, which often doesn't signal good news, but with Ad Astra making its world premiere at Venice, the hype remains very much in its favor.
In-between working on Star Wars movies, director Rian Johnson took some time to make a murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie’s work, and he compiled a major all-star cast for his efforts. Knives Out, which will have its world premiere at TIFF, features Daniel Craig, Lakeith Stanfield, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Christopher Plummer. Plummer plays a legendary crime novelist who is murdered during his birthday party, leading detectives Craig and Stanfield to investigate the case, with every member of the family a suspect. It's always exciting to see what a director who is a key part of a major franchise does in their downtime, and Johnson returning to his love of low-key genre fiction for a re-imagining of a classic set-up is too good to resist. It remains to be seen if Knives Out has awards appeal or will simply be marketed as a fun winter season caper in-between the blockbusters, but whatever the case, it's sure to have audiences intrigued.
Ford v Ferrari
It’s safe to say that Christian Bale, regardless of the project, is almost always included in Oscar conversations. Following his latest nomination for Vice, he returns to the biopic genre with James Mangold’s take on one of the most notorious rivalries in motoring history. As the title suggests, Ford v Ferrari takes on the battle between two of the biggest names in cars as they raced at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans competition. Bale and Matt Damon play the driver and engineer brought on to Team Ford to help them defeat the dominant Italians of Ferrari. This is a pricey movie - one with a rumored $97.6 million budget - and a starry cast to match, but it's also now a Disney title that needs to be handled carefully. Will the studio give it the full red carpet treatment following its world premiere at Toronto?