Oscars season is here, which means it's time to start thinking about which films could be nominated for Best Picture this year. Recently, the Venice, Toronto, and Telluride film festivals all concluded, with studios bringing a number of awards hopefuls to show off. While there is still plenty of time before the race comes to a close, the festivals provide a bit of clarity, as viewers see which films are legitimate contenders, and which ones are just pretenders.
For a while, last year was one of the more open races in a while, with numerous high-quality films receiving much acclaim and accolades. It remains to be seen how this year's crop stacks up (many of them are unseen as of this writing), but there are a number of likely possibilities that cinephiles will enjoy following as awards season heats up. Here are some we feel could make a big splash.
A Star is Born
The darling of the festival circuit so far, Bradley Cooper's directorial debut is apparently so good, it was able to win over even those who were skeptical of its prospects. Debuting to raves in Venice, A Star is Born also screened at Toronto, cementing its status as one to watch this season. Critics feel it's deserving of nominations across the board, including Cooper in both the Best Director and Best Actor categories, as well as Lady Gaga in Best Actress. Warner Bros.' marketing campaign has played up the chemistry between the two leads, hinting at a touching romantic drama powered by a killer soundtrack. By all accounts, this is a remake done right.
If there's anything going against A Star is Born at the moment, it's that it's never good to be the pre-ordained frontrunner this early on. There's plenty of time for the inevitable backlash to kick in, and some may feel the film is overhyped once it is released to the general public. Still, A Star is Born looks to be one of the top Best Picture candidates and should be able to pick up several nods. The previous three versions of this story all earned nominations as well.
Two years after the infamous Best Picture snafu, La La Land director Damien Chazelle is back with another surefire contender. The Neil Armstrong biopic First Man had a highly successful festival run with screenings at Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. The responses make it clear it lived up to its on-paper potential, with Chazelle elevating his filmmaking craft once again. First Man should also be a major contender in some of the acting races, namely Ryan Gosling in Best Actor and Claire Foy in Best Supporting Actress. From the sound of things, the film is also going to be a shoo-in for several technical categories. This one delivered the goods.
First Man experienced a minor hiccup a couple weeks ago, when word spread it does not show the American flag on the moon's surface. In actuality, the flag is present in several shots in the moon landing sequence, it just doesn't depict Armstrong planting it into the ground (a la the famous photo). So, this "controversy" is a non-issue and should have no impact on the film's awards prospects as we make our way through the season. The fact that Armstrong's sons came out to clear the air speaks volumes, and lets everyone know there's nothing to worry about.
The track record of foreign language films cracking the Best Picture lineup isn't great, but Alfonso Cuarón's Roma could be an exception. Serving as his first movie since 2013's Gravity (which netted him Best Director and was a threat to win Best Picture), Roma is a 1970s period piece following a middle-class family in Mexico City over the course of the year. Netflix released a trailer ahead of the film's festival premieres, impressing many with its lush, beautiful black-and-white cinematography and personal narrative. This promises to be a unique experience.
Critics adored Roma, showering it with high praise following the early screenings. Cuarón, who has an incredible résumé already, seems to have outdone himself, delivering an awe-inspiring and emotional filmmaking achievement that will connect with viewers around the globe. Netflix's original films may not have the best reputation, but it looks like they're about to get a major boost and establish themselves as a credible player on the awards circuit.
The buzz surrounding this Spike Lee joint has died down a bit due to the festival conversation drowning it out (BlacKkKlansman opened in theaters in August), but we'd be remiss to forget about it completely. BlacKkKlansman found Lee at his strongest in years, deftly balancing the humor and drama of its fact-based story in a way only he could. Despite the story being set in the 1970s, it's a very timely and relevant film that has something to say about the state of the world today, which helps its case. An argument can also be made Lee is overdue after being snubbed previously in his career (most notably for Do the Right Thing).
An early release date doesn't take BlacKkKlansman out of the running (Get Out and The Grand Budapest Hotel are recent example), but Focus Features is going to need to work to make sure the voters don't forget about Lee's film. Lots of other candidates are making noise right now, and BlacKkKlansman didn't light up the box office with a $45 million domestic gross. A nomination still feels like it will happen, but it's no longer seen as the one to beat.
Every Oscar race has its surprise, and Green Book is certainly 2018's. Dropped on an unsuspecting Toronto crowd, this dramedy from director Peter Farrelly (one half of the Farrelly brothers duo behind Dumb and Dumber) became an instant crowd-pleaser. The film is based on a true story and follows New York bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), who takes a job driving African-American pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) through a tour in the deep South. While many critics agree the film takes a relatively conventional stance in its narrative and commentary on race relations, the performances of the perfectly-matched leads elevate the material, giving it a sense of authenticity.
Green Book's prospects received a major boost when it was named the winner of Toronto's People's Choice Award. Historically, that award has a lot of correlation with the Oscars. Since 2008, nine of the 10 winners received a Best Picture nomination from the Academy, and three of those went all the way to win. It's true stats can be broken, but things are working very well in Green Book's favor right now. With two likable actors at its center (who should make some noise in the acting races), a good script, and comparisons to films like Hidden Figures, Green Book was one of the biggest winners of the festivals.
Fox Searchlight is typically a major a key player in the Oscar race, and it looks like their lead dog this year is The Favourite. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, it's a period piece set in 18th century England, following a rivalry that emerges between Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), as they compete to be the Queen of England's (Olivia Colman) favorite. The film received positive reviews out of Venice, with many people praising the performances. Colman in particular is a standout in the ensemble and should be in line for a nomination. Additionally, films like this are always a threat with the crafts, and The Favourite could get love from the production design and costume branches.
If there's anything that's preventing it from being the favorite, it's that Lanthimos' sensibilities may be too off-kilter for the Academy to full embrace. The trailer hinted at another wild and quirky ride from the man who gave us The Lobster, and it's worth pointing out Lobster only earned a Best Original Screenplay nod. It'll be interesting to see how this one ultimately performs with the Oscars, especially since there are some sights unseen (more on those in a minute) that could shake things up down the road.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is back with what looks to be another powerful, emotionally-wrenching drama. The Oscar-winner adapted James Baldwin's novel of the same name, which tells the story of a pregnant Harlem woman trying to prove her fiancé's innocence of a crime. Upon its original publication in 1974, the book received praise, so the potential is there for it to become a moving film. The trailer was certainly promising, and while reviews for Beale Street may not be as strong as the aforementioned Moonlight, critics are in agreement that it's a beautifully-crafted film that draws viewers in with its strong love story.
While Beale Street did not win the People's Choice award at Toronto, it was named one of the runner-ups, which typically bodes well for Oscar hopefuls. In the last six years, five TIFF People's Choice runner-ups went on to secure Best Picture nominations. That stat doesn't make Beale Street as much of a lock as Green Book, but it still indicates it has a passionate fan base and should be able to find support from the Academy. A couple of those runner-ups even won the top Oscar, so things are looking up for Beale Street after Toronto.