Awards Race 2019: 5 Takeaways from Telluride, Venice & Toronto

The awards race is starting to take shape as the curtains close on the first set of fall film festivals. What does all the buzz mean for the Oscars?

Matt Lissauer

By Matt Lissauer

Awards Race 2019 - Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in "Jojo Rabbit."

© Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved. / Courtesy Everett Collection

The Telluride, Venice and Toronto film festivals are now in the books. The awards race is now starting to heat up, as several contenders are already in sight. Here, we look at past three fall festivals and make some educated guesses at what all the buzz will mean come Oscar time.

  • 1

    Could a comic book movie win Best Picture?

    Joaquin Phoenix in "Joker."

    © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

    In 2008, Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" completely changed the perception of comic book movies. We now live in a world where a comic book movie has won the top prize at a major international film festival. At this point, anything is possible.

    Could a superhero movie win Best Picture? "The Dark Knight" came close. Since then, there have been a few worthy contenders. 2017 gave us James Mangold's grounded "X-Men" western "Logan," and the following year came Ryan Coogler's righteously empowering "Black Panther." But, with Todd Phillips' stark and gritty Joker origin story winning the Golden Lion at Venice, it's looking more and more likely that perhaps this year could be the year for some serious consideration of a comic book movie.

    This kind of reception is surely good news for Warner Bros. after all the trouble they had getting their shared DC cinematic universe off the ground. "Joker" takes a bold step back with a one-shot, unconnected tale that draws a lot more from the late '60s and '70's "New Hollywood" age of cinema than from any source material. With a captivating and intense performance from star Joaquin Phoenix, WB was so sure of what they had that they put it into competition at Venice. The film bested James Grey's "Ad Astra," Noah Baumbach's "Marriage Story," and controversial contender Roman Polanski's "An Officer and a Spy."

    At Toronto, some of the praise cooled, though critics were still raving about Phoenix's performance. Even if it doesn't end up winning Best Picture (the last Golden Lion winner that also won Best Picture was 2017's "The Shape of Water"), the film will still likely be a major contender in many categories, including Best Actor.

  • 2

    This could be the year Netflix disrupts the Oscars.

    Adam Driver, Azhy Robertson, and Scarlett Johansson in "Marriage Story."

    © Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Netflix has had its eye on the Oscars since 2015, where it had a likely contender with Cary Joji Fukunaga's "Beasts of No Nation." Last year the streamer picked up two major awards – Best Director and Best Cinematography – for Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma." This year, their odds are more in their favor with five likely contenders: Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman," Noah Baumbach's "Marriage Story," Fernando Meirelles' "The Two Popes," Craig Brewer's "Dolemite Is My Name," and Steven Soderbergh's "The Laundromat." Of those five, the two that are most likely to pick up Best Picture consideration would be "The Irishman" and "Marriage Story." However, each of the five can believably vie for acting, directing and/or screenwriting awards.

    Since "Roma," filmmakers and Academy voters have pushed back on Netflix regarding the streamer's Oscar chances. Director and Academy member Steven Spielberg was most vocal, pushing to strengthen rules requiring qualifying films to have a traditional theatrical run. Netflix responded in kind to the criticism, explaining in a tweet that they "love cinema," love giving films the widest release to as many people as possible, and love "giving filmmakers more ways to share art."

  • 3

    If this isn't the year for Netflix, it's certainly the year for Martin Scorsese.

    Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro in "The Irishman."

    © Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Martin Scorsese's last Oscar-winning movie was 2006's "The Departed," which won Best Picture and Best Director. This year, he has a very good chance of nabbing both again with the highly anticipated mob epic "The Irishman." Festivals have yet to screen the film, but you can still expect the crime drama to earn critical praise.

    This is also Scorsese's most ambitious movie to date, as he spent nearly a decade waiting on technology to improve so he could best tell the story. The film features a de-aged Robert De Niro (in his ninth collaboration with Scorsese and his first since "Casino"), as we follow his character over 60 years. "The Irishman" has its theatrical premiere next week as it opens the 57th New York Film Festival.

    Scorsese is also indirectly associated with another aforementioned film drawing praise. At this point, it's no spoiler that "Joker" draws heavily from Scorsese's "New Hollywood" era-defining films "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy." Phillips' flick most closely echoes the latter, with Phoenix's Arthur Fleck dreaming of late night comedy stardom and stopping at nothing to achieve it. "Joker" even features De Niro in a supporting role. De Niro stars as Murray Franklin, a popular late night talk show host, who may or may not meet a similar fate as Jerry Lewis's Jerry Langford from Scorsese's 1983 dark comedy. Scorsese was originally announced as a producer of "Joker" but had to back out. Onboard, however, is his long-time producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff.

    Even if these two films fail, one thing will remain clear: this awards season will remind movie fans of the great director and his legacy.

  • 4

    It's another year of unlikely actor/actress awards contenders.

    Adam Sandler in "Uncut Gems."

    © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Last year's crop of acting contenders included Lady Gaga and two actors who are known mostly for their TV work, Rami Malek and Olivia Coleman. This year is shaping up to feature even more unlikely contenders. Jennifer Lopez is already garnering awards talk for her lead in "Hustlers," which premiered to praise in Toronto, and just last week had a successful opening weekend at the box office.

    At Telluride, Adam Sandler wowed critics with an astonishing performance in "Uncut Gems," a crime drama from the Safdie Brothers ("Good Time"). Similarly, at Toronto, Eddie Murphy reminded critics of his incredible range, which garnered him an Oscar nod in 2006 for "Dreamgirls." Murphy portrays blaxploitation icon Rudy Ray Moore in the biopic "Dolemite Is My Name." His co-star Wesley Snipes is also drawing similar attention.

    Murphy and Snipes aren't the only actors making long-awaited comebacks, as Renée Zellweger also impressed critics in Telluride and Toronto with her portrayal of famed actress and singer Judy Garland in "Judy."

  • 5

    Franchise filmmakers go small with big gains.

    Chris Evans in "Knives Out."

    © Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection

    If "Joker's" chances at Oscar gold seems unlikely, then what about a quirky WWII-set comedy about a boy and his imaginary friend Adolph Hitler? "Jojo Rabbit," from "Thor: Ragnarok" helmer Taika Waititi, polarized critics at its Toronto premiere. However, it went on to win the festival's top prize, the People's Choice Award. For the uninitiated, so many Best Picture winners (including last year's "Green Book") have also won this award that it's often considered the prime predictor of Oscar glory. Disney, who recently acquired Fox (and thus this film from Fox Searchlight), must be sighing some relief after their initial worries about how well critics would respond to the movie. Even amid controversy, its Oscar chances are good.

    Like Netflix, Disney will be another distributor to beat this awards season with its new Fox subsidiary. Along with its share of contenders ("Frozen II," "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," and others), and the aforementioned "Ad Astra" and "Jojo Rabbit," there's "Ford v Ferrari." James Mangold, who last directed "X-Men" spin-off "Logan" and earned a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination, helms this '60s-set drama that follows Ford Motor Company's ambitions to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans car race.

    The racing drama, which will not require any firsthand gearhead knowledge, has impressed critics at Telluride and Toronto. Its racing sequences have particularly enthralled critics. "Ford v Ferrari" is likely to be in the Best Picture race, and Disney has put all its bets with Fox on it. While critical reception is high, we'll see how audiences take to the racing pic. Comparisons to Ron Howard's 2013 F-1 racing pic, "Rush," are clear. That film also premiered in Toronto and was warmly received by movie fans and critics.

    "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" helmer Rian Johnson also steps back from big movies by going back to his film noir roots with the whodunnit "Knives Out." With a stellar ensemble cast including Captain America himself, Chris Evans, "Knives Out" is sure to be a fan favorite upon release. While it might not be one to watch for Best Picture, it certainly stands a good chance at the least of garnering Best Screenplay consideration.

Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.

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