The Venice Film Festival now marks the unofficial beginning of the awards season. Three of the last four Best Picture winners premiered at Venice and the fourth Moonlight premiered at Telluride which overlaps with Venice. The behemoth that is Toronto – again overlapping with Venice – also has a splash via the sheer weight of numbers and offers many hopeful contenders the opportunity for a North American premiere. So with those major festivals out of the way, who are the frontrunners and who the dark horses?
2016 IS BACK – In what could turn into a rerun of the infamous La La Land vs Moonlight mix up, Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins both have marked a place on the nominations circuit. Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong – First Man – will appeal to many. It is an artfully made film which eschews MAGA-style flagging waving (controversially omitting the planting of the flag) and yet reinvigorates a moondusty history lesson with an immersive adventure in the early days of manned space exploration and a touching portrait of a private man growing into a legend.
Claire Foy and Ryan Gosling both excel in their roles. Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk is a fitting follow-up to Moonlight, with lush colours and the trials and tribulations of young love in Harlem in the 60s. It speaks of race, class and injustice in the same period as First Man, but from an entirely different perspective. An extraordinary performance from newcomer Kiki Layne as Tish, the pregnant 19-year-old protagonist, also invites the notice of the Academy.
THE YEAR OF NETFLIX – Following the debacle of the Cannes Film Festival, Netflix promptly upped sticks and took a raft of amazing ‘content’ straight to Venice and Toronto. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Outlaw King and even Orson Welles’ final film The Other Side of the Wind all arrived with the Netflix imprimatur, leading to some speculation as to whether Orson Welles could even be posthumously nominated as Best Director. [He won’t – I saw and loved the film, but it is way to avant garde for the Academy]. The best hopes rest with Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, his Mexico City set Amarcord, told through the eyes of a wealthy family’s long-suffering maid. It’s a rich and beautiful film that absolutely has to be seen on the biggest screen possible and will hopefully pick up some deserved recognition.
THE YEAR OF THE WOMEN – Women are still criminally under-represented behind the camera with Venice boasting only one female director in competition – Jennifer Kent with her excellent Babadook follow-up The Nightingale – but as far as performances are concerned some of the outstanding turns have been from the festival circuit. A gritty Nicole Kidman in The Destroyer sees the antipodean superstar back on top form, while Natalie Portman continues to explore the darker shadows that fame casts in Vox Lux.
Come awards season, however, the story could well be A Star is Born and its star Lady Gaga. Bradley Cooper’s slick tearjerker has its problems but the woman at the heart of the film ain’t one of them and a best actress nod looks like a dead cert from here. In fact, enthusiasm for the film could see it gain momentum and head for one of those sweeping victories.
The Motion Picture Academy Awards take place on the 24th of February, 2019