If the last ten years is any indication, we will find (or will have already seen) our Best Picture winner in the coming weeks. Ever since the date of the Oscars was pushed up and public reception all but removed from how the Oscars are decided, these film festivals have come to matter more than anything else. One theory is that they are seen so early there is enough time to pick them apart so that they can then rally back towards the finish line by the end, especially if there is another movie that can be taken apart by the hive mind instead. The Shape of Water benefited from Three Billboards being plucked and dissected. La La Land’s backlash came too late but Moonlight was never considered a frontrunner so no one really went after it, not that anyone could have. Spotlight was an under-the-radar favorite because the hive mind had their sights set on The Revenant instead. And on and on it goes. While it’s hard to predict which poor film will be laid at the feet of the hungry, angry hive mind, it’s harder to predict which one will be the one that flies under the radar as the one no one thinks will win but wins anyway.
The one thing we know for sure, at least up to now, is that the Venice/Telluride one-two punch is an effective way to launch an Oscar contender, like Gravity or Birdman. Telluride really does sit at the center of power when it comes to the Best Picture hunt. But before we get to that, let’s do a quick primer of what’s coming next.
1. Venice — August 29–September 8
The Venice film fest has risen to prominence of late, mainly because of its positioning vis a vis Telluride. It didn’t use to have the same kind of clout it does now, but as Telluride became more prominent, so did Venice. Like Telluride, the attendees are an exclusive mix of folks because it ain’t easy getting there, for one thing (Where do you stay even?). For another thing, it’s not like Cannes where critics flood in from all over the world, but enough people get there for it to make an impact. This year, the movies to watch coming out of Venice:
Big Oscar Movies
Damien Chazelle’s First Man
Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma
Yorgo Lanthimos’ The Favourite
Paul Greengrass’ 22 July
Mike Leigh’s Peterloo
Out of Competition
Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born
Zhang Yimou’s Shadow
Errol Morris’ American Dharma
Films to Keep an Eye on
Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria
The Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Olivier Assayas’ Doubles Vies
Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers
Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux
Here is the full lineup.
2. Telluride — August 31–September 3
Telluride happens basically at the same time as Venice, being that it starts August 31. But Telluride is a bigger deal than Venice for the simple reason that the attendees of the festival — not the critics or the bloggers, but the actual festival goers who spend lots of money to travel there every year because they love being in the mountains and watching movies — are basically in line with the Academy’s demographic. Of course, some would argue that the demographic is changing. These are people who are living comfortable lives, many of them middle-aged, probably at least 70% white. The expensive lodging at Telluride and the costly ticket price even for journalists covering it makes it the most exclusive of the film festivals. So in its own way it’s a Petri dish of sorts to work out the DNA of the movies that will find themselves competing for the big prize. And of course that means that those selecting the movies, Julie Huntsinger and Tom Luddy, must select the best of the best. They seem to have really good taste and often pick films that do end up, at least two to three of them, getting in the Best Picture race.
But we’re always waiting to see if the Telluride streak will be broken. Many thought it finally would have with The Revenant but that did not happen. Still, we know stats are made to be broken and sooner or later a movie will come along to break the streak.
My friend Michael Patterson is always up to guessing what will play at Telluride, but they don’t release their complete schedule until a day before the Show. Here is what Michael wrote about potential tributes and the odds of them taking place:
1) Nicole Kidman, Destroyer and Boy Erased — Odds: 2 to 1.
2) Sissy Spacek, The Old Man and the Gun — Odds: 3 to 1.
3) Alfonso Cuaron, Roma — Odds: 3 to 1
4) Juliette Binoche, Non-Fiction — Odds: 4 to 1
5) Hugh Jackman, The Front Runner — Odds: 5 to 1
6) Matthew McConaughey, White Boy Rick — Odds: 5 to 1
7) Ryan Gosling, First Man — Odds: 10 to 1
8) Hirokazu Kore-eda, Shoplifters — Odds: 15 to 1
9) Rachel Wiesz, The Favourite — Odds: 20 to 1
10) Guillaume Canet, Non-Fiction — Odds: 25 to 1
Runner-up: Olivier Assayas, Non-Fiction — Odds: 30 to 1
Michael’s latest prediction for the top 20 best bets to show up there:
1) The Old Man and the Gun
2) Roma (Venice/Telluride)
3) First Man (Venice/Telluride)
4) The Front Runner
6) The Favourite (Venice/Telluride)
7) Cold War
10) Can You Ever Forgive Me?
12) Boy Erased
13) White Boy Rick
14) Peterloo (Venice/Telluride)
15) The Other Side of the Wind
16) Meeting Gorbachev
17) Free Solo
18) Graves Without a Name
19) Birds of Passage
3. Toronto — September 6–16
Many of the films playing at both Venice and Telluride will show up at Toronto. The reason that it’s not as hard to really disrupt the Oscar race at Toronto is that it, like Cannes, is big and everyone goes. So it’s less exclusive, less focused, and films have a harder time standing out. Nonetheless, movies can absolutely “pop” out of Toronto, like The Martian did, like I, Tonya did. We just haven’t seen a Best Picture winner from there since way back in 2009 and that was from the prior year’s Toronto. BUT STILL, what are the films should we keep a lookout for that haven’t been announced for Venice (and didn’t play Sundance or Cannes):
Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk
Steve McQueen’s Widows
Neil Jordan’s Greta
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9
Paul Dano’s Wildlife
Jonah Hill’s Mid90s
Emilio Estevez’ The Public
Sam Taylor-Johnson’s A Million Little Pieces
Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy
Peter Hedges’ Ben is Back
Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased
Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer
Melanie Laurent’s Galvaston
Claire Denis’ High Life
Trevor Nunn’s Red Joan
Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan
George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give
Nicole Holofcener’s The Land of Steady Habits
Veena Sud’s The Lie
Michael Winterbottom’s The Wedding Guest
4. New York — September 28–October 14
The New York Film Fest has also gained momentum in recent years because it can also launch an Oscar contender into the race, like it did with The Social Network, Lincoln, and Life of Pi. Many of the films that will play at New York will also play at Cannes, Venice, Telluride, or Toronto, like Roma, The Favourite, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Burning, Cold War, If Beale Street Could Talk, Wildlife.
But New York is comprised more of strictly US journalists, like Telluride, as opposed to Cannes, Venice, and Toronto. That makes it a wee bit more US-focused. Many of the films already buzzed by this time will have a second go around in New York, for better or worse.
5. AFI Fest — November 8–15
The AFI Fest is an important stop on the road to Oscar, not because it shows movies no one has seen (though it will usually find two or three films that might make a splash there), but because each film gets the glitzy L.A. premiere treatment with lots of stars and a big party, injecting each contender with yet more publicity. Recent films that launched out of AFI include Selma and American Sniper, though many of the eventual winners usually stop off at AFI just before Oscar voting starts.
There are other festivals that matter in various ways, like Santa Barbara, which arguably is one of the key stops for already nominated contenders headed for various wins, ditto Palms Springs. There are also festivals sprouting up and rising to prominence like Savannah, Key West and Middleburg. One could simply travel from one to other and have a pretty nice life, all in all.
We don’t have that lineup yet, of course.
So you see, it all happens starting next week and running through mid-November. After the film festival season ends, it’s time for the critics awards phase, and those come earlier and earlier every year. Then it’s the Globes, then the industry guild awards, and finally, the Oscars. Hold onto your butts.