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Awards Update: Fall Festivals Are Upon Us

August 11, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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Welcome to an ongoing series where I cover the 2023/2024 awards season. On a regular basis, I will update my Oscar predictions, taking into account the new information that has been received since the last update. Full predictions in every category can be found on the Home and Awards page.

August is always one of the most exciting parts of awards season. We’re in a weird gray area where we’ve seen some bonafide contenders during the spring and summer, have gotten the fall film festival lineups, and still have a few complete unknowns that will be bowing during the holidays. Some of these predictions feel like they can be written in pen, while others still should be done lightly with a pencil.

Let’s start off with what we already know.

Barbenheimer has gone better than anyone could have anticipated, both critically and financially. It’s great to see two original (at least compared to the competition) movies exceed expectations and ignite passion among moviegoers. Oppenheimer now becomes part of the top tier as a serious contender to win Best Picture, up from being just a steady ride-along that had little to no shot (see Elvis last year and West Side Story the year before). Much of that promotion has to do with the strong ensemble, something Christopher Nolan has never been able to assemble when it comes to an awards push (Heath Ledger remains the only Nolan performer to get a nomination). Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. are strong contenders in their respective categories, right up there with the Killers of the Flower Moon pair of Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro. Emily Blunt has also entered the fray in Supporting Actress, although she’s distantly behind Lily Gladstone. Nolan and Martin Scorsese are in the top two spots for Director and Adapted Screenplay. Oppenheimer has also moved to the top spot in several craft categories such as Original Score, Film Editing, and Cinematography, although the unseen titles (at least to me) of Killers of the Flower Moon and Dune: Part Two could muscle their way ahead.

Shifting over to Barbie, it now has entered my Best Picture lineup. Even after the critical reactions, I was still skeptical about putting it above other contenders. But now that it’s on a path to becoming the highest-grossing film of the year, I can’t deny it any longer. Top Gun: Maverick and Everything Everywhere All at Once showed that a lot of money and a lot of passion are enough to make a nomination happen for even the most non-Oscar-like film. And then there’s also the strong craft contention and possibilities above the line with Ryan Gosling in Supporting Actor and Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach in Original/Adapted Screenplay.

It’s an unusual year for the fall festivals as it seems (at the moment) that no film will make the trip to all three of the major stops (Venice, Telluride, Toronto). Of course, Telluride doesn’t announce their lineup until the day before the festival starts and TIFF could make additions within the next week. It’s usually the films with the strongest backing that play the trifecta (The Power of the Dog, Spencer, The Shape of Water). This is a symptom of the ongoing SAG/WGA strike, as it doesn’t make much sense for distributors to be sending their films everywhere if the actors can’t support them.

Again, we can’t predict which films are going from Venice to Telluride until Venice announces their schedule. The films playing during the early days on the Lido are the ones likely to make the quick turnaround to Colorado (although that’s still only an educated guess). We do know which films will be premiering at Telluride and then going to Toronto based on the premiere status from TIFF’s Gala and Special Presentation lineup. Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers was bought by Focus Features for a record $30 million at last year’s TIFF and looks to be a strong contender in the above-the-line categories. Netflix’s Rustin will likely be their second biggest acting contender behind Maestro. Bradley Cooper has the overdue narrative and biopic/makeup combination working in his favor. Colman Domingo has the same, just to a somewhat lesser degree. Netflix also has Nyad with Annette Bening, who was supposed to be heralded with a Telluride tribute this year before that got canned due to the strike.

The majority of the films having their world premieres at TIFF are fringe contenders trying to enter the conversation. There are some that have the goods on paper but may not have distribution yet. That shouldn’t be seen as a serious roadblock, as Sony Pictures Classics snatched up Still Alice at TIFF in 2014 and quickly pushed Julianne Moore to a Best Actress win. The same could happen to Kate Winslet in Lee. There are also the favorites to win the People’s Choice Award like Next Goal Wins and Dumb Money.

And finally, there are the blockbusters not going the route of the fall festivals. Dune: Part Two doesn’t need much introduction. At the moment I have it being nominated in every category the original one was, with the addition of Denis Villeneuve in Best Director. With Dune: Part Two and Barbie looking like strong contenders, it becomes a little harder for me to predict The Color Purple in Best Picture. Why? It’s because all three of those films are from Warner Bros. Lionsgate remains the only distributor to get three Best Picture nominations in a single year (2016: La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water). I can’t predict that to happen again yet, so The Color Purple has been knocked down to the #11 spot until other contenders fall off or when people see the musical. Is this fair? Of course not! Just remember that Bardo and The Son were in my predicted lineup at this time last year, so there will inevitably be some shakeups within the next month or so.

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