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Awards Update: Making Sense of the Fall Festival Frenzy

September 21, 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.

In my previous awards update, I was having trouble predicting The Color Purple to amass enough nominations to get into Best Picture on account of Warner Bros. already having a majority of their weight behind Barbie and Dune: Part Two. That problem has now been solved with Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic being punted to March of next year, opening up opportunities in all eleven of the categories I had it predicted to be nominated in. The Color Purple stepped in for many of those spots, raising its overall nomination tally from four to seven.

But that bump wasn’t the biggest improvement a single film got, as that title goes to Poor Things, which added an additional six nominations thanks to its overwhelmingly enthusiastic reviews and Golden Lion win at Venice. It’s taken over the spot of Dune: Part Two in the upper tier of films that have a viable path to winning Best Picture. The biggest hurdle it now has to cross is the box office, as this modern landscape offers no promises of success to anything outside the mainstream. The film would be out in theaters at this very moment in a just world where the studios paid their writers and actors a fair wage.

Although this year’s Venice Film Festival featured fewer American titles than normal, it still solidified the status of a few high-profile contenders. Bradley Cooper’s Maestro flew a bit under the radar, something awards strategists prefer instead of being the film with a target on its back. The reviews were great (but not enthusiastic), with particular praise going towards Carey Mulligan and Cooper’s lead performances. Another performer showered with positivity was Priscilla star Cailee Spaeny, who walked away with the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. It’s hard to predict the newcomer to be Oscar-nominated as several other actresses emerged out of the fall festivals, including Venice attendees Jessica Chastain (Memory) and Aunjanue Ellis (Origin).

We also got the bombshell that Lily Gladstone will be campaigning in Lead Actress for Killers of the Flower Moon, the same move Michelle Williams did last year for The Fabelmans. While Gladstone and the film itself have received rave reviews, it's not enough (at the moment) to make her a contender to win on Oscar. She's a sturdy contender and will most likely be nominated.

Annette Bening (barely) maintained her placement within the predicted Best Actress nominees as Nyad premiered respectably at the Telluride Film Festival. The same can be said for Colman Domingo and Rustin. These films hinge entirely on their lead performances, placing them at a disadvantage compared to other performers in Best Picture nominees. Searchlight continued their Venice dominance at Telluride with the premiere of All of Us Strangers, nabbing the best reviews of the festival. Andrew Haigh’s quiet film probably won’t be a big contender, but I feel that Searchlight can push it into the weaker Adapted Screenplay category.

It wasn’t sunshine and rainbows for everybody though, as Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn crashed out of the race after a relatively poor premiere. The love-it-or-hate-it breakdown of the reviews doesn’t bode too well for any hope of repeating the success of Promising Young Woman.

Toronto provided the next stop for a few Venice and Telluride titles, most notably Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, which nabbed the first runner-up position for the People’s Choice Award. The winner of that award has gone on to be Best Picture nominated every year (except for 2011) since the expansion of 2008. I don't know if this year's winner, American Fiction, will be able to continue that streak, but it could follow the same path as All of Us Strangers and get into Adapted Screenplay. Unfortunately for TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, none of the other world premieres he booked have the goods to be viable contenders in any categories. Next Goal Wins and Dumb Money were met with mildly mixed-positive reactions (Waititi’s film could be aided by the Golden Globes), while stuff like Lee, Pain Hustlers, and Les Indésirables received little attention.

Our eyes now shift over to the regional festivals, where titles like Poor Things and Maestro will tour the country throughout October gaining support. The New York Film Festival and AFI Fest will be the two biggest stops for each. There’s also the box office performance of Killers of the Flower Moon and the start of the next phase with the Gotham Awards and FISA nominations.

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