OSCAR CIRCUIT: Festivals Loading the Awards Season Gun

OSCARS 2017: We’re closer than ever to awards season with August well underway, and with that, a new Oscar Circuit column.  TIFF has announced their lineup, along with Venice and NYFF just weighing in.  As the summer begins to wind down, we’re getting a clearer picture of what the year has to bring.

Focus Features shuffled Niki Caro’s “The Zookeeper’s Wife” to 2017, while Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” and John Madden’s “Miss Sloane” are given release dates this year.  Other evacuations from this year include Fox Searchlight’s “Wilson,” which we had hoped would give a narrative for stars Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern.  Searchlight will obviously have a strong focus on “The Birth of a Nation,” still destined for Oscar greatness that began back at Sundance earlier this year.  As of now, that seems to be the only hopeful on their slate but they’ll likely be looking to pick something up during the festival acquisition run.

In terms of Focus Features, they are left with the beloved “Loving” from Jeff Nichols, which debuted at Cannes and “Nocturnal Animals” from Tom Ford, rumored to be a strong play for not just its lead stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, but for Michael Shannon and possibly Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  In the case of “Loving,” as demonstrated by their strong runs with “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Theory of Everything,” the Focus team will be hyper-focused on getting their films seen by the right people, at the right time.

silence_neesonTaking note on studios, it’s Paramount Pictures that will be juggling a plethora of awards players this year.  There is assurance that “Silence” from Martin Scorsese is hitting screens this year, and will surely create a narrative surrounding Liam Neeson, who may be able to cake walk to an Oscar if more players don’t start emerging in Supporting Actor.

The studio also has “Fences” from director and star Denzel Washington, who will place two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis front and center, in a role that won her a Tony award.  I’ve gone on record in saying that “Fences” has the potential to be our new “It Happened One Night” or “The Silence of the Lambs,” winning the “Big Five.”  The film looks to make history outside of that theory, with playwright August Wilson, the sole writing credit for the screenplay, becoming the first posthumous writing nominee since Robert Alan Arthur for “All that Jazz” in 1979.  If he won, he would be the first winner since Sidney Howard for “Gone with the Wind.”

Add “Arrival” from Denis Villenueve (which just released an impressive teaser), “The Lost of City of Z” from James Gray (announced as the closer at NYFF), “Allied” from Robert Zemeckis (showing off a sexy new image of its stars Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt), and “Florence Foster Jenkins” from Stephen Frears (another play for Oscar Queen Meryl Streep) and you should feel good if you’re CEO Brad Grey.

Sony Pictures is looking to dust off its award shelves this year and make room for “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” from Ang Lee and/or “Passengers” from Morten Tyldum.  The former will look to run the gamut in the technical categories, possibly even an acting push for star Joe Alwyn and supporting players Steve Martin and Kristen Stewart while the latter is said to be an equally impressive visuals contender.

Summit Entertainment will give proper focus to “La La Land” from Damien Chazelle, with “Deepwater Horizon” from Peter Berg hoping for some box office and some below-the-line love.  Lionsgate is reviving up for a strong push for “American Pastoral” from Ewan McGregor, still rumored to be a strong outing for the first-time director.

20thcenturywomenAfter A24 joined the big boys last year with wins for Brie Larson and “Ex Machina” in Visual Effects, they’re feeling confident with the chances for “20th Century Women” from Mike Mills, which was announced as the Centerpiece of NYFF.  That film, undoubtedly, will kickstart a possible conversation surrounding four-time nominee Annette Bening, who will be in the thick of a tumultuous Lead Actress race.  A24 will also position “Moonlight” from Barry Jenkins for some love with Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris said to be definite contenders in the supporting races.  They also have “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” from John Cameron Mitchell, “Free Fire” from Ben Wheatley, and “The Lobster” from Yorgos Lanthimos, still one of the best films released this year.

The Weinstein Company is hoping to bounce back this year with “Lion” from Garth Davis, going to TIFF, while “The Founder” from John Lee Hancock moved to December and “HHhH” from Cedric Jimenez, still awaiting a firm release date.

The smaller studios like the Roadside Attractions, the Sony Pictures Classics, and the Bleecker Street’s all have options on the table this year.  “Manchester by the Sea” will have Kenneth Lonergan in the thick of a screenplay race, and possibly setting up Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck for Oscar nominations (maybe even wins?).  “Denial” from Mick Jackson may add to a banner year for Rachel Weisz, who will be in play for Supporting Actress with “The Light Between Oceans” and could be a potential double nominee contender this year.

Lots of other studios with strong slates that will be looked upon in our next column.

All the Oscar predictions have been updated.  For all you die-hard prediction enthusiasts, we’ve switched to a list format for the nomination phase of the season.  In order to update on time (plan is to do it weekly or bi-weekly at most), this makes for a more streamlined updating method.  The plan is to move back to the column/box with commentary feedback on each contender in the future but for now, this is how we’ll deliver all the latest updates in a timely fashion.

In the coming weeks, we have Mark Johnson heading to Telluride for us, with some of us splitting duties within Venice and Toronto.  After that, I’ll be holding it down in New York with Joey, and then believe it or not, we’ll be closing in on AFI with our LA crew.

We’ll revisit this soon.

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