Oscar Circuit: Wrapping Up the New York Film Festival and Looking Ahead to Precursors

The festival doors at the Film Society at Lincoln Center have closed. The 2016 New York Film Festival is officially in the books with a few answers coming for questions on the Oscar race.

20thcenturywomenThe biggest thing to come out of the festival was surely Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women.” Boasting some beautiful notices for the film and its stars Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig, the film could factor in a number of key areas. Its distributor A24 must be feeling particularly good, along with Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” which garnered more necessary raves. Both films are strong Best Picture players.

Fox Searchlight at the last minute brought “Jackie” from Pablo Larrain and it has emerged as the greatest threat in Best Picture, of the films that have been seen. With “La La Land” making the festival rounds, weirdly skipping NYFF, the film still looks all but assured for its nomination for Best Picture, and could be the one to win it all. We have to start looking for the spoiler and Larrain’s dark and moody biopic could be it. Star Natalie Portman, delivering the single best work of her career, threatens to win her second Best Actress Oscar, joining the ranks of Jodie Foster and Hilary Swank. Co-star Peter Sarsgaard could even factor heavily in the Supporting Actor race.

Ava DuVernay’s “13th” opened the festival, garnering masterful raves and Netflix will be mounting a big campaign for the film to be noticed in not only Documentary Feature, but also Best Picture. No documentary has ever been nominated in the top category and when the Academy expanded their Best Picture lineup to 10 nominees back in 2009, this is what it was made for. It should be noted that if DuVernay wins Best Documentary Feature, she would be the first African-American woman to do so.

manchester-by-the-sea-movie-november-2016Also landing at NYFF were “Manchester by the Sea” from Kenneth Lonergan. Co-distributors Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions are positioning the film to be a serious threat in not only the acting categories, but also for the top prize. As of now, Casey Affleck seems virtually unchallenged in Best Actor among films that have been seen so far. When it comes to his co-star Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris’ work in “Moonlight” is going to give her a run for the money, given the vast difference in screen time. I’m starting to wonder if Williams isn’t the sure-fire bet in Supporting Actress that we initially thought.

Films that drop at Sundance and go on to run the table on Oscar nomination morning are few and far between. Think back to films like “An Education” and “Brooklyn,” which seemed poised for multiple tallies but ended up with Best Picture, acting and screenplay. What if “Manchester” is just that?  On the other side, there’s always a film like “Precious” that performs exceedingly well.

For every film that succeeds, there’s a flop in the midst. “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” may not be the disaster of the century but it’s safe to take it out of a number of key categories in your predictions. This isn’t to say that it’s over. Only three crowds in New York saw Ang Lee’s latest and in three weeks, Los Angeles will be able to weigh in, which could have a different reaction (look what happened with “Les Miserables“).

So where do we go from here? Well, the next major festival on the docket is AFI where we’ll see “Rules Don’t Apply” from Warren Beatty (just rumored to be going LEAD for his performance as Howard Hughes) and “The Comedian” from Taylor Hackford (possible play for Robert DeNiro, Leslie Mann and Danny DeVito?). In between, regional festivals are underway like Mill Valley, and this weekend, Middleburg Film Festival in Virginia where “Lion,” “La La Land,” and “Loving” will have their bows.

The latest Oscar Predictions have been updated. You can see them collectively on the sidebar and/or click into each category for a full ranking of the contenders.

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