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Oscar Circuit: A Guide to Recognizing Your Oscars with the Fall Festivals


bridgeofspiesThe Telluride Film Festival has proven to be a strong component to every Best Picture winner in the last few years.  Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech,” Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” and most recently Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” all screened there.  Many of them made stops at the other big festivals of the fall including Venice, Toronto, and New York.  The take away here is that the fall festival circuit is incredibly important to a film’s Oscar chances.  For almost two decades, it’s become an almost requirement to screen at any of them, even including the early year launching pad Cannes, which has had films like Joel Coen & Ethan Coen’s “No Country for Old Men” make its debut.  

This year, we can expect the same results.  Our Best Picture winner has surely not been released yet though there are some making a play for a few spots.  

On September 2, Venice will have its time in the spotlight with plenty of vehicles.  Two years ago, “Gravity” from Alfonso Cuaron bowed there, and showed how much of a force it would be throughout the season.  Telluride will start up after and then Toronto will follow.  It all leads to the Dolby Theatre.  

Let’s take a look at some of the films that could capitalize on the fall circuit with the highest profiles:

Anomalisa” – dir. Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson – Venice – no U.S. distribution
As the much of the world still believe in the talents of Charlie Kaufman, this stop-motion animated film, which was funded by Kickstarter, sounds all the more interesting.  Let’s hope its good enough to get picked up by a big studio.

Beasts of No Nation” – dir. Cary Fukunaga – Venice – Netflix
If the streaming bias didn’t cloud this project, I suspect people would have this child soldier drama, much higher on their Oscar radars then they already do.  Getting its big premiere at Venice, Netflix will then bring it over to TIFF, but as a Special Presentation.  We suspect that means a Telluride screening is also in its future.  Fukunaga, along with star Idris Elba, will be well looked upon for consideration.

abiggersplashA Bigger Splash” – dir. Luca Guadagnino – Venice – Fox Searchlight Pictures
The hottest four person shot of the year is from this Luca Guadgnino film that has the likes of Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton, Oscar-nominee Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, and Matthias Schoenaerts.  This said to be thriller, looks to have the chops for an interesting vehicle for any of the principals involved.  Fox Searchlight could have a dark horse on their hands if played right.

Black Mass” – dir. Scott Cooper – Venice – Warner Bros.
Scott Cooper took his last feature “Out of the Furnace” to AFI a few years ago with no real traction to follow.  This Johnny Depp-starring crime thriller has people buzzing, in hopes that both of them will return to form.  Co-stars Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch will be worth watching hopefully.  The film is also screening at TIFF.

Bridge of Spies” – dir. Steven Spielberg – New York – Walt Disney
Walt Disney Pictures is positioning “Bridge of Spies” to be the one that takes it all this year, that is if the film lives up to the hype.  Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are said to deliver, and director Spielberg is always in the conversation.  Also, whoever thought of the film getting its World Premiere, but not one of the centerpiece slots is genius.  Keeping expectations low.

Brooklyn” – dir. John Crowley – Toronto – Fox Searchlight Pictures
It stopped off at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it launched the early conversation for Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan.  It’ll now go to TIFF, likely Telluride, before taking another stop at the New York Film Festival.  Films like “Nebraska” made a similar show rate during their respective years.  Expect this to stay afloat for some time.

Carol” – dir. Todd Haynes – New York – The Weinstein Company
Harvey Weinstein deciding to skip Venice and Toronto is smart.  The film will probably show at Telluride but it won’t suffer from any overexposure and both festivals are great places and audiences to show this Todd Haynes drama.  Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara already garnered raves out of Cannes with the latter winning the Best Actress award.  

The Childhood of a Leader” – dir. Brady Corbet – Venice – no U.S. distribution
Early footage of this World War I drama was shown at the Cannes Film Festival.  This is directed by Brady Corbet in his directorial debut, who you might remember fondly as Mason, Evan Rachel Wood’s character’s brother in “Thirteen” and as Brian Lackey in “Mysterious Skin.”  With Robert Pattinson and Academy Award nominee Berenice Bejo helming the cast, this could be a potential wildcard for the season.

The Danish Girl” – dir. Tom Hooper – Venice – Focus Features
Part of a one-two punch from Focus Features this year, Hooper’s first film since “Les Miserables” has all the workings of an awards contender.  Fresh off his Best Actor win for “The Theory of Everything,” Eddie Redmayne looks to interestingly cast, along with co-star Alicia Vikander, whose star is quickly rising with seven projects this year.  The film will also stop at Toronto for its North American premiere.

Demolition” – dir. Jean Marc Vallee – Toronto – Fox Searchlight Pictures
Though currently slated for an April 2016 release, all we need is this family drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts to be a big hit, and I’m sure Fox Searchlight will make the appropriate changes.  Based on the history of TIFF, the opening night films, which have included films like “The Judge,” don’t always go over well.  

The Dressmaker” – dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse – Toronto – no U.S. distribution
Kate Winslet has always been a hot commodity for the awards season.  Potentially getting her first Oscar nomination since her win in 2008 for “The Reader,” this Australian revenge/comedy/drama has the inner workings of something that the tech branch will be over in places like Production Design, Costumes, and Makeup & Hairstyling.  Perhaps even more.  Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, and Sarah Snook also star.

Equals” – dir. Drake Doremus – Venice – no U.S. distribution
Drake Doremus garnered fans for “Like Crazy” a few years back, introducing many of us to the talent of Felicity Jones.  This time around, he’s holding on to the works of Kristen Stewart, who is already on the radar for “Clouds of Sils Maria” from the first half, along with Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce, and Academy Award nominee Jacki Weaver in this science fiction romantic drama.  The film will also have its North American premiere at TIFF.  It currently has no U.S. distribution but if it catches fire over in Italy, expect a last minute shuffle to get it out by whoever picks it up.

everest-trailer-movie_hEverest” – dir. Baltasar Kormakur – Venice – Universal Pictures
Chosen as the opening night film for Venice, the rumors circling this film have been extremely positive, some of them to say that its shockingly brilliant and could be a spoiler for the season.  With Universal putting plenty of dough in its pocket this year after three very big successes, and more to come surely, they won’t be shy about giving this one a push if it calls for it.  

Freeheld” – dir. Peter Sollett – Toronto – Lionsgate
Off her Best Actress win for “Still Alice,” Academy Award winner Julianne Moore, along with Ellen Page, take on what looks to be a timely tearjerker from Lionsgate, who will be giving this much of their focus this season (along with their other films).

Janis” – dir. Amy Berg – Venice – no U.S. distribution
With critical hits like “Amy,” shining a light on doomed singer Amy Whinehouse, a Janis Joplin documentary will be a welcomed piece to the fall festival circuit.  Not to mention that Amy Berg’s previous effort “West of Memphis,” was one of the most soaring and intriguing pieces of documentary filmmaking in the last decade.  The film is also going to Toronto.

The Lady in the Van” – dir. Nicholas Hytner – Toronto – TriStar Pictures
Getting its World Premiere at TIFF is a big enough deal, and early word is that Maggie Smith delivers another awards worthy performance.  Let’s hope it delivers more beyond her gracious and talented acting abilities.

Legend” – dir. Brian Helegand – Toronto – Universal Pictures
Tom Hardy will be all over the fall season with “The Revenant” due out at the end of the year, and this crime drama where he plays twins.  Said to be another example of his acting range, this could also prove to be a contender in categories like Cinematography, Costumes, and the Sounds.

The Lobster” – dir. Yorgos Lanthimos – Toronto – no U.S. distribution
Cannes kicked this film into high gear, but it seemed that “Son of Saul” stole a lot of its thunder.  Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz were praised.  This could be something that picks up steam along the way.

The Martian” – dir. Ridley Scott – Toronto – 20th Century Fox
Two very well received trailers have dropped for this Ridley Scott space film, featuring what looks to be a strong performance from Matt Damon.  20th Century Fox decision to bring it to a film festival like Toronto shows faith from them that this could be a possible return to form for the Oscar-nominated director.  No matter what though, we better keep an eye on this for the sound categories and visual effects.

Miles Ahead” – dir. Don Cheadle – New York – Sony Pictures Classics
Nabbing the closing slot at NYFF shocked many but it makes perfect sense.  As loved as Don Cheadle is in the industry, this Miles Davis biopic has everything on an Oscar checklist.  Watch for this one to explore on the circuit.

our-brand-is-crisisOur Brand is Crisis” – dir. David Gordon Green – Toronto – Warner Bros.
David Gordon Green is very hit and miss and has never really surrounded a true awards magnet but this political film starring Billy Bob Thornton and Sandra Bullock has many excited at Warner Bros.  

The Program” – dir. Stephen Frears – Toronto – no U.S. distribution
A Lance Armstrong biopic, directed by Stephen Frears, and starring Ben Foster still has no distribution?  Something may be seriously wrong since any studio head with a right mind would have nabbed it up at post production, but who knows.  Either expect it to get picked up nice and early in TIFF run, or see it get shelved to a no man’s land a la “Grace of Monaco.”  I believe in the former.

Remember” – dir. Atom Egoyan – Venice – A24 Films
It’s been 18 years since director Atom Egoyan scored the lone director Oscar nomination for his brilliant masterpiece “The Sweet Hereafter.”  He helms this project that assembles a stellar cast that includes Academy Award winners Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau, along with Dean Norris and Bruno Ganz.  The film will also screen at TIFF unsurprisingly.

Room” – dir. Lenny Abrahamson – Toronto – A24 Films
Based on the trailer that dropped, we could be in for a special experience in the form of Brie Larson, who’s personally owed one after being passed over for “Short Term 12.”  She’s also surrounded by Oscar-nominees Joan Allen and William H. Macy to boot but it’s the work of young Jacob Tremblay that could surprise a few of us down the road.

Sicario” – dir. Denis Villenueve – Toronto – Lionsgate
Denis Villenueve took his last film “Prisoners” to Telluride in hopes of gaining traction but unfortunately received nothing by year’s end outside of Roger Deakins’ Cinematography.  “Sicario” has played at Cannes and is said to be a fantastic vehicle for the delicious Emily Blunt to finally get her first Oscar nomination, along with previous winner Benicio del Toro, who hasn’t been back since “21 Grams.”

Spotlight” – dir. Thomas McCarthy – Venice – Open Road
Sadly Thomas McCarthy’s last effort was “The Cobbler,” which was pummeled by critics but this is the same guy that excited many of us with “The Station Agent” over a decade ago.  With Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo fresh off Oscar losses, along with Billy Crudup and Rachel McAdams in tow, this drama that focuses on child molestation in the Catholic church has the makings of a serious contender.  Open Road is also taking the film to TIFF, and could even pop up at Telluride.

Steve Jobs” – dir. Danny Boyle – New York – Universal Pictures
Aaron Sorkin’s script has been praised already and the trailer suggests a possible strong turn from Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels, and Kate Winslet (her second film playing the fall festival circuit).  Chances are the Danny Boyle film will also stop at Telluride so expect a huge push from Universal on this one.

Stonewall” – dir. Roland Emmerich – Toronto – Roadside Attractions
The director of “Anonymous” and “Independence Day” taking on a timely film about the Stonewall riots sounds like a disaster waiting to happen but crazier things have happened in a director’s career.  Jeremy Irvine looks nicely cast alongside Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who both could start a conversation surrounding them in terms of awards.

trumboTrumbo” – dir. Jay Roach – Toronto – Bleecker Street
This biopic about the blacklist writer seems to be positioned to be a big player this year.  Bryan Cranston dominated the Emmy Awards with “Breaking Bad” but this one seems to fit like a glove.  Co-stars Helen Mirren and Diane Lane may have some pull in either Lead or Supporting Actress.

The Walk” – dir. Robert Zemeckis – New York – Sony Pictures
Robert Zemeckis brought “Flight” to close NYFF three years ago and this biopic based on the documentary “Man of Wire” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which could be a potential vehicle for him.  After sitting last year out, Sony Pictures will be eager to get back into it.

Where to Invade Next” – dir. Michael Moore – Toronto – no U.S. distribution
Michael Moore was the closest thing we ever got to a documentary filmmaker becoming a celebrity.  His past films like “Bowling for Columbine” are great works but there’s apprehension now when we see his name attached to a new project.  Playing at NYFF also, let’s hope this brings Moore back to what he does best.

Youth” – dir. Paolo Sorrentino – Toronto – Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cannes kicked this vehicle off for Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel back in May and going to Toronto is another logical step.  I’m starting to believe that this is the “Nebraska” of the year and will come on strong by the fourth quarter.

Make sure to check out the early Oscar Predictions for more hopefuls that won’t be playing at the festivals.  Tis’ the season!



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Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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