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OSCARS: Season Kicks Off With Contenders at Telluride and Venice

Moonlight Gay and Lesbian Film Entertainment Critics Association

2016 OSCAR CIRCUIT: The Oscar season officially kicked off this past weekend with Telluride and Venice, and now we’re sifting through the debris and the noise. A lot of leading contenders are pleading their cases for what is sure to be an exciting and unpredictable awards season.

Venice kicked things off with “La La Land” from Damien Chazelle. If there is a film that can be anointed this early, it’s this film. Stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have emerged as serious contenders for their respective prizes.  At minimum, they seem like they have their Golden Globes all but locked up at this point. Positive words came in for its Cinematography by Linus Sandgren, Editing by Tom Cross, and just about every song that plays throughout. What’s particularly interesting is the love for the script, some even saying it could win.

The last musical to be nominated for Original Screenplay was 1980’s “Fame” from Alan Parker, one of only 11 to ever be nominated. The last musical to WIN this category was “The Producers” in 1968, one of only three films to do so.  The other two were “Interrupted Melody” from 1955 and “An American in Paris” from 1951.

nocturnal-animalsMeanwhile at Venice, things heated up with a double dose of Amy Adams. The five-time Oscar nominee stars in two very well-received films that are sure to remain in the conversation. The first, “Arrival” from Denis Villenueve, had critics buzzing for his methodical and invigorating filmmaking. Landing later in the week at Telluride, our own Mark Johnson was enamored with it. “Arrival” adds to the pressure for Paramount Pictures’ awards team, which will have to make some very tough decisions down the road.

The other surprise at Venezia 73 was “Nocturnal Animals” from writer/director Tom Ford. The admirers were loud and proud as the reviews and reactions trickled into the Twittersphere. Many have gone on record to say that it’s not an “Oscar-y” movie, and perhaps they’re right. I keep going back to something pulpy like “The Crying Game” or “Dick Tracy” that found Academy love but didn’t necessarily fit the mold. It’s no coincidence that Adams’ co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Laura Linney were all heavily praised. Could the film go the way of “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” scoring nominations in all four acting categories?

One of the films I couldn’t get a beat on, despite the reactions trickling in, was “Hacksaw Ridge” from Mel Gibson. There were many who praised the technical aspects, with even some love coming in for Andrew Garfield. I don’t know where this ranks in terms of an awards race. Lionsgate will have a double dose of Peter Berg to play with this year with “Deepwater Horizon” and “Patriots Day.” They’ll also have the aforementioned “La La Land,” in partnership with Summit Entertainment.  Will they open their pockets for Gibson?

Manchester by the Sea - ImageRoadside Attractions and Amazon Studios must be feeling pretty good considering “Manchester by the Sea” continues its love fest on the festival circuit. Star Casey Affleck received a tribute at Telluride, and co-star Michelle Williams continues to hold her place as a formidable contender. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan looks positioned to score his second Oscar nomination since “You Can Count on Me” in 2000.

One of the most pleasant surprises was how well “Sully” with Tom Hanks was received. Hanks will look to score his first nomination since “Cast Away” 16 years ago. The snub for “Captain Phillips” still seems to sting for many and could help down the road.  Director Clint Eastwood will also look to keep his streak going following “American Sniper” in 2014.  In terms of an Aaron Eckhart nod or an Eastwood directing bid coming, that remains to be seen until the box office comes through.

Speaking of Eckhart, he also landed down at Telluride with “Bleed for This” from Ben Younger. Star Miles Teller has been up-and-coming in the Oscar ranks for years now. Films like “The Spectacular Now” and “Whiplash” have all hinted at something great coming from the 29-year-old. With Open Road running his campaign, perhaps it’s time for him to join the club.

Also getting good word in Colorado was “Toni Erdmann” from Germany, the official Oscar submission for Foreign Language film. Writer/director Maren Ade could go the way of Michael Haneke on the circuit if enough precursors go his way. Coincidentally, “Amour” was also a film that was distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

wakefield_01Robin Swicord brought “Wakefield” with Bryan Cranston to the festival and the reviews were sound, but the film still doesn’t have distribution. I’m thinking even if someone does pick it up, they’ll likely hold it for 2017. Same for “Una” from Benedict Andrews. Stars Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn were praised for their performances, but the overall reception was mixed. I’d also look for that one next season.

Finally, “Moonlight” from Barry Jenkins was just adored by many. While AMPAS doesn’t typically embrace films like this, A24 has known for sometime that they have something special. Rumors have circled for months that Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris were going to be ones to watch. The film could be hard to ignore in places like Picture, Director and Original Screenplay. Let’s see if a few of the actors can come along for the ride.

Oscar Predictions have been updated in all categories. Next on the docket is the Toronto International Film Festival where our Shane Slater will be in attendance. The New York Film Festival closely follows.




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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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