Who are the front-runners, the dark horses and the long shots? After major film festivals in Venice, Telluride and Toronto, where most of the year’s remaining prestige films have screened, the awards season has finally begun to come into focus.
There are still a few significant contenders yet to debut, like Damien Chazelle’s glitzy Hollywood drama “Babylon,” and the industry is buzzing that Apple will soon announce a year-end release for its big-budget slavery drama, “Emancipation,” even though the film’s leading man, Will Smith, was banned from attending the Oscars for the next decade. And some tantalizing questions from these festivals still linger, like whether “Glass Onion,” the rollicking sequel to “Knives Out,” can score the best-picture nomination that the first film missed out on.
But in the meantime, here are the eight films that came out of the fall festivals with the biggest awards-season pop.
There are few things Oscar voters prefer more than a transformational role and a comeback narrative, and this season, Brendan Fraser’s got both. In Darren Aronofsky’s new drama, Fraser wears a prosthetic bodysuit to transform into a 600-pound shut-in named Charlie, who attempts to reconnect with his angry daughter (Sadie Sink) as his health falters. Interest is high in the 53-year-old actor’s return to the limelight, and every time a clip hit social media of the emotional Fraser soaking up applause in Venice and Toronto, a young generation raised on his heroics in “The Mummy” reliably made those videos go viral. Though some festival pundits have taken issue with the film’s depiction of an obese protagonist, awards voters will still be wowed by Fraser’s work, making him this year’s prohibitive best-actor favorite.
Steven Spielberg’s new film about his own coming-of-age was warmly received in Toronto, where Michelle Williams won best-in-show notices as Mitzi, the theatrical mother of the movie’s young Spielberg stand-in. Expect the actress to pick up her fifth Oscar nomination and, if she is run as a supporting performer, her first win. Even before its festival debut, awards watchers thought Spielberg’s film would land at the top of their best-picture prediction lists, but the film isn’t juggernaut-shaped — it’s lighter, more intimate and an appealing ramble in a way that people might not have anticipated. That may mean that the field is still open for a best-picture favorite to emerge, or perhaps “The Fabelmans” could sneak its way there in the end without earning the resentment accrued by an early-season front-runner.
Inside the World of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’
In this mind-expanding, idiosyncratic take on the superhero film, a laundromat owner is the focus of a grand, multiversal showdown.
It’s been 16 years since Todd Field last directed a film, but expect his third feature, “Tár,” to hit the Oscar-nominated heights of his predecessors, “In the Bedroom” and “Little Children.” It will certainly be one of the year’s most talked-about movies: The story touches on hot-button topics like cancel culture and #MeToo as it follows a famed conductor (Cate Blanchett) whose career begins to crumble when her past catches up with her. Blanchett earned career-best raves at Venice for the role — and taught herself German, piano and conducting to boot — so a third Oscar is well within reach. Still, a strong year for best-actress contenders will make Blanchett’s battle a fierce one.
‘The Banshees of Inisherin’
Five years after “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” earned Oscars for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, the writer-director Martin McDonagh is back with a dark comedy whose cast could run the table, too. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are longtime friends whose relationship is severed in the most baffling way, and Farrell’s constant attempts to mend the rift push their petty grievances into the realm of tragedy. Both men are wonderful and will probably earn their first Oscar nominations, but if voters really flip for the film — and I suspect they will — then the supporting performers Kerry Condon (as Farrell’s sister) and Barry Keoghan (as a cockeyed friend) will be in the mix as well.
This Sarah Polley-directed drama about Mennonite women in crisis was Telluride’s most significant world premiere this year, and in that Colorado enclave, which regularly draws a large contingent of Oscar voters, “Women Talking” did quite well. With a sprawling ensemble cast that includes awards favorites Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy — as well as three-time best-actress winner McDormand in a small role — “Women Talking” should nab several nominations, even though some of the male viewers I spoke to after the film’s Toronto screening proved surprisingly resistant to the film’s feature-long debate about sexual violence.
‘The Woman King’
Forget “Women Talking,” how about women fighting? This old-fashioned action epic from the director Gina Prince-Bythewood played through the roof in Toronto and stars Viola Davis as the leader of the Agojie, an all-female group of warriors defending their kingdom in 1820s West Africa. Davis is an Oscar winner (with three more nominations, too) who called “The Woman King” her magnum opus while introducing the film, and a performance this passionate and athletic should be in contention all season. But a notable box-office haul will be crucial to the film’s fate (it opens Friday), since even bigger action films like “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” are due at year’s end and will be following Oscar-nominated predecessors.
‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’
The expansion of the best picture race to 10 nominees has made room for all sorts of previously snubbed movies, from Marvel spectaculars to Pixar tentpoles. But when will a documentary be nominated for best picture? Laura Poitras’s new film, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” beat all fiction narratives at Venice to take the Golden Lion, the fest’s top award, and this portrait of photographer Nan Goldin as she protests the wealthy Sackler family’s role in the opioid crisis will be distributed by Neon, the company that managed an Oscar first with the Korean-language best picture winner “Parasite.” At the very least, “All the Beauty” will be a strong contender for the documentary Oscar that Poitras won for her 2014 film about Edward Snowden, “Citizenfour.”
‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’
This A24 film from the directing team Daniels opened way back in March, but you’d hardly know that based on the major festival tributes to its star, Michelle Yeoh, in both Toronto and Venice. A flag was planted in both places: This indie hit has now entered its awards-campaign phase, and since the fall festivals didn’t produce major front-runners in the picture and directing categories, expect “Everything Everywhere,” to gun for recognition in both races as well as the supporting actor category (where Ke Huy Quan could be this year’s Troy Kotsur), original screenplay and more. Yeoh’s best-actress nomination is almost certain, though she’ll face plenty of competition from Blanchett. Both women were handed dazzling signature roles this year, and their race should be the season’s most exciting.