On August 29, the 75th Venice Film Festival begins, kicking off a whirlwind movie mini-season. Two days later, the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado will start its quick, but significant, Labor Day weekend run‚ÄĒand then on September 6, the massive Toronto International Film Festival will groan into motion.
Over the next two weeks, the 2018 Oscar season will snap clearer into focus, dreams born and hopes dashed. The field is pretty wide open at this point; there are a few winter and spring holdovers still in play, but otherwise, it‚Äôs a landscape waiting to be claimed. What fall festival films might edge their way to the front of the pack? Let‚Äôs take a look.
This year, two recent foes (who we think are actually friends) square off once more. Damien Chazelle, who won the best-director Oscar for La La Land at the 2017 awards, has a new film in contention this year: the moon-landing bio-drama First Man. In departing from Earth, Chazelle is also leaving behind the world of music, the focus of his last two films. Our first glimpses of First Man have been promising, the trailers showing off some bracing, robust photography and plenty of intense energy from stars Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. The Academy has long been a fan of reverent movies about American space exploration‚ÄĒThe Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and Hidden Figures all received best-picture nominations‚ÄĒso First Man has serious potential should its Venice premiere go well.
Then there‚Äôs Barry Jenkins, whose 2016 film, Moonlight, beat La La Land for best picture, and earned Jenkins a screenplay Oscar. He‚Äôs got a film premiering at Toronto, an adaptation of James Baldwin‚Äôs novel If Beale Street Could Talk, which also has an impressive trailer. Moonlight is a tough act to follow, but Jenkins, who knows how to wrap emotional rigor in graceful aesthetics, is likely up for the challenge. We should also keep our eyes on newcomer KiKi Layne, making her film debut in the lead role.
Another Oscar winner from the 2010s has a big film premiering at Toronto: Steve McQueen, whose 12 Years a Slave snagged best picture at the 2014 ceremony. Widows is a studio heist thriller, but with McQueen behind the camera and Viola Davis as the lead, we have to assume it has some awards heft to it. The splashy Toronto debut feels like further proof. Whether the movie is elegant popcorn fare or a genuine Oscar contender (or both!), it‚Äôs one of the most highly anticipated entries of the season. The cast alone is worth the excitement: joining Davis are Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, Liam Neeson, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, and, for good measure, Colin Farrell. How can any festival cast beat that?
Greek arthouse director-turned-English-language festival indie director Yorgos Lanthimos has a long-gestating project premiering in Venice, The Favourite. The film has been in the works since before The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer put Lanthimos on many Americans‚Äô radar, and is the first movie he‚Äôs made without a writing credit since 2001. What effect that will have on his usual style will be interesting to see, as will the translation of his particular aesthetic into period-piece vernacular. The great Olivia Colman plays addled Queen Anne, while Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz play operators vying for power in her early-18th-century English court. The movie looks sharp and weird and funny, like many Lanthimos films, with maybe just enough prestige sheen to give it a go at all the shiny awards.
We‚Äôve also heard rumbles about Paul Greengrass‚Äôs 22 July, about the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway and their aftermath. Greengrass is a master of v√©rit√© docudrama, but might this horrific subject matter‚ÄĒthe majority of the victims were teenagers‚ÄĒbe too real? Or could it be just the confrontation of far-right ideology that we need at the moment? Maybe it will be the first Netflix film to break through the best-picture barrier.
A non-American production that could loom large over the awards season is Alfonso Cuar√≥n‚Äôs Roma, a family epic set in 1970s Mexico City. The film is slated to play all three festivals over the course of the next two weeks, before screening as the centerpiece selection at the New York Film Festival in October.
And then there‚Äôs a big remake starring a particular pop star that we‚Äôll get to a bit later.
Last year, we walked out of a Telluride screening of Darkest Hour and wondered, had Gary Oldman already won an Oscar? Indeed, he had. (Please don‚Äôt read the rest of our predictions in that post‚ÄĒjust bask in the rightness of the first one.) Now we‚Äôre wondering what films this year could give us that same festival certainty.
Addiction drama Beautiful Boy, premiering in Toronto, is positioned well, with Steve Carell as a father desperately trying to keep his son from sinking further into his drug use. The son is played by beautiful It Boy of the moment Timoth√©e Chalamet, who was probably second in line to Oldman in the best-actor race last year. Carell, who has been nominated before, has another film, Welcome to Marwen, coming out this fall to help boost his star profile. Addiction stuff often does well for actors, cynically or not, as does a based-on-a-true-story hook, which Beautiful Boy has. We think that if Amazon Studios shamelessly runs Chalamet in supporting, rather than lead, he‚Äôs got a good shot at winning the whole thing.
Another memoir adaptation with ‚Äúboy‚ÄĚ in the title will play at Toronto, following what we suspect will be a Telluride bow. Boy Erased tells a story of gay conversion therapy, with Manchester by the Sea nominee Lucas Hedges as the titular young man, and Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as his religious (but decidedly not Australian) parents. Directed by Joel Edgerton (who co-stars as a pastor and is also not Australian in the movie), Boy Erased has the buzzy cast and major awards-season push that the similarly themed Miseducation of Cameron Post, in theaters now, does not, even though the latter film won the grand jury prize at Sundance back in January. That might be a gender bias at work‚ÄĒor it could just be that Boy Erased has a starrier array of actors and the backing of Focus Features.
Kidman has another intriguing project playing at least one of the festivals (Telluride doesn‚Äôt formally announce its lineup until the day before the festival, but we can do some deductive reasoning and infer what will be there): Karyn Kusama‚Äôs Destroyer. The detective drama finds Kidman in stripped-down form, which can be an advantage for an actor looking to catch the Academy‚Äôs attention. (Not that Kidman has trouble with that, really.)
Kidman will likely have competition from the ladies of The Favourite, though who runs in lead vs. supporting there will be clearer once we‚Äôve laid eyes on the movie. Viola Davis could also be in the best-actress hunt, as could Julianne Moore for Gloria Bell, Sebasti√°n Lelio‚Äôs English-language remake of his own 2013 Chilean film, Gloria. If too much wasn‚Äôt lost in translation, it‚Äôs a great part for an actress like Moore.
Melissa McCarthy seems to have scored a similarly juicy role in Marielle Heller‚Äôs Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which will screen at Toronto. She plays real-life author and prolific letter-forger Lee Israel. A stranger-than-fiction story of an intricate con, the film seems just funny enough to offer McCarthy some familiar surroundings while also pushing her to traverse darker territory.
Young actress and activist Amandla Stenberg could make some waves at Toronto this year, where her film The Hate U Give will premiere. Based on a massively popular Y.A. novel, The Hate U Give looks to be an achingly timely and perhaps hopeful depiction of the struggles of groups like Black Lives Matter to protest and combat police violence against people of color in America. Stenberg has another film at Toronto, Amma Asante‚Äôs Where Hands Touch, a romantic drama about a bi-racial girl living in Nazi Germany. Though her summer sci-fi movie, The Darkest Minds, kinda came and went, 2018 could still be a very big year for Stenberg.
One delightful theory we recently heard floated was that Jamie Lee Curtis could get an Oscar nomination for David Gordon Green‚Äôs new installment in the Halloween franchise, which will have a midnight premiere in Toronto. It could be a nomination in the same vein as Sigourney Weaver getting an Oscar nod for Aliens: a second-time-around recognition of great work in a genre that doesn‚Äôt tend to get awards respect. Except in Curtis‚Äôs case, it‚Äôll be the fifth time around.
We‚Äôre also curious about Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali‚Äôs chances for Green Book, a comedy-drama road movie about race relations in the 1960s South. Both performances look big and character-y, which doesn‚Äôt tend to be a problem for the Academy. The movie was directed by Peter Farrelly, of all people, which isn‚Äôt necessarily a bad thing; it‚Äôs just a strange thing. Strange enough to get Oscar attention in a crowded year? We‚Äôll see!
Elsewhere, Hugh Jackman seeks to capitalize on a fantastic 2017 (both Logan and The Greatest Showman were Oscar-nominated smash hits) with a turn as disgraced politician Gary Hart in Jason Reitman‚Äôs new political comedy, The Front Runner. That title could prove entirely on the nose‚ÄĒor, the story of Hart could reflect an Oscar arc (without the affair, we‚Äôd think) in which Hugh‚Äôs hopes are dashed once more. Willem Dafoe, defeated by Sam Rockwell at the Oscars this year, will get another shot in Julian Schnabel‚Äôs Van Gogh biopic, At Eternity‚Äôs Gate, which also gifts us with Oscar Isaac as Paul Gaugin.
As Jackman launches his campaign in Telluride (we think), Robert Redford ends his acting career in a different part of the Rocky Mountains than he‚Äôs typically used to with David Lowery‚Äôs The Old Man & the Gun, a one-last-heist picture with added meta edge in the wake of Redford‚Äôs retirement announcement. Perhaps the historicity of the film will propel it to glory, with voters eager to reward a legend who‚Äôs never won an acting Oscar.
When A24 surprise-dropped a trailer for Mid90s, written and directed by Jonah Hill and world premiering in Toronto, we were forced to confront the fact that 90s nostalgia‚ÄĒso long relegated to the BuzzFeed-ier corners of the Internet‚ÄĒmight have fully entered the arena of prestige filmmaking. A movie about scuzzy skate teens in L.A. is probably not likely to catch the Academy‚Äôs attention, but after it went in so ardently for Greta Gerwig‚Äôs personal early 2000s throwback, Lady Bird, last year, we‚Äôre not counting anything out.
Though he stumbled with his last film, It‚Äôs Only the End of the World, we‚Äôre not counting out Qu√©b√©cois wunderkind Xavier Dolan either. His film before End of the World, the gorgeous Mommy, was a grand opus. And his new film, the Toronto-premiering The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, has an alluringly starry Hollywood cast. Which is fitting for a movie that‚Äôs partly about fame. (This is Dolan‚Äôs first film entirely in English, it should be noted.) Though Jessica Chastain was completely cut from the film (quel dommage), we‚Äôve still got Natalie Portman, Thandie Newton, Kit Harington, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, Sarah Gadon, Chris Zylka, Michael Gambon, Bella Thorne, and seasoned veteran Jacob Tremblay to contend with. We can‚Äôt wait to see what they all do in another of Dolan‚Äôs messy, exuberant, colorful worlds.
We‚Äôre similarly primed for another Francophone‚Äôs foray into English-language fare‚ÄĒand, in her case, into space. The great Claire Denis has a film called High Life premiering at Toronto, starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, and Andr√© Benjamin of Outkast fame as astronauts. Denis‚Äôs terrestrial films have always had such a rich, bold, earthy style that we‚Äôre dying to see what happens when Denis has slipped the surly bonds and gone exploring.
Her countrywoman Mia Hansen-L√łve also has a film premiering at TIFF, Maya, a drama set in Syria and India. Hansen-L√łve is one of the most interesting young filmmakers working today, and we‚Äôre excited to see her expand her scope a bit. Her former life partner, Olivier Assayas, will be at Toronto too, with Non-Fiction, a rambling comedy about publishing, media, criticism, love, and life‚ÄĒstarring Juliette Binoche.
Julia Roberts is teaming up with a family act in Toronto, director Peter Hedges and his son Lucas, for Ben Is Back, a drama about a black sheep attempting to return to his flock. Speaking of family acts, John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix play the titular brothers in The Sisters Brothers, a Western that also features Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal. Director Jacques Audiard is taking the dark comedy to Venice and then Toronto.
Premiering in Venice and (maybe) skipping the other two festivals is Luca Guadagnino‚Äôs remake of the 1970s horror classic Suspiria. Early whispers of a particular bones-breaking scene that‚Äôs incredibly hard to watch have us nervous, but infinitely curious. At a time when ‚Äúprestige horror‚ÄĚ is gaining more and more traction in the critical, and commercial, conversation, could Suspiria continue in Get Out‚Äôs footsteps by actually earning some awards attention? Or will Hereditary be the film to take up its mantle this year?
You might have noticed we haven‚Äôt yet mentioned one of Venice‚Äôs most anticipated films: Bradley Cooper‚Äôs remake of A Star Is Born, starring himself and none other than Lady Gaga. That‚Äôs because it deserves a category all to itself. The Warner Bros. film could be a commercial success, but a critical failure. Or the opposite? Or both! Whatever this movie turns out to be, the sheer strangeness of its existence suggests that it‚Äôs going to be something‚ÄĒa big, hopefully glorious, sincere burst of song amidst plenty of dour little mood pieces. That‚Äôll be nice.
Also bowing in Venice, and then Toronto, is Vox Lux, a mysterious movie starring Natalie Portman as a pop star of some kind. That‚Äôs pretty much all we know. The film is written and directed by actor-turned-auteur Brady Corbet, whose debut feature film, 2015‚Äôs The Childhood of a Leader, won a pair of awards at Venice. There are a lot of eyes on this follow-up, which also features Jude Law and the always-welcome Jennifer Ehle.
There are even two other music movies to come, both set in Britain and centered on aspiring singers trying to transcend their circumstances. Wild Rose follows a Glaswegian obsessed with becoming a country-music star in America. Teen Spirit, written and directed by actor Max Minghella, focuses on a youth from the Isle of Wight (Elle Fanning) who loves singing Robyn and other melancholy pop, and does just that on a nationally broadcast singing competition show. Both of those films will premiere at Toronto.
Of course there are many more films‚ÄĒMike Leigh‚Äôs historical drama Peterloo, David MacKenzie‚Äôs historical epic Outlaw King, too many foreign-language titles to name‚ÄĒthat could break big at these festivals. For coverage of those movies and more‚ÄĒincluding interviews, videos, and our signature portrait studio‚ÄĒstay tuned to VF.com and our social channels throughout the fall festival season.