VOGUE – In what promises to be the strangest of awards seasons, with continued uncertainty about when people will feel comfortable returning to movie theaters and the Oscars already pushed back two months to April 25, one factor remains constant: The Venice and Toronto film festivals are still a reliable predictor of the films that will most likely compete for the top awards.
Those two festivals, one held with socially distanced in-person screenings and the other held primarily online, seemed to have sharply narrowed the best-picture race to a handful of films and have begun to clarify some of the other top races, most notably best actress and best director. With Telluride and Cannes both canceled this year, and with the New York Film Festival scaled back, Venice and Toronto may hold even more sway this year.
Earlier this month, Venice gave its Golden Lion award to Nomadland—a meditation on the current economic crisis starring Frances McDormand as a “houseless” woman traveling the country in her van—while also honoring its director, Chloé Zhao. (Last year, the Golden Lion went to Joker, immediately giving that film awards-season legitimacy and propelling Joaquin Phoenix to his first Oscar for best actor.) In Toronto, which followed Venice and just concluded earlier this week, the highly influential audience award also went to Nomadland.
The Toronto audience award has been a good Oscar predictor since 2008, when Slumdog Millionaire was a surprise winner and went on to collect seven Oscars, including best picture. Since then, The King’s Speech, 12 Years a Slave, and Green Book have all gone on to win that awards-season double, while runners-up in the audience award—Argo, Spotlight, and Parasite—have also claimed the best-picture prize.
This year’s runner-up, One Night in Miami, the directorial debut of Regina King, is also creating Oscar buzz. (It was not competing at Venice, but garnered extremely strong reviews.) For King, already clearly in the mix for a best-director nomination, it’s been a heady few years. She has won four acting Emmys in the past five years, including the award for outstanding lead actress in a limited series on Sunday for her role in Watchmen, as well as a 2019 best-supporting-actress Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk.
One Night in Miami, based on a play written by Kemp Powers, tells the story of Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) and his celebration with friends Malcom X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke after defeating Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight boxing championship. It has an electric cast, including the Hamilton Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr., as Cooke, but it is the largely unknown British actor, Kingsley Ben-Adir, playing Malcolm X, who is creating the most Oscar buzz and seems headed for a best-actor nomination.
Among his potential rivals is Delroy Lindo, in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, which is currently streaming on Netflix; Anthony Hopkins, in the harrowing Florian Zeller film The Father (an adaption of Zeller’s own play), which got rave reviews at Sundance, particularly for Hopkins; and several actors whose films have not yet been released, but who are generating a lot of strong advance word. They include Gary Oldman in Mank (playing the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he battles with Orson Welles over who deserves credit for Citizen Kane); Tom Hanks in News of the World; and Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah. Meanwhile, Andy Samberg, the former Saturday Night Live cast member, might snag his first Oscar nomination for his role in the Groundhog Day–like Palm Springs, another big hit at Sundance.
Vanessa Kirby, best known to American audiences for playing Princess Margaret in the first two seasons of The Crown, received the best-actress award at Venice for Pieces of a Woman—in which she plays a woman who loses her infant daughter during a home birth gone terribly wrong—and is certain to be in the running at Oscar time. So far, her chief competitors seem to be Frances McDormand, already a two-time Oscar winner, for Nomadland; Oscar-winner Kate Winslet (and possibly her costar Saoirse Ronan) for Ammonite; as well as two other past Oscar winners, Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Jennifer Hudson (playing Aretha Franklin in Respect), and previous nominees Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit) and Amy Adams (Hillbilly Elegy).
At this point, except for Nomadland and One Night in Miami, the best-film race seems the most fluid, with many of the year’s biggest films yet to be released, and one highly anticipated movie that has managed a largely traditional release during the pandemic: Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, debuting to mixed reviews and somewhat disappointing grosses. So far, the most likely contenders for a best-picture nomination seem to be David Fincher’s Mank, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (to be released next year), The Father, News of the World, Judas and the Black Messiah, with the possible additions of Aaron Sorkin’s docudrama, The Trial of the Chicago 7. (An early favorite, Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, has been pushed back a year, to December 2021, because of the pandemic.) One outside contender might be Eliza Hittman’s quietly powerful Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a Sundance winner that opened to very strong reviews in March, just days before the coronavirus shut down theaters.