With the Telluride, Venice and Toronto Film Festivals all in the rearview, we can now officially declare that Oscars awards season is underway. Pop the champagne, butter the popcorn and strap yourselves in, folks. The next five months are going to be a breathless sprint of hype and mockery, glad handing and campaigning, and all around exhaustive speculation.
On the bright side, we can now add some much-needed context to our way-too-early Oscars 2020 predictions from February. The film festival circuit is a helpful barometer for Oscars hopefuls and with major contenders premiering over the last several weeks, the overall picture has become a bit less murky.
“You can’t win an Oscar in September,” Erick Weber, editor-in-chief of Awards Ace, told Observer, “but you definitely can lose one.”
So, after consulting a pair of awards experts, here are the major winners and losers at this current juncture.
Film Twitter was thrust into an inescapable vortex of #HotTakes and GIFs when it was announced that Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix’s dark Scorsese homage Joker, a new-ish twist on the unimaginably deep comic book genre, had won the Venice Film Festival’s top prize. But despite all of the pre-release blow back the film is generating, its overall festival reception has pushed it up the Oscars hopeful hierarchy.
“That Venice win is no joke,” Erik Anderson, founder of Awards Watch, said. “Phoenix and the film are real contenders.”
Both Phoenix (Best Actor) and Joker (Best Picture) will be met with serious competition from arguably TIFF’s biggest winner: Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The Netflix film, which stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, is being hailed as a career-best for the 50-year-old director. Based on early reactions, Marriage Story could be looking at nods in Best Picture, Actor (Adam Driver), Supporting Actress (Laura Dern) and Original Screenplay.
“TIFF People’s Choice first runner up Marriage Story could do what Roma couldn’t for Netflix—win Best Picture,” Anderson said. Last summer, Netflix poached leading awards strategist Lisa Taback from A24 and provided her with an inexhaustible budget to cement its award campaign power. Unfortunately for Driver, his overall success may actually prove to be a detriment to his Oscar chances.
“I like Driver for Marriage Story but he’s also got The Report,” Weber explained. “These are two awards movies that are getting very solid reviews and, at some point, there’s going to be a split vote.”
Hustlers is a critical and commercial hit and Jennifer Lopez is receiving the best reviews of her career. As the Oscars become less cinephilic and more mainstream, the Academy will look to award such intersections and overlaps. But Lopez may meet an immovable object in Judy‘s Renée Zellweger. Zellwegger has gathered a storm of support out of Telluride and TIFF as her own Hollywood comeback somewhat mirrors that of Judy Garland’s.
One winning question mark is Bong Joon-Ho’s phenomenal Parasite, a hilarious and unsettling meditation on socioeconomic class divide that is at once both rousing and divisive.
“TIFF People’s Choice 2nd runner up, playing nearly every festival, is going to be in front of hundreds if not thousands of voters,” Anderson said. “Parasite is crossing all barriers as both an art house favorite and a crowd-pleaser. Can the Cannes winner hit Best Picture and Best Director? Bet on it.”
Finally, the industry seems to be at a standstill when it comes to Avengers: Endgame. The Marvel blockbuster is the highest-grossing film of all time and boasts a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. But is it a Best Picture contender? Disney will likely do everything in its considerable power to make it so.
“Avengers: Endgame will be an awards movie,” Weber said. “Disney is going to go all out like they did with Black Panther. This is their big film.”
Any conversation about lost momentum must begin with Warner Bros.’ The Goldfinch. Based on the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning Donna Tartt novel of the same name, Goldfinch was expected to be WB’s flashiest awards hopeful. That responsibility now falls to Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy after The Goldfinch was hit with withering reviews out of TIFF (25% on Rotten Tomatoes) and endured one of the worst box office openings of 2019.
“The Goldfinch is the biggest disaster of the year,” Anderson said. “A critical and financial bomb on a massive scale. The ultimate ‘this had Oscar buzz’ contender of the year.”
Focus Features’ Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo, was also a film to keep an eye on coming into TIFF. Erivo, just an Oscar away from becoming the youngest EGOT winner in history, portrays the iconic American hero Harriet Tubman. Unfortunately, the film was met with mixed critical reactions (59%) and doesn’t possess much momentum heading into its November wide release.
One feature the awards experts differed on is Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a heartwarming tale of the real-life friendship between Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks) and Tom Junod (Matthew Rhys).
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood needed to place at TIFF to remain a strong contender,” Anderson argued. “It’s not playing any other festivals and in the last eight years, only one TIFF world premiere makes it into Best Picture.”
But the cocktail of concept, star power and nostalgia might give the film a fighting chance.
“Talk about a universally beloved movie,” Weber said of the 95% rated tale. “The feelings and emotions this will bring up for anyone who grew up with Mister Rogers—this is certainly on its way to being a heavyweight contender.”
Still to Be Seen: The Irishman, Cats, Dark Water, 1917, Little Women, Bombshell