2023 Oscars heat index: Steven Spielberg towers after TIFF, Harry Styles' My Policeman tumbles
Who's up and who's down among the 2023 Oscars contenders?
With the fall festival circuit in full swing, the whispers of awards greatness have echoed from the peaks of Telluride, through the canals of Venice, and over the border into Toronto. Major players have already staked their claim on prime real estate in the awards conversation — but who has the potential to go the distance, and who is all talk?
Read on to find out which films and talent are making waves in the Awards race in our Oscars heat index below.
Sept. 20: Steven Spielberg towers at TIFF, Harry Styles' My Policeman tumbles
- PICTURE, DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans — The TIFF People's Choice Award is inarguably one of the most important prizes a contender can win on the fall festival circuit. In the last 10 years, all 10 of the award's recipients have gone on to either win (Green Book, Nomadland, 12 Years a Slave) or be nominated in the Academy's Best Picture category. And Spielberg's new film is the latest TIFF victor with its sights set on Oscars glory. The filmmaker's auto-biographical drama has been hailed as a deeply personal, introspective gaze into one of the most celebrated minds in Hollywood history, and the industry's long-standing penchant for movies about moviemaking only builds a stronger case for the film's run through the season ahead.
- ACTOR: Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin — Though winning Best Actor at Venice doesn't clear a direct path to the Oscars (only four Venice Volpi Cup winners have gone on to win or be nominated for Best Actor by the Academy across the last 22 years), it certainly doesn't hurt, especially when early passion culminates around a long-overdue heavyweight like Farrell. The actor's performance in his reunion picture with In Bruges collaborators Brendan Gleeson and Martin McDonagh generated glowing reactions at Venice and TIFF, meaning Farrell could be the exception to the rule when it comes to tracking Venice's crossover with the Academy.
- ACTRESS: Viola Davis, The Woman King — Reviews following the film's TIFF premiere indicated that director Gina Prince-Bythewood's historical epic The Woman King might be a solid Hollywood action spectacle versus a heavy-hitting awards contender. Still, critics praised Davis' performance, and the film's No. 1 weekend debut in North American theaters signified her as a business-driving force. While the movie might not tick all the above-the-line boxes, Davis' power is undeniable both on screen and at the box office, and her peers shouldn't ignore those achievements this year.
- PICTURE, ACTOR: Harry Styles, My Policeman — It's not impossible (see: 2011's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), but films that bag mostly negative reviews out of the gate are typically dead in the water when it comes to snatching above-the-line recognition from the Academy. Director Michael Grandage's soapy historical love story about repressed gay lovers currently stands at a 42 percent on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews filed on the fall festival trail, and its Metacritic rating sits at a concerning 48 percent. Styles' sexually explicit scenes will have social media buzzing, but that won't be enough to spark passion in awards voters.
- PICTURE, ACTOR, SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern, The Son — Florian Zeller's directorial follow-up to his universally praised, Oscar-winning masterwork The Father earned select scathing reactions following its world premiere in Venice, and the sentiment carried through to Toronto, where responses ranged from heralding the film's "tragic power" to downright vicious attacks on the film's "manipulative" narrative. Playing ex-spouses co-parenting an emotionally vulnerable teen, Jackman and Dern's performances fared best with critics, but with the film hitting the scene early with a polarized profile, there's little hope that this successor will follow in its cinematic forefather's footsteps.
On the horizon:
- The 60th New York Film Festival runs from Sept. 30 through Oct. 16, and stands to continue the momentum built at other festivals by titles like White Noise, Armageddon Time, Corsage, Decision to Leave, Tár, Triangle of Sadness, Bones and All, and Women Talking. Two world premieres could shake up the race: #MeToo origin story She Said (starring Carey Mulligan) and Chinonye Chukwu's Emmett Till biopic, which could launch Danielle Deadwyler (playing Emmett's mother) into the Best Actress conversation.
- All eyes will also be on Billy Eichner's gay rom-com Bros to do big numbers at the box office when it debuts on Sept. 30. If the film can maintain a healthy presence in theaters, the critically celebrated love story's chances at earning a Best Original Screenplay nomination should increase, just as as they did for Bridesmaids and The Big Sick in 2011 and 2017, respectively.
Sept. 7: Brendan Fraser, Cate Blanchett build buzz out of Telluride and Venice
- ACTOR: Brendan Fraser, The Whale — Standing ovations are standard procedure at film festivals, but the one Fraser received at the Venice premiere for his new, transformative drama overwhelmed the one-time blockbuster star. Visibly shaken and reluctant to stand for the crowd at first, the actor appeared to be shocked that he'd earned such praise. He's long been open about his difficult journey through Hollywood, but he should get used to the glowing affection for his career resurgence in The Whale, which sees him playing a man affected by life-threatening obesity who attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink). Fraser already has the "comeback" and "overdue" narratives in place — plus what is, by all accounts, a genuinely great performance — on his side, but the emotional kick from his charm and humility so far on the press circuit ahead will be the real key to securing Oscar attention this year.
- ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett, Tár — Across-the-board adoration for the two-time winner's turn as an impassioned German orchestra conductor crescendoed through Venice like a rolling wave of thunder. Time will tell if she can strike Oscar gold for the third time, but in a Best Actress race that has yet to take concrete form, the odds are singing in Blanchett's favor.
- ACTOR, ACTRESS: Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell, Bones and All — Chalamet's long-awaited reunion with Luca Guadagnino appears to be another winning match for the Call Me by Your Name duo, as the reactions to the cannibal love story out of Venice praised the striking performances from both the Dune actor and Russell, his leading lady.
- PICTURE: Cannes holdovers — James Gray's 1980s-set ensemble piece Armageddon Time and Hirokazu Kore-eda's Broker sustained their momentum from Cannes to equally positive reactions in Telluride, so expect both to continue their winning streak as the year progresses. The next stop for Armageddon is the New York Film Festival, while Broker will aim to dazzle critics at TIFF.
- PICTURE: Don't Worry Darling — Reported tension on set? Casting chaos? Alleged spitting at the Venice premiere!? Regardless of the truth behind the numerous dramas that bubbled up in recent weeks over Olivia Wilde's directorial follow-up to Booksmart, it's clear that interest in the project has moved beyond its narrative scope or aesthetic qualities. Marred by memes and gossip about supposed dust-ups during production, chatter for the film now centers squarely on the personalities involved (Miss Flo, Harry Styles) instead of the film itself (initial reviews also didn't help). When your prestige project is predicated by tabloid trash fires, it's maybe time to do a little worrying, darling.
- PICTURE: Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths — A prominent lie awards pundits told themselves? That Birdman and The Revenant helmer Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest feature was a shoo-in based on the filmmaker's name (and Oscar-verified past) alone. Reviews out of Venice and Telluride for the ambitious project about a journalist who goes on an epic journey through an existential crisis have been lukewarm at best, and dismissive at worst. That's definitely not the kind of buzz you want building in your corner at this early stage.
On the horizon:
- The end-of-year festival schedule rolls on, with the New York Film Festival running from Sept. 30 through Oct. 16, followed by the AFI Fest kicking off on Nov. 2.
- Other contenders appear to be biding their time, as the promotional tour for Damien Chazelle's Hollywood epic Babylon — which hasn't screened at a major festival — only just began on Sept. 7 with a stream of first-look images showing off stars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie. David O. Russell's Amsterdam (with an ensemble that includes Robbie, Christian Bale, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Robert De Niro, and Taylor Swift) is also quietly building toward its Oct. 7 release date without much fanfare and, you guessed it, no festival screenings just yet.
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