See who's up and who's down in the hunt for awards this week as EW gauges the state of the Oscars race.

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Who has what it takes to stand out among the 2022 Oscar contenders?

As the fall festivals take shape, EW is taking stock of the pieces of the awards puzzle as they fall into place. This week, the Venice International Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival thrust major players like Kristen Stewart (Spencer), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Will Smith (King Richard), and Caitriona Balfe (Belfast) into the hunt. Because early reviews often make or break any potential nominee's foundation for success at these all-important cinema events, read on to find out what early festival reactions say about these suspected heavyweights' potential paths to gold as they enter the ring — and find out if any new prospective competitors emerged to challenge their standing.

EW's Oscars heat index will update here throughout the season, as often as the race changes. Check back for more updates as the hunt for awards carries on over the months ahead.

Heat Index
Jessica Chastain lands in the Oscars race for 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye.'
| Credit: EW

Sept. 13 — TIFF turns up for Jessica Chastain

Who's up:

  • ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye — EW's Leah Greenblatt writes that Michael Showalter's Tammy Faye Bakker biopic feels "both sweet and incomplete," capturing the critical sentiment surrounding the movie out of its TIFF premiere. Still, Chastain's turn was largely hailed as a "remarkable transformation" filled with prosthetics, elaborate costumes, and other physical additions that completely make over the Oscar-nominated star. If the Academy loves anything, it's the tradition of an actor giving their physicality over to the art (Charlize Theron in Monster, Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, etc.), and Chastain is checking all the boxes so far. Read EW's full review here.
  • ACTRESS: Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers — Three of the last five actresses who've won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress went on to win or be nominated for the Academy's corresponding award: Emma Stone (La La Land), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman). It's a strong statistic that, coupled with director Pedro Almodovar's recent track record of directing his actors toward well-deserved nominations (Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory comes to mind), signals the Spanish actress' upward rise at the start of the season.
  • ACTOR: Jake Gyllenhaal in The Guilty — Antoine Fuqua's latest thriller hones largely on Gyllenhaal's central performance as a 911 dispatcher harboring a grim secret as he tries to talk a panicked caller out of a crisis. The film — based on a 2018 Danish release of the same name — might skew a tad superficial, but the actor's star power and a brand like Netflix pushing it along could spell significant commercial success around the corner. That, coupled with solid reviews for Gyllenhaal's performance (the film hinges almost entirely on him), is promising at this early stage for an actor who's long overdue for a follow-up nomination 16 years after his recognition for 2005's Brokeback Mountain.

Who's down:

  • PICTURE: The Last Duel — The first of Ridley Scott's two prospective contenders (the other being House of Gucci) landed well below expectations at the tail end of Venice. Though the dramatic retelling of a judicial fight between Knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) is dressed in awards-primed period garb (the medieval costumes and production design look to die for), critics were so-so on the project, with most divided on its merits. It's not in a free fall, but coming out of the gate with a half-raised jousting lance is no way to catch Oscar's attention.
  • ACTRESS: Melissa McCarthy in The Starling — A stellar acting contender (and two-time Oscar nominee) like McCarthy can withstand worse-than-expected reviews for the overall picture, but it's hard to muster the strength to surmount all-around bashing, even if the performance itself is worthy of praise. While I'm looking at Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as a light barometer (he scored a nomination despite the film's 45 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Theodore Melfi's melodrama — about a woman struggling through grief while a violent bird takes up perch outside her home — likely popped and fizzled its awards chances in Toronto thanks to mostly negative reactions.

On the horizon:

  • The TIFF People's Choice Award — set to be handed out this weekend — has gone to nine eventual Best Picture nominees or winners across the last 10 ceremonies, meaning the movie that wins this year automatically becomes the category frontrunner.
  • After TIFF wraps, attention shifts to the New York Film Festival, where Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth (starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington) becomes the next major player to impact the race with a world-premiere screening.
The Heat Index
Olivia Colman stokes Oscars heat for Maggie Gyllenhaal's 'The Lost Daughter.'
| Credit: EW

Sept. 6 — Telluride wraps, Venice sizzles on

Who's up:

  • ACTRESS: Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter — Reality bites when it comes to awards season traditions, and the fact remains that actor-directors (especially women) are rarely rewarded for their first outings as filmmakers (just ask Angelina Jolie). Maggie Gyllenhaal, however, took Venice and Telluride by storm with her thunderous directorial debut, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante's The Lost Daughter. While Gyllenhaal's direction and screenwriting received significant praise out of the festivals, Olivia Colman continued her prestige golden streak (hot off awards runs through Oscars and Emmys ceremonies with The Favourite, The Father, and The Crown) and earned praise for her turn as an unorthodox mother in the Netflix drama.

Who's down:

  • PICTURE: Last Night in Soho — Edgar Wright's 1960s-set fever dream has been hailed as a gloriously stylish blend of high-camp horror and fantastical drama, but the general consensus slightly dings the film for veering too far into absurdist territory. When you're asking Oscar voters to go off course into genre territory they seldom traverse (if you can't get them to respect horror with something like Hereditary, it might be a lost cause), you can't do it with "broad goofiness," as some have noted as plaguing the ghost story's third act. To be clear: These notices aren't out of the ordinary for a solid commercial player, but when it comes to the Academy, Soho might hit just as Wright's past offerings have — at the box office.

On the horizon:

  • With Telluride out of the way and Venice halfway over, two major checkpoints wait ahead: The latter's awards ceremony is poised to thrust potential acting contenders in the race for the long haul (recent Venice winners like Colman, Emma Stone, and Vanessa Kirby all went on to score Oscar wins or nods) on Sept. 11, while the Toronto International Film Festival launches Thursday with a world premiere scheduled for likely contender The Eyes of Tammy Faye. TIFF will also continue the momentum of Venice and Telluride bowers like Spencer, Belfast, Dune, and more, so keep an eye on those films to strengthen their bids when more critics get ahold of them here. The Canadian festival also boasts perhaps the most important pre-Oscars festival award on the circuit, the TIFF People's Choice Award, which has gone to nine Best Picture winners or nominees over the last 10 years.
Heat Index
Kristen Stewart makes Oscars headway for her performance in 'Spencer.'
| Credit: EW

Sept. 3 — Venice and Telluride launch

Who's up:

  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR, ACTOR, ACTRESS: The Power of the Dog — First-round critic reviews are the first benchmark for a film's potential on the Oscar circuit. And, as expected, Jane Campion's first film in 12 years was universally lauded for the filmmaker's direction and Benedict Cumberbatch's lead performance. It's Kirsten Dunst's turn, however, that hit even bigger at the film's Venice premiere, laying the groundwork on the road to her first-ever Oscar nomination.
  • PICTURE, ACTRESS: Belfast — Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical drama about a family struggling to adapt to social upheaval in 1960s Ireland appears to be generating one muted response (such as EW's Leah Greenblatt's initial reaction) for every three unshakable raves. A potentially divisive run through the season can be a good thing: It generates interest and keeps an early frontrunner target off the film's back. Most seem to agree that Outlander star Caitriona Balfe's anchoring performance as the central family's maternal guiding light could be a major threat in the Best Actress race. Read EW's full review here.
  • PICTURE, ACTOR: CyranoPeter Dinklage's musical turn as the titular romantic signaled a strong start at the head of the race for the Game of Thrones actor, who makes a rare leading turn in a film that longtime Oscar pundit Sasha Stone called the "Best Actor frontrunner at the moment." Other notices from the Joe Wright-directed film's Telluride world premiere echo the sentiment — and even heap further praise on supporting actor Kelvin Harrison, Jr., another overdue performer on the prowl for awards glory.
  • ACTOR: Will Smith in King Richard — Though critics are floating between moderately enthused or intensely overwhelmed by the overall package of the story behind Venus and Serena Williams father-slash-coach, Smith is being universally hailed as operating "at his best" in the film. Read EW's full review here.
  • ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix in C'Mon C'Mon — Praise is coalescing around Phoenix's first big-screen turn since Joker in Mike Mills' road movie, which EW's Greenblatt calls the actor's best work since Her. Read EW's full review here.
  • ACTOR: Riz Ahmed in Encounter — Greenblatt felt the film's tone was uneven, but, like many of her peers at Telluride, still hailed Ahmed as a standout. Read EW's full review here.
  • ACTOR: Simon Rex in Red RocketFlorida Project helmer Sean Baker's latest film (about a washed-up porn star played by MTV-VJ-turned-porn-star-turned-actor) Rex is being called "icky," "uncomfortable," and "hilariously inappropriate," all in the best way possible.
  • ACTRESS: Kristen Stewart in Spencer — The 31-year-old earned some of the best reviews of her career out of Venice in Pablo Larraín's exaggerated reimagining of the dissolution of Princess Diana's marriage. Early reactions collectively called Stewart an early frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar, giving her a sturdy platform to stand on as she heads to Toronto.
  • ACTRESS: Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers — Pedro Almodovar recently directed Antonio Banderas to a slow-burning Oscar nod for Pain and Glory, and enthusiastic reviews for Cruz's latest performance in his new movie indicate a similar trajectory could be imminent for the Spanish star.

Who's down:

  • PICTURE: Dune — Coming out of the gate with strong showings at the fall festivals is paramount for any major contender, especially for a commercial-leaning blockbuster. Given Denis Villeneuve's Oscar track record (Sicario, Arrival, etc.), Dune was expected to continue the momentum, but the film is notching hit-or-miss reviews out of Venice and Telluride. Most agree that the visuals epitomize "lush, lofty" filmmaking excellence (as Greenblatt wrote in her B-grade review), but others, like IndieWire's David Ehrlich, called the overall product "a massive disappointment" when it comes to storytelling. The consensus is a positive one, but hardly the universal acclaim many expected. Hopes are high for the movie to make up some ground with audience in Toronto next week. Read EW's full review here.
  • PICTURE: Festival no-shows like House of Gucci and West Side Story — Before anyone gets upset, hear me out: There's one giant omission from the fall festival circuit thus far, and that's Ridley Scott's highly anticipated House of Gucci starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver. The film isn't "down" on this list as a knock against its quality (no one has seen it!), but the fact that it isn't hitting its stride at the major festivals with showings in Venice, Telluride, Toronto, or New York feels peculiar given the star power behind this one. There's always AFI, which gave us American Sniper, Selma, and more eventual contenders in the past, but for now, the lights are on, but no one's home inside the House of Gucci! Similar to Gucci's state in the race, Steven Spielberg's heavily touted musical West Side Story is thus far absent from any major fall festivals. Traveling the circuit isn't a surefire bet at gaining Oscar traction (especially after such an unorthodox year), but movies not making headway at these events need to make up ground in other ways.

On the horizon:

  • Toronto kicks off on Sept. 9 with a large slate of titles, including world premieres (all, well, eyes will be on Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and carried-over screenings of films hitting Venice and/or Telluride (Spencer, Dune, Belfast). A few more Venice pictures have yet to debut (Last Night in Soho seems poised to make noise), so expect some late-breaking surprises in the days ahead.

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