Annette Bening, Jennifer Lawrence, Andy Serkis, more might hit big this awards season

Sundance, Cannes, and Berlin gave us the pieces, now it’s time for Telluride, Venice, Toronto, and New York to put the fragments of the awards season puzzle together. With the latter three Academy Award-positioning festivals so far announcing all (or part) of their 2017 lineups, the Oscar race has kicked into high gear as tried-and-true auteurs (Wonderstruck‘s Haynes) and boundary-pushing newcomers (trans star Daniela Vega stands out in A Fantastic Woman) jockey for prime placement in the precursor run-up to the 90th Academy Awards ceremony.

Here are key films to look out for on the fall circuit thus far, broken down into what categories they stand to storm in the months ahead. NOTE: This post includes films without confirmed release dates and will be updated as Toronto, New York, and Telluride unveil more films joining their respective slates.

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Credit: Bleecker Street/Participant Media

Best Picture

As Moonlight‘s historic path to Best Picture proved, the Academy’s tastes are evolving as quickly as the structure of its rapidly diversifying voter base. Whether the film’s victory was a fluke or a bona fide signal of change to come remains to be seen, but its implications — momentary or lasting — will play a huge part in how Oscar prognosticators approach covering the impending race. That brings us to our first potential breakout: Luca Guadagnino’s Sundance stunner Call Me by Your Name, chronicling a teenage boy’s (Timothée Chalamet) whirlwind romance with his father’s live-in academic assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Prior to Moonlight, Oscar voters have historically shut gay-themed romances out of the Best Picture victors’ circle (Crash over Brokeback Mountain, anyone?), though those results are hopefully characteristic of the fading old guard. With universal praise out of Sundance, Guadagnino’s film has the goods to go all the way. Now it’s on audiences and critics to do the rest of the legwork.

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Credit: Steve Dietl/Netflix

Andy Serkis, perhaps best known for his work in performance capture, is also poised to make a splash with the TIFF-bound Breathe, his directorial debut starring Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield as real-life couple Diana and Robin Cavendish, the latter of whom was diagnosed with polio at age 28 and went on to become an advocate for people with the disease. Serkis’ name has long been thrown around as a revolutionary in the field of acting, as many believe his computer-generated roles are worthy of an acting nomination. That weight works in his favor, and if Breathe traverses TIFF well, it could be the type of traditional, weepy drama that garners the all-important passion vote.

Greta Gerwig also makes her solo directorial debut on Lady Bird, which follows a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) and her various exploits while living in California for a year. It’s listed as a TIFF International Premiere, which means A24 could kick off a Best Picture campaign at Telluride next month ahead of a Nov. 10 release date.

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Per usual, big-name auteurs are headed to the corners of the world with fall festival titles as well, including Alexander Payne (Downsizing is set for TIFF and Venice), Richard Linklater (Last Flag Flying will open NYFF), and George Clooney (Suburbicon follows Downsizing‘s lead in Canada and Italy).

One to keep under close survey, however, is Dee Rees’ Mudbound, which already captured critics’ hearts at Sundance and could expand under the Academy’s diversity initiatives in addition to its merits as a towering dramatic work. Yes, it’s a Netflix title, and Netflix has struggled to bag nominations outside of the documentary categories (Beasts of No Nation fizzled with Oscar in 2015), but there’s no better time for voters to surf the changing tide of the industry, and no better film for them to do it with.

Best Director

While 2017 has established a few heavy-hitting mainstays in the Best Director race thus far (Christopher Nolan, Kathryn Bigelow, Patty Jenkins), there’s always room for a relative newcomer to make noise at the fall festivals, as Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Garth Davis (Lion), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) have in the past. The major fixtures seem to be hovering outside the festivals at the moment (Steven Spielberg’s The Papers, Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled projecthave yet to set premieres), so there’s a path to be paved for a maverick. Strong contenders include Serkis (Breathe), Scott Cooper (Hostiles), Rees (Mudbound), Woody Allen (Wonder Wheel), and Gerwig (Lady Bird), though veterans Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name), Payne (Downsizing), and Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) aren’t to be counted out, either.

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Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Best Actress

A relatively quiet category as of press time, Best Actress could heat up (the elements are there, we just need to see how the dust settles) thanks to a few industry mainstays with prominent placement on the festival trail. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool‘s Annette Bening, a four-time Oscar nominee, is gearing up to Still Alice her way to her first victory, with Sony Pictures Classics (the same distributor that locked Julianne Moore’s inaugural Oscar victory back in 2014) acquiring the film and setting it to sea, perhaps with a focus on bagging its lead a legacy Oscar win.

Venice has already taken notice of Bening’s potential rise, having appointed her its first female head-of-jury since 2006. Coming off a year many believed saw one of her biggest Academy snubs (20th Century Women, which premiered at NYFF last year, earned some of the strongest reviews of Bening’s career), the 59-year-old has ideal footing heading into fall. For now, Liverpool is slated simply as a Canadian Premiere on TIFF’s website, meaning it’s probably headed to Telluride over Labor Day weekend — another indicator SPC is banking on Bening.

2017 Toronto Film FestivalCourtesy of TIFF
Credit: Courtesy of TIFF

Glenn Close, another unsung acting staple, has yet to win an Academy Award despite a staggering six nominations — a statistic that ties her with Thelma Ritter and Deborah Kerr as performers with the third highest number of, well, “unconsummated” nods in history. This year she leads the cast of the literary adaptation (and TIFF selection) The Wife, about an older woman who decides to leave her husband after years of marriage. It sounds like a juicy role that may stick by itself, though Close already has the prestige factor in her corner, and she could nab a legacy nod if the category’s barren by the time December rolls around.

Best Actress typically doesn’t correspond with Best Picture, so fringe films like The Wife stand a better chance of landing on Academy radar, though the Academy’s diversifying voting base could have their ear to the ground on more films by and about women, meaning a potential breakthrough that could see more female-centric titles crossing over from Best Actress to Best Picture. One of those films is Rees’ Mudbound (heading to TIFF in September after a Sundance bow), for which Carey Mulligan might add another notice to accompany her 2010 nod for An Education; anotheris Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul (never underestimate the power of Judi Dench in an Anglophile’s dream costume production), and of course the Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs sports dramedy Battle of the Sexes, starring reigning Best Actress champ Emma Stone.

Question marks still hover over Allen’s Kate Winslet-fronted Wonder Wheel (NYFF’s closing night selection); Emma Thompson’s The Children Act (TIFF); the Rachel Weisz/Rachel McAdams lesbian drama Disobedience (TIFF); Foy in Serkis’ Breathe (TIFF); Frances McDormand’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Venice, TIFF); Margot Robbie’s I, Tonya; the Berlin-bowing TIFF entry A Fantastic Woman (Vega); and Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (Venice, TIFF), featuring another starring turn from one of the youngest perennial Oscar players, Jennifer Lawrence.

Best Actor

Historical figures and lovestruck teens go head-to-head in Best Actor, an often contentious category that frequently bleeds into the Best Picture race. This year, TIFF shepherds a few traditionally appealing performances into the pen, including Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour;Steve Carell as Riggs in Battle of the Sexes; Jake Gyllenhaal as Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman in Stronger; and Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison in The Current War. Since 2007, six Best Actor champions have won for playing real people, so keep your eye on these contenders as more festival showings are announced.

Credit: Fox Searchlight

TIFF will also host the international premiere for Cooper’s Hostiles (meaning it’s probably headed to another festival beforehand). Cooper’s previous works Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace served up juicy roles for Jeff Bridges, who won the Oscar for the former in 2010, and Christian Bale, who missed out on a nod for the latter but stands to make waves with the filmmaker once again in his latest project, about an army captain who, in 1892, escorts a Cheyenne chief through treacherous territory. The film has yet to pick up a distributor, though a period drama rooted deep in history sounds like a worthwhile bet (pending reviews) for an outfit looking to raise its awards profile.

After directing Charlotte Rampling toward her first Oscar nod for his 45 Years, Andrew Haigh could find himself in the awards ring once again — in a larger capacity — with Lean on Pete, which A24 is taking to Venice before a presumed domestic release later this year, though an exact window has not been set. Young actor Charlie Plummer leads the film’s impressive cast (Steve Zahn, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi) in a tale about a boy’s bond with a failing racehorse, and might creep into the conversation if support swells for Haigh after an already illustrious career that includes the aforementioned 45 Years, HBO’s gone-too-soon drama Looking, and the lauded indie Weekend.

2017 Toronto Film FestivalCourtesy of TIFF
Credit: Scott Garfield/Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

Keep the men of Richard Linklater’s NYFF opener Last Flag Flying — particularly Bryan Cranston — on your early Oscar checklists, too, as the Breaking Bad actor has proven his good standing with awards voters in the recent past, when Trumbo scaled the precursors (including a remarkably strong showing at the Screen Actors Guild Awards) on its way to Cranston’s first Academy Award nomination in 2015.

Rounding out the tally of Best Actor hopefuls are Matt Damon and Chalamet, whose respective performances in Payne’s Downsizing (Dec. 22) and Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (which premiered at Sundance) bow on opposite ends of the year, but realistically could square off in the category at the top of 2018, pending their reception on the fall track (Downsizing is scheduled to hit Venice and TIFF, while Call Me By Your Name carries its Sundance swell through to Toronto with more festival appearances perhaps on the table).

Best Supporting Actor

The supporting categories tend to take shape as the season progresses, so we’re still navigating wide-open territory here. Highlights thus far include Last Flag Flying‘s Laurence Fishburne (NYFF); mother! star Javier Bardem (Venice, TIFF); Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri actor Woody Harrelson (Venice, TIFF); Call Me By Your Name‘s Hammer (TIFF); and Mudbound‘s Jason Mitchell, whose profile grew thanks to a supporting role in Detroit.

Credit: Wilson Webb/Amazon Studios

Best Supporting Actress

Six years after winning her first Academy Award for The Fighter, Melissa Leo is back under the Oscar spotlight for her work in Novitiate, which has been likened to Whiplash (with nuns!) by some who’ve seen the film already (it bowed at Sundance in January). Leo’s performance has further been compared to J.K. Simmons’ from the 2014 Damien Chazelle-directed drama and might follow in the footsteps that led her peer to the Oscar podium.

Mary J. Blige’s performance in Mudbound has generated solid reviews as well, and Julianne Moore’s brief (but memorable) turn in Haynes’ Wonderstruck could squeak through if the film continues to swell when it hits NYFF in October.

The horizon is broad for breakthrough contenders, so be on the lookout for the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer (mother!), McAdams (Disobedience), and Tatiana Maslany (Stronger) in the coming stretch.

Other titles yet to join the fall festival lineup

Though the four-pronged fall festival scene is already packed with potential contenders, it barely scratches the surface of the likely contentious path ahead, bound to be dotted with Cannes and Sundance holdovers in addition to films that have yet to be, as of press time, announced as part of a major fall festival.

Perhaps the buzziest of such titles is Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, the filmmaker’s directorial follow-up to his 2015 indie smash Tangerine. Distributor A24 has, in recent years, proven its staying power in the Oscar game, bagging major victories and nominations for several of its seasonal releases, including Room, Ex Machina, and of course Moonlight. They also know how to position an edgier film in front of awards voters, and The Florida Project — which follows a six-year-old girl who traverses a turbulent summer with her friends as the grown-ups around them grapple with adult issues — could play well across the board after earning universal praise at Cannes, especially with actors (the large cast includes a reportedly powerful turn from Willem Dafoe, an underdecorated industry vet who, at this point, seems like a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor.

Credit: A24

Other Cannes titles in the hunt for Oscar glory include The Killing of a Sacred Deer (can Yorgos Lanthimos earn his second consecutive screenplay nomination?); Happy End (Sony Pictures Classics has dated the Michael Haneke/Isabelle Huppert Palme d’Or contender for Dec. 22, perhaps a bit too late to land outside being a Foreign Language submission); The Meyerowitz Stories (another film that will have to overcome the “Netflix Curse” to elevate Adam Sandler, who received career-best reviews on the Croisette, into the Oscar fray); and You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay’s heavily praised Joaquin Phoenix starrer she was rushing to finish mere days before it screened in competition at Cannes, and, without a confirmed domestic date yet, could skip this year altogether.

Films that aren’t heading to the fall festivals as of yet that will probably be a part of the awards discussion through the end of the year (pending critical reception) include Spielberg’s The Papers; Sorkin’s Molly’s Game; Davis’ filmmaking follow-up to Lion, Mary Magdalene; Arrival Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049; and Daniel Day-Lewis’ final bow in front of the camera (for now), Anderson’s untitled project.

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