Oscar season is officially on our doorstep as the 74th annual Venice Film Festival is set to take flight a week from today with the world premiere of Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing.” Recent contenders like “Birdman,” “Spotlight,” and “La La Land” have begun their journeys on the Lido before taking the season by storm.
Commencing in the Colorado mountains next Friday will be the Telluride Film Festival’s 44th Labor Day sprint, where major players like “Moonlight,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “Argo” all unspooled. Other awards season launchpads in Toronto, New York, and Hollywood (AFI Fest) will follow soon after.
Many new films will plant their flags throughout this circuit, while plenty more will aim for strategic exposure after the festival dust settles. The six-month season will be long — longer than usual, thanks to the Winter Olympics — but the reward will (hopefully) be a string of quality prestige films from many of the finest filmmakers in the world.
Here are my 10 most anticipated titles. Note: Not included are films scheduled for fall releases that have already been seen at previous festivals, such as “Call Me by Your Name,” “The Disaster Artist,” “The Florida Project,” “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” “Mudbound,” etc.
“All the Money in the World” (Ridley Scott; Sony)
Ridley Scott’s latest wrapped production earlier this month, but is already set for a Dec. 8 release date. It tells the amazing story of John Paul Getty III’s 1973 kidnapping at the hands of the Italian ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate, and it will be a concerted push for Tom Rothman. The Sony chairman is eager for Scott to finally get his due at the Oscars. Michelle Williams stars as Getty’s mother, alongside Kevin Spacey as his grandfather, industrialist J. Paul Getty (who initially refused to pay a ransom and later charged his son interest on it when he finally relented).
“Blade Runner 2049” (Denis Villeneuve; Warner Bros.)
Director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) has called “Blade Runner 2049” the “most risky” project of his career, and for obvious reasons. A follow-up to the 1982 Ridley Scott classic that has inspired countless filmmakers, from James Cameron to Christopher Nolan — these are very big shoes to fill. The film naturally looks like a visual feast, and indeed, hopes are high that 13-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “No Country for Old Men”) will finally win that elusive first Academy Award.
“Hostiles” (Scott Cooper; no current U.S. distribution)
Along with Craig Gillespie’s “I, Tonya,” Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” follow-up is one of the hottest acquisition titles of the festival circuit. Rumored for a Telluride bow, the 1892-set Western stars Christian Bale as an Army captain escorting a dying Cheyenne elder (Wes Studi) to sacred lands in the north. Themes of reconciliation and forgiveness could certainly take root in a modern climate laced with hate, but the film is also of a formerly thriving genre that continues to cling to life.
“Lady Bird” (Greta Gerwig; A24)
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut features actress Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) in the coming-of-age tale of a rebellious young woman navigating the constraints of Catholic school and life in Sacramento. Gerwig made the film last year while promoting another California-centered project focused on women: Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women.” It’s part of a wide-ranging A24 stable this year, rumored for a world premiere in Telluride.
“Last Flag Flying” (Richard Linklater; Amazon/Lionsgate)
Richard Linklater’s latest began as a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1972 classic “The Last Detail,” adapted from the Darryl Ponicsan novel, but eventually moved off in its own direction while maintaining many of the same plot points. The film, which will open the New York Film Festival, tells the story of three former Vietnam buddies (Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Laurence Fishburne), who meet again decades later after one of their sons is killed in action in Iraq. It’s a story about the cost of war that could resonate all the more in the wake of Donald Trump’s recent Afghanistan declarations.
“Mother!” (Darren Aronofsky; Paramount)
Early whispers that Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” was a spin on “Rosemary’s Baby” soon gave way to the studio full-on owning those comparisons; a recent poster makes a direct call-back to Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic. Jennifer Lawrence gets a very juicy role opposite Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris in a psychological horror piece that will no doubt be one of the hot-button contenders of the season. The film will premiere in Venice.
“The Papers” (Steven Spielberg; Fox)
A movie about the fight to secure press freedom is going to resonate considerably in today’s environment. There’s simply no question. Steven Spielberg tapped Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks to head up an all-star cast that makes this story of the Washington Post and the Pentagon Papers an obvious contender on paper — almost too obvious. And there are still four months before the film hits theaters. Who knows how the ongoing narrative of political media will shift in the meantime?
“The Shape of Water” (Guillermo del Toro; Fox Searchlight)
Early word on Guillermo del Toro’s latest passion project, scheduled for a Venice premiere, has been through the roof. Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky”) stars alongside Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as a mute janitor working in a government laboratory in 1962 who discovers an amphibious creature being held by federal agents. The film will tap the zeitgeist with themes of social critique and is already drawing tonal comparisons to del Toro’s 2006 Oscar winner “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Rian Johnson; Disney)
“Star Wars” fatigue is definitely a thing, but Rian Johnson (“Looper”) is reason enough to expect great things of the next chapter in the ongoing Skywalker saga. Will another “Star Wars” movie ever capture the hearts and imagination of the Academy again, or will they all be relegated to craft category recognition going forward? Call it nothing more than a hunch, but this one feels like it has a shot at hitting the mark.
“Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film” (Paul Thomas Anderson; Focus)
Any Paul Thomas Anderson film is cause for celebration. His latest, currently untitled, features Daniel Day-Lewis’ final on-screen performance and is set in the fashion world of the 1950s. Plot details have been scarce but back-channel gossip makes it sound like a Mike Leigh sort of experience, with a dollop of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Make of that what you will. Also intriguing is Anderson’s decision to serve as his own director of photography on the picture.