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Early Front-running For The Film Awards Season

It may be early, but thanks to the Cannes, Venice, and Toronto Film Festivals, several front-runners are staking their claims to be favorites

Using the idiom used in farming and agriculture, film awards have always had bumper years, and lean, fallow ones. Based on what’s happened so far this year and forecasting the releases still to come, it looks like the 2020 film awards season will be a bumper year of quality films, all hotly vying for the plum prizes. As weathervanes of what we can expect, the big, prestige Film Festivals have always been helpful. In 2017, the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion went to Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, then in 2018, to Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma—and we know how well these two films did come awards-time. 


The 2019 Golden Lion went to Todd PhillipsThe Joker, so look out for this film to figure heavily in the Best Picture race, with Joaquin Phoenix becoming an odds-on favorite for best actor. That this film has so much box-office potential won’t harm its chances. For a change, a film critically praised, that also succeeds commercially. That’s some form of validation for Joker’s director/co-writer Todd Phillips. For yes, this is the same Todd Phillips best known for his Hangover Trilogy; that’s a film franchise that equates to a lot of dollars, but was sneered at by the critics. Phillips also directed Starsky & Hutch, Due Date, Road Trip, and Old School; and actually garnered a previous Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Borat—so you can imagine what this Golden Lion means to him.


Described as a cross between two seminal Scorsese films, Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, as filtered by the DC Comics universe; the film is a nuanced, creepy psychological portrait of an arch-villain, and the how and why he comes to be. Phoenix has been mired in a lot of indie-films over the last few years, with performances that elicit strong admiration (Her, You Were Never Really Here, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot), but watched by a paltry few. So it’s a welcome move to have him cast in, and carrying, a film like The Joker. 



For Best Foreign Film, most pundits would say that on the strength of winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year, Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite would be a shoo-in favorite. And while I loved the film, and hope it goes far, I’m also cognizant about the unique voting trends of the Academy members, when it comes to the Oscars. 



The Truth (La Vérité) has world cinema and Hollywood kisses stamped all over it. A Japanese-French co-production, it’s director, Hirozaku Kore-Eda of last year’s well-regarded Shoplifters, working outside Japan for the first time. It stars Catherine Deneuve as a mercurial veteran actress who has just published her memoir, and it’s full of lies that she really believes reflects her life story. Juliette Binoche plays the daughter, who’s married to an American, played by Ethan Hawke. If Japan has the wisdom to send this as their official entry, I can predict this film giving Parasite a good run for its money. 



If #MeToo and women empowerment are emblematic of the new Hollywood, expect Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to make waves in the best film and best actress categories. The trailer shows a lot of promise, with Gerwig giving a fresh, buoyant spin to this old classic. Gerwig directed the much lauded Lady Bird, and its stars, Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, are reunited in Little Women. Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen play the other three March sisters, with Laura Dern and Meryl Streep taking on pivotal roles. 



The other high-brow film with literary roots would be The Goldfinch, a film adaptation, starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman, of the Pulitzer-winning novel of Donna Tartt. Directed by John Crowley, who gave us Brooklyn (which starred Saoirse Ronan and was also based on a novel), I’m really hoping against hope for this one. When I read Goldfinch, I loved the novel, but felt here was a novel no one should try to bring to the screen. It’s too dense, and so much is predicated on thoughts and internal musings. Its like how I loved David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, and similarly felt this was a novel that resisted any form of movie treatment—and I was right, since the film was a disaster. So I’m really praying Crowley proves me wrong.



The other films already shown, begging for awards consideration, would be Tarantino’s fairytale/love poem Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, with possible best actor nominations for Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. And if Hollywood felt they had to acknowledge and nominate Black Panther, how can they now ignore Avengers: Endgame? If Rocketman had been released before Bohemian Rhapsody, would Rami Malek outshine Taron Egerton? My apologies to the Bohemian faithful, but Rocketman is by far the better conceived and executed musical biopic, and Egerton not only acts, but sings as well. 


I’m well aware there’s still the new Scorsese The Irishman to look out for, and there’s a buzz surrounding Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, which stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson; but if you’re talking early front-runners, I feel the movie titles above, are the ones dominating the game. Let’s see how right I’ll be.


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