The 89th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 26, 159 days from today.

Venice and Toronto

The 11-day Venice Film Festival finished up last Saturday, enjoying a run overshadowed by Telluride at the beginning and overshadowed by Toronto at the end. The winner of the highest prize awarded, the Golden Lion, went to The Woman Who Left, but as it is from the Philippines we obviously can’t give it any Oscar consideration. Nocturnal Animals, a film starring Americans like Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams and directed by American Tom Ford, won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize; La La Land continued its march when American lead actress Emma Stone won the Coppa Volpi prize for best actress. (The last American to win the Volpi was Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven who would eventually lose the 2002 Best Actress Oscar to Nicole Kidman.)

“I wish I was back there because Venice and Italy are so amazing and I can think of no better place than Venice to have premiered La La Land,” said Emma Stone, who really needs to work harder at delivering acceptance speeches.

Also making news out of Venice was Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, in which Natalie Portman stars as Jacqueline Kennedy. Scott Feinberg describes her performance as “jaw-dropping” and “as good as any female performance this year,” which is a good sign for Portman’s chances. The film premiered at Venice and then screened the following Sunday night and Monday afternoon in Toronto, where it was picked up by Fox Searchlight (a known force behind Oscar contenders, such as winners Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman and last year’s Brooklyn). Largely due to Portman’s performance, it has even jumped on some bloggers’ Best Picture lists.

“Only gross incompetence on the part of whichever operation buys the film, should they release it before the end of the year, could keep Portman from landing a third Oscar nomination,” Feinberg continued. “In fact, she’s so good that she might well walk away with her second best actress win, following 2010’s Black Swan.”


OK, calm down, Scott.

The 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) also finished up last weekend. La La Land won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, with Lion and Queen of Katwe as the runners-up. TIFF is a good predictor of success at the Academy Awards; past honorees included eventual winners Chariots of Fire, American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave, and since 2008, all but one TIFF winner has gone on to at least be nominated for Best Picture. La La Land was already a known powerhouse going into TIFF, so the audience award only reaffirms the quality of the film and its strength going into the Oscar season.

Despite its stars (Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman) and producer (Harvey Weinstein), Lion came into TIFF as an underdog. It ended up receiving a “prolonged ovation” and was touted as a comeback for Weinstein; a New York Times article noted that though “most Oscar prognosticators and strategists had effectively written off Harvey Weinstein as a player in this year’s awards race,” Lion put him back in the game. (Sasha Stone noted that the Weinstein dry spell only lasted one year, with the producer getting Best Picture nominations every year from 2008 through 2014, barely missing out with last year’s Carol.)

Queen of Katwe tells the story of a chess prodigy from Uganda’s slums and stars David Oyelowo as the girl’s coach and Lupita Nyong’o as her mother. Before the movie screened, critics were confused whether the live-action Disney movie was aiming to make money or get considered for awards; they still are confused (and somewhat doubtful that a movie Disney has likened to Cool Runnings will resonate with septuagenarian Oscar voters), but at least they enjoyed it.

The big question going into TIFF, though, was what would happen to Birth of a Nation. Some people were predicting protests or boycotts, but nothing that exciting happened save for a slight focus shift away from Nate Parker. Women were apparently at the front of the press conference, though Parker received some press questions about the alleged rape, and his response was pretty much “let’s talk about the film, not about me.”

“Well, I won’t try to speak for anyone,” said Parker (according to Vulture), “I would say, I’ve addressed it, and I’m sure at future times I’ll address it more, but the reality is, there is no one person that makes a film.” He went on for several minutes explaining that over 400 people had been involved with the project and had made sacrifices and put their lives on hold for it, and how it wasn’t fair to let that work go to waste. “I would just encourage everyone to remember that, personal life aside, that it’s not one person.”

Despite all that, the audience enjoyed the film, giving it a 90-second ovation, and later a full two-minute standing ovation (rare for the Toronto fest, according to Feinberg). So though it didn’t win any awards, it may not be a good idea to count it out yet.
(Note from a sexual scandal skeptic: Why are people talking about Nate Parker but not Casey Affleck, who has issues of his own?)

Other news from TIFF:

  • Sully has led the U.S. box office for the last two weekends (with a $35.5 MM debut), which is a good sign for its prospects. There is a scandal, though — “NTSB Investigators Are Mad They’re the Bad Guys in Sully.”
  • Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall are getting good reviews for their performances in Denial, a film about a historian who sued a professor for libel after she called him a Holocaust denier.
  • Nocturnal Animals, which did well in Venice, got a more mixed reaction in Toronto. According to Scott Feinberg, it will be a “tough sell to the Academy” given its dark content and bizarre start, though Michael Shannon may be a contender for supporting actor.
  • The winner from Cannes, I, Daniel Blake, left the audience in tears in its Toronto viewing. “At the end of the screening, not only were lots of people inside a packed Scotiabank theater crying, but many were so devastated that they did not move from their seats until they were told they needed to leave,” Feinberg said. Good job, I guess?
  • A United Kingdom, the other interracial marriage movie of the year, got picked up by Fox Searchlight at Toronto. It stars David Oyelowo (also in Queen of Katwe and the subject of a very interesting Los Angeles Times article) and Rosamund Pike (Oscar-nominated in Gone Girl).
  • Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut (American Pastoral, based on a Philip Roth book) was well reviewed but seems unlikely to go anywhere
  • Anne Hathaway is starring in a movie called Colossal, which seems to be about a woman who gets drunk and spawns a Godzilla-type creature in South Korea that mimics her movements.
  • Hidden Figures showed a “sneak peak” of footage from the film, which critics enjoyed. Critics also enjoyed the accompanying Pharrell concert.
  • Trying to stay relevant, several films released their “for your consideration” information. Eye in the Sky, a movie you forgot existed starring Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman, will have its cast compete in the supporting acting categories, while Eddie Murphy will be pushed as a supporting actor for Mr. Church, a story about a black man who helps to raise a white girl after her mother is stricken with cancer.
What’s next on the horizon? The New York Film Festival is starting at the end of the month, and the BFI London Film Festival (which I don’t think is a thing) will take place in early October as well. The races are beginning to solidify, and, while the Best Actress race is stacked, we are in an interesting position of having no real frontrunner for Best Actor. 

Spotlight on more Academy complaining

On the one hand, you have a 91-Year-Old Oscar voter who says he’ll sue to fight his oncoming “inactive” status.  (“At the time I was invited into the Academy, you only needed one major credit and a sponsor,” he says. “If they want to change the rules, then change the rules going forward, not going backward … [they are just] trying to reduce the number of old white men so they can meet their numbers, and that’s not right.”) On the other hand, Creed director Ryan Coogler declines to accept his invitation to the Academy, which is a nice form of protest but isn’t really solving the problem. All the while, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs “admitted she finds ‘exhausting’ the constant back-and-forth over the Academy’s efforts — which, she chuckled, sometimes even occurs at the supermarket or Home Depot — and expressed regret that ‘every little thing that happens seems to be newsworthy’ or politicized.”

“When everybody’s working so hard to do the right thing, but then you hear or read that there’s some sort of calculated thought process … you get angry for a short while, and then you move on,” she said.

Other News

  • Like the Tony’s earlier this summer, last night’s Emmys nominated and rewarded a diverse crew of actors, writers and directors, a fact made notable by its absence at the Oscars
  • The Atlantic argues that Hollywood’s strongest female characters (think Gone Girl and Queen of Katwe) are coming from book adaptations rather than original screenplays
  • La La Land was originally set to star Miles Teller and Emma Watson, reports Vulture with a list of “32 Stars Almost Cast in 2016’s Biggest Movies”
  • This summer was a terrible one for movies, with big bombs like Ben-Hur (duh). Vox thinks it’s because “Hollywood’s go-to formulas stopped working”
  • Best headline of the week: Toronto: Multiple Moviegoers Pass Out During Screening of Cannibal Movie ‘Raw’. Apparently the graphic nature of the horror film (“about a vegetarian college student who slowly becomes a cannibal “) meant that “an ambulance had to be called to the scene as the film became too much for a couple patrons”

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