Although last year’s award season saw three best picture nominees come from the early-year festival circuit, it’s a hard-fought battle when a film can maintain momentum for almost a full 12 months. Because few films have emerged from sometime-bellwethers like January’s Sundance Film Festival and May’s Cannes Film Festival, more eyes will be on the fall to look for awards contenders.
In the coming weeks, the Venice and Toronto festivals will start announcing their lineups (Telluride will remain characteristically secretive), signaling the official end-of-the-year film frenzy. Following quickly on the heels of that powerful fest trio is the New York Film Festival, which runs Sept. 26 to Oct. 12 and premiered last year’s Gone Girl, starring best actress nominee Rosamund Pike. Then in November is AFI Fest (Nov. 5 to 12), which premiered 2014 best pic nominees Selma and American Sniper.
The early-year fests like Sundance, where Oscar-nommed Boyhood and Whiplash emerged in 2014, have anointed a handful of films that could go the distance, including Brooklyn and Me & Earl & the Dying Girl. Berlin didn’t see much like last year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which made a splashy debut in Germany, and the 2015 Cannes Film Festival premiered the Cate Blanchett-starrer Carol as well as Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, which features Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. So far, the strongest contender is the animated hit Inside Out from Disney-Pixar, which had an out-of-competition screening at Cannes and has earned more than $260 million domestically.
So prognosticators and voters will be paying close attention to what happens at the key festivals in September and beyond.
The 72nd annual Venice International Film Festival, which takes place Sept. 2 to 12, will announce its lineup July 29. Already on the books is the opening-night film Everest, a Universal release from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur that stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke. The screenplay, written by Simon Beaufoy (who has an Oscar for writing 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire) and William Nicholson (who was nominated for writing 1994’s Shadowlands and 2001’s Gladiator), follows a group of climbers who are hit with a storm on the mountain. Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron will serve as jury president for the fest, which saw the world premiere of last year’s best picture winner Birdman.
Venice is sandwiched between two rival festivals on this continent, the Telluride Film Festival (Sept. 4 to 7) and the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 10 to 20). While Telluride has always been an intimate affair with high-gloss Oscar sheen, TIFF decided last year that films that played at the Colorado fest could not play in TIFF’s popular opening weekend. Telluride was still able to attract Birdman for a North American premiere and holds the record for six out of the last seven best picture winners. The rivalry has diminished somewhat for this year, but TIFF has informed distributors that the festival won’t show films in their top three venues in the first four days if they’ve played at another fest.
Another season with twists and turns awaits.