Autumn festival line-ups fire starting gun on Oscars race

The first clues as to the likely contenders for next year’s Oscars have been revealed, with the line-ups for the two big film festivals of the Autumn.

Most distributors premiere their awards hopefuls at Venice or Toronto – or both – in the hope of creating buzz as the various film industry bodies start thinking about their upcoming ceremonies.

Ryan Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong in Damien Chazelle’s First Man

After narrowly missing out on the Best Picture Prize last year, Damien Chazelle has been given the honour of opening the Venice Film Festival on 29th August with First Man, his biopic of Neil Armstrong – with his La La Land leading man Ryan Gosling playing the first man to walk on the moon. Just a few days later, the film will also be screened at Toronto, which has a higher profile among the North American industry insiders who will lead the selection process for the 2019 awards nominees.

Britain’s Paul Greengrass – nominated for an Oscar for directing Captain Phillips – will be in competition in Venice with 22 July, a Norwegian-language film about the aftermath of the white supremacist killings in 2011, when Anders Behring Breivik killed seventy seven people in bomb and gun attacks.

Venice will also see the world premiere of the new film from Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón, before it screens at Toronto. Roma, about a middle-class Mexican family in the 1970s, is his first Spanish-language film since his breakthrough feature, Y Tu Mamá También, in 2001.

Some industry figures had predicted that Mike Leigh’s film about the 1819 massacre of Peterloo, which targeted thousands of people demanding parliamentary reform, would make it to Cannes, but instead the historical drama will get its first public screening in Venice.

The next Coen Brothers film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, will also take its bow at Venice. It began life as a proposed Netflix TV mini-series before the streaming and production giant decided to turn it into the pair’s first western since True Grit in 2010.

Other highlights to look out for in a male-dominated field at Venice – and possibly during the awards season ahead – include Suspiria, by Call Me By Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino, The Favourite from The Lobster‘s Yorgos Lanthimos, Sunset from László Nemes, who won plaudits for his Oscar-winning Holocaust drama Son of Saul and Never Look Away by another Oscar-winning film-maker, Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, the director of The Lives of Others,

While Venice is a competitive festival like Cannes, with the jury being led by last year’s best film winner The Shape of Water‘s Guillermo del Toro, Toronto is a bigger festival in terms of the number of films being shown and a more commercial event in tone.

Viola Davis, in Steve McQueen's Widows, the opening film of the BFI's London Film Festival 2018
Viola Davis, in Steve McQueen’s Widows, which gets its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival 2018

Toronto will be the world premiere of the London Film Festival opening night gala, Steve McQueen’s Widows, in a festival that features a number of British productions; Michael Winterbottom will be screening The Wedding Guest, Amma Asante’s Where Hands Touch will receive a Special Presentation and the London-based Pawel Pawlikowski will be screening his Cannes success, Cold War. Sir Trevor Nunn’s Red Joan, in which Dame Judi Dench plays a British double-agent serving the KGB, will be one of the festival’s Gala screenings.

Other films worth noting at Toronto are the Cannes opening film Everybody Knows, Iran-director Asghar Farhadi’s Spanish-language mystery, A Star is Born, in which actor Bradley Cooper directs himself and Lady Gaga, Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his Oscar-winning Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, about a US presidential candidate facing allegations of infidelity and Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy, in which Steve Carell plays the father of Timothy Chalamet’s young drug addict.

Once mid September rolls by and all of these films have been seen by the critics, the early awards-season buzz will pick up a little more pace and direction, just weeks before the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announce their Golden Globe nominations.