Telluride and Venice launch festival debuts into the Oscar race

Steve Jobs Michael Fassbender 2

We always knew that the beginning of the fall festival season would launch a number of titles into the early Oscar race, but perhaps not to this level so far. Yes, over at the Telluride Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival, almost all of the high profile debuts have been fondly received, giving them momentum going into the awards season. We still have the New York Film Festival later this month to add more potential contenders, but already Telluride and Venice have been a near embarrassment of riches. Even just a quick glance at the early response could make this a crowded precursor season once again.

Everest Josh Brolin
We’ll start with Venice, which begun first and had the high profile premiere of Everest to kick things off. That disaster epic debuted to mostly solid reviews, though outside of the technical fields I have my doubts that this will contend heavily. Time will tell, but it could techs or bust for Baltasar Kormákur’s movie, which stars an ensemble that includes Jake Gyllenhaal. There was also the bow for Beasts of No Nation, which was incredibly well received, with tons of good work for filmmaker Cary Fukunaga as well as for actors Idris Elba and first timer Abraham Attah. The question here will be distributor Netflix can run a strong awards campaign or not. They’ve had mixed success with their television contenders at the Emmys, so their first film shot could be a tough go. It certainly bears watching though, as the quality is apparently very much there.

the danish girl eddie redmayne alicia vikander
The big three over in Italy that have generated the most buzz though seems to be the trio of Black Mass, The Danish Girl, and Spotlight. Each seems to be a player, to one degree or another. Black Mass has gotten mostly solid initial reviews, though most of the time it’s been in praise of Johnny Depp’s performance more than anything else. Depp will be a force to be reckoned with in Best Actor, though the film and perhaps a supporting performance or two (Joel Edgerton, for one) could come along for the ride. Scott Cooper’s flick might not be in a prime spot for Best Picture, but it’s definitely going to hang around. The same can be said of The Danish Girl, which is Tom Hooper’s latest Academy player. Pundits have raved about the performances of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, so this could potentially be a situation where two acting nominations wind up taking the film along for the ride. There were some more restrained positive reviews here than have been the case with similar biopics, but there’s more than enough on hand to label it a serious contender. The winner of the most buzz at Venice however seems to be Spotlight. The latest film from Tom McCarthy has been almost universally beloved, with many writers specifically calling it a likely Best Picture nominee. That could be getting ahead of ourselves, but with a huge ensemble cast that includes Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo, we could see across the board contention for this one. Don’t forget about it…

Black Mass shooting Johnny Depp
As for Telluride, they had a few premieres of their own, though they also continued to build the buzz for Beasts of No Nation, Black Mass, and Spotlight, each of which more or less landed stateside with the same love they had over at Venice. This festival is a bit of a different animal though, so it serves a more Oscar friendly purpose. Especially for Spotlight, getting up close and personal in the mountains of Colorado is basically the start of a campaign. These three definitely benefited from playing here, particularly considering some of the debuts that were on hand a the same time.

suffragette crowd
Yes, the fest had the premiere of the biopic Steve Jobs (ahead of its original debut at the New York Film Festival), in addition to first looks at Room and Suffragette. In the case of Room, it’s the sort of small indie centered around a performer hoping to contend that needs raves. It managed to mostly get them, particularly for Brie Larson, which will help out her chances in Best Actress, but some seemed to just like Lenny Abrahamson’s film as opposed to outright loving it. Similar things could be said about Suffragette, which could help out acting players like Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan. To be sure, Sarah Gavron’s movie will benefit from being one of the few truly female centric ones in the Oscar season, but we’ll see how far it goes.

spotlight michael keaton mark ruffalo
The biggest debut of course was Steve Jobs, which comes from Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin. The word was very strong indeed, with tons of praise for the writing as well as the cast, which has Michael Fassbender in the title role and supporting players like Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, and Kate Winslet, all of whom were feted in the first reviews. Perhaps the most likely all around Oscar contender, this one will benefit from being a big studio offering with critical adoration. Something like Spotlight might have been slightly better received, but the buzz will coalesce around Steve Jobs, if I had to make a guess.

room brie larson
All of this just makes my next set of Academy Award predictions all the more interesting. Look for that in the coming days, but as much as anything, we’ve got an exciting fall festival season to continue looking forward to. Once Telluride and Venice end, we’ve got NYFF to deal with, and from New York it’s off to the west coast for AFI Fest, so there’s no sleep until Oscar nominations, as it were. It’s a truly great time for film, so trust me when I say that I’m not complaining. Stay tuned for lots more on all of these, as the likes of Beasts of No Nation, Black Mass, The Danish Girl, Everest, Room, Spotlight, Steve Jobs, and Suffragette are just getting started folks, so don’t think this is all we’ll have to say about them…

Be sure to keep reading this season to see how all of these contenders wind up doing!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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