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What we learned from the fall film festival circuit

Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is one of the fall’s most anticipated films.
Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is one of the fall’s most anticipated films.

It’s that time of the year again: the red carpets are being rolled out and the celebrities are being suited up. That’s right — its film festival season.1 Here’s how it works: films have early screenings at various festivals, where they receive a preliminary verdict. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Telluride Festival and Venice Film Festival are among the most prestigious festivals in the world, and the audience’s reception of the films that are screened can either provide a massive boost or catastrophic blow to their chances at glory. Films that fail to make an impact may not get a distributor, virtually ending any chance they have for the general public to see them. Here are the surprises, disappointments and controversies of the fall festival circuit.

When you think about Shia Labeouf (if you do at all), do you think Oscar contender? Based on TIFF screening reviews, Labeouf’s “Honey Boy” presents a remarkable comeback for the actor, who showcases his acting and writing abilities in a raw and heartfelt portrayal of his relationship with his father. The film was acquired by Amazon Studios, which had success with a similarly-themed “Manchester by the Sea.” 

Several films opened to general acclaim, but if they even want a chance at a nomination, they will need to generate more hype to edge out other films. One such film is “Harriet,” starring Cynthia Ervio as the iconic abolitionist and conductor of the Underground Railroad. Several months ago, Ervio was the subject of controversy due to her British identity. Her performance as Tubman, however, has been well-received, and could reverse her reception as awards season continues.

Among the more disappointing debuts is “Lucy in the Sky,” a cerebral space science-fiction drama about an astronaut who embarks on an affair with a fellow astronaut. Despite a strong performance from star Natalie Portman, the film has been received as a nonsensical, overly stylized and clunky mess. Even more unfortunate is the fact that “Lucy in the Sky” is the feature film directorial debut of Noah Hawley, critically acclaimed for his FX series “Legion.”

Similarly, “The Goldfinch,” starring Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort, screened to a resounding thud. Despite it being adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt, the film fails to accommodate the plot, resulting in a jumbled and laborious runtime. “The Goldfinch” is a massive disappointment for Warner Bros Studio, which co-produced the film alongside Amazon Studios with a $45 million budget, a hefty tag for a coming-of-age story with no box office potential.

At the Telluride Festival, several major players made their case. James Mangold’s “Ford v. Ferrari” opened Telluride to widespread acclaim The film, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, has been described as exhilarating, tight and emotional. In addition, the composer, cinematographer and editor of “Ford v. Ferrari have all received Oscars in the past, strengthening the possibility that this film receives nominations in a slew of categories. 

“Judy” is a return to form for Reneé Zellweger, who plays Hollywood icon Judy Garland in the months leading to her death. Much of the hype surrounding this film rests firmly on Zellweger’s shoulders, making her a prime Best Actress contender.

Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world and the most prestigious one included in this lineup. This year’s roster included a relatively uncommon addition: a major studio comic book movie. “Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix as the eponymous villain, screened to instant acclaim — immediately followed by controversy over its provocative nature. Many agree: Phoenix is a juggernaut in the film, with a real chance at the Best Actor Oscar. However, others see the film as a gross glamourization of incel culture. When the public gives its verdict with the film’s wide release in early October, “Joker” will potentially have all the ammunition it needs to power through.

Also screened at Venice was “The King,” starring Timothée Chalamet as Henry V. Several other stars like Robert Pattinson and Ben Mendelsohn make appearances in “The King,” but Netflix won’t find another “Roma” in this film. Chalamet hasn’t managed to draw the same critical buzz as he did with “Call Me by Your Name,” and the film has been called everything from “revisionist” to “cliché.”

Out of the gate, several highly anticipated films have already stumbled. Other films, like Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” have yet to premiere, and may become frontrunners as the season progresses. Benedict Cumberbatch enjoys making epic wartime dramas every so often, so be on the lookout for his latest film, “1917.” Films released in the coming months aren’t the only ones that have a chance at receiving awards. Awards season won’t officially begin until November, but the race has already begun, so grab some popcorn and settle in.