The Oscar Race After the Festivals: ‘The Fabelmans’ Is on Top, but Dangers Await

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Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Now that the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals have taken place, here’s what we know for sure about the 2022 awards race.

We know that Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” has won Toronto’s People’s Choice Award, the same award won by “Nomadland,” “Green Book,” “12 Years a Slave” and “The King’s Speech” in the last dozen years. And that Brendan Fraser, Cate Blanchett and Colin Farrell have won acting awards for “The Whale,” “TAR” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” respectively.

But what does that really mean? That “The Fabelmans” will win Best Picture because it’s a very personal coming-of-age story from one of our most revered filmmakers, and because it’s also about the movies? That Fraser will win Best Actor for his harrowing performance in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale?” That Blanchett will win Best Actress for playing an out-of-control conductor in Todd Fields’ “Tár?”

And, while we’re throwing out predictions, that the supporting Oscars will go to Michelle Williams for “The Fabelmans” and, say, Brendan Gleeson for “The Banshees of Inisherin?”

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Yeah, maybe all of those things will happen. Maybe “The Fabelmans” will be a rare film that emerges from the fall festivals as the frontrunner and never loses momentum. (Hey, “Nomadland” did it two years ago.) Maybe the critical raves for Fraser and Blanchett and the others will turn into industry raves once voters start seeing the films.

But it’s too early to say any of that for sure, and the smart money says there will be lots of changes between now and March, when final Oscar ballots are cast. After all, “The Fabelmans” may have won the same TIFF award that “Nomadland” and “Green Book” won – but it’s also the award that best-picture losers “Belfast,” “Jojo Rabbit” and “La La Land” won, too.

Plus, just look at Spielberg’s track record. In 1999, he was the frontrunner with “Saving Private Ryan” until his film lost to “Shakespeare in Love.” In 2012, he became the favorite with “Lincoln” once Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director for “Argo,” but Affleck turned his snub into a sweep. And even last year, “West Side Story” rode an initial wave of raves to give it a boost in the battle with “The Power of the Dog.” (Few people were taking “CODA,” the eventual winner, seriously at that point.)

So yes, “The Fabelmans” is a legitimate frontrunner at the moment. But six months is a long time to be a frontrunner, regardless of how good things are looking in September.

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As for the other films that have premiered at the fall festivals, Martin McDonagh’s blistering dark comedy “The Banshees of Inisherin” seems to be in good shape to score a Best Picture nomination, just as McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” did five years ago.

The festivals brought an array of other films with a solid chance of joining the best-pic lineup, but all have potential weaknesses as well. “Tár” and “The Whale” are dark and uncompromising. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is a popcorn movie of the sort that rarely gets nominated, while “The Woman King” could be seen as more of an action movie than an awards player. Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” is strongly divisive, though that isn’t always a problem under the Academy’s preferential system of nomination voting. Florian Zeller’s “The Son” and Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light” received more mixed reactions than Zeller’s “The Father” or a number of Mendes’ past films. And Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Bardo (False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths)” and Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise” received lukewarm responses in Venice.

A couple of those are bound to make the cut, and I’d count “The Whale” (too epochal to ignore), “Women Talking” (which should have enough passionate supporters) and “Empire of Light” (which I found beautiful and moving) as the likeliest.

That still leaves a lot of open slots, which could mean that this year’s lineup will have a larger-than-usual number of films from earlier in the year, with “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Elvis” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” all real possibilities, and the Cannes entry “Armageddon Time” angling for recognition as well.

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The New York Film Festival, which begins on Friday, will bring a pair of world premieres of films that sight-unseen seem to have a chance to figure in the race: Chinonye Chukwu’s “Till,” about murdered teenager Emmett Till’s mother, who pursued justice after his 1955 lynching; and “She Said,” with Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as New York Times reporters who helped uncover Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual misconduct.

And then there are three BIG movies that will be released later in the year, and that shouldn’t be underestimated (though history suggests that at least one of them won’t get awards traction): James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and Damien Chazelle’s old-Hollywood epic “Babylon.”

Potential wild cards that could be supported by the Academy’s large international contingent include Ruben Ostlund’s English-language black comedy “Triangle of Sadness,” which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, as well as the Korean drama “Decision to Leave” and the German anti-war film “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

As for the acting races, the fall festivals identified some clear nominees in the lead categories: Fraser, Blanchett and Farrell (“Banshees of Inisherin”) in the top rank, with Hugh Jackman (“The Son”), Ana de Armas (“Blonde”), Olivia Colman (“Empire of Light”), Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and, if there’s any justice in the world, Bill Nighy (“Living”) right behind.

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(That’s in addition to the contenders already established, among them Austin Butler for “Elvis,” Michelle Yeoh for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and Emma Thompson for “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.”)

Michelle Williams is almost a lead in “The Fabelmans,” and will certainly be nominated; Judd Hirsch only has a couple of scenes in the same movie, but he’s likely as well. And the large, mostly female cast of “Women Talking” is filled with potential contenders: Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey.

But as we sift the film-festival tea leaves for clues to awards season, we shouldn’t go overboard. Let’s remember that Harry Styles won an acting award in Toronto, too, as part of the ensemble cast of “My Policeman” – a plaudit that is, shall we say, unlikely to happen again this awards season.