"A Star is Born" still shot (IMDB/Warner Brothers)
"A Star is Born" still shot (IMDB/Warner Brothers)

With the summer’s final hit, Crazy Rich Asians, still minting box office yen, the industry attention has already shifted to what has become an increasingly bloated awards season in the run-up to the Academy Awards on February 24.

The race began in earnest on August 29 in Italy, made a pit stop in the peaks of Colorado among a cool crowd that included Nicole Kidman and Robert Redford, and now slides into Canada for the big awards daddy, the Toronto International Film Festival that wraps its run on September 16.

What films have emerged at the front? And which ones are teasing at the fringes?

Netflix’s Roma has leapt to the top contender out of the opening festivals, a deeply personal black-and-white film from Gravity‘s Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron set in his native Mexico in the 1970s.


Based on Cuaron’s coming-of-age story, the emotional drama follows a middle-class family and their live-in nanny through turbulent times. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy gushed: “Blessed with an exceptionally acute sensitivity to the things of life, Roma is a memory film of unusual beauty that pushes to the foreground what is commonly left in the background.” Already hailed as a contender, even a front-runner, among Oscar gurus including GoldDerby.com, the film has joined to push Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman from its early lead position, reminding viewers that the majority of contenders make their debuts once the leaves begin to turn.


Not far behind is awards favorite Damien Chazelle’s First Man, a dense biopic of crusty astronaut Neil Armstrong – the initial guy to stride the moon — with a strong silent central performance from Ryan Gosling (his La La Land leading man). Both Roma‘s Cuaron and Chazelle have scored Best Director before. The younger director with three films in the can, Chazelle has experienced a whirlwind career that launched in 2014 with a drumroll – and three Oscars — in his 2014 feature debut, Whiplash. EW‘s Chris Nashawaty gave the space-themed movie, slated for release on October 12, an A– and extolled: “Chazelle and Gosling have achieved something remarkable with First Man, even if that first man is the last man we feel we truly know.”  Just to keep it real, let’s give a nod to Time‘s Stephanie Zacharek more circumspect reaction: “This is a respectful movie, even a genuflecting one; there’s never a moment when Chazelle fails to let you know he’s doing important, valuable work. But that’s the problem: The movie feels too fussed-over for such a low-key hero.” That may be evidence of a wobble on its flight to Best Picture, but no doubt it’s in it to win it.

While I’m resisting Bradley Cooper’s country-rock remake of A Star is Born, in which he also stars opposite Lady Gaga (I’ve only just accepted the Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson version out of loyalty to Judy Garland-James Mason), it seems like the case of a movie that will attract droves of diverse viewers even if it’s not the first movie old Hollywood rushes to see. The bittersweet ballad of a star who discovers an unknown and sticks around to see her rise as he falls into a bottle, it’s possible when all is said and done that the film, which opens October 8, could glean Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Adapted Screenplay. Musical and technical awards also seem likely. Seeing, apparently, is believing so I’ll leave it to New York Magazine/Vulture’s Emily Yoshida to go semi- gaga: “What keeps the film from feeling like a mere rehash is the gut-level romanticism of it all.”


Flying a little below the radar out of Telluride is National Geographic’s rapturous documentary Free Solo about Alex Honnold’s daring climb up the granite face of Yosemite’s El Capitan – without a rope! The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos returns with The Favourite, a twisty period All About Eve set in the 18th Century English Court of Queen Anne. Its triumvirate of rival female performances come from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. And there’s a hold-the-press career changing turn for comedian Melissa McCarthy as the novelist-turned-forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me opposite Richard E. Grant. And don’t forget Robert Redford, who claims to be making his last stand as an actor in David Lowery’s geriatric crime biopic, The Old Man & The Gun.

Many of these films repeated their run at Toronto, which also saw the debut of Michael Moore’s incendiary doc Fahrenheit 11/9, a reference to the date of the 2016 election of Donald Trump. BBC.com’s Caryn James calls the provocateur’s latest “a flat-out anti-Trump polemic” and “never dull for a minute.” Barry Jenkins’ James Baldwin adaptation, If Beale Street Could Talk, inspired a standing ovation – and buzz for star Regina King.

Meanwhile, a pair of dramas about parents coping with addicted sons – Beautiful Boy and Ben is Back — bring a flood of Oscar-baity performances from the likes of Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet in the former, and Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges (directed by his father, Peter) in the latter. Also look for Oscar-winner Natalie Portman shimmying toward another statuette when she sings and spirals as a pop diva in Vox Lux opposite Jude Law – and perennial Julianne Moore inhabiting the title role of Gloria Bell, a remake of the 2013 Chilean award-winner Gloria.

Last year at this time, major contenders Darkest Hour, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri had all premiered at either Venice, Telluride or Toronto where I, Tonya made its world premiere. The future foreign language winner, A Fantastic Woman, had also debuted. So, for those who track the season, or want to know what to see as fall unfurls, start with Roma, First Man and A Star is Born.