Where Oscar season stands after the fall film festivals

The race has shifted as some surprise candidates pull ahead

Jeffrey Wright, Colman Domingo and Emma Stone.
"Oppenheimer" star Cillian Murphy remains the Best Actor frontrunner, with Bradley Cooper on his tail for "Maestro."
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images, TIFF, YouTube)

Hollywood may remain largely shut down, but Oscar season is marching on all the same. The Venice Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival have changed the state of the awards race, knocking certain movies out of contention and boosting surprise contenders to the top. 

"Oppenheimer" remains the apparent Best Picture frontrunner, while reviews for "The Holdovers" and "Maestro" were as strong as they needed to be for the films to remain in play. But with the New York Film Festival still in sight, these are the biggest ways the awards season has shifted after the recent premieres:

Watch out for 'American Fiction' and Jeffrey Wright

Just when Oscar pundits thought they had a good sense of the Best Picture field, "American Fiction" has crashed the party. Cord Jefferson's satire, which stars Jeffrey Wright as a novelist whose book filled with racial stereotypes becomes a surprise hit, is now a likely Best Picture nominee after winning TIFF's People’s Choice Award. Every People's Choice Award winner since 2012 went on to be nominated for Best Picture. Wright is also now firmly in the mix for Best Actor. 

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Cailee Spaeny gets a Best Actress boost

For the second consecutive year, an actor could be nominated for an Elvis biopic, as Cailee Spaeny, who plays Priscilla Presley in "Priscilla," received a boost by winning the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at Venice. Since 2016, all but two women who won this award went on to be nominated at the Oscars. 

Annette Bening and Aunjanue Ellis could join the Best Actress race

Reviews suggest "Nyad" won't be a Best Picture contender, but Annette Bening still looks like a possible Best Actress nominee for her role as swimmer Diana Nyad, while Bening's co-star Jodie Foster could compete for Best Supporting Actress. Also don’t count out Aunjanue Ellis, who earned strong marks for playing Isabel Wilkerson in Ava DuVernay's "Origin."

'All of Us Strangers' joins the fray

The British film "All of Us Strangers" wasn't on many pundits' radars before its premiere at Telluride, where it received rave reviews, and it currently holds a near-perfect score on Metacritic. Andrew Scott, in particular, is a dark horse Best Actor candidate for a performance Deadline's Pete Hammond called "superb," while Paul Mescal has a shot at snagging a second acting nomination. 

Could Colman Domingo be Cillian Murphy’s biggest Best Actor threat?

"Oppenheimer" star Cillian Murphy remains the Best Actor frontrunner, with Bradley Cooper on his tail for "Maestro." But after the Telluride premiere of "Rustin," Colman Domingo, who plays civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, has pulled ahead. Though critics generally agreed the film is a fairly standard biopic, Screen Rant's Patrice Witherspoon said Domingo delivers a "true Oscar-worthy performance if I've ever seen one."

'Saltburn' and 'Next Goal Wins' are likely dead

Every season, there are movies that seem like contenders on paper until their festival premieres, and this year was no exception. For one, there was Taika Waititi's "Next Goal Wins." Waititi won a screenplay Oscar for "Jojo Rabbit," but don't bet on him repeating with this soccer movie, which received mixed reviews at TIFF. Emerald Fennell's "Saltburn" also had a mixed reception at Telluride, and though its Rotten Tomatoes score has since improved, it may still be too divisive for a Best Picture nod. 

'Poor Things' could win Best Picture, and Emma Stone could win Best Actress

But the winner of the festival season so far is easily Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things."

Emma Stone has been widely praised for delivering a career-best performance, so Best Actress could now be neck-and-neck between her and Lily Gladstone, who was recently revealed to be running as a lead for "Killers of the Flower Moon." Beyond that, keep an eye on Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo for Best Supporting Actor nods. 

But the movie itself, a take on "Frankenstein" starring Stone as a woman brought back to life with her unborn child’s brain, also received raves at Venice, where it won the top prize of the Golden Lion, and it currently holds a stunning 94 Metacritic score. So might Best Picture come down to "Oppenheimer" vs. "Poor Things"? Brace for the most off-kilter Best Picture winner since … well, since last year.

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