‘A Star Is Born’ sparks awards talk

Toronto fes­ti­val helps hand­i­cap the Os­car race

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - An­drea Man­dell

TORONTO – Pass the pop­corn, be­cause awards sea­son is fi­nally com­ing into fo­cus. As the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val comes to a close, we’ve got in­tel on which films took flight and the movies in dan­ger of los­ing trac­tion. Here’s what you need to know about how the Os­car race is shap­ing up:

The sure things

❚ Net­flix flexes its way into the best­pic­ture race with “Roma,” a black-and­white Span­ish-lan­guage film from Mex­i­can di­rec­tor Al­fonso Cuaron. “Roma” is a trib­ute to the women who guided Cuaron’s child­hood in Mex­ico City, par­tic­u­larly his house­keeper, Cleo (new­comer Yal­itza Apari­cio), and his sin­gle mother, Sofía (Ma­rina de Tavira). Crit­ics have hailed “Roma” as a mas­ter­piece.

❚ Make way for “A Star Is Born,” the new awards sea­son dar­ling. Bradley Cooper’s lat­est it­er­a­tion of the Hol­ly­wood clas­sic was the bona fide hit of the fes­ti­val. “Os­car watch­ers were pre­pared not to take this se­ri­ously,” Tom O’Neil of awards site Gold­Derby.com says, but the Toronto screen­ings “si­lenced all skep­tics for good.”

The au­di­ence gave the film three stand­ing ova­tions at the fes­ti­val’s pre­miere, caus­ing Lady Gaga to tear up. She called mak­ing the mu­si­cal “the great­est artis­tic ex­pe­ri­ence of my ca­reer.” Right now, all signs point to nom­i­na­tions for best pic­ture, di­rec­tor, ac­tor and ac­tress – and good­ness, are Gaga’s dra­matic red-car­pet turns go­ing to be fun.

❚ “First Man,” Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” fol­low-up, is on sure foot­ing af­ter mak­ing its way from open­ing Venice Film Fes­ti­val to Toronto. The sober­ing tale of Neil Arm­strong’s quest to land on the moon has earned stel­lar reviews for Chazelle, with prospects ris­ing for stars Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. “I don’t think it gen­er­ates the kind of emo­tional ex­u­ber­ance that ‘La La Land’ or ‘ Whiplash’ did, but it feels im­por­tant,” O’Neil says.

Per­for­mances that popped

OK, so Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are prob­a­bly shoo-ins at this point. But who else at­tracts that Os­car glow?

Melissa McCarthy is “am­bush­ing the best-ac­tress race,” O’Neil says, play­ing a caus­tic strug­gling writer who be­gins forg­ing let­ters from fa­mous peo­ple to make her rent in the sleeper “Can You Ever For­give Me?” Mean­while, the fes­ti­val heartily wel­comed back Ju­lia Roberts, who im­pressed crit­ics as a res­o­lute mother who con­fronts her opi­oid-ad­dicted son in “Ben Is Back.”

Also ris­ing is Ni­cole Kid­man with two Os­car con­tenders this fall, the gay con­ver­sion drama “Boy Erased” (for which she could nab a sup­port­ing-ac­tress nom­i­na­tion as the re­li­gious mother of a gay teen) and “De­stroyer,” a noir crime thriller she leads (and is al­most un­rec­og­niz­able in) as an al­co­holic de­tec­tive.

Speak­ing of ac­tors who have mul­ti­ple shots, make way for the phe­nom known as Lu­cas Hedges. The young star is ex­cel­lent in two films: He plays Roberts’ shifty, pill-pop­ping son in “Ben Is Back” and Kid­man’s ter­ri­fied, outed teen in “Boy Erased.” He’ll prob­a­bly be joined in the Os­car race by Ti­mothée Cha­la­met, whose gaunt frame and haunted per­for­mance gave weight to the meth ad­dict he plays in “Beau­ti­ful Boy.” (Toronto was also a hub for re­unions: At the “Beau­ti­ful Boy” af­ter-party, we watched Cha­la­met climb over his ban­quette to em­brace his “Call Me By Your Name” costar Ar­mie Ham­mer.)

Then there was the Toronto sur­prise “Green Book,” an up­com­ing film about a racist driver (Viggo Mortensen) tasked with mo­tor­ing a world-class black pi­anist (Ma­her­shala Ali) across the South in the 1960s. “Green Book” be­came a hot ticket af­ter pos­i­tive reviews, and both ac­tors re­ceived raves.

The un­de­cided

Who came back from Canada with work to do? Hugh Jack­man’s Gary Hart biopic, “The Front Run­ner,” re­ceived mixed reviews, though Jack­man’s prospects could still rally. “The movie will have to do very well com­mer­cially to gain some foot­ing” in the race, IMDb. com spe­cial correspondent Dave Karger says.

Then there’s Robert Redford, who ar­rived in Toronto with his self-de­clared act­ing fi­nale, “The Old Man & the Gun.” Though many found the film too lowkey to reg­is­ter with vot­ers in the best­pic­ture cat­e­gory, Redford charms as an ag­ing bank rob­ber and could still find a spot in the best-ac­tor race this year.

And ku­dos to Barry Jenk­ins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The film, based on James Bald­win’s 1974 novel, ar­rived in Toronto un­der a cloud of un­cer­tainty but found an au­di­ence that fell in love. Though its best-pic­ture prospects re­main un­clear, “it‘s a wor­thy fol­low-up to ‘Moon­light’ and with­out a doubt Regina King is get­ting nom­i­nated,” Karger says.

NEAL PRE­STON

Hard-liv­ing singer Jack­son Maine (Bradley Cooper) takes young up-and-comer Ally (Lady Gaga) un­der his wing in “A Star Is Born.”

TATUM MANGUS/AN­NA­PURNA PIC­TURES

Barry Jenk­ins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” earned praise in Toronto.

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