The 2018 BFI London Film Festival opens on Wednesday with a film firmly in the Oscar race – Steve McQueen‘s “Widows.” Over the course of the next 11 days, another nine films with awards buzz will screen for industry insiders and the general public. Here’s a full rundown of the top 10 films at the LFF with Oscar hopes.
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: James Franco, David Krumholtz, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan
Follows the story of two trail bosses on the Oregon Trail and a woman on the wagon train who needs the help of one of them and who might be a marriage prospect for the other.
Never discount the Coens. They may not have featured properly at the Oscars since their remake of “True Grit” in 2011 – although they were nominated for their screenplay for “Bridge of Spies” in 2016. This western could bring them back to Oscar glory. Director, Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design are all viable options, although none of the cast may feature enough to earn a nomination. The only potential drawback is that this is an anthology and that genre does not tend to do well at the Oscars.
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet
Based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.
Belgian import Van Groeningen is sure to become better known for his first English-language film. Carell was nominated for Best Actor in 2014 for “Foxcatcher,” while Chalamet broke out last year with his performance in “Call Me By Your Name,” for which he reaped a Best Actor bid. Both could contend again for their powerhouse, emotional performances. The only issue here for the studio is where to campaign who. Will Chalamet be in lead and Carell supporting, or the other way around?
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Director: Marielle Hiller
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant
When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception. An adaptation of the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Lee Israel.
This film is a Best Actress vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, who is very much at the forefront of that categories’ current conversation. Others could come along for the ride, too. Scene stealer Richard E. Grant could snag a Best Supporting Actor nomination. This looks like it could be McCarthy’s “Capote.” Phillip Seymour-Hoffman won Best Actor for that, for playing a renowned writer in a transformative role.
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw
Colette is pushed by her husband to write novels under his name. Upon their success, she fights to make her talents known, challenging gender norms.
Keira Knightley returns to the fold this year with another period drama. Her last Oscar nomination came in 2015 for Best Supporting Actress for the WWII biopic “The Imitation Game.” Before that, she was nominated for Best Actress for the Georgian era “Pride & Prejudice” in 2005. This period piece will always be talked about for Costume Design, Production Design and Hair and Make-Up.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone
In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) governs the country in her stead. When a new servant Abigail (Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.
This is one of the most anticipated films to play at LFF, with Lanthimos following up his excellent “The Lobster” (for which he was nominated for Best Original Screenplay with Efthymis Filippou) and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” with something very different. Expect it do as well below the line (Production Design, Costume Design, Score, Editing, Hair & Make-Up) as above (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress and Supporting Actress). Who will be placed where? Colman, Weisz and Stone could all theoretically be campaigned in either Lead or Supporting, so the studio has some decisions to make. They will at least have to campaign two actresses in the same category.
“The Front Runner”
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Ver Farmiga, J.K. Simmons
American Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1988 is derailed when he’s caught in a scandalous love affair.
A true story featuring A-list actors playing real-life people. And politicians are always a good way to go – just look at Adam McKay‘s “Vice” this year, which sadly won’t be playing at the LFF. Anyway, Reitman could be in the mix for Director, while Jackman and Simmons will be in with a shout for Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively.
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephen James, Regina King
A woman in Harlem desperately scrambles to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime while carrying their first child.
Jenkins, who helmed 2017 Best Picture winner “Moonlight,” is back with a film that is sure to do well: It is currently tipped for Picture, Director and Screenplay nominations. And it’s cast, led by Layne and James, could feature, too. Regina Kind in Supporting Actress is also a real threat. It’s another timely, important film from Jenkins, so he could reap the same rewards as he did with “Moonlight.”
“The Old Man and the Gun”
Director: David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits
Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public.
That this might be Redford’s last performance will only help him in his quest for his first Oscar nomination since his Director and Picture bids in 1995 for “Quiz Show.” He came close with “All is Lost” in 2014 but was snubbed. Here, with the duel Oscar narrative of veteran and swansong performance, he could earn that nod. Whatever the case, this film is all about Redford – which will help his campaign, to be sure.
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira
A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Anyone else getting Terrence Malick vibes with Cuaron’s latest? His last film was vastly different: 2013’s “Gravity,” which won seven Oscars including Best Director for Cuaron and Best Film Editing for Cuaron and co-cutter Mark Sanger. That Oscar pedigree brings him right back in the mix this year with “Roma,” which he wrote himself. Expect lots of talk for Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography (shot in a very romantic black and white), Editing and Picture, amongst others.
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson
Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Steve McQueen won the Best Picture Academy Award in 2013 with “12 Years a Slave,” a film for which he was also nominated for Best Director. Straight away, that means he and his new film are in this year’s mix. Oscar winner Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress for 2016’s “Fences”) contends in the Best Actress race while Rodriguez and Debicki feature. Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall and last year’s Best Actor nominee Daniel Kaluuya add more star power to an already great cast. Gillian Flynn, the screenwriter, is the author of “Gone Girl.”