The early days of awards season bring buzz and promise, but they also mean it’s time for studios to develop strategy and brainstorm opportunities to strike.
With the Toronto International Film Festival handing out its prestigious People’s Choice prize to Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” the Focus Features drama has the authority to declare itself the best picture front-runner for this awards season — but holding on to the throne won’t be easy.
Speaking of thrones, Joel Coen’s adaptation of “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” his first solo directorial helm without his brother Ethan in years, played like gangbusters at the Sept. 24 opening night of the New York Film Festival.
Taking on William Shakespeare is always a daunting task, with some films finding success (such as Branagh’s 1996 “Hamlet” or Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of “Romeo + Juliet”) and others not so much (e.g., Michael Almereyda’s 2014 take on “Cymbeline”).
Set as a black-and-white period piece, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” from A24 and Apple Original Films, can easily find love in artisan categories such as production design (Stefan Dechant and set decoration by Nancy Haigh), cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel), sound (to be determined) and original score (Carter Burwell). Consumer audiences may not be flocking to the cinemas on Christmas Day, but the film doesn’t need that type of narrative to translate to voters.
Denzel Washington as Macbeth will be a formidable challenger to Will Smith’s Richard Williams in the crowd-pleaser “King Richard.” This marks a possible Oscar rematch, 20 years after Washington’s performance in “Training Day” claimed victory over Smith’s turn in “Ali.” It should also be noted that there are many leading men already in the mix with Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Power of the Dog”), Clifton Collins, Jr (“Jockey”), Peter Dinklage (“Cyrano”), Joaquin Phoenix (“C’mon C’mon”) and Simon Rex (“Red Rocket”) already making noise – with other possibilities waiting in the wings (Javier Bardem, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield and Cooper Hoffman).
The supporting players are the brightest spot of the film, which aren’t typical with “Macbeth” adaptations. Corey Hawkins’ Macduff is passionately entrenched within his limited scenes, and he has vengeful words flowing through his veins throughout. If Washington is a true contender for his third Oscar, someone like Hawkins could come along for the ride.
With only 10 movie credits over the last 30 years, Kathryn Hunter’s Witch (and Old Man) is inventively complex and beautifully orchestrated through contortions and soul-piercing dialogue offering. She could become a critical darling this season (NYFCC future winner perhaps?), which could lead to some traction in supporting actress. In a one-scene wonder, recent Emmy nominee Moses Ingram (Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit”) declares to Hollywood that she is not going anywhere, and every producer should be lining up to hand her roles. It’ll likely be one of those that people like myself will bang the drum for, but most likely will come up short. But we can pray.
Frances McDormand, who stars as Lady Macbeth, made history last year as the first woman to be nominated for producing and acting in the same year for “Nomadland,” winning her third and fourth Oscars respectively. She could take two awards for “Macbeth” as well.
I’ve heard murmurs that the studio is considering her for a supporting run this time, even though the part of Lady Macbeth has always been thought of as a lead role. A source close to the studio has shared that the decision for supporting is very unlikely and she’ll end up competing for lead actress once again. But when voters hear McDormand’s delivery of “Out, damned spot,” they’ll probably do whatever she wants.