The 2022 New York Film Festival is complete, which means it’s time to check in on the state of the (very early) 2023 awards season. NYFF introduced some big contenders to the city’s cinephile community, including Till and Armageddon Time, while expanding the run of festival favorites like Women Talking and TÁR. Having surveyed several of the films, here is my assessment of some of their awards potential, based on my own experiences with them, and the reactions I’ve seen from other festival goers.
One name: Danielle Deadwyler. Just as Meryl Streep did in Sophie’s Choice, Deadwyler’s astonishing turn as Mamie Till ignited the long-awaited Emmett Till biopic. Her searing portrayal of a woman’s unbearable grief and ferocious fight for justice blew audiences away and catapulted her into the upper rung of Best Actress Oscar contenders. Apart from Deadwyler, the film is a thoughtful retelling of Emmett Till’s 1955 murder that centers not on horrific brutality but on his humanity and right to live. As I wrote in my review, director Chinonye Chukwu gives Emmett and Mamie the story they’ve always deserved. The Academy would be remiss to ignore it.
Bones & All
It shouldn’t have surprised me that Luca Guadagnino and Timothée Chalamet’s followup to Call Me By Your Name blew me away. And yet, Bones & All exceeded my expectations to become my favorite film at the festival. (It ties with Till, depending on how emotionally vulnerable I feel at any given moment.) The cannibal road romance starring Chalamet and Taylor Russell is a genre-busting fantasia that found gore, beauty, and outright fun in its outrageous premise. Conventional wisdom states that the film doesn’t have a shot in hell at anything beyond maybe an Independent Spirit Award. If you take into account the pedigree, and audiences’ adoration of the film in Venice and New York, perhaps the wisdom is wrong in this case. I’d love it to be.
Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook has been wowing festival audiences all year with Decision to Leave, but the response from NYFF attendees feels especially pronounced. Audiences fell in love with its unabashed sensuality, tense mystery, and powerful performances, especially from Tang Wei. After 2020’s Parasite triumph and Drive My Car’s surprise landing in Best Picture, Decision to Leave has a strong shot at benefitting from the Academy’s growing embrace of international films to slot in the Best Picture race. It just needs to hold that momentum through the end of the year.
Cate Blanchett is the Supreme. After a spectacular debut at the Venice FIlm Festival, TÁR, Todd Field’s surgically-precise return to film, was met with open arms at the festival. (Lincoln Center was plastered with posters all week long.) The film was met with near-universal critical acclaim, for everything from the screenplay to the score. Blanchett’s brilliant performance as the power-mad orchestral conductor Lydia Tár received the lion’s share of praise. Her Oscar nomination for Best Actress is arguably the surest best this season (apart from Brendan Fraser in The Whale). TÁR, however, asserted itself as deserving of awards contention in its own right.
Considering I couldn’t score an Aftersun ticket, the film should probably be in the “Up” category, right? However, Charlotte Wells’ rapturous directorial debut about a father-daughter vacation has largely maintained the rabid interest since its premiere at Cannes. The film’s inventive approach to memory, and the brilliant performances of Paul Mescal and Frankie Core, wrecked audiences, with some critics penciling it in as one of the year-best picks. The only thing holding Aftersun back from turning its adoration into awards glory is A24. (The distributor seems to be throwing its full support behind the Brendan Fraser vehicle The Whale. It could due to spread the love around.)
There were few outright disappointments during my time at NYFF. (The less said about the disaster that was Stars at Noon, the better.) Sadly, one of them was Armageddon Time, James Gray’s childhood-inspired film about interpersonal and institutional racism and how to rise above it. As I explain in my review for Geek Vibes Nation, the film has good intentions. However, Gray is ill-equipped to handle the myriad intricacies of his chosen theme. The film often feels like an after-school special, and suffers from serious tonal issues that nearly wreck it. Anthony Hopkins is the only person who walks away from the film unscathed. (Bless him for surviving this and The Son in the same year.)
I enjoyed White Noise, Noah Baumbach’s riff on ’80s era Steven Spielberg. It’s a film you wouldn’t think Baumbach could make: unhinged, ridiculous, loose, and utterly hilarious. Perhaps that’s why audiences at Venice coolly responded to it. White Noise needed an overwhelmingly excited response to pump life into its deflated awards campaign. However, with so many other buzzier and well-received titles, the film came well under the radar.