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'Battle of the Sexes' volleys for Oscar voters' attention

One crowd-pleasing Oscar contender arrives in theaters today, while another earns a boost from audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Welcome to the Gold Standard, the newsletter from the Los Angeles Times that helps guide you through the ins and outs of the awards season leading up to the Oscars.

I'm Glenn Whipp, The Times' awards columnist and your newsletter host.

Does ‘Battle of the Sexes’ have awards season game?

I’ve spent the last two newsletters highlighting movies premiering at fall festivals like Telluride and Toronto, and maybe you’ve been taking notes for the future. Or maybe you’ve been grinding your teeth because you’d really like to see, say, “The Shape of Water,” and, right now, you’re stuck with a choice between “Annabelle: Creation” and “American Assassin.”

But today, one of those festival films, “Battle of the Sexes,” a look at the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), arrives in (select) theaters.

Is it worth seeing? Will we still be talking about it a few months from now?

Times film critic Kenneth Turan calls the movie “enjoyable and entertaining” in his review, which you can read here. He adds that Simon Beaufoy’s “audience-friendly” script uses the match as a starting point, but is most involving “when it deals not with sports or society but the personal struggles both players, especially King, were going through in the run-up to the match.”

I’m less persuaded of its merits, but the critical reaction as a whole is pretty good. The movie is sitting (as of this writing) with a 72 composite score on the movie review aggregator Metacritic.

That’s not a great score. Best picture Oscar nominees typically rate at least in the high 70s. But “Battle of the Sexes,” directed by the “Little Miss Sunshine” team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, could go deep into the awards season. It’s a capable piece of entertainment possessing a strong message of female empowerment. The story’s significance is repeatedly addressed, lest the audience forgets. To sum up: It’s the kind of movie academy members could feel good watching and pat themselves on the back for supporting.

‘Three Billboards’ takes Toronto audience award

“Battle of the Sexes” is a crowd-pleaser, but it’s not the movie that won audiences’ hearts at the Toronto International Film Festival.

That would be “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which won the festival’s coveted People’s Choice Award, solidifying it as a prime contender this awards season.

“Three Billboards” tells the story of an angry, grieving mother (Frances McDormand) who puts up a trio of billboards criticizing Ebbing’s police chief (Woody Harrelson) for failing to make any headway in her daughter’s rape and murder case months after the crime.

The film, written and directed by Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”), defies expectations at every turn. It’s equally adept at making you laugh and cry, and the comedy is perfectly calibrated and grounded in character.

I wrote about its reception in Toronto here. The last five Toronto People’s Choice winners have gone on to earn best picture Oscar nominations. “Three Billboards” should keep that streak alive.

Wrapping up the Emmys

This year’s Emmys broke some new ground. Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” became the first streaming show to win the drama series prize. “Atlanta” creator Donald Glover was the first black man to win for directing in comedy. (Glover also took the Emmy for comedy lead actor.) Lena Waithe made history as the first black woman to win for writing in a comedy series.

The Times covered all these stories, got to the bottom of Sean Spicer’s appearance and, of course, offered plenty of photo galleries from the Emmys’ red carpet. You can find our complete coverage by going here.

Feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can’t get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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