Newsletter: ‘Marriage Story’ makes an early Oscar season impact

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver on a subway car in "Marriage Story."
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in “Marriage Story.”

Hello from Canada, where the weather is cool, the poutine is warm and flowing, and just about every one of this year’s Oscar contenders is vying for attention.

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.


Telluride kicks off ‘Marriage Story’ momentum

The Telluride Film Festival unfolded this past weekend, offering several films — “Ford v Ferrari,” “Two Popes,” “Judy” and “Motherless Brooklyn” among them — the chance to generate the kind of buzz that can last for the next several months.

Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” a wrenching story of what Gwyneth Paltrow would call “conscious uncoupling,” emerged as the clear favorite. Starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, the film follows a couple through their divorce, a process that begins with a promise of “no lawyers” and becomes a no-holds-barred battle spiraling out of control.

Critics praised “Marriage Story” as a career-best effort from Baumbach, the writer-director of such movies as “The Squid and the Whale” and “While We’re Young.”

“It’s not for me to say,” Baumbach told Times reporter Josh Rottenberg. “But working with these actors, there were definitely moments and scenes we shot where I felt more affected by what they were doing. It felt charged and moving and exciting in ways that felt unique.”

Joaquin Phoenix as the "Joker."
(Nikos Tavernise / Warner Bros.)

‘Joker’ premieres in Venice

Todd Phillips’ relentlessly bleak take on the DC Comics character “Joker” would appear the kind of provocative movie to sell tickets and inspire think pieces in equal measure. (It seems like a thousand years since Jack Nicholson had fun delivering lines such as: “As my plastic surgeon always said, ‘If you gotta go, go with a smile.’ ”)

As played by Joaquin Phoenix, this new Joker would appear to be a close cousin to “Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickle. Times film critic Justin Chang, in Venice covering the festival, called Phoenix’s turn “a raw, festering wound of a performance that flirts with virtuosity and redundancy alike.” Sounds like fun!

I’ll be seeing the movie myself Monday night here in Toronto and will see how Phoenix’s performance factors into the lead actor Oscar race, a category shaping up to be the season’s most competitive.

Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in "Judy."
(David Hindley / LD Entertainment / Roadside Attractions)

L.A. Times has landed in Toronto

The Toronto International Film Festival is a sprawling event with hundreds of movies and dozens of premieres and events. You can follow along with our coverage, including work by writers Amy Kaufman, Jen Yamato, Mark Olsen and Ashley Lee, critic Justin Chang and photographer Jay L. Clendenin, whose photo studio is always humming, by going to our festivals page.

And remember, always, the pen is truly mightier than the sword.


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