Annette Bening and Jodie Foster Are Major Oscar Contenders for ‘Nyad’

Over the past few years, Netflix’s strongest Oscar contenders—handsomely mounted dramas like The Power of the Dog and All Quiet on the Western Front—have earned Hollywood’s admiration through their unimpeachable craft and singular directorial visions. It’s been harder for Academy members to fall in love with them, though; they end up playing second banana to movies like CODA and Everything Everywhere All at Once that wear their hearts on their sleeves, unafraid of going a little sentimental. But I suspect the streamer may finally have a movie that both checks those accessible boxes and will find widespread respect around town, and it’s Nyad.

The biopic directed by Oscar winners Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Free Solo), which premiered tonight in Telluride, may not be the toast of critics as the subtly brilliant Power was, or demand a ton of below-the-line love like those battlefield sequences in All Quiet. But it’s got a stirring story to tell in the journey of Diana Nyad, who at 64 years old swam over 100 miles in a single run from Cuba to Florida, an extraordinary feat of willpower and perseverance that the film rightly milks for all of its emotional impact. It’s a hard movie not to like and an easy one to love, cleanly hitting familiar beats that still strike a chord.

This goes especially when you’ve got Annette Bening and Jodie Foster in the main roles, delivering true star turns that come together as their richest and most notable performances in years. It is too early to game out a quickly intensifying best-actress race—later this weekend out of Venice, we’ll get our first read on Emma Stone in Poor Things and Carey Mulligan in Maestro, both of whom are already generating deafening buzz—but Bening’s warts-and-all portrait will be a compelling, undeniably central part of that conversation. Her noted history of many Oscar nods without a win rather neatly matches the film’s theme of never giving up, and Bening’s intensive preparation—and resulting physical transformation—only adds to that resonance.

Foster, meanwhile, is a huge part of Nyad as Diana’s best friend and eventual coach, Bonnie Stoll, emerging as the movie’s heart once their complex bond takes center stage. It’s been nearly 30 years since Foster was Oscar-nominated, for Nell, and the two-time winner stands an excellent shot of making this year’s final five for best supporting actress. She’s got the screen time, the wry banter, the emotional weight, and the sheer presence. For a movie very much about two women in their 60s, both out lesbians and both brashly outspoken, seeing Bening and Foster so fiercely embody those characters feels like a persuasive campaign narrative just waiting to take shape.

How far can Nyad go otherwise? With the Academy of 2023, a certain threshold of critical embrace is important, and this movie—which, again, doesn’t exactly fear its genre’s well-worn conventions—will need to clear it for consideration in the best picture and directing races. There is some controversy in the air regarding the movie’s subject, which, knowing how awards season tends to devolve, could make way for some kind of backlash. As of now, though, I’m seeing a very strong contender for Netflix. If things keep picking up for the movie—with Bening and Foster starting to get out there, following a SAG-AFTRA strike resolution, being a key factor—we’ll also be talking about Claudio Miranda’s immersive cinematography out of the Caribbean shoot, Rhys Ifans’s lovely work as Diana’s boat captain, and Julia Cox’s witty adaptation of Nyad’s memoir.

The cathartic final act is rousing enough to make me wonder just how far the movie can go if it indeed finds that kind of across-the-board momentum. Academy voters increasingly prefer wrapping their arms around a movie that gives them the warm fuzzies, a tale of social import that doesn’t let the storm clouds take over. When you watch Bening reach the Key West shore as the music swells, with the theater audience cheering right along with her, it’s clear that the sun is shining.

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