Venice, Italy, September 28, 2023 – After making a splash at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, Netflix’s latest awards season contender, “Maestro,” is preparing for its next significant stop at the New York Film Festival on Monday. Directed by Bradley Cooper, who also stars in the film, “Maestro” is a biopic centered on the life of iconic composer Leonard Bernstein.
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Ahead of its New York premiere, Netflix hosted an exclusive screening event at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. The event featured the introduction of the film by Leonard Bernstein’s daughters, Jamie Bernstein and Nina Maria Felicia Bernstein, followed by an intimate discussion with key members of the filmmaking team, including Oscar-nominated producer Kristie Macosko Krieger and three-time nominated sound mixer Steven Morrow.
“Maestro” chronicles the life of Leonard Bernstein as he navigates decades of music creation and teaching while being married to Felicia Montealegre, portrayed by Carey Mulligan. Mulligan, known for her two Oscar-nominated roles in “An Education” (2009) and “Promising Young Woman” (2020), delivers a remarkable performance as Felicia. Her portrayal of a woman trapped in a life of secrecy and overshadowed by her husband has drawn critical acclaim.
While some initially questioned Mulligan’s category submission, with speculation that she might compete in the lead actress category, there is a growing sentiment that she could have a more competitive chance in the supporting actress category. With the lead actress category brimming with talent, including Lily Gladstone’s surprise leading role in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Mulligan’s supporting campaign is being considered a wise strategy.
The debate over “category fraud” in awards has been ongoing, but it’s worth noting that roles don’t always neatly fit into lead or supporting categories, as seen in iconic performances like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.” “Maestro’s” script presents an unconventional biopic focused on Bernstein as the central figure, around whom all other characters revolve, including Felicia, making Mulligan’s role a pivotal one.
Bradley Cooper, who not only directs but also stars as Leonard Bernstein, has garnered comparisons to Oscar-winning performances by Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln” and Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.” Cooper’s portrayal combines the subtlety of Day-Lewis’s character and the emotional depth of Phoenix’s role, potentially putting him in contention for his first acting award.
Only two individuals in Oscar history have directed themselves to acting wins, and Cooper, with nine nominations over the past decade, is considered overdue for recognition. A pivotal conducting sequence in the film is being touted as his potential “Oscar clip.”
However, the competition in the best actor category is fierce, with contenders like Colman Domingo, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Giamatti, and Cillian Murphy. Cooper’s chances will depend on the reception of “Maestro” as it continues to screen.
Apart from acting, “Maestro” marks a significant step forward for Bradley Cooper as a director. His directorial debut, “A Star is Born,” showed promise, and with “Maestro,” he combines a partly fantastical musical experience with a documentary-style approach, providing a unique perspective on Bernstein’s life. The film is expected to be a strong contender in categories like production design, costumes, cinematography, editing, and sound.
One challenge facing “Maestro” is the Directors Branch of the Academy, which can be tough on actors-turned-filmmakers. However, the film’s association with producing legends Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese could work in its favor.
Despite pre-release concerns about prosthetics and makeup, the film’s visual elements have received praise, particularly the color sequences, which have been described as “otherworldly.”
As the awards season unfolds, Netflix is positioning “Maestro” as a strong contender for the best picture category, with potential resonance across various branches. Whether the film will secure the highly coveted best picture statue remains to be seen, but it is undeniably a player to watch in this year’s awards race.