‘Two Popes’ wins Audience Award at Middleburg Film Festival; Could a Best Picture Oscar nomination be next?

Fernando Meirelles’s film, “The Two Popes,” has won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Film at the 2019 Middleburg Film Festival. Along with winning the same award at the Hamptons International Film Festival earlier this month, the film is now gaining momentum to be a serious top-tier Oscar contender.

The festival, which just wrapped up its seventh year, is based in suburban Washington, D.C., and all of the past recipients of this honor have factored into the Oscar race in a big way. Five of the last six winners scored Best Picture nominations: “Philomena” (2013), “The Imitation Game” (2014), “Spotlight” (2015), “Lion” (2016) and “Green Book” (2018). Both “Spotlight” and “Green Book” went even further and took home the Best Picture prize. “The Two Popes” is currently in 13th place to win Best Picture with 37/1 odds of winning, according to our combined odds.

Helmed by Meirelles and written by Oscar nominee Anthony McCarten, “The Two Popes,” imagines a 2012 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), who would eventually become Pope Francis. Bergoglio, who has a more progressive view of where the church should go, seeks to retire from the priesthood. However, Benedict, with his more traditional views, keeps refusing Bergoglio’s request as he continues to argue with the cardinal’s approaches. The film beat out several major contenders in this year’s Oscar derby including “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “Harriet,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Marriage Story” and “Parasite.”

In just seven years, Middleburg has quickly established itself as one of the most important stops for films hoping to capture Oscar buzz. To date, 49 of the films that have screened here have gone on to collect a total of 162 nominations, including 16 for Best Picture. In addition to the movies that won the Audience Award, movies that screened at Middleburg that went on to score Best Picture bids include “Nebraska” (2013), “Brooklyn” (2015), “Manchester by the Sea” (2016), “La La Land” (2016), “Moonlight” (2016), “Call Me by Your Name” (2017), “Darkest Hour” (2017), “Lady Bird” (2017), “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017), “Roma” (2018) and “The Favourite” (2018).

Out of the 162 nominations, the films screened at Middleburg have won 30 Academy Awards all together. “The Imitation Game” took Adapted Screenplay, “Son of Saul” won International Film and “Spotlight” won Picture and Original Screenplay. 2016’s festival had films that collected 12 Oscars: “Moonlight” (Picture, Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay), “La La Land” (Directing, Actress, Original Score, Original Song, Cinematography and Production Design), “Manchester by the Sea” (Actor and Original Screenplay) and “The Salesman” (Foreign Language Film). The films screened in 2017 took home seven trophies: “Three Billboards” (Actress and Supporting Actor), “Darkest Hour” (Actor and Makeup and Hairstyling), “I, Tonya” (Supporting Actress), “Call Me by Your Name” (Adapted Screenplay) and “A Fantastic Woman” (Best International Film).

Last year’s films brought another eight wins for “Green Book” (Picture, Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay), “Roma” (Director, International Film and Cinematography), “The Favourite” (Actress) and “Free Solo” (Documentary Feature).

McCarten was on hand to help promote his winning movie. Other talent that made the journey to the small Virginia town included writer/director Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”), writer/director Kasi Lemmons and producer Debra Martin Chase (“Harriet”), writer/director Trey Edward Shults and actors Sterling K. BrownKelvin Harrison, Jr. and Taylor Russell (“Waves”), writers Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman Blue (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), writer/director Mati Diop (“Atlantics”) and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (“The Irishman”). “Harriet” composer Terence Blanchard was also in attendance to receive a career tribute.

Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, launched the festival as a way to showcase the town of Middleburg, which is located in the Northern Virginia exurbs of Washington, D.C. to the east of the majestic Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. While it’s home to just around 750 people, the town lies in the southwest region of Loudoun County, a booming commuter region with one of the highest median incomes in the entire country. The combination of beautiful country aesthetics located not too far from the power center of the country have helped the festival firmly establish its identity in such a quick period of time.

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