As the industry spins out of the late-summer film festival circuit, which annually grinds the gears of the season to life, this year’s race is shaping up to be one of the most exciting ever observed in the early stages. There are plenty of strong contenders, but no out-and-out frontrunner. There isn’t even an agreed-upon trio of frontrunners, as there was last year when “Manchester by the Sea,” “La La Land” and “Moonlight” burst out of this corridor.
Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” was the first slam-dunk on the scene in July. Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” was the first major festival splash after that, premiering on Aug. 31 within hours of another instant player, Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour,” though they debuted thousands of miles apart; “Shape” landed in