Focus Features enters awards season with a real contender in “TAR,” an unmistakable front-runner in several key categories thanks to the creative trio of Oscar nominated writer/director Todd Field (“Little Children” “In the Bedroom”), two time Oscar winning actress Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine,” “The Aviator” ), and Oscar winning composer Hildur Gudnadottir (“Joker”).

This engrossing drama is set in the upper echelon of classical music, dissecting the downfall of a world-renowned composer and conductor amid her career’s apex. Field isn’t interested in crafting a villain with protagonist Lydia Tár, allowing the nuance of Blanchett’s performance and his script to paint a compelling, unapologetic picture of female pioneer in the world of music. The film questions the value of an artist’s work as unflattering revelations come to light… a topical point in recent years ranging from Michael Jackson to Will Smith.

“TAR” is a riveting and electric visual and sonic engagement, showcasing a more elegant musical world than Damien Chazelle’s college-set “Whiplash” (2014). However, both films capitalize on the alluring nature of incredibly talented and driven protagonists and their complicated (and often flawed) internal makeup.

At a runtime of two hours and thirty-eight minutes, “TAR” falls into the same category as Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar nominated “Dune” (2021). Both films are so rich in detail and engrossing to the point that you could sit in your chair beyond the three hour mark if the filmmakers deemed it necessary.

The film opens with conductor and composer Lydia Tár (Blanchett) at the top of her game, whether it’s magazine articles, her time lecturing at Julliard, or her newly released memoir — life is undoubtedly good for this virtuoso. Lydia has written new music which she will conduct with the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, which is an important milestone as she’s the first woman to achieve such a renowned and highly coveted position.

It’s clear that Lydia is fierce in her passion and also fierce in her personal life, offering no warmth to anyone, especially tough on her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant). The film turns when Francesca shares that a woman named Krista (whose past intersects with both of them), has been emailing Lydia with the aim to reconnect. It’s here that Lydia Tár’s meticulously controlled life begins to unravel and her battle begins to save her career and life as she knows it.

It’s hard to believe that Field’s last film was 2006’s “Little Children,” an Oscar contender centered on the brilliant performance of then Oscar nominee Kate Winslet. Field’s evolution as a filmmaker continues to enthrall viewers as he shifts into high gear with his latest female-led project. “TAR” is builds upon Field’s already impressive skill set, and he’s assembled a brilliant cast along with below the line talent which will undoubtedly earn somewhere between ten and twelve nominations.

Field wisely choose to collaborate with the most in-demand female composer working today, in Oscar winner Hildur Gudnadottir (“Joker”). With the film’s narrative so deeply tied to score and composition, it needed a masterful hand and Gudnadottir delivers her best work to date.

Gudnadottir, who made history as the first female composer to win an Emmy and Oscar in the same year, is poised to win collect her second Oscar statue here.

“TAR” is a masterclass in storytelling, character craftsmanship, and sonic beauty… don’t miss this film on the big screen with Dolby Atmos audio (if available).