Along we move, onto week two of the fall film festival blitz. Telluride is over. Venice is waning. Which, of course, means it’s onto the next…
It’s time for Toronto.
It’s interesting how the Toronto International Film Festival, such a lengthy and prestigious affair on the awards season calendar, has taken a backseat in terms of prominence over the last several years. Films seeking to imprint themselves upon the yearly Oscar conversation more frequently flock to Venice by virtue of its placement as the first fest of the season, or Telluride with its intimate atmosphere and ever-growing reputation as THE go-to fest for passionate film lovers. In the wake of that one-two punch, Toronto now shifts as more of a broader showcase for films that have already premiered, as well as a platform for films still seeking distribution.
Among those in the latter group, there are a trio of major star turns looking for a home. Hostiles is the latest from Scott Cooper, a filmmaker who always seems just on the cusp of the Oscar conversation with each subsequent film. After directing Jeff Bridges to a Best Actor win in 2009’s Crazy Heart, Cooper came back with Out of the Furnace in 2013 and Black Mass in 2015. Both films ignited early awards buzz but later fizzled out. Hostiles reteams Cooper with Christian Bale in a Western that could be the star’s next big Oscar play. Also in play at TIFF is Mary Shelley, about the legendary author of Frankenstein, in a film centering on the love affair that led to the iconic story’s creation. Elle Fanning plays the title character, a role that could deliver her first Oscar nomination. And of this group, the most intriguing is perhaps I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie as disgraced ice skater Tonya Harding, in a film that strikes me as either a dynamo or a total disaster. I’m intensely hoping for the former as the film premieres today.
Lest they be forgotten amid the discussion over the Venice and Telluride standouts, TIFF also offers a handful of other premieres with high aspirations for the season ahead. Stronger, by David Gordon Green, tells the true story of Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Bauman, a role seemingly tailor-made for Oscar consideration. The Mountain Between Us stars Kate Winslet and Idris Elba as strangers who connect out of the utmost necessity, stranded in the wake of a plane crash on a remote mountain. The latest from director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) is among Toronto’s most anticipated premieres. Kings, featuring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig, tells the story of a foster family living in South Central Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King trial. It’s filmmaker Deniz Gamze Erguven’s follow-up to her 2015 masterpiece Mustang, a fact which should have audiences clamoring for the film’s premiere next week.
All these films enter an awards season frame that is already filling up quickly, although perhaps the most interesting fact to note about the 2017 season is that, so far, no film has claimed the mantle as THE film. By this point in years past, we had already glimpsed the likes of Moonlight, La La Land, Spotlight, and Birdman. No such dominance has commenced this season, which is a curious, if not unpleasant, surprise. Alexander Payne’s Downsizing formally kicked off the season when it premiered in Venice, but reactions have somewhat middling, though still primarily positive. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water created a similar fervor in Venice, though questions remain over its “middlebrow” bonafides – as ever, Del Toro isn’t the sort to send Oscar voters a soft lob down the middle. Darren Aronofsky, another virtuoso who refuses to play Oscar softball, screened mother! to rave reactions from Venice audiences, though the extent to which said raves will filter throughout the Academy remains to be seen.
As we enter the next 10 days of TIFF, a few films have stood out consistently with audiences from other fests. One is Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, notable not necessarily for the film itself (though it could easily rack up across the board nominations), but for Gary Oldman’s turn as Winston Churchill, a performance that must be considered the current Best Actor favorite, even as we acknowledge there is much left to see before the year closes. The fact that Oldman has yet to win an Oscar in his storied career will only help his narrative throughout the season. Another consistent crowd-pleaser has been Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Battle of the Sexes, with Emma Stone and Steve Carell in Oscar contention as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, respectively. The film has been sold as relatively light and comic in its advertising, but its emotional potency and social relevancy is what audiences are clinging to. That kind of sneaking depth is precisely what carried the married filmmaking duo’s Little Miss Sunshine throughout the 2006 Oscar race, so they should not be easily dismissed this time out, either. But perhaps the film that has gained the most traction in the early stage of this festival circuit is Lady Bird, the directorial debut from Greta Gerwig, chronicling a year in the life of a young woman coming of age in Northern California. The titular performance by two-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan could easily result in the actress’ third nomination…and possibly her first win. All three of these films continue their festival run at TIFF, so their buzz will only continue to build going forward.
So it goes for the next week-and-a-half in Toronto – standout titles will continue to push, a handful of new films will debut in search of distribution, Oscar glory, or both, and we inch ever closer to end-of-year awards season hysteria.