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Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto International Film Festival

Winners and losers

The Sunday Times Culture blog

September 2011

Now the dust has settled on the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, the question, as every year, is which films have emerged with their awards-season dignity intact and which are walking away stripped of any pretence that gold-plated statues lie in their future, writes Matt Mueller.

What’s already clear is that this year’s Toronto — or Tiff, as it prefers to call itself — hasn’t sprung any obvious frontrunners out of the traps, unlike last year, when 127 Hours and Black Swan both debuted victoriously and The King’s Speech was lauded with the festival’s one significant trophy, the self-explanatory People’s Choice Award. This year’s went to the Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now?, a tale of women from different religions banding together to protect their village from violence. Film-loving Canadians adore a feelgood, people-united tale, but it’s hard to see Labaki’s picture whipping Oscar or Bafta voters into a frenzy — especially without the Weinstein brothers to steer an awards-friendly campaign.

Among this year’s big guns, a few came out smelling of glory. Alexander Payne’s tragicomic The Descendants, featuring a strong, self-doubting performance from George Clooney, was leader of the pack, with Steve McQueen’s Venice debutant Shame and Bennett Miller’s Moneyball also lovingly embraced. The latter’s most enthusiastic supporters branded it “the Social Network of sports movies” — over-the-top praise, if you ask me, even with Aaron Sorkin all over the screenplay. But in a relatively unremarkable year thus far, it definitely has a shot at multiple Oscar nominations. Bafta voters are unlikely to follow suit, unless it’s for Brad Pitt’s leading-man performance. It has likely eclipsed his bad daddy in The Tree of Life as the role Oscar voters will opt for, if only because it’s hugely mainstream compared to his art-house grumping for Malick.

Glenn Close and Janet McTeer split the vote on who delivered the better performance in Albert Nobbs. Both play gender-bending women passing for men in 19th-century Dublin, and both are extremely good, although our vote goes to McTeer for her hard-scrabbling street tough. Lots of love, too, for the Canadian actress-director Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, featuring Michelle Williams as a young wife tempted over a long hot summer.

With more than 300 films in the Tiff fray, there were bound to be high-profile letdowns. W.E. and A Dangerous Method met the same mixed responses they received in Venice, but really dying on its feet was the Fernando Meirelles/Peter Morgan ensemble collage 360, the recipient of some truly withering reviews. Doesn’t bode well for its status as this year’s BFI London Film Festival opener.

Elsewhere, Lynn Shelton’s three-hander, Your Sister’s Sister, starring Emily Blunt; Adam Wingard’s lo-fi horror flick, You’re Next; and Bobcat Goldthwait’s caustic satire, God Bless America, generated ample buzz, although none of them will trouble this year’s Oscarpalooza. Bottom line? No King’s Speech or Black Swan, but there are plenty of fine films and performances likely to find favour when the 2011 awards season rolls round.

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