With the Toronto International Film Festival now the film industry’s recognised starting gate for awards season, it’s time to turn attention to the top contenders that have emerged thus far from this year’s TIFF and the year’s other top festivals, Sundance, Cannes and Venice, writes Matt Mueller.
The consensus choice amongst awards cognoscenti to pick up a satchel of baubles following its giddy reception in Telluride and Toronto, Ben Affleck’s thriller about a plan to rescue hostages in Iran by mounting a fake movie production is early odds-on pick to win best picture. Affleck’s talents as a filmmaker get deeper with each film (this is only his third), Academy voters will adore the movie in-jokes and Alan Arkin has a good shot at best supporting actor for his old-school film producer.
You can’t always judge a film’s prospects by Toronto audience reactions – they love everything – but the 10-minute standing ovation that followed Cloud Atlas’ premiere still bodes well. This crazily ambitious adaptation, by two Wachowskis and one Tom Tykwer, of David Mitchell’s apparently unfilmable novel mixes up eras, genres and the genders and ethnicities of its troupe of actors, each playing multiple roles, for an original, emotionally uplifting parable about cosmic karma and freedom.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus had its Golden Lion snatched away due to an arcane rule that one film can’t walk off with all three of the Venice Film Festival’s top prizes. Still, PTA still won best director while Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman shared best actor honours – and this is the kind of film the Academy usually responds to with nomination love. Yes, it’s splitting reactions (although not as violently as Cloud Atlas) but everyone’s crazy about Phoenix’s searing turn as the wild self-harmer who falls under the spell of Hoffman’s guru.
After bowing to adoring reactions in Sundance back in January, when it was still known as The Surrogate, Ben Lewin’s enchanting dramedy has picked up a new head of steam in Toronto. It’s the true-life tale of poet Mark O’Brien, played by John Hawkes in a role that’s polar opposite to his creepy creations in Martha Marcy May Marlene and Winter’s Bone, who hires a “sex surrogate” (played by Helen Hunt) to relieve him of his virginity. William H Macy rounds out a trio of superb performances as the priest sympathetic to O’Brien’s predicament.
Rust & Bone
Strong Best Actress contenders look in short supply this year, which has pundits tipping Beasts of the Southern Wild’s under-10 star Quvenzhane Wallis as one surefire Oscar prospect. But there is a front-runner. Having already wowed Cannes, Marion Cotillard dazzled enthusiastic Toronto crowds with her soul-baring turn as a marine-park trainer who loses her legs in an orca mishap before rediscovering her will to live in a pick-me-up relationship with Matthias Schoenaerts’s bare-knuckle fighter. Jacques Audiard’s melodrama may well bag Cotillard her second Oscar in five years.
Silver Linings Playbook
David O Russell’s mental-illness comedy – his first film since The Fighter – left me non-plussed, but it has North Americans critics swooning. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star as a bipolar man and the sexually forward, equally barmy young widow who pursues him while he’s adjusting to life back home with parents Robert De Niro (OCD, for extra comic value) and Jackie Weaver (Animal Kingdom) after his release from a psychiatric institution. Lawrence is a dynamic screen presence – and the two leads get to ballroom dance, one of several audience-ingratiating elements that made this Toronto’s top crowd-pleaser after Argo.
Talented Spaniard Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphange) crafts a potent emotional drama about a family swept up and ripped apart by the 2004 tsunami. The film harrows and inspires, the Indian Ocean disaster is impressively mounted and Naomi Watts adds her name to the best actress mix with a physically demanding turn fuelled by raw maternal power. Ewan McGregor could also be in with a shout in the supporting actor category for a quieter, but equally effective performance.
Michael Haneke’s Palme d-Or winner cemented its status as foreign language front-runner in Toronto. And its devastating and heartbreaking portrayal of a loving Parisian couple suffering through the physical and emotional indignities of old age could deliver best actor and actress nods to co-stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.
Stories We Tell
A swell of outstanding documentaries emerged in Venice, Telluride and Toronto, not least Sarah Polley’s deeply personal tale about discovering that her biological father wasn’t the man who raised her. Turns out the actress-director’s mother, who died when she was 11, had cheated on her husband with a work colleague. Full of archival footage and interviews with her siblings, family friends and two dads, Polley pieces together the story with breathtaking aplomb.
The swoony adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel has Joe Wright being talked up for a best director nod, his muse Keira Knightley for best actress, Tom Stoppard for best screenplay and the film’s ravishing costumes for, er, best costumes. The film? Not so much, its stage-set tableaux a stumbling block for many.