Oscar Eye: Gauging The Toronto Buzz And What Happens Next

By Katey Rich 2011-09-14 22:46:07discussion comments
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The Toronto Film Festival still has a few days left in it, but if you came up here trying to get Oscar buzz for your film, you've definitely already shown it off. I promised last week that I'd report back for this week's Oscar Eye with what I'd learn about the films entering the race from here, but as it turns out, I've learned somewhat less than I thought I would. A lot of films that are definitely in the race one way or another, like Martha Marcy May Marlene or The Artist, are holdovers from festivals earlier in the year. Several others look like possible Oscar bait, but not really heavy duty contenders even if they're great. And maybe most importantly, there doesn't seem to be a giant, rousing crowdpleaser like Slumdog Millionaire or last year's The King's Speech that would win the Audience Award and then run with it all the way to Best Picture.

But there's still plenty to go over, of course, and most interestingly, a lot of titles worthy of consideration but really tough to pin down. I'm still not ready to put together the big season-long charts that are usually in this column-- partly because I don't have the time during the festival crunch, and partly because it just feels too soon. But below are some of the Toronto titles with the biggest potential to move into Oscar campaigns, and what I've learned about them here at the festival. Next week I'll be back with slightly more completed thoughts on the fest itself, and probably the massive charts-- it'll be mid-September by then, after all, and time to start hunkering down.

Albert Nobbs. From the very beginning this film, a passion project for star Glenn Close, has seems like a possibility for her Best Actress nomination and not much else. Now that the film has screened to modestly positive reviews that focus almost entirely on Close's performance-- which everybody loves-- that pretty much seems to be the case. Still, Janet McTeer has managed to emerge as a possible Best Supporting Actress contender as well-- and with Academy members likely to check out a new star performance from Close, who was nominated five times back in the 80s, McTeer could easily ride those coattails to her own nomination.

A Dangerous Method. I try to keep my own opinions out of these judgment calls-- this is about what the Academy likes, not me-- but I've found myself on the negative side of a sharp critical divide over this film, and I have a hard time seeing what the other half does. For me this movie is dull, stagebound and somewhat rambling, with good performances from Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley that still aren't their best. Sony Pictures Classics has the film and could probably try campaigns for all three, but Knightley may be too over the top, Mortensen too restrained, and Fassbender too much in competition with himself (more on that later). It's an odd duck that I can see slipping out of the race quietly.

The Ides of March. Another oddball from Toronto, though one with the added benefit of a starry cast and especially man-of-the-moment Ryan Gosling, who at this point seems like he could get a Best Actor nomination for this with Drive as added incentive. Ides was one of the most glittery premieres here in Toronto, but it's not a movie that people have been chattering about-- it's handsomely made and fun to watch, but nothing bigger or better than what we expected. Given the big names involved it's got a better shot at Oscar awareness than A Dangerous Method, but it will also be tricky for this one to hang in there throughout the long season.



Moneyball. The other big starry premiere of the festival-- yes, George Clooney and Brad Pitt were both in town, and I never managed to see either-- has fared somewhat better with critics, mostly because it's a very smart, head-focused baseball movie that also manages to tug the heartstrings just a tad. Brad PItt's Best Actor campaign now feels inevitable and quite viable, but it's still a hard road for him to get attention playing a golden boy with, at best, first world problems. But if audiences fall for this the way critics at Toronto did, then a Best Picture campaign could become quite possible as well.

Machine Gun Preacher. I know very little about this-- I haven't seen it and haven't talked to too many people who did. But rumor has it this Gerard Butler drama got a standing ovation at its premiere, and that counts for something. I wouldn't assume much for this, but for now it's at least in the conversation.

50/50. Another standing ovation here at Toronto, which gives a boost to another movie with a tricky Oscar campaign ahead of it. For now I'd definitely put my money on the writer Will Reiser, but as the release goes forward at the end of this month, we will be hearing about the potential for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anna Kendrick, and even Anjelica Huston to get nominations. Whether or not they'll pan out, who knows.

360. The new drama from Fernando Meirelles seemed like a long shot for Oscar play anyway, but word from Toronto is that pretty much everybody hates it. That doesn't firmly knock it out, but I'm crossing it off for now.

Anonymous. Yes, seriously-- this Roland Emmerich Shakespeare drama has been getting a warm response here, which really boosts the odds of what I think is a very viable Best Actor campaign for Rhys Ifans. "Viable" doesn't mean "likely," but the character actor does some of the best work of his career, and I was relieved to get here and realized other critics agreed with me. The movie doesn't come out until late October, but believe it or not, it's going to be in the conversation at least until then.

Coriolanus. I liked this Ralph Fiennes adaptation of a lesser-known Shakespeare play a lot, but I seem to be somewhat in the minority-- it's getting decidedly mixed reviews. But the buzz about Vanessa Redgrave's titanic performance is very much real, and even if she winds up getting a lot of competition from actresses in buzzier films, she seems like a good bet for the Supporting Actress category for now.



The Artist. It's the black and white, silent film about old Hollywood made by a French team that took audiences by storm at Cannes, and it seems to be working the same magic in Toronto. It's a slight but totally lovable movie, and the lead actor Jean Dujardin-- though he doesn't speak a word in the vast majority of the movie-- seems like a very good contender for Best Actor. Could the movie and the director, Michel Hazanvicius, get in there too? It seems tricky to me, but people are loving this movie, and as we learned from The King's Speech last year, Academy voters often vote with their hearts.

The Descendants. Here, finally, we have my favorite film of the festival, and probably the one with the best shot at actually winning Best Picture-- though given that it's a comedy, and a slightly dark one from Alexander Payne, it's by no means a sure thing. But George Clooney is practically guaranteed a Best Actor nomination-- he's never been better-- and 19-year-old Shailene Woodley has a lot of people talking for her role as his teenage daughter; though her part is large she'd likely get one of those sham Best Supporting Actress campaigns. Then there's writing, maybe even directing nominations possible along with what seems like a pretty solid chance at Best Picture. This is by far the biggest one to watch out of the festival.

Shame. And now we have by far the trickiest film to watch from here, no less so because it got picked up by Fox Searchlight, a studio known to take their Oscar campaigns very seriously. The beautifully made but very provocative film from Steve McQueen features great performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, but also a lot of hardcore sex, nudity, drug use and bleak themes-- there's absolutely no way anyone could cut this down to an R, and McQueen wouldn't want to anyway. They haven't announced release plans yet, and I wonder if they wouldn't eschew an Oscar campaign entirely given how likely it is to turn off the typical Academy viewer. But it's a critical darling and a big one to watch, even if I have no clue what to expect from it.

The Lady. And finally, one of the few films picked up so far at the festival with the intent of an Oscar-qualifying release. Deadline reports that the tiny Cohen Media Group has picked up the film, starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis, with hopes of getting both of them into their respective Oscar categories. Yeoh is reportedly strong as the Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, but it's an uphill climb for any small distributor to get attention in a race that's already feeling pretty crowded.
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