Toronto Film Festival Wrap-Up: The Good, The Bad, And The Best Oscar Bets

By Katey Rich and Sean O'Connell 2012-09-14 11:56:28discussion comments
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The Toronto Film Festival technically doesn't wrap up until Sunday, when award winners will be announced (including the usually important Audience Award) and the crowds will recede from downtown Toronto for another year. But Team Cinema Blend has already left the premises, with dozens of movies and a handful interviews under our belts, and a lot of movies to tell the rest of you about as they make their way to theaters in the coming year. Of course, not even a team of two can catch everything that gets buzzed about at a festival, and intrepid as we were, we missed a lot. But both of us have come back with plenty to talk about, and below share four highlights apiece and, sadly, a movie that each of us came to with high hopes and came back sorely disappointed.

We're not done posting our coverage from Toronto-- you can catch up on all of it in detail here-- but in the meantime, here's the highlights and lowlights, straight from Canada.

BEST FILM

Sean's Pick: Anna Karenina
Color me just as surprised as you likely are by this selection. While I’ve liked virtually all of Joe Wright’s films to date (even The Soloist, which was experimental enough to overcome its inherent melodrama), I had only marginal interest in yet another adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel about scandalous love affairs in the Imperial Russian aristocracy. Yet Wright’s creative decision to incorporate stage-theater elements into his narrative creates such a thrilling live-wire walk that heightens the emotions, which are nailed by Anna’s stellar cast. Anna Karenina in an intoxicating thrill, and it’s the best film I screened in Toronto this year.

Katey's Pick: No
I knew nothing about director Pablo Larrain or the 1988 Chilean election at the center of this movie; I barely even knew about the infamous dictator Pinochet. But this engaging, moving and often even funny drama fills in all the gaps and then some, telling a gripping and unbelievably true story about how an ad campaign managed to bring down a dictator, all through the power of catchy jingles and appealing to the youth vote. Gael Garcia Bernal's rock-solid leading man performance anchors the movie, but Larrain tells the story like a thriller that has you on the edge of your seat even when you know how it turns out. You don't have to know a single thing about Chile, Pinochet or Larrain to enjoy the hell out of this one.

 
BEST PERFORMANCE

Sean's Pick: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Joaquin Phoenix impressed with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. But Riva’s stirring turn as a fading spouse in Michael Haneke’s Amour reduced me to a puddle. Her character, Anne, cycles through so many stages of obliviousness, grief, anger and despair as her body and mind begin to fail her. What hammers home the range of her performance, though, are the film’s final minutes … which can’t be discussed here. But Riva’s work in Amour is heartwrenching and painfully authentic, and it will linger with me long after Toronto has concluded.

Katey's Pick: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Going into The Master most of us would have expected Philip Seymour Hoffman to come out on top in the clash-of-the-titans acting showcase at the center of this film, with Hoffman playing the charismatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd and Phoenix as the wandering, slow-witted veteran Freddie Quell. But Phoenix's feral, unpredictable performance runs away with the movie, crafting a character with endless layers and surprises who still feels, at every moment, authentic. I'll probably need 4 more viewings of The Master to totally get what Phoenix is doing, but he's mesmerizing even when you can't quite follow him, and heartbreaking even in a movie that resolutely avoids sentiment. Who knows what Daniel Day-Lewis has coming for us with Lincoln later this year, but Phoenix may just have a Best Actor statue waiting for him in the future.

 
BIGGEST SURPRISE

Sean's Pick: The tsunami sequence in The Impossible
I’m still gasping for air. J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible documents the true story of a close-knit family who are separated during the devastating South Pacific tsunami of 2004, and the impossible odds they overcame to reunite. The second half might be melodramatic, but the first act – where the tsunami reaches land – is spectacular, pulse-racing movie making. Naomi Watts and Tom Holland (playing her oldest son, Lucas) are swept away in a rush of water and truck-sized debris. Maybe Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter lowered the bar on tsunami digital effects, but the opening salvo of Bayona’s Impossible blew me through the back wall of the theater.

Katey's Pick: How much they got me to care about Love, Marilyn
I saw this documentary from Liz Garbus because I could get a ticket, and who doesn't like peeking into the forgotten records of Hollywood? But I've never been particularly fond of Marilyn nostalgia, and especially after last year's dull My Week With Marilyn, I thought there was pretty much nothing left to say about the long-departed actress. But through digging up personal journal entires, and especially fantastically candid interviews with Monroe's friend Amy Greene, Garbus manages to expose a new, proto-feminist side of the starlet, who may have been driven crazy by Hollywood but had it under her thumb as well. For the first time, I kind of understood why Marilyn has fascinated people all these years.

 
BEST OSCAR BET

Sean's Pick: The Silver Linings Playbook
Coming into TIFF, a few of the major Oscar players had pre-determined buzz. Ben Affleck’s Argo and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master had screened prior to this fest, so TIFF audiences kind of knew what to expect. But most were truly blindsided by David O. Russell’s dark and manic Playbook, his follow up to The Fighter that casts a wonderful Bradley Cooper as a mentally ill Eagles fan hoping to reunite with his wife. Co-star Jennifer Lawrence earned the loudest praise – some Oscar-tracking Web sites have her as the current frontrunner in the Best Actress race – while the film seems to secure its spot in the race for Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), Actress, Director and possibly Picture.

Katey's Pick: Cloud Atlas
I'm head-over-heels in love with this movie, but even know it's probably not a lock for Best Picture. Where it ought to be a major player, though, is in the technical categories-- the visual effects, makeup effects and editing in this movie are all astonishing, all crucial tools to help the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer pull off this high-flying, earnest and massive movie. I'll be crossing my fingers for an acting nomination for Tom Hanks as well, who proves once again why he's such an important actor to us by playing 6 roles, all well, and all with a glint of humanity that drives the "we're all connected" message of the movie home. If the movie catches on when it's released next month, maybe I'll start allowing myself to hope for even more.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Sean's Pick: The Place Beyond The Pines
Without question, Pines was the most disappointing film I endured at TIFF this year. Writer-director Derek Cianfrance reunites with his Blue Valentine lead, Ryan Gosling, for a sprawling (read: hopelessly unfocused) story of fathers, sons and the cyclical nature of crime. Pines starts as a gritty, tragic story of a deadbeat carnie (Gosling) caring for the baby he never knew he had, suddenly switches to a Serpico-inspired story of an up-and-coming police officer (Bradley Cooper), and goes off the rails when it reaches to connect those threads in a ridiculous third act. The most overheard response as a befuddled audience left the dreadful Pines was, “But I loved Blue Valentine …”

Katey's Pick: Imogene
Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini hadn't made as good a film as their American Splendor, but there was a lot of reason to have faith in Imogene, which is Kristen Wiig's first post-Bridesmaids starring role and has a supporting cast including Annette Bening, Matt Dillon and Glee's Darren Criss to boot. But while all of those excellent actors have their moments in Imogene, it's one of those indie comedies that's willfully quirky and bizarre instead of going for actual humor and character development. You can feel the whole thing struggling to get on its feet after a strong start, and even with highlights like Bening's Jersey accent and Criss's performance of The Backstreet Boys's "I Want It That Way," there's not enough to keep the laughs coming consistently. But Imogene has been picked up for distribution by Lionsgate, so you'll all have a chance to share the disappointment for yourself.
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