As we reach the end of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, we finally have an idea of how the rest of Oscar season will shape up. And yet there’s still room for a few shocks in the system, as the Peter Farrelly historical dramedy Green Book has taken home the coveted Audience Award, which typically goes on to earn a Best Picture nomination (9 of the last ten years).
For those who don’t know about Green Book, the film is a fairly routine, but supposedly rousing race dramedy about New York bouncer Tony Lip (played by Viggo Mortensen), who was hired to serve as bodyguard/chauffeur to famous African-American pianist Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali). The film has received acclaim for both of its actors, as well as writer/director Peter Farrelly (yes, as in one of the directors of There’s Something About Mary), and should serve as the Hidden Figures/Blind Side style crowd-pleaser in this year’s Oscar race. Coming in second was Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight follow-up If Beale Street Could Talk. The film received what I refer to as “mixed-positive” reviews – which is to say, no one thought the film was below a “B” grade (except for J*ff W*lls, but I don’t count terrible people), but not everyone felt it was 10/10. Still, the passion was very much there, with many praising the direction, writing, acting, cinematography, score, and costumes. Expect Jenkins to be in the Oscar race once again. And coming in third, Roma continues its march to cinematic glory as it continues racking up accolades and fan acclaim. Needless to say, I can’t wait for this one to make it big.
However, while each of those films proved incredibly popular, there was still some shock value in the announcement, especially considering most of the buzz coming out of Toronto surrounded Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born. Critics and audiences adored the film across the board, earning raves for its direction, aesthetic, and acting. Due to its popularity, many viewed it as a frontrunner for the Audience Award, and the fact it was completely shunned is a bit surprising. However, I have heard rumblings that it was disqualified due to a combination of a terrible decision to open voting up to the world public – as well as allow for several votes from each person – and hacking by Lady Gaga stans. Either way, the film’s loss here should not be a factor on its Oscar chances. Consider Cooper and Gaga frontrunners for the potential races. Meanwhile, three other films received generally unanimous acclaim coming out the festival. The biggest victor here is Widows, Steve McQueen’s follow-up to 12 Years a Slave. The film is the kind of high-brow thriller that really isn’t made anymore; technically taut with great performances by Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and especially Daniel Kaluuya, who is apparently Anton Chigurh-level frightening in it. Similarly, The Hate U Give takes a genre typically ignored by Hollywood – Young Adult – and turns it into something intelligent, thanks to a great script and powerful performances by Amanda Stenberg and especially Russell Hornsby, both of whom have been earning some Oscar love. Also receiving acclaim is Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux, a dark surrealist musical surrounding a broken woman’s journey into pop superstardom. The film has polarized critics and audiences, but people can’t stop talking about the stunning turn by Natalie Portman, who shows up halfway through the film as the grown-up pop star and walks away with the film. It’ll certainly be one to look out for going forward.
Then there’s the acclaimed documentary Free Solo, which follows mountain climber Alex Honnold as he sets out to become the first person to free solo climb the El Capitan Wall. The documentary has been a favorite for critics worldwide, and after winning the Audience Award for Best Documentary, it should become an early favorite for Best Documentary at the Oscars. Meanwhile, the Midnight Madness award went to the Indian action comedy The Man Who Feels No Pain, which follows the story of a young man with insensitivity to pain who sets out to vanquish his foes. The film has proven a real hit, and could be one to watch out for going forward. Also successful on the Midnight circuit was Halloween, which had its detractors but received acclaim for capturing the spirit of the original, for making Michael Myers scary again, and especially for allowing Jamie Lee Curtis another opportunity to dominate the role that made her famous forty years ago.
Still, not every film received the love it was looking for. Take, for instance, the Boys: Boy Erased and Beautiful Boy. Of the two films, Beautiful Boy fared better, with Steve Carell and espeically Timothée Chalamet wowing as the father and son duo. However, most critics were also critical of the screenplay, which suffered from clichés. And despite protestations from sources as lofty as Barry Jenkins, many felt that the film’s handling of drug addiction wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before. I predict the performances will be spoken about for years to come, but the film itself won’t make a major impact on the race to come. Meanwhile, Erased managed to earn a small following, especially for Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, but many critics – and gay critics especially – found its handling of conversion therapy camps to be a bit rote and underwhelming. Still, at least most critics found these films to be at least slightly rewarding, unlike the disappointing Ben Is Back and The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. Ben Is Back earned notice for the efforts Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges put into their performances, but many found its handling of drug abuse to be a mixed-bag. Meanwhile, Xavier Dolan’s newest effort Donovan has received some of the director’s worst reviews, with many criticizing the film’s soapy narrative and kind of overzealous reach. Unfortunately, it appears to be one of the director’s rare missteps. Still, at least none of these directors are Jonah Hill, whose Mid90s received VERY mixed reviews. Apparently, Hill’s directorial effort is supposed to be something of an homage to Linklater and Korine, except without understanding why those films were so great. Some critics really dug it, however there are a LOT of critics (mainly women, whose voices make up a minority in the community) who were put off by its blatant misogyny and homophobic dialogue. I’ll see it whenever the film comes out, but I’m definitely not looking forward to this one.
With the news finally out about the newest films on the street, as well as an early glimpse at the Oscar race, you can bet this fall is about to get really interesting. You can see the full list of winners below, and I will be using this information to update my Oscar predictions later this week. I’ll see you all then!
People’s Choice Award: Green Book
First Runner Up: If Beale Street Could Talk
Second Runner Up: Roma
People’s Choice: Documentary: Free Solo
Documentary First Runner Up: This Changes Everything
Documentary Second Runner-Up: The Biggest Little Farm
People’s Choice: Midnight Madness: The Man Who Feels No Pain
Midnight Madness First Runner Up: Halloween
Midnight Madness Second Runner Up: Assassination Nation
Platform Prize: Cities of Last Things
Best Canadian Feature: The Fireflies Are Gone
FIPRESCI Special Presentations: Skin