The Toronto International Film Festival is in full swing, and we’re learning about the best films to see in the next four months. We know what’s great and what’s not, and what will be making an Oscar play come January. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
Before we cover Toronto, I want to give one last follow up to the Venice Film Festival. You can read about the winners here, but there are two major award contenders that have had a screening since my last write-up. The first is Pablo Larraín’s Jackie. The film received tons of acclaim, both because it took traditional biopic tropes and turned them on their head, and because Natalie Portman puts out her best work in years. She could become a major Oscar contender-that is, if the film is ever picked up by a distributor. That comes in handy. Meanwhile, Terrance Malick’s Voyage of Time came out and the result was…not good. After the lovefest he got for the mediocre Tree of Life, Malick has been on a cold streak, and despite the newest film being the best parts of his last hit, reviews have not been kind to it, saying the great effects don’t make up for his faux-philosophical bullsh*t. However, they were kinder to the forty minute IMAX version, so we know which one is worth viewing. Oscar predictions will be updated accordingly in the near future.
Now let’s hop back across the ocean to Canada. The festival opened with The Magnificent Seven, which received acclaim for being “fun.” Nothing spectacular-I wouldn’t count on it as an Oscar contender-but good clean September fun. You can bet I’ll be there to review it in the near future. Other fun films, from the Midnight Madness scene, are Free Fire, Blair Witch and Colossal. Free Fire has been praised as a Guy Ritchie-esque throwback shoot-em-up, and with a great cast and awesome trailer, I can see the film finding a niche audience. Meanwhile, the newest Blair Witch film received ok reviews. It didn’t receive anything close to the level of praise it did this March when it first premiered, but so far most critics acknowledge it’s good, clean horror fun. However, the biggest film from the midnight series is Colossal, a film about Anne Hathaway finding herself connected to a Godzilla-like creature. It’s a weird concept, but people are loving it. It’s something to look for in the coming months.
Meanwhile, previously seen films have taken off in a major way. Telluride hits La La Land and Moonlight have expanded their fan base even more, proving themselves to be real powerhouses for the upcoming Oscar race. Meanwhile, critics and producers turned out in force to support The Birth of a Nation after a rough month. After two standing ovations, one right after the other, the film has proven that it is not out of the Oscar race, and while Nate Parker himself may face backlash for his actions, the film itself may not suffer to the same degree. Meanwhile, Andrea Arnold’s American Honey has actually received better treatment than it did at the Cannes Film Festival. That sometimes happens with the Toronto Film Festival. That’s even more beneficial if you’re a film like Loving, which was received better by the Americans and Canadians than by the French, which bodes well for its Oscar chances this upcoming season. On top of Best Picture and Best Actress locks, I would look at Best Actor as a possibility, and perhaps even some headway in a tough Best Director field.
This year’s films seem to be best summed up as “good, not great.” While there are very few truly terrible films out there, the majority seems to have settled into the friendly crowd-pleaser list. Perhaps the most clear example of this was Disney’s Queen of Katwe, the story of a young African girl who becomes a chess prodigy. The film was well-received, and will certainly be a crowd pleaser, but it won’t be the Oscar contender the Mouse House hopes it is. With that being said, I wouldn’t rule out Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress, especially in such a weak year. Meanwhile, Christopher Guest’s newest mockumentary, Mascots, was a nice little comedy film in a sea of weepies. It isn’t as good as, say, Best in Show, but it’s still better than most comedies out there, and Parker Posey and Christopher Guest apparently have one of the funniest scenes of the year. A small indie film using Barack Obama’s college years as a study of dealing with being biracial was released, and people liked what it had to say, even through the universal eye rolling of “Barack Obama biopics” before the man is even out of office (at least let him reach his seventies, guys). And clips from Hidden Figures were released to critical acclaim. Maybe they showed all their great scenes, maybe it’s a real hit, but either way, we need to begin considering Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer as Oscar contenders.
However, as I said, there were a few terrible films at the festival. The worst, by far, was Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog. The Nicolas Cage thriller was panned as “one of the worst films in Toronto history,” and I don’t think it’s going to do much beyond a VOD release. Meanwhile, there’s always one film that goes from Oscar contender to Major Bust every year. Last year it was I Saw The Light. The year before it was The Fifth Estate. This year, that film was American Pastoral. While people didn’t hate Ewan McGregor’s efforts in front of and behind the lens, and they seemed fond of Dakota Fanning’s efforts, the film is such a jumbled, cold mess I wouldn’t expect to see it at the end of the year in awards conversation. I had Fanning as a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, so this is a major blow to my predictions. Oh well, that’s the way the game is played.
Before I move on to the major hits, I want to take a quick look at Oliver Stone’s Snowden. Releasing this Friday, Snowden premiered this weekend at TIFF to VERY mixed results. It had some fans in high places-people who were fond of Joseph Gordon Levitt and think that it’s at least better than Stone’s last ten films. But many truly hate it, find it muddled, basic, ridiculous and insulting. I will be reviewing it this Thursday, and will be able to judge for myself, but I won’t lie to you and claim I’m excited for it in any way, shape or form.
And now, the hits. The festival’s first major hit was the charming fantasy A Monster Calls. Dealing with a child’s grief in a touching, heart wrenching way, J.A. Bayona’s film about a boy who is taught by a 50-foot tree monster how to deal with his terminally ill mother. The film propelled itself into box office success talk (likely), awards talk (a stretch to me), and made Felicity Jones a major contender for Best Supporting Actress (maybe?). Meanwhile, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals had another big showing at Toronto. While I’m not sold that it’ll receive a Best Picture nomination, the film should be a contender across the board, with Michael Shannon a Best Supporting Actor frontrunner, and two potential Best Supporting Actress contenders (assuming the rumors are true and Amy Adams’ performance will be pushed as Supporting in a blatant act of category fraud). From the sounds of things, the most fun screening at the festival was the premiere of the animated film Sing. A favorite upcoming release of this writer, the film received applause after each and every musical performance (more than even La La Land), and was described as “a cross between Pitch Perfect and Despicable Me, but without the stupid Minions,” which sounds right up my alley. It’ll have trouble squeezing into the Best Animated Film category, but it should be able to make a play for Best Original Song, considering one of the eighty-five songs featured in the film was written and performed by Stevie Wonder, Ariana Grande and Ryan Tedder. It’s been one of my most anticipated films all year, and this is an excellent sign for anyone like me. However, the talk of the festival has to be Weinstein’s Lion. After months of languishing and multiple staff shifts, it appears they have another winner on their hands, as the story of a boy who found his birth mother using Google Earth is sweeping Toronto. Depending on if this success keeps up, it could definitely be a Best Picture contender.
Finally, we have a little film premiering last night titled The Promise. A romantic drama set against the Armenian Genocide, the film was considered a major Best Supporting Actor contender for Oscar Isaac. The film’s response was…fine. A lot of people felt it didn’t do the material justice, and the script was a clunky, but they appreciated the coverage of a serious event, and they liked Isaac’s performance. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way, as many Turks have turned out online to bash and insult anyone approving this film. You see, Turkey denies the genocide ever happened, which is shocking considering the disappearance and presumed deaths of 1.5 million people. It seems many people aren’t happy the story is getting out there, even in a mediocre romantic drama. Not only are they threatening critics and supporters, they’re downvoting the hell out of it on IMDB, earning it a 1/10 rating, alongside awful messages in the comments. This is both a horrific example of people’s intolerance and whitewashing of history, and a statement about how stupid people are on the Internet. Really? Your big protest against being accused of committing a genocide is to give a movie you haven’t even seen a 1/10? That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.
If I had to guess in advance, I would say that the frontrunners for the Audience Award are La La Land, A Monster Calls, Moonlight, and Lion. Of those three, the last three need it the most-they are the most “on the fence” when it comes to a Best Picture nomination (La La Land is pretty safe, I think). This upcoming week we’ll be hearing about LBJ and Deepwater Horizon, so I’ll give you an update this Friday, before we discover the winners on Sunday. Stay tuned, everyone.