Oscars: Toronto Film Festival Gives Big Clues To This Year’s Race For The Academy Awards – Who Is Out Front?
With today’s initial announcement of Gala and Special Presentations at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival we get the first major burst of clues to the race for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards. On paper, and mostly sight unseen, I spot at least 20 films that might be considered hopefuls for the Oscar race among the many World Premieres, International, Canadian, and North American premieres in TIFF’s lineup, always the biggest of any festival. Inevitably there will more added, but this is the bulk of it.
Some such as James Mangold’s Ford V Ferrari pitting Matt Damon v Christian Bale , Todd Phillip’s Joker with what looks like a ripe performance from Joaquin Phoenix, Steven Soderbergh’s politically-charged Laundromat, Noah Baumbach’s highly personal Marriage Story, and Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes will first be seen at Venice (which announces its schedule on Thursday) and in the case of at least three of those (if you go by the designations on TIFF’s press release which give obvious clues) also at Telluride, but a hefty 15 or so will be World Premieres making this TIFF a particularly fertile field for Oscar watchers beyond the other two early Fall fests. TIFF is often a must-stop on the way to the Dolby and currently has bragging rights for this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Green Book which snuck in on the fest’s sixth day last Fall (a particularly late berth for a major Oscar contender at TIFF) , won huge ovations, and then took the very important and often Oscar-predictive People’s Choice prize. It rode it all the way to glory. Is there something like that on tap this year? Who knows?
Toronto Fest 2019 Star Power: Hanks’ Mister Rogers, Bale-Damon’s ‘Ford V Ferrari,’ Phoenix’s ‘Joker,’ Streep & Oldman’s ‘Laundromat,’ Eddie Murphy’s ‘Dolemite,’ Daniel Craig’s ‘Knives Out,’ Kidman’s ‘Goldfinch’ Among Premieres
There is plenty of room in the race at this point , since awards-level films (other than animation and documentaries) have been pretty scarce with just two, both from A24 that are in that league in my opinion , including The Last Black Man In San Francisco which should figure heavily in some critics awards and indie spirits , and The Farewell which is getting the kind of early critical and audience reception that suggests a real shot at a Best Picture nomination. Disney/Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame obviously will get a push , especially since it just became the all time box office champ over the weekend, but the Academy has not shown a lot of love for Avengers: Anygame in the past. This Friday’s Quentin Tarantino opener , Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has the potential to be a real Oscar juggernaut in my opinion , but again it is only July so it has to have staying power. It was even better the second time for me at last night’s rollicking Hollywood premiere. The main event though starts in about five weeks when the Fall Festival Trifecta gets underway.
Among the TIFF World Premieres that seem to have some awards potential would be Sony’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood , particularly for Tom Hanks’ turn as children’s host Mr. Rogers in either lead or supporting categories depending on how much screen time he actually has in the story which focuses on Matthew Rhys’ journalist character from what I hear. Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx would appear to be contenders in Warner Bros Christmas Day release Just Mercy , a true story set in the criminal justice system, which the studio recently moved into the season following successful test screenings. Warners will also be unveiling the film adaptation of the best seller The Goldfinch at TIFF, also as a World Premiere so all eyes will be on that too if only for its pedigree.
Considering its director, Armando Inannucci’s The Personal History Of David Copperfield with Ben Whishaw and Dev Patel among others would seem to have potential , especially since it will also open the London Film Festival a month after TIFF. Focus Features’ Harriet starring Tony winning Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Taubman , the heroic woman who led a charge to free slaves in the Civil War era, is directed by Kasi Lemmons and looks to be a potential powerhouse right up Oscar’s alley. Hugh Jackman is said to be very strong in a role against type in Bad Education , a school embezzlement story in which he co-stars with recent Oscar winner Allison Janney.
Eddie Murphy has a role tailor made for his talents as comedian Rudy Ray Moore in the true story Dolemite Is My Name, a longtime passion project for Murphy which is one of a whopping four Netflix titles (including Marriage Story, Two Popes, Laundromat) announced for TIFF so far but the only one that will actually debut there first. The 800 pound gorilla in the Netflix lineup, Martin Scorsese’s much-awaited The Irishman looks to be AWOL at the Fall Festival trifecta however (look for a NYFF debut?)
Fox Searchlight, always a steady presence on the fest circuit says they specifically chose TIFF for Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, a satire involving Hitler(!) starring Scarlett Johansson (also in Marriage Story) and Sam Rockwell because they wanted to launch at a large festival in a “more urban cosmopolitan city” to reach a “global audience of film lovers” for what Searchlight believes will be a big crowd pleaser I was told by a source at the company. Whether it is an Academy pleaser remains to be seen. I am particularly intrigued by Lionsgate’s Thanksgiving release, an Agatha Christie style all star mystery called Knives Out from director Rian Johnson. I hear great things on this TIFF World Premiere. And using a Toronto World Premiere to thrust itself into the Animated Feature Oscar race is Dreamworks’ Abominable, a tactic tried by Universal a couple of years ago for their Illumination film Sing , although it failed to get the nomination it so deserved.
Other Oscar-y titles I spotted on this list that aren’t World Premieres include Renee Zellweger in a juicy role as Judy Garland in Judy which deals with the final months of the great star’s life, as well as Benny Sadfie’s Uncut Gems which offers Adam Sandler an offbeat role outside of the comfort zone of his dumb commercial comedies.
As usual TIFF will be offering some highlights from previous fests such as a trio of award winners from Cannes including South Korea’s Boon Joon-ho’s Parasite (Palme d’Or winner), Pedro Almodovar’s Pain And Glory with Cannes Best Actor Antonio Banderas, and Celine Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire , the latter Cannes Screenplay winner just one of the entries from women directors at TIFF which constitute a record breaking 50% of the whole selection to date. Those three will likely figure mightily in Oscar’s Best International (formerly known as Foreign) film race , among other categories. Also hot from Cannes Directors Fortnight is the North American premiere of the much acclaimed Robert Eggers film, The Lighthouse with two Oscar buzzed performances from Robert Pattinson and Academy perennial Willem DaFoe. Out of Sundance TIFF will be offering Amazon’s The Report which features Annette Bening and Adam Driver, the latter a recent Tony and Oscar nominee who is also starring in Netflix’s Marriage Story suggesting this could be another very big year for him. The wheels are already in motion to make his Oscar streams come true. Look for a tribute to AD at one of these fests, and then of course another reminder of his versatility at Christmas time as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.
The season is starting to shape up with TIFF and the other early Fall fests proving more important that ever this year since the Oscar show itself has been moved up two weeks earlier than normal to February 9th. Voting for nominations happens the earliest ever with a short window between January 2 and 7, making it imperative to get as many contenders as possible in front of Academy eyes as early as possible , a real problem for December releases like Universal’s Cats and their Sam Mendes epic 1917 which apparently both won’t be ready until end of November and rely heavily on being seen in a theatrical setting, making them last minute views for early critics groups and the Golden Globe nominations, not to mention Academy voters who don’t have enough time in a normal year, much less this one. Of course the AFI Fest which happens this year November 7 to the 14th is a good place for stragglers to land, and might be a place to find a December release like Jay Roach’s Roger Ailes film , said to have killer turns from Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie , and John Lithgow. The early Fall Festivals set the table , but there’s still more to come in a race that is just getting underway.
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