So what now? With screenings finished, TIFF closed, and New York’s Film Festival looming, how will TIFF impact the Oscar race? Believe it or not it has already begun; in fact it was happening as TIFF was playing out. You could hear the chatter in the theaters, press rooms, and hallways as critics talked with various producers, studio PR folk, or those in the know about how the Oscar race was changing. One thing I heard over and over is that all eyes are on three films for the year end, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, the musical Les Miserables, and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. The feeling seems to be until those films are screened and reaction begins to trickle out, one cannot really, truly predict the race, though as we all know, you cannot do that anyway. A conversation which took place behind me was between two executives who had seen a good portion of the footage from Les Miserables, and one of them stated, “it’s unlike any musical ever made, it captures the emotion of the play.” That is good news, and then Thursday night and Friday morning the talk was the Lincoln trailer, which impressed nearly everyone I heard or talked too, in particular the performance of two time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis.
More than anything TIFF has launched some films with assurance into the Oscar race, and the studios leave the festival with greater confidence than they had coming in. Or they could be so entirely confident that all TIFF did was confirm what they already knew about their movie.
For instance there is now no doubt that Argo, The Sessions and The Master will play major roles in the Academy Award race this year. No doubt at all. With Silver Linings Playbook in the hands of the Weinstein Company, it cannot be counted out or even not taken seriously, as it is a very good film with strong performances that could land nominations. I feel the same about Quartet, very much an actor’s film (and never forget most of the Academy members are actors) under the direction of a two time Academy Award winning actor, Dustin Hoffman. If the company handles it smartly, Quartet could become a dark horse in the race.
Of course the festival can also do the opposite which I think it has done with To the Wonder which is not going to be a major nominee in the Oscar battle. Now, in fairness, not everyone disliked the film as much as I did, but reactions were not positive enough to make me think it could be a Best Picture or Best Director contender. Sorry Malick fans.
The Sessions looks like it could grab nominations for Best Film, Actor, Director, Supporting Actress and perhaps Supporting Actor, and Screenplay. It’s a lovely film, full of warmth and human decency, the sort of picture they have admired in the past, but the sort of film that could have gone off the rails easily. Hawkes gives a performance for the ages; he is remarkable and was the talk of the festival for a day or so after the film screened. Any sense that the film is one of those sentimental pictures about a mentally or physically handicapped character can be shot down with the film’s frank approach to sexuality, the nudity and the beauty of the performances, as honest as anything I have ever witnessed. And make no mistake; Fox is promoting Hunt in the supporting category where her lovely, warm performance as a soulful woman who makes a deeper connection than she expects is the performance to beat.
Jennifer Lawrence leaps into the Oscar race not for The Hunger Games but for her scene stealing, perfect performance as the angry, wounded widow in Silver Linings Playbook. Acted with tender ferocity, Lawrence walks off with the film, (lead or supporting?) though the performances of Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro could also be players in the race. Cooper is gaining popularity and is talented, no question; his performance in Silver Linings Playbook is his finest so far and he and Lawrence throw genuine sparks. De Niro, who has not given a decent performance for many years, is terrific as the football obsessed father, who knows in his heart he was not the greatest dad to his son and wants now to make it up to him, and to see his son happy. De Niro is downright tender in the film, and has more than a couple fine scenes that he plays to perfection. David O. Russell cannot be discounted for a Best Director nomination, though I think the category is overstuffed this season.
Argo? No question it could go all the way, though at this nominations seem certain for the film and finally, director Affleck, who many felt, should have been a nominee for The Town. Hollywood loves a comeback, and considering the mid-career meltdown suffered by Affleck with a series of terrible films and performances, he has found new life behind the camera. And he’s damned good, beautifully balancing the humor in this film and allowing it to become a thriller with gentle ease.
The Best Actress category was one that I think we glimpsed with Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, a powerful haunting performance about a damaged woman, emotionally and physically trying to find herself again after a terrible accident. For her luminous work in Amour, my favorite film of the festival Emmanuelle Rivera could and certainly be among the nominees for Best Actress, and the film is without question a certain nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Dame Maggie Smith could land a nomination for Quartet, as could Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, though she might go supporting, and in something that went in reverse, Keira Knightley might have lost her bid for Best Actress in Anna Karenina, as the performance, despite TIME Magazine’e rave was not what many had hoped for.
The Best Actor category will see John Hawkes for sure for his superb work in The Sessions, gently stroking the souls of anyone who sees this great, great performance. Jean-Louis Trintignant could be there for Amour, his brilliant performance as an elderly caregiver to his wife, stricken with a stroke. God if they can give the thing to Roberto for Life is Beautiful (1998) surely they can at the very least nominate this man (and woman) for work vastly superior. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are Oscar bound for The Master, and the sleeper nominee of TIFF (likely) could be Michael Shannon as the real life killer The Iceman, a performance better than the film. Though Bill Murray arrived here with much hope for his performance as FDR in Hyde Park on the Hudson, the film, and Murray underwhelmed. Again, not a bad performance, on the contrary, he’s very good, but failed by the script. I cannot see a nomination forthcoming for him, not with Lincoln, Les Miserables and a few others looming.
West of Memphis looks like it will be heading to the Feature documentary category and if Sarah Polley’s superb doc gets the attention it should outside of Canada, however unlikely, the filmmaker could be in this category as well. Her film was exceptionally brave. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners could also find itself up for an Oscar, though at this writing West of Memphis is the best bet coming out of TIFF.
The last five Best Picture winners were TIFF films, either premieres of North American premieres or brought here seeking distribution. In 2007 of the five nominees, for Best Picture, Atonement, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Juno and There Will Be Blood, only the latter film was NOT presented at TIFF. The following year Slumdog Millionaire (2008) exploded out of TIFF all the way to Best Picture, while at the same festival was The Hurt Locker (2009) which was released the following year to Oscar glory. For too many years to count TIFF has been the launching pad for the studios major Oscar contenders or to launch a strong film they may be unsure of to begin that all important buzz. Had Crash (2005) not screened at TIFF and found admirers it is likely that the film would not have won Best Picture in 2005, however bizarre that choice was. With New York’s Film Festival looming, and a couple of films there that did not play TIFF the race can still continue evolving, and will of course, right through to the last film screened. But make no mistake, it has begun and it has begun in earnest. It’s all serious now folks.