They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Toronto International Film Festival's Slow Start

By J. Don Birnam

September 15, 2015

Obviously they're making Easter garland.

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The preliminary stage of the Oscar race has shifted from the idyllic mountains to the rainy Toronto, where the temperatures of the proceedings have cooled considerably. Over the next week, we will bring you direct coverage from Canada, as we review certain movies we will see at TIFF and try to prognosticate their chances at the 88th Academy Awards.

The early word out of Toronto is that, unlike some of the excitement generated at Telluride for the world premiere of films like Steve Jobs, Spotlight, and Beasts of No Nation, the response to the Toronto premieres has been warm but far from overwhelming.

Some Acting Contenders, but No Obvious Best Picture Candidates

The festival started with all-around accolades for the opening night gala, the world premiere of Jean Marc Vallee’s Demolition. Vallee, a French Canadian, has made stops here before with the successful Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. For whatever reason, however, Fox Searchlight has decided that it will hold Demolition for release until early 2016, effectively ending its Oscar run. A pity, it seems, because Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance was widely lauded as another strong one in a string that began last year in Toronto with Nightcrawler and includes this summer’s Southpaw. At the very least, it seems as if Gyllenhaal’s transition to serious actor, a la Bradley Cooper or Leonardo DiCaprio in years past, is complete, and he may get some buzz for a Best Actor nod next year. But that marks the end of the road for the movie that tells the story of a man that deals with loss by destroying and rebuilding things.


Also premiering at TIFF was Sandra Bullock’s new vehicle, Our Brand is Crisis. Based on a true story, Bullock plays a political strategist hired by a flailing candidate in the Bolivian presidential election in 2002 to revive his campaign. The film has been scheduled for an awards run but the early word out of Toronto is that, while Bullock may have an outside shot at a Best Actress nod (more on that below), the film is not a serious Best Picture contender.

The same rang true for Eddie Redmayne’s try at becoming only the third man to win consecutive Best Actor awards with the much anticipated The Danish Girl. Although his emotional and heartfelt performance has mostly wowed critics and did very well in Venice, it perhaps should not be surprising that The Danish Girl has been dismissed as monotonous Oscar bait in Toronto - Tom Hooper (of The King’s Speech fame) has not particularly distinguished himself since winning it all back in 2010. Still, the transgender role being in sync with the trends of the times may be sufficient to land Eddie another nomination.

He will face, however, formidable competition from Johnny Depp’s Black Mass, whose performance as the notorious Whitey Bulger has him square in the middle of that race. The movie has been compared to other respectable gangster movies, think American Gangster, with a real shot at acting nominations but not a serious play at Best Picture. So it goes, it seems, with the early movies out of Toronto.

Perhaps the biggest story out of TIFF will be the other journalism-related movie, the Dan Rather drama Truth, starring a steady Robert Redford and a determined Cate Blanchett. But while this movie has garnered the most accolades from those premiering at TIFF, is the Academy really going to award a talkie movie about the perhaps indiscretions of the second Bush administration?

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