They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
TIFF Part 3: The Danish Girl Dazzles
By J. Don Birnam
September 22, 2015
Room won at TIFF, but there was a deep lineup this year in what I expect will be a crowded and competitive awards race. Today we provide the last coverage of TIFF movies.
Youth and The Danish Girl: Powerful Performances
An emerging theme in this year's Oscar race is that stunning performances abound even if the vehicles themselves are lacking. Having seen over 15 movies at TIFF this weekend, I'm joining my voice to that chorus.
In Paolo Sorrentino's Youth, the follow-up to the 2013 Best Foreign Language Film winner The Great Beauty, the biggest draw is the wide, strong cast. The story centers around two aging friends, Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel (both on point, as usual), who are on vacation in an expensive Swiss hotel and must contemplate the meaning of their lives. The movie is exceedingly crafty - the music, the shots, the costumes are all exaggerated, and the supposedly poetic and symbolic quirky scenes abound. I did not quite connect with the obviously pretentious exuberance and excesses of the narrative - a woman shot playing Just Dance repeatedly is supposed to be some sort of allegory for beauty I gather - but the acting is undeniable.
Joining Caine and Keitel are a gorgeous Rachel Weisz, a scandalous Jane Fonda, and a somewhat muted Paul Dano (who, by the way, is having a great year). I expect this movie to do well with the Academy - it is basically about getting old while rich and famous, and it has nude scene after nude scene of undeniably stunning women. Like The Great Beauty, it should play right into their wheelhouse and many are predicting it to get a Best Picture nomination. It will not be on my top movies of the year list, that's for sure.
The Danish Girl, on the other hand, may very well be. Directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) and starring Eddie Redmayne and a surging Alicia Vikander (who also starred in the indie hit Ex Machina earlier this year), the movie tells of the touching story of an important symbol in the transgender community. I thought Redmayne's Oscar last year was a travesty, particularly since he defeated a much more guttural Michael Keaton, but he proved me wrong with one of the best performances by any actor this year. He could honestly become just the third back-to-back Best Actor winner in Academy history (Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks have done it, too).
His performance is deeply personal, moving, and exquisite. Meanwhile, Vikander is a revelation herself, although her awards-status is uncertain given the crowded field this year. But, unlike Youth, I think this movie is strong all around, and not just for its acting. The artistry and symbolism in The Danish Girl is infinitely more subtle and therefore more moving than the in-your-face style of Youth. Alexander Desplat's score is emotional and romantic, and should find itself in the list of five come Oscar time. But, and I never thought I'd say this about Hooper, the directing is strong, too. With perhaps a choppy third act, Hooper weaves beautifully between the lives of the two main characters.