They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don’t They?

Toronto Adds to Oscar Intrigue

By J. Don Birnam

September 16, 2016

No, kids, don't do the Dirty Dancing move in the middle of the street

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As expected, the Toronto International Film Festival did not drastically alter the congealing Oscar race. For a number of reasons, mostly having to do with the distribution schedule of the festival contenders this year, TIFF this year served more as a confirmation than a revelation, as has been the case for the past few years now. The last two Best Picture winners, Spotlight and Birdman, both premiered before Telluride before making it to Canada. Expect that pattern to hold in the future

TIFF: The Additions (and Subtractions) to the Race

Given that most of the films with Best Picture potential premiered at Venice and Telluride, we expected TIFF to not seriously alter the Oscar race. That has proven mostly true.

A movie that got some critical buzz for Best Picture is the Nicole Kidman/Dev Patel story about the Indian boy who is lost and then adopted by a Tasmanian Family, Lion. Don’t ask me why. The movie is a mostly muddled mess about an otherwise moving story. It’s disjointed in its acts and in explaining the emotional motivations of the main character. But it has the Weinstein’s behind it so I suppose anything is possible.

The other major new contender was Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, about the devastated First Lady in the days after the assassination of JFK. Starring a magnificent Natalie Portman, the movie found quick distribution at TIFF by Oscar-expert Fox Searchlight. Targeting a December release, Natalie will surely vie for a second statuette even though she will do it against a currently prohibitive favorite, Emma Stone.


TIFF arguably shone more for the films that premiered there that will not be Oscar contenders. Ewan McGregor’s first film, American Pastoral, did not receive warm critical reception. It’s a very uneven mess. The same goes for Denial, showcasing Rachel Weisz as a woman who goes toe to toe with a Holocaust denier. The narrative chops are just not there even though the gravitas of the subject matter is. And finally, Oliver Stone’s drama Snowden also did not do well. This will be the second time that Joseph Gordon Levitt stars as the subject of a dramatized film based on an Oscar-winning documentary—and gets panned. Third time’s the charm?

It seems clear as if TIFF made those choices not because of their quality, but because of their star-wattage and/or appeal to the broad masses. I mean they showed Blair Witch, for Pete’s sake. I wonder if they know their audiences that well or if there audience is just that disperse/diverse.

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