Toronto Film Festival features Oscar contenders
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 08:09
The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) wrapped up this past Sunday, concluding the first chapter in this year’s awards season race. The Academy Awards themselves aren’t until March 2014, but that doesn’t stop rabid speculation from building months in advance of the ceremony. The TIFF provides the perfect arena for premature Oscar prognosticating; the festival screens numerous highly anticipated films to audiences (and critics), whose reactions can set the tone for the rest of the awards season. Last year, Ben Affleck’s “Argo” (2012) opened at Toronto to rave reviews and significant Oscar buzz — and February found Affleck on the stage of the Dolby Theatre thanking the Academy for his film’s Best Picture win. It’s a critical jumping-off point for films hoping to make similarly positive impressions on these early audiences.
This year, most Oscar buzz focused on one film in particular: acclaimed British director Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.” The movie portrays the life of Solomon Northup, a black man born into freedom in antebellum America that was later kidnapped and sold into slavery. Based on a true story, “12 Years a Slave” was Academy catnip based on the trailer alone. The reaction to the film itself, however, has been nothing short of astonishing.
Critics have reported audience members sobbing through the film and leaving the theater utterly speechless. Kyle Buchanan, a writer for Vulture (the online pop culture component of New York Magazine), explained a conversation with a colleague after seeing the film.
“I said, ‘A century from now, when they put together a montage about the history of movies? They’ll put the film we just saw in the first 10 seconds of that montage,’” he said.
Anthony Breznican, who covers the awards season race for Entertainment Weekly, predicted that “12 Years” will easily land an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and that Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Northup, will receive a Best Actor nomination. Ejiofor and his costar Lupita Nyong’o have been at the epicenter of the nomination guessing game, overshadowing their more famous costars including Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti and Michael Fassbender. There is plenty of time left in the awards season race for a shake-up, but for now, “12 Years” has a commanding and decisive lead, bolstered by its People’s Choice Award win at the TIFF. When it opens on Oct. 18, audiences will be able to judge for themselves whether the hype surrounding the film is justified.
Several other films with solid chances at the Oscars also screened at the TIFF, including “Gravity,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “August: Osage County.” Sandra Bullock has been garnering positive reviews and significant Oscar buzz for her role in “Gravity” as an astronaut trying to survive after her space shuttle is damaged. Directed by Alfonso Cuarthe movie takes place in zero gravity, which provided Bullock with a tricky and isolating filming experience — though one that is earning her universal praise.
“Dallas Buyers Club” and “August: Osage County” both have potential as Academy fodder as well. Matthew McConaughey, who leads the cast of “Dallas Buyers Club,” famously lost 38 pounds to play Ron Woodroof, a homophobic Texan diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the ’80s. Thus far, reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and the film holds an 87 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. “Dallas Buyers Club” continues McConaughey’s streak of more serious roles — a bold, rewarding move away from the romantic comedies that made him famous.
“August: Osage County,” the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, features an impressively high number of famous faces, including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney and Cumberbatch (who starred in no less than three films screened at the TIFF). With the play’s established prestige and a cast of Hollywood heavy hitters, expectations for “Osage County” may have been impossibly high. Reviews have been mixed so far — though it is hard to imagine a film of this stature getting shut out this awards season.
“12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “August: Osage County” are only a handful of TIFF movies slated for awards season success. Cumberbatch turned heads as controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in “The Fifth Estate.” “Enough Said” features James Gandolfini in his one of his final performances, while Idris Elba turned in a charismatic performance as Nelson Mandela in the biopic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” Ron Howard’s Formula One racing drama “Rush” also screened at Toronto, as did Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day,” starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. The TIFF has certainly kicked off the race to the Oscars, but with the awards show months away and several potential contenders that have yet to premiere, the race is hardly locked up.