Last year, everybody got it wrong.
Ahead of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, self-proclaimed Academy Awards prognosticators (guilty) were certain that either Damien Chazelle’s First Man, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma or maybe even Steve McQueen’s Widows would swoop into Toronto, nab the coveted Oscars bellwether known as the People’s Choice Award and go on to claim Best Picture glory at the Oscars five months later. No one, with possibly the exception of Viggo Mortensen’s agent, was betting on the road-trip dramedy Green Book doing everything described above.
But such narrative hiccups are all part of the fun – the maddening, exhausting, nonsensical fun – that is TIFF and the lucrative awards race that the festival has become synonymous with. Everyone is an Oscars expert, until they’re not.
To that end, this year’s TIFF offers more potential Oscars wild cards than in recent memory. Some, such as the Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx legal drama Just Mercy and the Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers drama A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, will be making their world premieres in Toronto. Others, such as the Matt Damon and Christian Bale racing drama Ford v Ferrari or the Noah Baumbach divorce drama Marriage Story, will be riding high on the rhapsodic reactions they’ve already garnered at the Venice or Telluride festivals just days prior. All are hoping to get a huge marketing boost from Toronto’s historically extra-friendly audiences (I’ve yet to attend a TIFF screening where anybody dared boo; mostly, we’re just happy to be out of the house).
First, there are the obvious contenders – although, as last year proved, nothing is obvious: the aforementioned Ford v Ferrari, Marriage Story, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and Just Mercy. But there’s also Hustlers, a strippers-turn-to-crime drama that is garnering acclaim for co-star Jennifer Lopez, who has never been nominated for an Oscar; Taika Waititi’s “anti-hate” Second World War satire Jojo Rabbit, starring the Thor: Ragnarok director himself as Adolf Hitler; the biopic Judy, starring Renee Zellweger as the Wizard of Oz star Garland in her final days; the Nicole Kidman-led adaptation of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch; Edward Norton’s adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s crime thriller Motherless Brooklyn; the South Korean drama Parasite, which nabbed the Palme d’Or at this past spring’s Cannes film festival and was the talk of last week’s Telluride festival; and the grounded-astronaut drama Lucy in the Sky, which stars Natalie Portman, a performer who previously benefited from a warm TIFF reception when her biopic Jackie premiered in 2016.
On paper, Netflix has a ridiculously strong TIFF 2019 lineup, almost to the embarrassment of the streaming giant’s major-studio competitors. But as Roma’s Oscars half-victory (best director, but not best picture) proved last year, Academy voters still aren’t convinced that the streaming giant is ready to grab the industry’s top honour. Perhaps the combination of Baumbach’s Marriage Story starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, Steven Soderbergh’s Panama Papers comedy The Laundromat starring Meryl Streep, Dolemite Is My Name starring a come-back-ready Eddie Murphy and The Two Popes starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce will sway traditional thinking.
And if all those films aren’t enough to fuel the Oscars conversation at TIFF, then we can all spend the rest of the festival talking about the Joaquin Phoenix-starring Joker, which premiered in Venice this past weekend and will be arriving in Toronto on Monday night with an entire internet’s worth of discourse at its back.
As every year, there are a handful of prestige titles bypassing TIFF, including James Gray’s outer-space drama Ad Astra, Greta Gerwig’s update of Little Women and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the latter being Netflix’s biggest attempt to crash the Oscars yet, given its directorial pedigree and massive US$159-million price tag (it will be premiering at the director’s hometown New York Film Festival).
Yet nearly every other major (and minor) Oscars contender is otherwise represented in Toronto. Smart money says to keep an eye on Just Mercy and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. But there’s also likely another Green Book squirrelled away in there somewhere among TIFF’s 245 feature films. Best of luck to all those chasing the buzz this TIFF – but beware the sting of defeat.
The 44th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sept. 15
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