What The Toronto Film Festival Taught Us About The Oscar Race

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 10.15.43 PMPhoto: REX USA/Everett Collection.
Benedict Cumberbatch should really start pressing that tux. The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival officially wrapped up over the weekend, with the Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game — starring the dashing Brit — nabbing the People's Choice Award.
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Past winners of the festival's coveted top prize, include American Beauty, The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and 12 Years a Slave, all of which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. That proven track record has made Toronto the official launchpad for Hollywood's awards season.
While The Imitation Game wasn't as unanimously loved as some of its predecessors, the film's victory at TIFF automatically makes it a frontrunner for the big award come March.
Over the course of the 10 day festival, many festivalgoers were overheard lamenting what was widely perceived as the festival's most anemic lineup in years. TIFF failed to "deliver the kind of knockout blow it did in years past, where festival audiences have walked out of films like Argo, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and 12 Years a Slave thinking they’d just seen the Oscar winner,” wrote The Wrap’s Steve Pond.
"The Oscar conversation here is not quite what it has been…. It seems like a quieter year.” IndieWire critic Eric Kohn added.
Part of the perceived lull might have have something to do with the fact that two of the fall's most anticipated films — David Fincher's Gone Girl and Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice — will have their world premieres at the upcoming New York Film Festival. Other buzzy titles like Christopher Nolan's Interstellar and Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, decided to skip the festival circuit altogether.
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Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 10.29.43 PMPhoto: BEImages/Jim Smeal.
Of the films that had their world premieres in Toronto (The Imitation Game first showed at Telluride), only the Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything, emerged as a true Best Picture contender. Eddie Redmayne's stunning portrayal of the renowned physicist will surely earn him an Oscar nod alongside fellow Brit Cumberbatch, and Steve Carell, whose twisted turn as the deranged millionaire John Du Pont in Foxcatcher will be talked about well into the winter.
Jake Gyllenhaal is another actor who's likely to be in the mix come Oscar time, after his completely unhinged performance as a creepy crime reporter in Nightcrawler became the talk of the festival. When people weren't buzzing about Jake, they were feting Bill Murray. Not only did the actor have an entire day dedicated in his honor, but some critics were calling Murray's wry performance as a curmudgeon-with-a-heart in St. Vincent his finest work since Lost in Translation. In any other year, Murray would be a lock for a nomination, but with the aforementioned performances, as well the expected Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey tour-de-forces still to come, Murray might find himself on the outside looking in.
Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 10.33.38 PMPhoto: REX USA/Everett Collection.
On the women's side, look for Felicity Jones to join her costar Redmayne on the red carpet come Oscar night, for her performance as Hawking's devoted wife, Jane. Both actors earned a rapturous standing ovation when they took the stage after the film's premiere, solidifying their status as the breakout stars of the festival.
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Another TIFF darling was a glowing Reese Witherspoon, who had not one, but two films in Toronto. Her performances in both The Good Lie and Wild were widely acclaimed, but it's her gutsy turn as a former heroin addict in the latter that is being called her best performance since she won the Oscar 10 years ago for Walk The Line. Witherspoon is all but a lock for her second nomination, and is the odds-on favorite to win, which would make the Reesnaissance (or the Reesurgence) complete.
But, Witherspoon wasn't the only rom-com queen who shed her skin in Toronto. Jennifer Aniston's riveting performance in Cake was praised for its raw emotion and bravery, as the actress went greasy-haired and makeup-free to play a psychologically broken woman. Some observers called it Aniston's Monster's Ball moment, referring to the film that earned a deglammed Halle Berry an Oscar. Though she leaves Toronto an Oscar dark horse, Aniston should gain steam when Cake is released in theaters.
Other actresses with an outside shot at a nomination include Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart for their work in in the psychodrama Clouds of Sils Maria, and Marion Cotillard, for her naturalistic turn as a woman recovering from depression in Two Days, One Night.
But, all of them will have to take a backseat to Julianne Moore, whose performance as a brilliant professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice, came out of nowhere, and left Toronto audiences reeling. The independently financed film headed into the festival with absolutely zero buzz, and left with a distribution deal courtesy of Sony Picture Classics. No doubt the studio will do everything it can to make sure Moore takes home a long overdue Oscar come March. If the accolades are to be believed, it won't be hard to convince Academy voters.
Let the race begin.
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