TORONTO – Pass the popcorn, because awards season is finally coming into focus. As the Toronto International Film Festival comes to a close, we’ve got intel on which films took flight and the movies in danger of losing traction. Here’s what you need to know about how the Oscar race is shaping up.
The sure things
• Netflix is flexing its way into the best picture race this year with “Roma,” a black-and-white Spanish-language film from Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. “Roma” is a tribute to the women who guided Cuaron’s childhood in Mexico City, particularly his housekeeper, Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), and his single mother, Sofía (Marina de Tavira). Critics have hailed “Roma” as a masterpiece.
• Make way for “A Star Is Born,” aka the new awards season darling. Bradley Cooper’slatest iteration of the Hollywood classic was the bona fide hit of the festival. “Oscar watchers were prepared not to take this seriously,” Tom O’Neil of awards site GoldDerby.com says, but the Toronto screenings “silenced all skeptics for good.”
The audience gave the film a whopping three standing ovations at the festival’s premiere, causing Lady Gaga to tear up. She called making the musical “the greatest artistic experience of my career.” Right now, all signs point to best picture, director, actor and actress nominations – and goodness, are Gaga’s dramatic red carpet turns going to be fun.
• “First Man,” Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” follow-up, is on sure footing after making its way from opening Venice Film Festival to Toronto. The sobering tale of Neil Armstrong’s quest to land on the moon has earned stellar reviews for Chazelle, with prospects rising for stars Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. “I don’t think it generates the kind of emotional exuberance that ‘La La Land’ or ‘Whiplash’ did, but it feels important,” O’Neil says.
Performances that popped
OK, so Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are probably shoo-ins at this point. But who else began to attract that Oscar glow?
Melissa McCarthy is “ambushing the best actress race,” O’Neil says, playing a caustic struggling writer who begins forging letters from famous people to make her rent in the sleeper “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Meanwhile, the festival heartily welcomed back Julia Roberts, who impressed critics as a resolute mother who confronts her opioid-addicted son in “Ben Is Back.”
Also rising is Nicole Kidman with two Oscar contenders this fall, the gay conversion drama “Boy Erased” (for which she could nab a supporting actress nod as the religious mother of a gay teen) and “Destroyer,” a noir crime thriller she leads (and is almost unrecognizable in) as an alcoholic detective.
Speaking of actors who have multiple shots, make way for the phenom known as Lucas Hedges. The young star is excellent in two films: He plays Roberts’ shifty, pill-popping son in “Ben Is Back” and Kidman’s terrified, outed teen in “Boy Erased.” He’ll likely be joined in the Oscar race by Timothée Chalamet, whose gaunt frame and haunted performance gave weight to the meth addict he plays in “Beautiful Boy.” (Toronto was also a hub for reunions: At the “Beautiful Boy” after-party, we watched Chalamet climb over his banquette to embrace his “Call Me By Your Name” co-star Armie Hammer.
Then there was the Toronto surprise “Green Book,” an upcoming film about a racist driver (Viggo Mortensen) tasked with motoring a world-class black pianist (Mahershala Ali) across the South in the 1960s. “Green Book” became a hot ticket after positive reviews, and both actors received raves.
Who came back from Canada with work to do? Hugh Jackman’s Gary Hart biopic, “The Front Runner,” received mixed reviews, though Jackman’s prospects could still rally. “The movie will have to do very well commercially to gain some footing” in the race, IMDb.com special correspondent Dave Karger says.
Then there’s Robert Redford, who arrived in Toronto with his self-declared acting finale, “The Old Man & the Gun.” Though many found the film too low-key to register with voters in the best picture category, Redford charms as an aging bank robber and could still find a spot in the best actor race this year.
And kudos to Barry Jenkins'”If Beale Street Could Talk.” The film, based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, arrived in Toronto under a cloud of uncertainty but found an audience that fell in love. Though its best picture prospects remain unclear, “it‘s a worthy follow-up to ‘Moonlight’ and without a doubt Regina King is getting nominated,” Karger says.