As awards watchers, the Toronto International Film Festival is the biggest jumping off point for Oscar season. Venice and Telluride come first (just by a few days) but TIFF’s size and stature mark it as the premiere festival for films of all kinds – Hollywood, independent, foreign language and documentary – to begin or build their buzz as we enter the real start to the ebb and flow of the ocean of Oscar talk.
This was my first year at TIFF and my second time applying. Like Rotten Tomatoes just before them, TIFF embarked on an open diversity push for more critics and press this year coming from the LGBTQ community and from people of color – especially women – to offer a wider range of voices. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that (both TIFF and RT) and am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such a massive and more inclusive experience. I was interviewed about it for CBC Arts, which you can read here.
I was joined by Rubin Safaya (who was also interviewed by the CBC) and Meghan White of Cinemalogue in covering the festival and we have some thoughts on the films and performances we liked the most and what insight it gave us into the upcoming Oscar race.
What Did We Like
There were multiple highlights for me at TIFF, in all genres. ROMA and If Beale Street Could Talk topped my favorite films of the festival with Cannes-to-TIFF films like Burning, Shoplifters and Border among the best this, or any, festival had to offer.
I got to dig deep into my favorite performances of the festival from Nicole Kidman in Destroyer and Boy Erased, Steven Yeun in Burning, Robert Pattinson in High Life, Natalie Portman in Vox Lux, KiKi Layne and Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk and a special spot for the incredible duo work from Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book.
But the performance that stands out, will stand out for the year for me, is Yalitza Aparicio in ROMA. A first-time actress, a young woman who didn’t know how many people there were behind a camera to make a film, Aparicio showcased a vulnerability and an openness that only a first-time actor can often reach. It’s a performance of emotional and technical artistry. I don’t think I will see a better one this year, it’s a true revelation.
Two undeniable stand-out films were Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA and Barry Jenkins’ IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (followed by Corbet’s VOX LUX, Kusama’s DESTROYER, and Denis’ HIGH LIFE).
Favorite performances include Yalitza Aparicio (ROMA), Nicole Kidman (DESTROYER), Natalie Portman (VOX LUX), Viggo Mortensen (GREEN BOOK), Stephan James (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK), Matej Zemljic (CONSEQUENCES), Robert Pattinson (HIGH LIFE), and Zain Al Rafeea (CAPERNAUM).
Supporting roles deserving recognition: Mahershala Ali (GREEN BOOK), Regina Hall (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK), and Marina de Tavira (ROMA).
Also of note: Boluwatife Treasure Bankole (CAPERNAUM), and Tatiana Maslany & Sebastian Stan (DESTROYER) for doing the most with the least amount (or non-existent, in the case of Bankole) of dialogue.
What Did We Learn
Right off the bat it’s Green Book that’s going to suddenly pepper the charts of Oscar pundits everywhere. I had it, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as low-key contenders for a few months but its People’s Choice Award win solidifies its status as a likely Best Picture nominee (9 of the last 10 winners have become one, three have won) and it’s likely going to cause a seismic shift in Universal’s marketing strategy this fall. They also have First Man, which played like gangbusters at Venice and TIFF and its October bow could be a smart choice, keeping it out of the fray of the crowded November and December films.
The two films that came in as first and second runners-up found themselves with boosted profiles and visibility. If Beale Street Could Talk, from Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), was the first runner-up, must to many people’s surprise. The film was a TIFF world premiere and a hotly anticipated follow-up that came through for audiences. ROMA, from Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), which had just won the Venice Golden Lion, was the second runner-up. Netflix is pulling out all the stops for this film, aiming to build on the above the line nominations Mudbound got last season and aiming for Best Picture and Best Director (and a good shot at Best Actress for first-timer Yalitza Aparicio).
It’s with great irony that the Academy decided to scrap the poorly rolled out decision to create a new Oscar category – Best Popular Film (or whatever they were ultimately going to call it) – as this year is shaping up to be a year of highly popular, big box office films entering the Oscar race. Some are already there, like Black Panther, the film we all perceive as the reason the category was created in the first place. Its $700M take and excellent reviews should make it the first comic book film to earn a Best Picture nomination.
The aforementioned Green Book is likely to blow up the box office too. With its Thanksgiving date release (which replaced Welcome to Marwen – Universal must have known what they had), PG-13 rating and broad appeal, the film should be huge.
A Star Is Born shocked everyone with great reviews from even the most cynical of critics. It’s out in just a few weeks and looks like a good bet for box office glory. Although it’s tracking for only a $25M opening, tracking this year has been pretty off. But even if that’s what it opens at, I’d be willing to be that it maintains that for weeks to come with repeat viewings.
Widows made its world premiere at TIFF and, with its all-star cast of Oscar winners and nominees, breakout performances from Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo and killer action sequences, I think this will play like gangbusters at the box office and be a strong contender in BP and Best Actress (Viola Davis) with Daniel Kaluuya a player in Supporting Actor and Debicki a dark horse in Supporting Actress.