Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Post-Toronto Oscar Update- Where does the Best Picture race stand now?

The Toronto Film Festival closed up shop this past weekend, after a long stretch of premieres, galas and movies that formed the foundation for the Oscar race. The end of Toronto signals the finale of the first leg of fall festivals (TIFF, along with Venice and Telluride) and we're now able to get a much better picture of the awards potential for many films. Although several films like Black Mass, Spotlight, The Danish Girl, Room and Beasts of No Nation premiered at other festivals, how the audience responds at Toronto is absolutely critical to Oscar success. In previous years, Best Picture winners like Argo, Slumdog Millionaire and 12 Years A Slave have hit it big in the Great White North and gone on to be massive hits on the awards circuit. So this year, who were the big winners from Toronto? And what does it mean for the Oscar race?

The most critical award that TIFF hands out is the Audience Award, which in recent years has gone to successful films such as Silver Linings Playbook, The King's Speech, 12 Years A Slave and last year's The Imitation Game. This year, Lenny Abrahamson's Room, the tale of a woman and her child adjusting to life outside of captivity, won the prize, further signifying that this A24 release is here to stay. The indie distributor has never had a big awards player before, but Room is looking more and more like a film to watch. Room hits theaters on October 16, a prime slot for any Oscar contender. It'll make a stop at the Savannah Film Festival next month during its presumably slow rollout over October and November.

Other films that premiered at Venice and Telluride also continued to gain momentum at Toronto, firmly putting themselves in the Oscar conversation. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa, which won the Golden Lion at Venice, was a smash at Toronto as well, with Paramount striking a huge distribution deal for the film. The stop-motion animation drama will now debut on December 30, just in time for Paramount to squeeze it into the Oscar race. With such a strong reception, Inside Out now has some major competition in the Best Animated Feature category. Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation also played well at the Fest, with most viewers considering it to be "mandatory viewing" as Joblo's Chris Bumbray put it. The Netflix-distributed drama is an awards season question mark, as it is currently eschewing a traditional release. But will the pure power of Fukunaga's film be too much for the Academy to ignore? We'll find out.

Brooklyn, the Sundance hit, kept its momentum strong as well and is looking more and more like a major Oscar play each day. It debuts in cinemas on November 4, and if it continues to play well at festivals, it could be a Best Picture nominee. The Lobster had a successful TIFF run after its Cannes premiere, and Sicario was a huge box office hit, as well as a critical one at Toronto, hinting that we could see this one sneak into the Oscar race. But out of all of the films that had previously premiered, Spotlight was the one that gained the most at Toronto. Once an afterthought in the race, Spotlight is now the Best Picture frontrunner according to prognosticator site Gold Derby. Critics went crazy for the film and it's the type of movie that can appeal to many audience members as well. Spotlight debuts on November 6. This will be a big test for Open Road Films, but if they run a good campaign, we may see director Thomas McCarthy and Michael Keaton on stage in February.

Beyond the big festival hits, TIFF was set to hold the premieres of some pretty big films. But oddly enough, The Martian was the only one that really hit it big. Fans and critics went appropriately bonkers over the Ridley Scott sci-fi flick, heaping tons of praise on it. While I've been skeptical about The Martian all along because of Scott's recent track record, it's clear that Fox and the director have a big hit on their hands- one that will make a ton of money, and one that will garner quite a bit of awards attention.

Unfortunately, a lot of the other big-ticket premieres fell flat. Biopics Trumbo and Truth received some praise, but mostly for the performances. Truth might get a bit of Best Picture buzz, but with Spotlight hogging all of the attention, James Vanderbilt's journalism-based flick might not stand a chance. David Gordon Green's Our Brand is Crisis fell flat with pretty mediocre reviews across the board, Freeheld gained zero traction, and Demolition, the opening night film and the latest from Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallee, was also a disappointment (it's obvious that Fox Searchlight isn't looking at it as an Oscar player as the film debuts in 2016). And finally, Tom Hiddleston's I Saw the Light bombed completely- reviews were poor and reaction was pretty muted.

In addition to that, some films that hit it big at other fests weren't so big in Toronto. The Danish Girl will still likely snag some acting nods, but the film took a major hit after the so-called "lukewarm" Toronto reception. Same goes for Black Mass- Johnny Depp will still get nominated, but the film's flaws are being amplified by more successful flicks. As for the other gangster flick of 2015, I have a feeling that Legend will be much more successful in Britain than in the US (the box office overseas was huge when it opened). The film didn't even make a dent in Toronto, and Universal moved the film to November because of the reaction.

So with all of that said- and I know it's a ton of info- where does the Oscar race stand today? What films are in, what films are out, and what movies are we waiting for? As for the latter, I have a strong feeling that films like The Revenant, Joy, Bridge of Spies and The Hateful Eight will be on the final list, with Creed, The Walk and In the Heart of the Sea standing an outside chance. Also, The Big Short just jumped into the Oscar race today after a series of strong test screenings, so that's an important one to consider. It's a messy race right now, but it's clearing up pretty quickly and we'll get an even clearer picture after New York next week. But as of now, here are my Oscar predictions for Best Picture.

1. The Revenant
2. Spotlight
3. Joy
4. Steve Jobs
5. Carol
6. Inside Out
7. The Martian
8. The Hateful Eight
9. Brooklyn
10. Bridge of Spies

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