With the Venice Film Festival coming to a close and Telluride wrapped until next year, it’s time for Toronto to step into the spotlight. Last year’s big Oscar winner from Toronto was David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, which received eight nominations, and was the first film in over two decades to get acting nominations in all four categories. Jennifer Lawrence took home a statue (and tripped on her way to the stage like a champ) for her portrayal of the mercurial Tiffany.
The festival started back in 1976, when it was known by the slightly more dramatic name “Festival of Festivals.” It was renamed in 1995, and while the fest highlights Canadian cinema, it’s also known as one of the top destinations each year to check out the work of new and established directors from around the globe. Every September, Toronto premieres future Oscar winners and art house hits, and it has launched the careers of directors like Paul Haggis, Jason Reitman, Michael Moore, David Cronenberg, and John Woo.
This year it’s anybody’s guess which films will wow the Academy, but there are some buzzy flicks that look like they might go on to be the next Silver Linings Playbook, Slumdog Millionaire, or American Beauty. There’s no doubt that sales will be made and careers will be born. We’ve put some Toronto titles like Gravity, Philomena, Tracks, and Kill Your Darlings on our must-see lists for Telluride and Venice already, and we adore Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon. We predict that film will likely generate acclaim and decent box office when it’s released by Relativity at the end of September, but we see it as a crowd pleaser, not necessarily an Oscar winner. Here are five more films from TIFF this year that we think have a shot at going on to get Oscar recognition.
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alfre Woodard
Synopsis: Director Steve McQueen follows the acclaimed Hunger and Shame with this shocking, based-on-fact story of a 19th-century freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South.
SSN Insight: McQueen’s films Hunger and Shame are reason enough to get us excited about 12 Years A Slave. His restrained, laser-focused directing style always teeters on the edge and takes you for an emotional ride, and the performances he pulls out of his actors are revelatory. He’s obviously attracted a top-notch cast here, and we’re betting this one finally gives him the Oscar love he deserves.
Director: John Wells
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham
Synopsis: A dark comedy about the dysfunctional Weston family that reunites in Oklahoma to face their demons and hash out their past.
SSN Insight: Tracy Letts’ play won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and if you got the chance to see it live, you know that this one has the chance to pack a punch. When the play ended, you could actually feel the energy in the room shift – the writing is that good. Take a look at the talent facing off in the film version and it’s pretty clear that this one has the potential to sweep the Oscars. Time will tell, but we’re betting Wells’ film has some acting and directing nominations in its future.
Synopsis: The true story of Ron Woodroof, who was given six months to live after contracting AIDS in 1986, and spent the next six years smuggling medicine into the U.S. to help himself and fellow sufferers.
SSN Insight: Based on a great script about a real-life underdog, this Focus Features release has had people buzzing since the first on-set photos were released. Sure, McConaughey lost a startling amount of weight to play Woodroof, but this is also one of many films this year (including Mud and Wolf of Wall Street) that give him the chance to show off his acting chops. We’re thinking a Best Actor nomination might be right around the corner.
Synopsis: The story of South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, spanning over seventy years, including his struggle against apartheid, 27 years in jail and his rise to prominence as a political leader and head-of-state.
SSN Insight: The Harvey Weinstein Oscar push will no doubt be in full effect for this film. Mandela is an icon, and if Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) can do his story justice – and if Elba delivers – this one could definitely win over Toronto audiences and get some awards season attention.
Director: Ned Benson
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy
Synopsis: The experiences of a couple going through a difficult time in their relationship are seen through the eyes of both the man and the woman.
SSN Insight: First-time feature director Benson has been generating excitement about his writing for several years. Eleanor Rigby is made up of two films about one relationship: One film from the woman’s perspective, the other from the man’s. The script (or, actually, scripts) was restrained, romantic, and true. The fact that this one is two films shown together definitely poses a bit of a distribution challenge, but we like the unique experience it promises. It’s our long-shot Oscar contender, but knowing the potential that was on the page, and knowing that Chastain always delivers, we’re hoping this one gets some Oscar attention.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5-15. Check back daily to SSN for fest highlights and round-ups.
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