As the Toronto International Film Festival winds down, TheWrap looks back on the week that was.
Acquisitions have been slow but Oscar buzz circulated quickly for films such as “Spotlight” and “The Martian.”
Like any festival, TIFF had some hiccups but made up for them with exciting programming. Let’s take a look and see what worked and what didn’t north of the border.
1. Winners: Jake Gyllenhaal and Judah Lewis
The “Demolition” stars dominated Opening Night at TIFF, where Oscar buzz was palpable despite the film’s April 2016 release date. Gyllenhaal continued his streak of winning performances following “End of Watch,” “Prisoners” and “Nightcrawler,” while Lewis established himself as a young actor to watch with his charming turn as Naomi Watts‘ sexually confused son. Like that, a star is born.
2. Loser: “The Danish Girl”
I didn’t have a chance to see Tom Hooper‘s hot-button drama starring Eddie Redmayne as a man who undergoes gender reassignment surgery and becomes a woman, but the response out of Toronto was fairly cool. Critics were once again impressed by Redmayne, who won an Oscar last year for “The Theory of Everything,” but the repeat win that was once theorized is now considered unlikely, especially after his co-star Alicia Vikander earned better reviews. While both rising stars are likely Oscar nominees along with the film itself, the “Danish Girl’s” hopes of winning any major prizes took a blow.
3. Winner: Matt Damon
“In your face, Neil Armstrong” is right! Damon was excellent as abandoned astronaut Mark Watney, with Ridley Scott provoking the actor’s best work since “The Informant!” The strong response to the film bodes well for Damon’s chances of scoring an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
4. Loser: Tom Hiddleston
The “Avengers” star had a rough festival, between the lukewarm reception for his Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light” and the demented and divisive “High-Rise,” which prompted no less than 40 walkouts. He sure has a lot riding on next month’s release of Guillermo del Toro‘s “Crimson Peak.”
5. Winner: The Movies
TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey and his team of programmers do a hell of a job each year picking a slate of films and the 40th edition of the festival was no exception — even if sales have been slower than usual. It may not be as fancy-shmancy as Cannes but it has plenty of class.
6. Loser: The Princess of Wales Theatre
What the hell was up with the sound system this year at one of the festival’s top venues? I was hardly the only journalist to have a hard time making out certain lines of dialogue. Perhaps it depends on your seat? The beginning of “Demolition” forced my ears to bring their A-game, while others with normally good hearing complained that Tom Hardy — both of them — was all but unintelligible during “Legend,” and not just because of his accent.
7. Winner: Netflix
The streaming giant earned exceptional reviews for “Beasts of No Nation.” Everyone I spoke to who had the guts to see Cary Fukunaga‘s tough-to-watch drama about the making of a child soldier was left devastated. Everyone agreed that it’s a tough sit, but if you can bring yourself to watch those kinds of harrowing horrors, you won’t be able to forget them.
8. Loser: Stephen Frears
The director of “The Queen” pulled another “Lay the Favorite” with this underwhelming drama starring Ben Foster as disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Everything about this movie feels a little off except for maybe Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis. eOne-owned Momentum Pictures closed its deal to acquire “The Program,” which has a great trailer that made the mediocrity of the film all the more disappointing.
9. Winner: Festival Street
Cab drivers will complain, but I love that the City of Toronto shots down King St. for the first weekend of the festival. This year, “festival street” hosted several cool interactive exhibits and while I didn’t have time to check any of them out, kids seemed to dig it. Anything that gets kids excited about movies and how they’re made is cool in my book. This was a big win for TIFF, and the best part was, I was never really got fed up with the foot traffic on King. Go figure.
10. Loser: Late Start Times
I don’t expect movies to start on time at a film festival, but maybe we can start loading the theater a little earlier? For “The Martian,” no one had even been admitted inside the theater at 9:30 p.m., when it was scheduled to start. A 10-minute delay is to be expected, but 30 minutes is a lot of extra red carpet time. Plus you’ve gotta deal with introductions from festival personnel, filmmakers who introduce the cast for a quickie photo op, and then 10 minutes of ads and logos for everything from Dolby Sound and Christie Digital Projectors to Revlon and an Andy Warhol exhibit, not to mention volunteers appreciation videos and piracy warnings. I know TIFF’s gotta pay ‘dem bills, but wowzer!
11. Winner: Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton
The stars of “Black Mass” made a great onscreen team despite being on opposite sites of the law. Depp is excellent as Whitey Bulger and projects real menace, but somehow, Egerton’s corrupt FBI agent John Connolly seems even scarier and the Australian actor ends up stealing the movie. Say what you will about the movie, but these two shine like the stars they are.
12. Winners: Ilya Naishuller and Sharlto Copley
The young Russian director behind “Hardcore” made sure the ultra-violent action movie lived up to its title, and he couldn’t have done it without Copley, who has a blast with his role(s). Naishuller proves to be as adept and inventive at staging brutal action sequences as anyone else out there, and we imagine he has a bright future ahead of him so long as he continues to push the envelope.
13. Winner: “Spotlight”
Director Tom McCarthy, writer Josh Singer and the entire cast should take a bow for their across-the-board excellent examination of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church priestly sex scandal and its subsequent cover-up. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci make the strongest impressions, though Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James and John Slattery all do invaluable supporting work. “Spotlight” is a true triumph and cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with this awards season. Open Road has a major Oscar contender on its hands.
14. Winner/Loser: Cate Blanchett
“Spotlight” wasn’t the only movie about journalism to make a splash in Toronto, as Sony Pictures Classics unveiled James Vanderbilt‘s directorial debut, “Truth,” which works terrifically thanks to Blanchett’s formidable turn as Dan Rather’s “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes. The film explores Rathergate from all angles, and while Robert Redford, Topher Grace and David Lyons shine in supporting roles, the film belongs to Blanchett in every way. Between “Truth” and “Carol,” Blanchett could merit two Oscar nominations for Best Actress. Which means that her biggest competition might be… Cate Blanchett.
15. Winner: Bryan Cranston
The “Breaking Bad” alum delivers the best feature performance of his career as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Jay Roach‘s “Trumbo.” A nomination may be a long shot given how comedic the role is. But he’s definitely in the awards conversation following Toronto, where the film received mostly positive notices.
16. Loser: Arrrrr!
Is anyone actually amused by shouting a pirate’s cry to the pre-movie antipiracy message? Has it simply become a social obligation at festival screenings? I mean, it’s not like you hear that at your local Regal Cinemas. Are TIFF (and Sundance) audiences going to be doing that 20 years from now? I don’t get it. Can we stop this next year?
17. Winner: Barkhad Abdi
Abdi scored on Oscar nomination for his very first film, “Captain Phillips,” but many Hollywood insiders doubted he’d have much of a career afterward. Well, judging by his turn as a Somali spy working in the Kenyan Special Forces in Gavin Hood‘s drone thriller “Eye in the Sky,” it’s safe to say he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Abdi steals the movie from Oscar winner Helen Mirren and his more established co-stars Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman. I guess he’s still the captain now.
18. Loser: Poutine
You don’t have to pretend to like poutine just because you’re in Canada. We all know this dish of fries soaked in cheese curds and gravy. They serve poutine at the Scotiabank Theater’s concession stand instead of soft pretzels, which are the only reason I go to the movies sometimes.
19. Winner: The Volunteers
There were more than 3,000 volunteers wearing orange t-shirts and dutifully answering every question I had all week. They’re the friendliest, most patient people, and the festival couldn’t succeed without them. Hats off!