This year's festival could be the start of awards season rivalries between several actors, directors and film companies
The Toronto International Film Festival has yet to announce the movies in its Platform program, those auteur-driven films that compete for a prize judged this year by Margarethe von Trotta, Béla Tarr and Lee Chang-dong. But there’s plenty of competition elsewhere among the newly announced Gala and Special Presentation titles.
Here are the TIFF-related films, people and institutions set to square off during awards season and beyond.
Two years ago, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land and Barry Jenkins Moonlight followed their TIFF launches with a long head-to-head awards run, which ended with La La, er, Moonlight winning best picture at the Oscars in 2017. Chazelle made due with the director prize – a mistake that was left uncorrected.
This year, we have a likely rematch. Chazelle has First Man, which seems to be an ambitiously mounted retelling of the Apollo 11 moon landing starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. With all the technical hoo-ha involved, Chazelle will likely land nominations in La La numbers while casting some side-eye towards If Beale Street Could Talk.
Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin novel stars newcomer Kiki Layne as a pregnant woman grappling with the legal system while her lover (Canada’s Stephen James) is locked up on a rape charge. As with the last round, Chazelle’s film is looking to the past with an eye for spectacle while Jenkins’ stays on the ground and urgent.
Chazelle and Jenkins probably wouldn’t stand for being pitted against each other. They seem to dig each other. And the takeaway from Envelope-gate is that competitors can be warm and supportive and love each other’s work.
Canada’s Ryan Gosling will likely get all the attention for playing American hero Neil Armstrong in First Man. But another pretty face will give him stiff competition as far as dudes in space go. Robert Pattinson is at TIFF with High Life, a sci-fi film about convicts shipped off on intergalactic missions for reduced prison sentences. (Juliette Binoche and André 3000 costar.)
Pattinson has been busy carving out a wicked art house career post Twilight. Last year he turned in two great performances in underrated films Good Time and The Lost City Of Z, working with the Safdie brothers and James Gray. In High Life, he’s working for French auteur Claire Denis, she of Beau Travail and White Material fame.
Let’s face it. The only person who can compete with Juliette Binoche is Juliette Binoche. The French star is featured twice at TIFF. Binoche reunites with her Let The Sunshine In director Claire Denis in the aforementioned High Life and with Summer Hours director Olivier Assayas in the publishing comedy Non Fiction.
Bonus tidbit: Keep an eye out for Binoche hanging out with Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda while in town. The two are getting ready to shoot a film in which Binoche plays Catherine Deneuve’s daughter.
Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón returns to the big screen after a five-year hiatus with Roma, his first film set in Mexico since the raunchy and sublime coming-of-ager Y Tu Mamá También.
Behind the scenes, Netflix has been wielding Cuarón’s highly anticipated period film as a chess piece on its battle for prestige marker legitimacy. When Cannes ruled that films must play theatrically in France to be considered for awards competition, Netflix pulled Roma from the lineup, much to the festival’s dismay. The tricky standoff between Netflix and the old guard film festival probably won’t end until Cannes itself becomes a Netflix Original.
For now, Roma will be at TIFF, which will give Toronto audiences the chance to see it the better way before it streams on small screens. And if Roma follows the trajectory that Cuarón and his “Three Amigos” peers (the less talented Oscar-winners Alejandro Iñarritu and Guillermo del Toro) have blazed in recent years, Netflix is looking at its first major Academy Awards contender.
Last year, Timothée Chalamet was the award season boy wonder for his terrific performance in Call Me By Your Name. The year before, Lucas Hedges held that crown for his comical and ultimately devastating performance in Manchester By The Sea. This year, Chalamet and Hedges are bound to go head-to-head playing young men struggling with addiction. Chalamet is in Beautiful Boy, playing the wayward son to Steve Carell’s protective dad. The film is based on the two memoirs written by father and son David and Nic Sheff.
Hedges is at TIFF with Ben Is Back, directed by his father, Peter Hedges. He plays a prodigal son to Julia Roberts’ concerned mother. Hedges also has Boy Erased, though we don’t yet have word on whether it will play TIFF, in which he plays a gay teen forced into conversion therapy.
Keira Knightley is known for corset dramas while Melissa McCarthy does her thing with raunchy comedy. I should point out that Knightley’s really great with foul-mouthed gags and a wise director would do well to finally cast the talented McCarthy against type. Both Knightley and McCarthy are at TIFF playing female authors writing words for celebrated men. Knightley’s Collette is (surprise, surprise) a period piece about author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, whose semi-autobiographical novels were ghost-written under her husband’s name. McCarthy plays Lee Israel, the author who was caught forging letters written by famous people, in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Both could end up competing against each other during awards season. What I really look forward to is seeing them cast in the same movie together.
Two veteran Canadian filmmakers will be premiering new wares at TIFF. Patricia Rozema will be opening the Special Presentations section with Mouthpiece, adapting Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava’s play about opposing voices in a woman’s head grappling with feminist notions. As for Don McKellar’s Through Black Spruce, an adaptation of Joseph Boyden’s novel about contemporary Indigenous life, please refer to this discussion on Indian Horse.
There used to be so much harping about the competition for world premieres between TIFF and Telluride all that bellyaching about the “first weekend” rules Toronto imposed so that films slated as world premieres didn’t “sneak preview” in Colorado.
That conversation seems to have subsided and everyone seems to be happy with the territory they staked out. Telluride will show First Man, Roma and The Old Man & The Gun before they head to TIFF.
Meanwhile, the new Barry Jenkins, Claire Denis and Lee Chang-Dong movies are bypassing the mountains and headed straight for Toronto.
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