So far, the Toronto Film Festival has not had its Birdman (Venice) or its Foxcatcher (Cannes), but that does not mean there is not plenty of Oscar buzz going around, even if its is a bit muted so far. Let's take a look at some of the contenders that have emerged from this ever-important festival.
1. Theory of Everything - The film, as we will see, will probably be one of those films that maybe doesn't make too much of a mark as a whole, but its pieces are certainly going to make an impact on the upcoming Oscar race. It could still make the Best Picture race, because it is the type of biopic that Oscar voters love, but like The Imitation Game before it, it is suffering from overall mixed reviews. Its stars however, particularly the talented Eddie Redmayne are clearly getting a lot of attention for what are apparently great performances. This Best Actor and Best Actress race are going to be tough this year, but Redmayne, and his co-star Felicity Jones could easily be in the race.
2. Men, Women, & Children - Jason Reitman had a trio of excellent films to start his career in Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air. And Young Adult was a lot better than people gave it credit for. And then there was Labor Day, which just sucked (sorry Jason). Men, Women, & Children is being praised by some for its performances (not all of them, but most), and its timeliness. But too many others are also calling it a conservative pit of a movie that shows the fear of technology, without really tackling it head on or offering a solution. Needless to say, if the film is this divisive, it will probably not play well with voters, although a broader audience could have a different opinion.
3. St. Vincent - St. Vincent appears to be another festival film this year where the overall film pales in comparison to the performances of its stars. Melissa McCarthy returns to great reviews after Tammy, and apparently she is fantastic and holds her own against Bill Murray. But this is apparently Bill Murray's show, and he is said to have knocked it out of the park. A broad comic performance (although there is apparently a lot of drama as well) has to have the right campaign, but there is no doubt that Murray will be in this Oscar conversation, and honestly they owe him one from Lost in Translation.
4. Still Alice - After it was announced that there would be no campaign for her Maps to the Stars performance, she hits Toronto with Still Alice, which already has critics raving again. Moore is owed an Oscar, and this character, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, could really play well, much better than her other potential, and could keep her in this race.
5. Top Five - The film I am most excited about coming out of Toronto so far is Chris Rock's Top Five, which apparently has some impressive comedic cameos, a Before-series vibe, and a kick-ass cast. The film is getting rave reviews, and I hope that it is a part of the conversation both at the box-office and in the Oscar race. It looks to be funny, timely, and has enough star power to really make an impact.
6. Cake - Jennifer Aniston is one of the most talented actresses working today, yet never really gets to show her skills, beyond her finely tuned comedic touch. Every once in a while (The Good Girl and Friends With Money) she shows us that she is a truly talented dramatic actress. Once again, Cake doesn't look like it is a contender as a whole, but in a Best Actress race that could end up being thin (if some of the bigger contenders fall flat), then Aniston could gain some traction in what is apparently an emotionally and physically challenging role that she nails.
7. Nightcrawler - Jake Gyllenhaal, despite some excellent performances, has only managed one Oscar nomination for his role in Brokeback Mountain. He comes at us again with Nightcrawler, where he, and apparently Rene Russo, dig in deep in a dark thriller. It could get the Academy's attention, or it could be swept under the rug, either way, it looks to be an interesting edition to the Fall lineup.
8. The Judge - The Judge was the big opening night number for Toronto this year, and like many of the contenders it didn't hit quite as hard as many hoped it would. Apparently it is a rousing legal drama featuring great performances from Robert Downey Jr. and especially Robert Duvall. But I think hopes were a bit higher, which may have played against it. But I think this is one that will play well with audiences, make a big box-office dent, which could propel it past less-than-stellar reviews to a potential Oscar bid.
As always, we have to see how a broader audiences and critics groups will take this films in, sometimes you can turn a campaign around despite a soft landing. As always, we'll have to wait and see...