Toronto fans flames of Os­cars buzz

Many films wow­ing crowds in Canada likely en route to Acad­emy Awards

The New Zealand Herald - - Entertainment - Ann Hor­na­day

The nearly half-mil­lion peo­ple who at­tend the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val ev­ery year have come to rely on a few eter­nal ver­i­ties. One of them is that by the time the 10-day fes­ti­val wraps, they will have seen a hand­ful of movies that are all but guar­an­teed to dom­i­nate the Os­car-ori­ented awards season that fes­ti­val helps launch ev­ery Septem­ber.

This year saw no ex­cep­tion. With the wind at their backs from glitzy pre­mieres at fes­ti­vals in Venice and Tel­luride, such crowd-pleasers as A Star Is Born and First Man con­tin­ued their promis­ing tra­jec­to­ries.

The first film, yet an­other re­make of one of Hol­ly­wood’s most durable show­biz myths about fame, self­de­struc­tion, sac­ri­fice and sur­vival, marks the de­but of Lady Gaga in a role that makes the most of her vo­cal range, as well an as­sured out­ing from Bradley Cooper as both co-star and first-time di­rec­tor.

Ryan Gosling’s turn in First Man, about Neil Arm­strong’s his­toric 1969 Nasa mis­sion to the moon, is both stir­ring and stoic, with Gosling’s blue eyes do­ing most of the emo­tional work as the tac­i­turn as­tro­naut gazes into space and an earth­bound world that of­ten seems just as alien.

Although it doesn’t feature any name-brand stars, Al­fonso Cuaron’s Roma, an epic-scale sense mem­ory con­veyed with in­ti­mate de­tail, left au­di­ences breath­less, thanks both to its mag­nif­i­cent black-and-white vi­su­als and al­ter­nately shat­ter­ing and mov­ing story told from the point of view of a nanny for a mid­dle-class Mex­ico City fam­ily.

As a work of art, the film, which won Venice’s Golden Lion award just be­fore mak­ing its Toronto de­but, was in­dis­putably the finest movie here this year, a hu­man­ist mas­ter­piece com­bin­ing the best im­pulses of Tol­stoy, Fellini and Cuaron him­self (the film in­cludes one or two play­fully self-ref­er­en­tial winks).

But at least one or two Toronto pre­mieres are now con­sid­ered awards favourites, in­clud­ing the rap­tur­ously re­ceived Green Book ,a pe­riod drama set in the seg­re­gated South dur­ing the 1960s star­ring Viggo Mortensen and Ma­her­shala Ali; Barry Jenk­ins’ del­i­cate, achingly beau­ti­ful adap­ta­tion of James Bald­win’s novel

If Beale Street Could Talk; and Wi­d­ows, a mod­ern-day crime drama star­ring Vi­ola Davis as a re­luc­tant gang boss in a role that many ob­servers agree will land her a best-ac­tress nom­i­na­tion.

Di­rected with char­ac­ter­is­tic rigor and stylis­tic panache by Steve McQueen, Wi­d­ows might be film his­tory’s most in­ter­sec­tional ac­tion thriller, its ex­plo­sive set pieces and for­mu­laic heist flick tropes lever­aged to com­ment on sex­ism, racism, wealth in­equal­ity and cyn­i­cal ma­chine pol­i­tics as they play out in con­tem­po­rary Chicago. As an oth­er­wise stock genre ex­er­cise highly at­tuned to the con­cerns of the out­side world, Wi­d­ows joined a plethora of movies whose per­spec­tives were clearly turned out­ward, what­ever their tone or type.

The Hate U Give, Ge­orge Till­man Jr.’s adap­ta­tion of the wildly pop­u­lar young-adult novel, boldly took on po­lice vi­o­lence in black com­mu­ni­ties by way of a su­perbly con­fi­dent per­for­mance from its star, Amandla Stenberg.

Emilio Estevez’s The Pub­lic looked at is­sues of home­less­ness, men­tal ill­ness and a frayed so­cial fab­ric through the lens of a pub­lic li­brary in Cincin­nati. Paul Green­grass has made 22 July, about a right-wing ter­ror­ist attack at a Nor­way sum­mer camp in 2011. Even a rel­a­tively tooth­less French com­edy of man­ners, Olivier As­sayas’s Non-Fic­tion, turned out to be both a sex farce and an anx­ious med­i­ta­tion on tech­nol­ogy, lit­er­ary ethics and en­dan­gered in­tel­lec­tual cul­ture.

The ad­dic­tion cri­sis in the United States also formed a nar­ra­tive through-line in films that de­picted fam­i­lies torn apart by opi­oids and other drugs: Ju­lia Roberts, in a turn that also earned awards chat­ter, plays a mother fiercely try­ing to save her heroin-ad­dicted son from re­laps­ing in Ben Is Back, while Steve Carell played a sim­i­larly des­per­ate dad in Beau­ti­ful Boy.

Ad­dic­tion is a sub-theme as well in The Land of Steady Habits, di­rec­tor Ni­cole Holofcener’s funny-sad por­trait of an un­moored di­vorced dad (Ben Men­del­sohn). Although Holofcener was in town for the pre­miere of the film she di­rected, it turned out that a movie she wrote, Can You Ever For­give Me, was earn­ing its share of buzz for Melissa McCarthy’s lead per­for­mance as the un­re­pen­tantly mis­an­thropic writer Lee Is­rael, who de­vel­oped a crim­i­nal side­line forg­ing the let­ters of fa­mous au­thors.

When McCarthy ap­peared on stage af­ter the in­ter­na­tional pre­miere of the film, the crowd erupted in cheers when a pos­si­ble Os­car was men­tioned. Sum­mer might turn to fall dur­ing the Cana­dian fes­ti­val, but it’s also where an ac­tor can ar­rive as a star and leave as a bona fide con­tender.

Photo / AP

Vi­ola Davis has gen­er­ated bestac­tress buzz for her role in crime drama Wi­d­ows.

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