The Best Pic­ture race takes shape at TIFF

The Detroit News - - Weekend - Detroit News Film Critic

Star is Born” is the belle of the ball at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, and Fe­bru­ary’s Os­car pic­ture is now a lit­tle clearer.

Writer-di­rec­tor-star Bradley Cooper’s new ver­sion of the clas­sic Hol­ly­wood ro­mance swept through the 10-day movie marathon, which wraps up Sun­day. At a fes­ti­val where there were plenty of dou­bles and triples, but few, if any, home runs, “A Star is Born” was the most well-re­ceived film, and it’s look­ing like a ma­jor player come Os­car time.

It seems like a lock for Best Ac­tor (Cooper), Best Ac­tress (Lady Gaga) and Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tor (Sam El­liott) noms, and it’s cur­rently look­ing like the film to beat in the Best Pic­ture race.

In its fa­vor is the fact that it’s likely to be a hit with au­di­ences, which is im­por­tant, even though the last sev­eral Best Pic­ture win­ners have whiffed at the box of­fice (2012’s “Argo” was the last Best Pic­ture win­ner to gross $100 mil­lion).

Pop­u­lar­ity mat­ters, this year more than re­cent years, es­pe­cially since the Academy has killed its plans to hand out a con­cil­ia­tory “Peo­ple’s Os­car” prize, an an­nounce­ment that came down dur­ing TIFF.

That pop­u­lar Os­car prize was viewed by many as a way to honor “Black Pan­ther” or an­other megablock­buster with­out out­right giv­ing it the Best Pic­ture prize. Since that con­so­la­tion prize is now gone, don’t count out “Black Pan­ther” from the main race, but it also bol­sters the chances of a likely hit-to-be such as “A Star is Born.” The cat­e­gory’s an­nounce­ment was an ad­mis­sion that there has been a dis­con­nect be­tween the Os­cars and au­di­ences in re­cent years, so hon­or­ing a good, old-fash­ioned au­di­ence pleaser is one way to try and get those au­di­ences back.

TIFF ti­tles likely to join “A Star is Born” in the Best Pic­ture race in­clude Al­fo­son Cuaron’s “Roma,” a deeply med­i­ta­tive, black and white art film about Cuaron’s own youth, and “Green Book,” Peter Far­relly’s road movie about a bouncer-type (Viggo Mortensen) who drives a mu­si­cian (Ma­her­shala Ali) through the 1960s south.

“Green Book” had good buzz head­ing into TIFF, but fol­low­ing its world pre­miere at the fest, it was cat­a­pulted to the front of the Best Pic­ture race.

The Thanks­giv­ing re­lease is also look­ing like a crowd-pleas­ing hit in the wait­ing, which helps its case.

Di­rec­tor Barry Jenk­ins’ “Moon­light” fol­low-up, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” pre­miered at the fest, though re­ac­tion was far from unan­i­mous. Some praised its po­etic style, oth­ers found it te­dious, but its pedi­gree is likely enough to help it nab a Best Pic­ture nom­i­na­tion.

“La La Land” di­rec­tor Damien Chazelle brought his Neil Arm­strong story “First Man” to the fest, and while it daz­zles on a tech­ni­cal level, its hu­man con­nec­tion never gets off the ground. The sub­ject mat­ter alone (and the fact that Chazelle’s last two movies made the Best Pic­ture race) puts it in the Best Pic­ture con­ver­sa­tion, though it would be a gi­ant leap to con­sider it a fa­vorite to win.

Steve McQueen’s “Wid­ows,” a crack­ling heist movie with soap opera twists that dou­bles as a com­men­tary on our na­tion’s so­cioe­co­nomic in­equal­ity, had many drum beat­ers in Toronto, though it’s un­clear whether the film will be po­si­tioned as a pres­tige film or an au­di­ence pleaser. It seems too pulpy (and frankly too silly) for Academy vot­ers to em­brace, but McQueen (“12

Years a Slave”) raises its pedi­gree con­sid­er­ably and may force vot­ers to take it more se­ri­ously than they should.

And then there’s “Can You Ever For­give Me?” a comedic drama in which Melissa McCarthy stars as a down-and-out au­thor who takes up a ca­reer in forgery. McCarthy is tremen­dous, and she’s as­sisted by Richard E. Grant, who is the best he’s been in years as her low-life, street-smart friend. Both seem des­tined for Os­car noms and the movie’s got an out­side shot at join­ing the Best Pic­ture race.


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