Hot Take: On the Toronto Film Festival

Welcome back, my Lawrentians, and welcome our newest members. You all are going to have a great time. I’d greet you in person, but I’m in Chicago right now, where I will be this entire time, filing my columns remotely. If you can believe it, it is still not as remote as I want it to be, given that one of the best film festivals in the world (The Toronto International Film Festival) is going on right now and I am not there to cover it. The sacrifices I must make for things like “getting an education” and “being at school when the year starts” I knew I should have looked for a program in Toronto instead of Chicago this year! If only I had listened to my soul!
The truth of the matter is most of the films that are coming out will be here before the year is done, and some of them in only a matter of weeks. That is very frustrating when you want to pound your fists on the floor because you want to see them now, but I can manage, mostly because I am going to spend the rest of this column telling you exactly what I am hyped for.
The thing about Toronto is that unlike Venice and Berlin, which typically tend to be like international class reunions, and Cannes, which is a world stage of competition, Toronto is the Oscars equivalent of a singles bar, where all the awards go to scope out what is going to be the big winner come the end of February. Since 2008 the Toronto People’s Choice Award has correctly predicted at least one Oscar winner, with three of them (“Slumdog Millionaire”, “The King’s Speech”, “12 Years a Slave”) going on to win Best Picture. The only oddity of this process is in 2011 where Lebanese film “Where Do We Go Now” won the top prize, but that can easily be forgiven because aberrations like that should happen more as a matter of principle. Better something like that then an Oscar-bait disappointment like “The Imitation Game”
Thankfully, it looks like this year many of the best films people are excited for and which have a chance at Oscar glory are not necessarily Oscar bait, and occupy the same sort of out of place zone as Oscar winners such as “Birdman” and “No Country for Old Men”: odd, dark, and singularly visionary. The likely Best Picture winner this year, at least from a hype standpoint, is “Nocturnal Animals”, a thriller directed by Tom Ford (yes, the Tom Ford who ran Gucci, this is what he does these days) that tells an alternating story about an art gallery owner (played by Amy Adams, who delivers two great performances at this festival alone) reading a disturbing novel that was sent to her by her ex husband, and the story within the story itself, about a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose family is kidnapped and who attempts to rescue them. Deeply stylish and slightly ludicrous, the film has won immense acclaim so far, most notably for Michael Shannon, who plays a constantly coughing sheriff that assists Gyllenhaal, and if you have any idea how much I love Shannon and how crazy he can make that you should be sprinting to the theatre when it opens in November.
Of course, Ford’s thriller does not have the best chance of winning if only because of how dark it is. A lot of pundits have been predicting “La La Land“, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to “Whiplash”, as the big winner. This is a fair take: the trailer have made the film look gorgeous, and the fact that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are playing the lead lovers makes it sound even better. Stone, by the way, is the current front runner for Best Actress, alongside Ruth Negga for “Loving”, Rebecca Hall for “Christine”, and Amy Adams for “Arrival” (more on that later), but there are some major points working against her and the film: it is a musical, and an original one, and when the last Best Picture winning musical was in 2002 (“Chicago”, a film I greatly dislike), and the last original one was quite a long time ago (“Gigi”, which won in 1958, aka the year your parents were born) means history is not on its side. On the other hand John Legend plays the bad guy, which means that nothing is wrong ever again.
If I really had to pick who I thought was going to win Best Actress this year, I would say it would be foolish to bet against Amy Adams for “Arrival,” a film which I will tell you only is science fiction and that if possible that you should do everything in your power to go in cold to. I can only thank the fact that I stopped myself from reading too much of the spoilers, as everyone is raving about this one.
The other big film you should be excited for is Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight”, coming from A24 films, who have been killing it of late with their fantastic choices of films to distribute and whom with this one complete their first financed project. Set over 20 years in a poor part of Miami, “Moonlight” tells the story of a young gay black male growing up and his attempts to define himself against the ideals of the world at large. Featuring great performances from Andre Holland (“The Knick”) and popstar Janelle Monae, the film is attracting the most hope from lead Trevante Rhodes (who makes his debut here and is being projected alongside already-famous Michael B. Jordan as the heir apparent to Denzel Washington) and Naomie Harris (lately Moneypenny in the James Bond franchise). The film represents alongside “Loving” and “Hidden Figures” as the great hope against lack of diversity which has plagued the acting categories of the Oscars the last couple of years.
But we have yet to see any of these films. We might like them, we might not. Time will tell in spite of any of us what the future holds for any of them: all we can do is engage with the work, championing what we hold dear and taking to ask what we find reprehensible. There is no one right way to watch a film. There are many ways to talk about it, and it is up to us to decide which ones to champion.