The Road to the Oscars
The 2018 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival opened on September 6th, featuring a line-up of films that will likely loom large at the Oscars in February next year. In fact, Toronto has become such an influence over the major film awards season it is now regarded as the starting block on the road to the Oscars.
To coincide with the festival, we have created a collection of films on Curzon Home Cinema, featuring some of the best films to appear in recent editions and that went on to achieve recognition, if not the ultimate prize, at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and, finally, the Oscars themselves.
There was a time when the annual film awards season existed by itself. Nominations were announced for films that had opened within the competition calendar and the subsequent weeks with the industry, media and film lovers wondering who might walk away with the prizes. But with the appearance of global marketing campaigns and the difference an award, particularly and Oscar, can make to a film's box office, the road to that night when the top awards are announced has gotten a great deal longer.
For many, the Oscar race begins with Toronto. Cannes might be the bastion of world cinema and Venice might share in the élan and sophistication that the best of Europe can offer, but Toronto is where discussion about the front-runners and key contenders really begins. In recent years, most of the Oscar winners started out with their film showing at Toronto. They might have premiered at Venice, or even Cannes, but Toronto is a major stopping point. To win the Audience Award is recognition of the potential box office power of a title and, unlike many other audience awards, has often found itself in alignment with the critics.
A key category is in performance. Julianne Moore had been a regular name in the nominations for the Best Leading Actress Oscar, but finally won with Still Alice (2013). A powerful account of a middle-age college professor diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the gradual impact of the disease on her life and her family's, it features a stunning performance by Moore. A quieter Oscar-winning performance than many, Moore's skill lies in conveying the confusion her character experiences as she becomes more withdrawn from the world.
It's a stark contrast to Margot Robbie's hell-for-leather, all-out white trash portrayal of Tonya Harding, the Olympian ice skater who was implicated in the attack on one of her fellow US competitors, in I,Tonya (2017). Allison Janey may have eventually won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her expletive-laden role as Harding's mother, but Robbie gives it her all in one of her best performances to date.
No less ruthless but with a little more sheen is Jessica Chastain's portrayal of potential Olympian-turned-illegal poker game host Molly Bloom in Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut Molly's Game (2017). It's the kind of performance we've come to expect from the actor – cool and commanding. The are few stars at work today who can chew dialogue with as much sass as Chastain.
The 'McConaissance' was already in full swing by the time Dallas Buyers Club (2013) entered its hat into the awards season ring. After a promising start, Matthew McConaughey's career seemed to be dominated by romantic comedies and mostly lazy thrillers. The string of dazzling and disturbing performances in The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Killer Joe (all 2011), Mud, Magic Mike (both 2012) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) showed just how good the actor could be. His performance as a cowboy-turned-HIV positive pharma smuggler was a revelation. He was matched by Jared Leto's equally dazzling and award-winning turn.
On a quieter note, Bryan Cranston moved with ease from the small screen success of Breaking Bad to a nuanced portrayal of the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Jay Roach's handsomely mounted Trumbo (2015). He lost out on the award, but the role elevated him to leading man status.
Beyond the actors, Toronto has also championed films that have loomed large at the Oscars. Martin Zandvliet's powerful post-WWII Danish drama Land of Mine (2015) was an easy pick for the Best Foreign Language Film category (although it eventually lost out to The Salesman). Based on the true story of young German boys who were used to empty the Danish coastline of land mines, it is a moving and taut drama that details a little-known event in history.
Then there is Moonlight (2016). Berry Jenkins' extraordinary second film picked up the best Picture Oscar (after some confusion over whether La La Land had won the prize) and a deserved Best Supporting Actor award for Mahershala Ali. It is, in many ways, the archetypal Toronto film: a brilliantly made film with crossover appeal that never compromises its vision.
[Words by Ian Haydn Smith]