The people who run the Toronto International Film Festival like to talk about it as though it’s a ten day event, and technically it is. But for the celebrities, journalists, publicists and industry types who descend on Canada’s unofficial capital each fall, it’s really only the first weekend that really matters. It’s a breakneck four days jam packed with high profile premieres, slapdash junkets, and a lot of free booze.
TIFF is typically seen as the unofficial launch pad to awards season. Last year both La La Land and Moonlight had splashy showings and cemented their place as Oscar frontrunners. But this year, it felt like something was missing. After the initial frenzy of the opening weekend faded—which could best be seen by just how deserted the once star-stacked Momofuku (which played host to AT&T/DIRECTV’s takeover) had become—the Oscar picture was just as fuzzy as before the festival began.
For the first time in years, TIFF ended without anointing a Best Picture favorite. Usually that honor is bestowed upon the festival’s People’s Choice Award winner. In past years, that hardware has gone to typical glossy Oscar fare like 12 Years a Slave, The Imitation Game and the aforementioned La La Land. But this year, the top prize went to Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which stars Frances McDormand as a grieving mother who uses a trio of billboards to slam her town’s impotent police chief after the rape and murder of her daughter. While its tone might prove too darkly comic for more traditional voters, its reception at TIFF all but guarantees that it’ll have a major presence come Oscar time.
As for its competition, Guillermo Del Toro’s sweeping monster romance The Shape of Water—which won the top honor at last month’s Venice Film Festival—charmed Toronto audiences, solidifying its status as a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming months. Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, should fill out the Academy’s annual “austere British drama” quota, while Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, the spirited coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird, could sneak in if it contuse to charm audiences the way it did in Toronto. The lack of a real breakout movie in Toronto also bodes well for films like Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Get Out, and the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, all of which have a chance at some major Oscar love thanks to the wide open playing field.
When it comes to the acting awards, the race for Best Actress is the one to really keep an eye on. An already crowded field led by Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and McDormand—all of whom came to Toronto after wowing in Venice and/or Telluride—is even more loaded thanks to towering performances by Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game), Emma Stone (Battle of The Sexes), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) and Annette Benning (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool). Oscar stalwarts Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul) and Jennifer Lawrence (mother!) could sneak in as well. And with Meryl Streep expected to enter the fray when The Post is released in December, this year’s Best Actress race is looking like a heavyweight bout between Hollywood’s grand dames and the impressive new crop of leading ladies.
The Best actor race on the other hand, is a lot less cluttered. Toronto seemed to crystalize Oldman’s status as the frontrunner, thanks to his bombastic portrayal of Churchill. His stiffest competition could come from Andrew Garfield, who won raves for his performance as a man with polio in the uplifting medical drama, Breathe. The two Brits could be joined by Denzel Washington, who’s performance as a lawyer in over his head in Roman J. Israel, Esq. was described as a career best, despite the fact that the film itself left Toronto audiences cold. But we can’t really handicap this race until we see what Daniel Day-Lewis has concocted for his final performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s as yet untitled fashion movie, which bows in December. Stay tuned.