10 Oscar-bait films screening at TIFF 2019

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For many films, TIFF is just one important marketing step on the road to the Oscars. But keep in mind that there are always surprises. Some films come with buzz, then lose it after a disappointing first screening. Others come out of nowhere. Before it screened at TIFF 2018, no one expected anything of Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, which went on to win the big prize. So keep that in mind when you’re reading about these 10 hopefuls, arranged in alphabetical order.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

The feel good Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? had a fascinating run last year. Critics hailed it. Audiences dug it ($22 mil at the box office is major for a doc). Awards season was kind to the movie about a man whose mission in life was to spread kindness. But then the Oscars ignored it. The doc didn’t have Tom Hanks, though.

Sep 7, 6:30 pm, Roy Thomsom Hall; Sep 7, 8 pm, Elgin; Sep 8, 3:15 pm, Princess of Wales; Sep 14, 2:30 pm, Elgin

Clemency

Alfre Woodard has been doing amazing work on big and small screens for over three decades, but so far her only Oscar nomination remains 1983’s Cross Creek. That could change with her role as a death row prison warden who offers dignity and solace to the men facing execution. Directed by Chinonye Chukwu, the film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and Woodard’s performance earned across-the-board raves. 

Sep 13, 9:30 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; Sep 14, 9:15 am, Scotiabank 1; Sep 15, 4 pm, Scotiabank 4

Ford V Ferrari

After two Wolverine movies, Walk The Line director James Mangold is racing back into prestige pic territory. (Though to be fair, he made people think Logan was a prestige pic.)

His latest is all about Hollywood’s favourite cars. Matt Damon stars as Carroll Shelby, the designer behind the AC Cobra, a coveted line of Mustangs and the GT40 that beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966. The movie also stars Christian Bale as Ken Miles, the guy who drove the car. Oh and Bale, after packing on the pounds to play Dick Cheney for Vice, is emaciated again. Just give the man the lead Oscar so he can stop this.

Sep 9, 6:30 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; Sep 9, 8 pm, Elgin; Sep 10, 10:30 am, Princess of Wales; Sep 13, 9:30 pm, Princess of Wales; Sep 14, 4:30 pm, Ryerson

The Goldfinch

Brooklyn director John Crowley’s film shows all the signs of successful Oscar bait. It’s based on Donna Tartt’s prestigious Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about grief, class and guilt. It’s set in three very filmable locales: Manhattan, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, all shot by the venerable Roger Deakins (who finally won an Oscar last year for the Blade Runner sequel).

It features a cast of serious actors (Nicole Kidman as an Upper East Side matron, Jeffrey Wright as a gay downtown furniture restorer) as well as buzzy upstarts (Ansel Elgort, Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard). And it’s got a theme about the redemptive power of art. So… duh.

Sep 8, 6 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; Sep 8, 8 pm, Elgin; Sep 9, 12:15 pm, TIFF 1; Sep 11, 2:45 pm, Scotiabank 2. 

Harriet

Biopics of inspiring figures always do well come awards time. And this gala presentation, about abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s rise from escaped slave to Underground Railroad leader and American hero, should garner lots of Oscar love. Tony Award-winner Cynthia Erivo (Widows) plays Tubman, with a cast that includes Leslie Odom Jr. (Broadway’s Hamilton), Janelle Monáe and Joe Alwyn. Directing this story about one fierce Black woman is another: Kasi Lemmons, whose Eve’s Bayou is a feminist film classic. 

Sep 10, 6 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; Sep 10, 8 pm, Elgin; Sep 11, 3 pm, Winter Garden; Sep 14, 2:45 pm, Scotiabank 1

Joker

Joaquin Phoenix is receiving a TIFF Tribute Award, which is meant to honour his career but is really just an excuse to start an awards conversation for his performance as the Joker. What better way to tell the Academy he’s due?

Sure, we don’t typically consider comic book movies awards bait. But the clown prince has won an Oscar before (as played by Heath Ledger), and this movie is doubling down on the seriousness, with an origin story reaching for Scorsese. We would be so down for this film if it weren’t directed by Todd “The Hangover Trilogy” Phillips. But who knows?

Sep 9, 9 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; Sep 10, 2:30 pm, Princess of Wales; Sep 13, 9:45 pm, Scotiabank 12.

Judy

They sing (or convincingly lip-synch)! They take pills and booze! They collapse onstage. They get an Oscar nomination! That’s been the formula for dozens of musical biopics, from Lady Sings The Blues and The Rose to La Vie En Rose and last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Now Renée Zellweger is playing Judy Garland in the last year of her life when she was forced to play a series of concerts in London to get out of debt. Director Rupert Goold has mostly done TV, but based on the trailer (above), Zellweger has captured Garland’s look and nervous, high-strung energy. And there are lots of interesting actors – Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Fin Wittrock and Wild Rose’s Jessie Buckley – supporting her.

Sep 10, 6 pm, Princess of Wales; Sep 11, 11 am, Elgin

Just Mercy

As old as stories about Black men wrongfully imprisoned are, Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series about the Central Park Five proved that there’s still passion, anger and empathy to be wrung from them. Also, When They See Us has 16 Emmy nominations. There are awards to be bagged.

Just Mercy is adapted from activist lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s memoir, recounting his defence of a man on death row (Jamie Foxx) for killing a white woman. The case recalls To Kill A Mockingbird. We’re all here for Michael B. Jordan as the Gregory Peck of our era.

Sep 6, 6 pm, Roy Thomsom Hall; Sep 6, 8 pm, Elgin; Sep 7, 10 am, Princess of Wales; Sep 14, 11 am, Princess of Wales

The Laundromat

Like Joaquin Phoenix, Meryl Streep is receiving a TIFF Tribute Award – as if she needed an extra push for awards season. La Streep headlines Steven Soderbergh’s dark comedy about the Panama Papers, playing a woman who goes snooping into the tax haven hustle while guiding us laymen through a financial trail we likely wouldn’t understand. The Laundromat is getting the Roma treatment from Netflix, launching at the Venice and then Toronto festivals before a limited theatrical run. The streamer is counting on Streep (as well as Martin Scorsese’s three-and-half hour gang epic, The Irishman) as their return ticket to the Oscars.

Sep 9, 6 pm, Princess of Wales; Sep 10, 2:15 pm, Elgin; Sep 13, 5 pm, Elgin; Sep 14, 3:15 pm, TIFF 1.

Waves

Buzzy film company A24 has decided to open Trey Edward Shults’s new film the first weekend of November, traditionally a choice spot for Oscar hopefuls (Lady Bird, Brooklyn and Spotlight all opened then in past years). It’s about Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a Black kid living in north Florida who seemingly has it all… until tragedy strikes. The look and sound of the film (score is by Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) are apparently key to its power. Shults, coming off the stylish horror movie It Comes At Night (which also starred Harrison Jr.) is due for a breakthrough hit. 

Sep 10, 8:45 pm, Ryerson; Sep 11, 6 pm, Scotiabank 1; Sep 15, 2:45 pm, Ryerson

@glennsumi @JustSayRad