TIFF: Fest-Opener 'Demolition' Positions Jake Gyllenhaal for the 2017 Oscars — Or Does It?

THR's awards analyst speculates about why Jean-Marc Vallee's latest film was unveiled in Toronto months before its 2016 release date, and whether it has the stuff contenders are made of.
Courtesy of Toronto Film Festival
'Demolition'

Why would a movie with awards hopes have its world premiere at a film festival that takes place a season before its theatrical release makes it eligible for Oscar consideration? Jean-Marc Vallee's Demolition opened the 40th Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday night to a warm reception at the Princess of Wales Theatre, but it won't open theatrically until 2016. But there appear to be a number of reasons for its early unveiling.

For one thing, Vallee is Canadian, Last year, he was forced to choose between Telluride and Toronto for the premiere of his previous Fox Searchlight film, Wild, and he choose Telluride. So he probably felt that he owed Toronto something special. (Prior to Wild, he'd always world-premiered his biggest films — 2005's C.R.A.Z.Y., 2009's The Young Victoria, 2011's Cafe de Flore and 2013's Dallas Buyers Club — north of the border.)

Furthermore, it has been proved that a movie can sustain for more than a year and still figure in the awards conversation: you may have heard of another film directed by a Canadian, Paul Haggis' Crash, which followed the path that's planned for Demolition and went on to win the best picture Oscar, as did Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker.

Additionally, Demolition's star, Jake Gyllenhaal — who gives a mesmerizing performance as a whacked-out widower who needs to smash property in order to feel something — has awards hopes this year for two other 2015 films: Southpaw, for which he totally transformed his body in order to give an unforgettable performance, and also perhaps even for Everest, an upcoming genre movie in which he does strong supporting work. In other words, his plate is already pretty full.

All of that being said, one can't help but wonder: might it make sense to reconsider the game-plan and actually slip Demolition, which is clearly ready to go, into this year's race?

Honestly, I'm not sure it will make a difference — this one is going to be a tough sell in an awards context at any time. Why? Not because it's isn't good — Bryan Sipes' script is creative, Gyllenhaal is Nightcrawler-level strong; Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper and young Judah Lewis all rise to the occasion in supporting roles; it's beautifully shot by Vallee's regular DP Yves Belanger; and it really is "the most rock 'n roll film" Vallee has ever made, as he said in his intro of the film. But it also revolves around a character who, while rather funny, is also rather unlikable. And it tells a story that really has no big-picture takeaway, which is something Academy members like in their Oscar contenders.

Then again, I suppose you could say the same thing about another movie about an insensitive widower, About Schmidt, which wasn't nominated for best picture, but for which Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates received lead and supporting acting noms, respectively.

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