'The Awards Pundits' Talk Toronto

The two reporters discuss the big winners and acquisitions at the fest north of the border — and the debates they've sparked over categorizations, lack of diversity and more.
'The Danish Girl' stars Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne at the Toronto International Film Festival

In this third installment of what will be a regular, awards-season conversation, THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg and executive editor, features Stephen Galloway dissect the 40th Toronto International Film Festival, which opened Sept. 10 and closed Sept. 20, just ahead of the Sept. 26 opening of the New York Film Festival.

GALLOWAY You're still in Toronto, which I missed this year. Now that it's almost over, has your sense of the awards landscape changed at all?

FEINBERG It's not as fun attending a film fest without you — although I know you've been catching up with many of the same titles back in L.A. Of the films that hadn't previously screened anywhere in North America, I think the big "revelation" was The Danish Girl, a pic about a pioneer of the trans community, which looks like an across-the-board contender. In fact, Eddie Redmayne could win a second, consecutive best actor Oscar!

GALLOWAY You know, it's so hard to do that — Tom Hanks is the only man who's done so in my memory, and he already had an astonishing body of work. Redmayne's biggest obstacle, as far as I understand, is he'll be shooting and not around to campaign much — which is also a problem Matt Damon's going to have. What did you think of his film?

FEINBERG The Martian actually made the biggest splash of Toronto's world premieres. (The Danish Girl had previously screened in Venice.) I sort of expected it to be commercial fluff, but feel it actually marks a return to form — and possibly contention — for Ridley Scott and Damon. It's a little derivative of Guardians of the Galaxy and Gravity, but if you have to emulate two movies, those aren't bad ones to choose.

GALLOWAY It also has elements of Cast Away, but it’s beautifully done. Damon makes everything look so real; I’m afraid people will just glide over his performance. He’s never been better. What else stood out at Toronto?

FEINBERG There were a significant number of flawed vehicles for strong performances that could contend: Sicario (Benicio Del Toro), Truth (Cate Blanchett), Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), Freeheld (Julianne Moore) and I Saw the Light (Tom Hiddleston) among them. Ironically, my favorite pic at the fest — one I think can hold its own in the Oscar race against anything we saw in Telluride or I saw here — was first unveiled nine months ago at Sundance, when you and I were focused on the last Oscar race: Brooklyn, which I think is bound for picture, actress (Saoirse Ronan) and adapted screenplay noms.

GALLOWAY The moment you told me that, I started calling around like crazy to get to see it! Is Saoirse, who was nominated at 13 for Atonement, going to get nominated again?

FEINBERG I'll be very surprised (and disappointed) if she doesn't. She's just mesmerizing as a 1950s Irish immigrant to America who finds herself caught between two worlds and two men. It's far and away her best performance to date. But she faces some stiff competition: Blanchett for Carol or Truth, Brie Larson for Room, Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years, perhaps Jennifer Lawrence for Joy and the list goes on.

GALLOWAY You didn’t include Alicia Vikander, who seems to me to be a lock to get nominated for Danish Girl. I wondered if she was just the flavor of the day after Ex Machina, but she took my breath away with this one, as the wife of a man who reveals that he's transgender. Am I wrong? And do you feel she's lead or supporting?

FEINBERG You're 100 percent right — she's just magnetic, and quickly becoming to 2015 what Jessica Chastain was to 2011 (en route to a nom): omnipresent. As far as her categorization, Focus faced the same dilemma last year for another Redmayne costar, The Theory of Everything's Felicity Jones, and, sensing a weak field for leading ladies, took a gamble and got her nominated in the more prestigious category.

GALLOWAY I almost expected to see Felicity cast instead of Alicia in The Danish Girl — I mean, it does feel a bit Theory of Everything, Part 2.

FEINBERG This time, I suspect they'll try to get Vikander a supporting nom — it's a thin category, so a nom would be more assured and a win would even be possible. We'll see. It's not always easy to see the logic behind categorizations — for Carol, Weinstein has decided to push Blanchett for lead (even though she'll be competing against herself for Truth, since a performer can only be nominated for one film in any given category), while Rooney Mara will be pushed for supporting (despite having more screen time and winning Cannes' best actress prize over Blanchett). Go figure!

GALLOWAY Wherever they put them, both seem a lock for nominations. Setting them aside, let me go out on a limb about the men: I'd say the lead actor race is now essentially between Redmayne and Johnny Depp, and leaning toward Depp. Did I ever tell you The Galloway Rule? Play ugly; play in a period piece; and play with an accent — and you win an Oscar. If that's right, Depp definitely has the edge.

FEINBERG If the Oscars were tomorrow, I agree it would be between Redmayne and Depp, maybe Steve Jobs' Michael Fassbender, too —

GALLOWAY Another guy who's not around to campaign.

FEINBERG — with Depp probably having a slight edge because he's a beloved vet who has never won. But there are still many yet-to-be-seen alternatives, including The Revenant's Leonardo DiCaprio, Concussion's Will Smith and The Hateful Eight's Samuel L. Jackson — all of whom are also Oscar-less — as well as Hanks for Bridge of SpiesIncidentally, isn't it kind of crazy that, the first season after the #OscarsSoWhite Academy Awards, where not a single person of color was nominated for an acting award, the only plausible nominees of color are Smith, Jackson, Beasts of No Nation's Idris Elba and perhaps a few folks associated with Straight Outta Compton?

GALLOWAY Honestly, it's outrageous. But in fairness, this isn't the Academy's fault; it's the industry's. And the industry is doing nothing to bring about real diversity in film. Take a walk around the studios — you'd never guess there's a whole country out there that is racially (and financially) mixed. Television seems to get it (look at Scandal and Empire), but not film. Someone really has to take these guys to task. You know, we had an Actress Roundtable two years ago that included Oprah Winfrey, Lupita Nyong'o and Octavia Spencer — I thought that year might be a turning point, and of course it wasn't. Octavia, who's one of the most gracious people I've met in the industry, sent everyone cookies afterward.

FEINBERG She's the best — and she, of all people, did not deserve to be sucked into Neil Patrick Harris' terrible running gag that never paid off during the most recent Oscars. The Academy needs to find other ways to involve people of color in the ceremony, such as nominating them when they deserve nominations — I'm thinking about you, Selma's David Oyelowo!

GALLOWAY Back to Toronto, were there any acquisition titles that have the potential to be contenders if they’re released this year?

FEINBERG During the fest, Anomalisa, the quirky stop-motion film co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, was announced as the surprise winner of Venice's Grand Jury Prize and was acquired by Paramount, which intends to give it a qualifying run, so that's one to keep an eye on. (Kaufman's previous film, 2008's Synecdoche, New York, is also a mind trip — and one of my all-time favorites.)

GALLOWAY That's Paramount's only contender this year, so I bet they give it a big push. Though from what I’ve heard, that's going to be a tough sell, and it will be interesting to see how they tackle it. How about Toronto films that haven't yet found a buyer?

FEINBERG The one that sparked the most chatter was Michael Moore's latest, Where to Invade Next, in which he points out ways in which America compares unfavorably with other nations. It isn't as provocative or engaging as most of his earlier docs, but it will certainly become a contender when — not if — it sells. Rumor has it the top bidders are Netflix and Amazon, but Moore is holding out for another distributor that can give the film a proper theatrical release, which streaming services cannot offer because the major theater chains won't abide day-and-date releases.

GALLOWAY Any other interesting possibilities?

FEINBERG Desierto, a harrowing drama about undocumented border crossers that was directed by Jonas Cuaron (Alfonso's son), features a nom-worthy supporting turn by Jeffrey Dean Morgan; and Born to Be Blue, a so-so biopic about the legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker that showcases a strong lead performance by Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke.

GALLOWAY So before you leave Toronto, which movie do you think will win the People's Choice Award — and remember, three of the last seven winners (Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech and 12 Years a Slave) went on to win the best picture Oscar.

FEINBERG It's almost always going to be a film that's not only well-made, but also emotionally moving, since most people vote right as they're leaving the theater. My hunch is that, of this year's dozens of eligible titles, five have a realistic shot: Spotlight and The Danish Girl, which were so in-demand that extra screenings were added to the schedule (boosting their chances because the winner is determined by raw votes, not a votes-per-screening formula), plus Room, Brooklyn and The Martian. I'm going to go with Spotlight — while also predicting that, for the first time since 2006, the eventual best picture Oscar winner will not have screened prior to the close of the Venice-Telluride-Toronto phase of the season. Do you think that unfairly discounts the prospects of the films we've already seen?

GALLOWAY Probably not. There's no clear frontrunner yet. By the way, same time last year I remember embarrassing myself with some of our colleagues when I predicted Interstellar was going to win before anyone had seen it. So don't take your per diem and lay any huge bets in Las Vegas just yet!