Awards Season Coming Into Focus as Toronto Kicks Off

Darkest Hour Gary Oldman - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Focus Features

The Telluride Film Festival is over, and the Venice International Film Festival is winding down, so now it’s the Toronto International Film Festival’s turn to shape the upcoming awards season. The trio of film fests kick off the months-long award trek that will culminate at the 90th Academy Awards on March 4.

Downsizing, Alexander Payne’s Paramount dramedy starring Matt Damon, received top marks from critics on the Lido, but met a lukewarm response in the Rockies, so TIFF could tip the scales one way or the other. The film's best awards bet is probably its original screenplay by Payne and Jim Taylor, while newcomer Hong Chau could land a best supporting actress nom for playing Damon’s love interest, although there might be some controversy about the pidgin English her character speaks.

Two other Paramount contenders that premiered in Venice skipped Telluride but will resurface in Toronto to make their North American debuts: Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence along with Javier Bardem and Michelle Pfeiffer, drew mostly positive reviews, and George Clooney’s Suburbicon, which also stars Damon, has proven more divisive so far.

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, a Fox Searchlight sci-fi/fantasy love story pairing Sally Hawkins with a sea monster, proved widely popular in Venice and Telluride on its way to TIFF. Del Toro has a history of cleaning up in below-the-line categories (see 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth), but it remains to be seen if he can crack the major races.

Searchlight’s other Telluride-to-Toronto contender, Battle of the Sexes, a retelling of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, proved massively popular, and the film and performances seem bound for noms.

Maybe the strongest best picture contender to emerge from Telluride — now heading for the TIFF spotlight — was Darkest Hour, which stars an almost unrecognizable Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, making him not only a likely best actor Oscar nominee but also a possible winner.

The most anticipated world premieres at Toronto include the Denzel Washington vehicle Roman J. Israel, Esq.; Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game, starring Jessica Chastain; Kings, which pairs Daniel Craig and Halle Berry; The Upside, a remake of The Intouchables starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston; The Current War, with Benedict Cumberbatch; the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer Stronger; I, Tonya, a biopic in which Tonya Harding is played by Margot Robbie, and Unicorn Store, the first film directed by Brie Larson.

Other standouts that have already emerged on the circuit and will get further exposure in Toronto: Saorise Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, serving as surrogates for a young Greta Gerwig and her mother in Gerwig’s solo directorial debut Lady Bird (Gerwig’s original screenplay should also contend); Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell as feuding locals in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Christian Bale as a 19th century U.S. Army captain in Hostiles (a hot acquisition title); and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father, a Khmer-language, Cambodia-set drama about children during war that Netflix will release on Sept. 15, and is likely to be Cambodia’s submission for the foreign-language film Oscar.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Sept. 8 daily issue at the Toronto Film Festival.