Adam Graham: Oscar contenders highlight Toronto festival
It’s shaping up to be a big season for journalism at the movies, with two of the hottest titles at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which wraps Sunday, taking on the news.
Both “Spotlight” and “Truth” center on the focus and the craft of journalism. “Spotlight,” which is based on on the Boston Globe’s reporting of a massive molestation scandal and cover-up within the Catholic Church, shows how a big story comes together; “Truth,” about CBS’ investigation into George W. Bush’s National Guard records, shows how a big story falls apart. Both are riveting and expertly crafted, and both are poised to be major players during Oscar season.
They’re not the only TIFF movies vying for Oscar. “The Danish Girl,” “Brooklyn,” “Room,” “Youth” and others will be looking to muscle their way into this year’s awards season rush.
But the Oscars are still five months away. In the meantime, here are my TIFFies, recognizing the standouts from this year’s slate of films at the massive Toronto International Film Festival:
Best Journalism Smackdown: “Spotlight” vs. “Truth.” “Spotlight” is a methodical and exacting slow-burn about dogged reporting; it’s as unflashy as ink on a page. “Truth” is its showier, sexier cousin, with bigger players and more high-wattage moments, and the difference between the two is the difference between print and television news. Both showcase excellent performances, with “Truth’s” Cate Blanchett (as “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes) and Robert Redford (as Dan Rather) looking at likely nominations for their work. “Spotlight’s” entire cast, meanwhile, does the kind of work that strengthens the argument for a Best Ensemble Oscar.
Best Thunder-stealer: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl.” The film, about 1920s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, is Eddie Redmayne’s attempt at winning back-to-back Best Actor Oscars. But the movie is stolen by Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress whose breakout year (she was in “Ex-Machina,” “Testament of Youth” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) is solidified by her committed performance as Lili’s wife, which gives the sometimes cold film its heart.
Best Performance by a Child: Jacob Tremblay, “Room.” As a woman held captive in a small backyard shed for seven years, Brie Larson is excellent. As her five-year-old son, who has never been outside the film’s titular room, Jacob Tremblay is even better, giving a shattering and naturalistic performance that will stay with you long after the closing credits roll.
Best Performance by a Teenager: Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Witch.” This tale of paranoia and evil in a 17th century New England family is a steady escalation into madness, and Taylor-Joy’s performance as the family’s daughter is a stunner.
Best Performance by a Pair of Eyes: Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn.” Ronan does subtle, quiet work in this story of an Irish immigrant, evolving from scene to scene so slightly that you can barely see her transformation. But it’s all there in her eyes, which are so soulful and blue they are like a special effect unto themselves.
Best House on Fire: Jane Fonda, “Youth.” Fonda arrives late in Paolo Sorrentino’s story about a former conductor’s (a magnificent Michael Caine) stay at a spa in the Swiss Alps, but when she does, she burns the whole thing to the ground. It’s a fierce, pointed performance that could net the 77-year-old two-time Oscar winner her first nomination since 1987.
Best Transformation: Ben Foster, “The Program.” Foster (“The Messenger”) is known for his intense, uncompromising performances, and as Lance Armstrong, he burrows so deeply into character that he could probably go out and win the Tour de France. (With performance enhancing drugs, because he’s so committed to character.)
Best Video Game: “Hardcore.” Remember the “Crank” movies? The hyper-adrenalized “Hardcore” — which is shot in first-person and unfolds like a live action “Grand Theft Auto” game — is like “Crank” on crank. Strap in, it’s an insane ride.
Best Soundtrack: “Kill Your Friends.” This bloody satire of the hedonistic highs of the record business in the late ’90s features a sinister central performance by Nicholas Hoult and a killer Brit-pop soundtrack populated by gems by Oasis, Blur, the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy and Radiohead.
Best Misdirection: “Where to Invade Next.” The title of Michael Moore’s latest makes it sound like an incendiary military documentary, but this mostly-European travelogue is an inviting, lighthearted look at some simple ways that America could change its way of thinking on issues from school lunches to females in politics.
Best Netflix: “Beasts of No Nation.” The same way it has with exclusive television titles, Netflix makes a major dent in the movie world with Cary Fukunaga’s (“True Detective”) sprawling story about a roving group of African soldiers. If the term “straight to Netflix” has any negative connotation to it, expect that to change.
Best Breaking-“Breaking Bad”: “Trumbo,” “Eye in the Sky.” Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were both back on screen in very different movies at TIFF. Bryan Cranston’s starring role in “Trumbo” casts him as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and Aaron Paul stars as a morally conflicted drone pilot in the military drama “Eye in the Sky.” Which is cool, but when do we get to see them together again?
Best Dysfunctional Family: “The Family Fang.” In his second directorial feature, Jason Bateman — showing a huge leap in depth and maturity from 2013’s “Bad Words” — takes on this story of a family of pranksters (including Bateman, Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken) who don’t know how to be a family.
Most Nightmarish Vision of Hell: “Baskin.” This Turkish horror chiller offers up all sorts of nightmare fuel, mostly derived from its hellish final third, an extended torture set piece unfolding in a darkened cellar led by a terrifying baby-man (Mehmet Cerrahoglu) who makes Hellraiser’s Pinhead look like Big Bird.
Best Funny Valentine: “Born to Be Blue.” Ethan Hawke stars as troubled jazz musician Chet Baker in this lived-in biopic, and Hawke’s affecting rendition of “My Funny Valentine” is the film’s most breathtaking moment.
Best Swedish Pop Scene Stealers: ABBA. “Waterloo” pops up in “The Martian” and Portishead’s cover of “SOS” is the single best thing about “High-Rise.” You can never escape ABBA, nor would you want to.