Filmmaker Jason Reitman is no stranger to Oscar attention. His second directorial feature, 2007’s Juno, landed nods for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay, with Reitman finding himself a surprise nominee for Best Director. His next feature, Up in the Air, once again landed a number of nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, but after a rigorous campaign the film went home empty handed. Following a more minor turn with 2011’s Young Adult, Reitman enters the fray this year with a wholly different kind of film: Labor Day.
I caught Labor Day earlier this afternoon at the Toronto International Film Festival and can attest that it is an excellent picture all around that just might be Reitman’s best to date. Hit the jump for my rundown of the film’s Oscar prospects in a special TIFF edition of Oscar Beat.
A proper review for Labor Day will be coming later this evening from Matt Goldberg, but as I explained before, I’m attending TIFF this year with an eye towards awards prospects. This is the film festival where the awards machine starts churning, and Labor Day could be a major player in this year’s Oscar race.
Based on the book by Joyce Maynard, the film takes place over the course of a Labor Day weekend in 1987 and tells the story of a 13-year-old boy (Gattlin Griffith) who, along with his reclusive mother (Kate Winslet), harbors an escaped convict. Josh Brolin plays said convict with an air of confidence and mystique, but under the façade it’s clear that he’s a gentle man. Opposite Winslet, Brolin turns in a wonderfully soft performance as Frank with the nuance necessary to convey that the character is strong yet thoughtful.
Labor Day marks a significant departure for Reitman, as the film lacks the cynicism and biting humor that is a staple of his previous efforts. Instead, Labor Day is an incredibly mature film full of unabashed emotion and quiet moments. It’s his most accomplished yet, and it shows that the filmmaker has incredible range; this is about as far away from Thank You For Smoking as possible. Reitman’s evolution is necessary—Maynard’s story is one of subtlety, and Reitman proves incredibly adept at handling the material with a great deal of confidence.
Buzz for Labor Day has been strong since its Telluride premiere and I would not be surprised to see it become a serious Oscar contender after its next few screenings at TIFF. Nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress (Winslet), and Best Supporting Actor (Brolin) are all very possible, with the first four nods the most likely. Winslet’s performance is especially noteworthy; she handles the role of Adele effortlessly. It feels redundant to point out just how amazing Winslet is as an actress, but her performance is really fantastic. She’s no stranger to the Academy, and at this early point she seems to be a likely nominee.
Obviously it’s still early in the Oscar race, but now that the fall festival season is in full swing Labor Day certainly feels like it has the goods to be a major player. Reitman took a gamble in making such a departure from his earlier work, but it paid off in spades. Making a film like Labor Day takes serious guts, and the film proves that he definitely has the talent to back it up. If this is just the first step in an evolution for Reitman as a filmmaker, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.
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