The first few days of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival are in the bag, but it’s an uncharacteristically slow start to what is usually a big awards season kickoff. Due to a rule change this year, only films that have not previously premiered at other festivals (ie. Telluride) can be highlighted during the first four days of TIFF, which leaves potential heavy hitters like Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, and Wild on the bench until next week. That said, these first couple of days have given us the debuts of Jason Reitman’s heavy drama Men, Women & Children, an unhinged Jake Gyllenhaal in the fantastic psychological thriller Nightcrawler, and the charming new Noah Baumbach feature While We’re Young, as well as the Canadian Premiere of the well-received Mr. Turner.
While major Oscar contenders have yet to surface, there are a few noticeable standouts from the aforementioned features that could pick up steam as the season rolls on. More after the jump in this TIFF 2014 edition of Oscar Beat.
The biggest breakout of TIFF thus far has been writer/director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (read Matt’s review here). The twisted, darkly funny, and thrilling picture features a fantastic lead performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as an odd but driven man who starts working as a freelance photographer, taking video of grisly car crashes, break-ins, etc. that he then sells to the local news networks for their morning broadcasts.
Gyllenhaal is positively phenomenal in the film, and he astounds from one scene to the next as he manages to be both revolting and captivating at the same time. He could be in the running for a Best Actor nod in this year’s Oscar race, but it really depends on how heavy Open Road Films pushes their campaign. I could see them landing Rene Russo a Best Supporting Actress nomination as well for her excellent portrayal of a morally questionable TV producer—especially since the field is looking so thin—but again, it really depends on whether Open Road is willing to launch a serious awards campaign.
If Nightcrawler really breaks out, I also wouldn’t rule out nominations for James Newton Howard’s surprisingly dynamic score and cinematographer Robert Elswit’s stellar, haunting camera work, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that the mostly nighttime-set pic was shot on good ol’ 35mm. Gilroy’s twisted, indicting screenplay (which is reminiscent of Taxi Driver or Network) is worthy of a Best Original Screenplay nomination as well.
Another potential contender in multiple categories is Mike Leigh’s engrossing period drama Mr. Turner (read Matt’s review here), which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year to high marks, especially with regards to Timothy Spall’s lead performance. Spall could find himself landing a Best Actor nomination for his undeniably impressive, guttural, and quietly introspective turn as illustrious painter J.M.W. Turner. The film didn’t garner as much of a response at TIFF as some were expecting, and since it’s not necessarily a commercial draw, it will need a groundswell of critics support in order to become a major contender in the awards season. That said, the pic is also a solid contender for production design and costume design nominations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see cinematographer Dick Pope recognized for gorgeously capturing the early 19th century landscapes.
The early days of TIFF 2014 also saw the return of filmmaker Jason Reitman, who has certainly had success on the awards circuit in the past with films like Up in the Air and Juno, but whose last feature (Labor Day, which I liked) was essentially forgotten upon release. Reitman’s new film, Men, Women & Children (read Matt’s review here), is a dark, dramatic tale of human relationships in the internet age, and while the technology angle is the hook, the film isn’t really about that at all. It’s a true ensemble piece and while there are standout performances (notably Dean Norris and Ansel Elgort), the storylines are all in service of the larger picture, and so no one really gets enough screentime to warrant serious Supporting Actor/Actress consideration.
I liked Men, Women & Children a lot, but it seems to have landed with a not-so-great response from many critics here at the festival. It’d be tough if not impossible to overcome the largely tepid response and land in the Oscar conversation, so unfortunately it appears that the film will likely not be part of the upcoming race.
Noah Baumbach’s winning comedy While We’re Young fared much better with critics, but the film doesn’t yet have distribution so it’s unclear if it will be released before the end of the year or if it will instead bow in 2015. It’s certainly Baumbach’s most commercial film to date so I wouldn’t be surprised if its distributor slates a March or April 2015 release a la The Grand Budapest Hotel, but if the pic does enter the 2014 fray, I could maybe see a Best Original Screenplay nomination in the cards. We all know how the Academy feels about recognizing comedies, and While We’re Young is undoubtedly a comedy so I imagine the (admittedly excellent) performances would be largely ignored in terms of awards consideration despite especially solid turns from Naomi Watts and Adam Driver.
So yes, these initial days of TIFF haven’t given us a 12 Years a Slave or a Gravity like last year, but Gyllenhaal’s performance in Nightcrawler is a knockout and the implementation of the new screening rules means that we could definitely see some heavy hitters break out next week. Stay tuned to Collider for our continuing coverage of the fest, which will include further Oscar Beat breakdowns as I get a chance to catch next week’s titles.
Click here to catch up on all of our TIFF 2014 coverage thus far.