Oscar Beat: TIFF 2019 Launches Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez and More into Awards Conversation

     September 16, 2019

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival wrapped up yesterday with its awards ceremony, and as is always the case with TIFF, a bevy of new Oscar contenders were born. TIFF marks an important stop along the way to the Oscars, and combined with the Venice Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival usually marks the beginning of the awards race. It’s where eventual Best Picture winners like Slumdog Millionaire and Green Book blew up seemingly from out of nowhere, and where Oscar buzz began for the likes of Eddie Redmayne and Colin Firth.

Having just returned from seven days at TIFF where I bore witness to a number of potential players, I’m prepared to assess the admittedly very early Oscar prospects for various films and performances.

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Image via Fox Searchlight

First and foremost is the TIFF People’s Choice Award winner, which somewhat surprisingly went to Taika Waititi’s World War II-set anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit. The winner of the People’s Choice Award has gone on to score a Best Picture Oscar nomination 9 of the last 10 years, and past winners like Green Book, 12 Years a Slave, and The King’s Speech actually won Best Picture. Waititi’s film received somewhat divisive reviews upon its premiere, to the point that many had written off the Fox Searchlight film’s awards chances. But now? A Best Picture nomination seems likely, and could Waititi himself break into the Best Supporting Actor race for his comedic twist on Adolf Hitler? The film is sure to continue to spur heated discussion, but the award win can’t be ignored, so it’s safe to earmark Jojo Rabbit going forward this Oscar season.

One of the earliest breakouts from this year’s TIFF was a pleasant surprise: Jennifer Lopez. The veteran performer co-stars in Lorene Scafaria’s crime drama Hustlers, which chronicles the true story of a group of strippers who found inventive ways to make money following the 2008 financial crisis. Lopez plays the mentor figure in the film to its lead Constance Wu, and she’s pretty great. The film is more akin to Martin Scorsese gangster dramas like Goodfellas than a flashy, disposable “stripper movie,” and Lopez fittingly shades her character out with a mix of danger and generosity.

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Image via STX Films

It’s a good performance, and it’s bolstered by a number of vocal supporters who are already calling for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. She’s definitely a possibility, although it’s wise to keep things in perspective. It wasn’t long ago that critics were calling an Oscar nom for Jennifer Aniston in Cake, which likewise debuted at TIFF, but ultimately Aniston was left out of the Best Actress category that year.

A splashy performance of a different sort is Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers in director Marielle Heller’s unique, emotional A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The film is definitely not the Mister Rogers biopic some are expecting, and indeed Hanks could (and probably should) be submitted in the Supporting Actor category as Matthew Rhys is truly the film’s lead. The story follows a jaded and cynical journalist who’s been asked to profile Mister Rogers, and who experiences great personal growth and tragedy in the process. Heller crafts the entire film as if it’s a very special episode of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, proving once again she’s one of the most exciting directors working today—a year after getting snubbed for her terrific work in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Hanks would seem a shoo-in here if not for the fact that the Academy hasn’t recognized him with an Oscar nomination since 2000’s Cast Away. For whatever reason, he’s missed on splashy performances in films like Captain Phillips, Sully, and Saving Mr. Banks, so I’m a bit hesitant to call this a sure thing. He’s really good in the film, and it’s more than an impersonation, but we’ll see. As for the movie itself, reception has been positive but the buzz hasn’t really been huge, so we’re TBD on its chances in the major categories. Its box office performance will make things clearer.

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Image via Warner Bros.

Another striking supporting performance picking up buzz is Jamie Foxx in director Destin Daniel Cretton’s devastating true-story drama Just Mercy. The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stephenson, a lawyer who devoted his life to looking into the cases of men on death row, many of whom he learned had been wrongly convicted. Foxx plays one such man in Just Mercy, and his performance is quietly heartbreaking.

The film itself received a bit of a cooler reception than expected, although I myself found it tremendously moving. It’s as palatable as a death penalty drama can be, but Cretton crafts the story with an eye towards activism, and the script doesn’t shy away from the infuriating faults in our criminal justice system. Perhaps it might resurface with further buzz down the line, leading to a Best Picture or Actor nomination for Jordan. Or it’s possible the quiet reception at TIFF is indicative that the film may be left out. Regardless, Foxx is absolutely worth considering here in the Best Supporting Actor category.

Speaking of striking performances, Noah Baumbach’s masterful Marriage Story is an acting powerhouse that could net nominations for Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, and Supporting Actor. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are truly phenomenal as a couple going through the process of divorce, and Laura Dern steals every scene she’s in as a divorce attorney. Those three nominations seem incredibly likely at this point, and I’d throw Alan Alda and Ray Liotta into the mix for Best Supporting Actor. No doubt the film will be aided by its intensely positive reception, as it’s considered to be a major contender in the Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay categories as well and it came in second place for the People’s Choice Award.

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Image via Netflix

Another serious, multi-category contender is Logan director James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari. This is an old-fashioned racing drama executed with precision and expert craft, and the performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale as men tasked with building a Ford race car to compete against Ferrari are incredible. Damon has top billing in the movie and will probably be submitted in Best Actor, and even though Bale’s character is the one we see more of POV-wise (and the one whose family plays a larger role), I could see 20th Century Fox submitting him in Best Supporting Actor. If they do, look out for an easy win. Past “lead-but-actually-supporting” winners in the Best Supporting category include Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, so this isn’t exactly a new thing.

Regardless, the film is wildly entertaining and will likely be a serious hit at the box office. It’s the kind of big budget adult drama that studios don’t make anymore, and I think that only helps its chances. If it continues to go over as well as it did at TIFF, nominations for Best Picture and Director aren’t out of the question, and I’d throw Cinematography, Original Score, and Costume Design in there for consideration as well. Oh, and if something else wins the Sound categories this year I’ll be shocked. This thing hums.

On the flip side of the coin, there’s Joker. Director Todd Phillips’ grisly, violent R-rated take on the titular DC Comics villain shockingly won top prize at the Venice Film Festival, and while reactions out of TIFF were a bit more divisive, it’s still the biggest conversation piece out of the film festival circuit thus far. Joaquin Phoenix is probably a lock for a Best Actor nomination, and the film will likely be considered seriously as a contender for nominations in Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Score, Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling.

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Image via Warner Bros.

But I’m wary to jump the gun too early on Joker, and its wide release—and reception—will be key to its path towards the Oscar race. The hot takes have already started flooding in, and they won’t slow down when the film opens in early October. It’s also a very violent movie for Oscar—they don’t tend to go for films this graphic. But we’ll see. For now, keep it earmarked. It’s definitely not not a contender.

Another film stirring lots of conversation out of the film festival circuit is Snowpiercer filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s near-perfect drama Parasite. The Korean-language film follows a family of con artists as they insert themselves into the lives of a wealthy and gullible family, but Joon-ho’s handle on the film’s themes are downright masterful. This is about as complete and compelling a chronicle of economic inequality and its serious cost as I’ve seen, and it’ll no doubt strike a chord in the current political environment. Rave reviews and intense interest (it was one of the most crowded screenings of Telluride and TIFF) have made it a must-see, and I think nominations for Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay are absolutely possible, in addition to the presumed Best International Film nod.

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Image via LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

Other contenders got a significant boost out of TIFF. Renee Zellwegger drew a massive standing ovation for her lead performance in Judy, which tracks the end of Judy Garland’s career. A Best Actress nomination feels likely, even if reception to the film itself is a bit more muted. I’ll also be curious to see what happens with Eddie Murphy in the comedy Dolemite Is My Name. He’s great in the film, which is a straight comedy, but the film lacks a big “Oscar scene” and I fear his comedic performance will get lost in the shuffle of various dramatic performances.

Antonio Banderas is definitely in the mix for his nuanced, heartbreaking performance in Pedro Almodovar’s autobiographical Spanish-language film Pain and Glory, and Adam Sandler could make a run for it with his striking turn in the Safdie Brothers thriller Uncut Gems. 

The Netflix film The Two Popes could score a Best Actor nod for Jonathan Pryce and/or a Best Supporting Actor nod for Anthony Hopkins, and the film seems to be quite the quite the crowd-pleaser so I’ll be curious to see if that one scores a Best Picture nod as well. Rian Johnson’s murder mystery Knives Out blew the roof off its world premiere screening, but it’s not exactly an “Oscar movie” so I’m not sure the Academy will see fit to honor it with nominations—even though the ensemble is pitch perfect, the script is insanely impressive, and Daniel Craig chews the scenery like no other. Alas, the film is very funny, and we all know how the Academy feels about comedies.

That’s definitely not all, as there are still more major films to be seen this Oscar season—namely The Irishman, 1917, and Little Women—but we’re off to a great start. Stay tuned to Collider over the coming months for all the most recent updates on the ongoing Oscar season.

If you missed my individual Oscar Beat dispatches from TIFF, click the links below. For more of Collider’s TIFF 2019 coverage, click here.

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Image via Netflix

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