Although most so-called Oscar pundits are solely focused on the films that hit the Fall film festival circuit which are buzzed to be 2019 Oscar contenders, there is an alternate track at the Toronto International Film Festival where you can also fill up on potential 2020 hopefuls. It is never too early, right? Thus, since I have seen so many of this year’s crop either at Cannes, Telluride, or various early screenings in L.A., I can also get started on next year here at TIFF, one of my favorite things to do. There are numerous films on tap that premiered yesterday here, or will be coming up shortly, and in that crop, I am spotting an enormous amount of potential. Of course, some of them have to get distribution first, and then the right release date next year, to be primed for the ever-competitive Oscar race.
Thursday night’s group of TIFF openers brought no movies that will likely figure big in Oscar season this year. But Fox Searchlight let loose with a delightful and smart 2020 release, The Personal Life Of David Copperfield, from past Oscar- nominated (In The Loop) and Emmy-winning (Veep) writer /director Armando Iannucci, who delivers a real crowd-pleaser and handsome take of Charles Dicken’s favorite novel of his own, “David Copperfield,” and he brings so much humor to it, with truly diverse casting, starting with an irresistible Dev Patel in the lead, that I would expect to see this as perhaps even a stronger Oscar-friendly film than perhaps even the three movies premiering here that make up Searchlight’s first Oscar season under the Disney banner. You can tell just by visiting Searchlight’s hospitality suite at the Fairmont that the emphasis for them is on this year’s awards crop, as posters for Terrence Malick’s Cannes competition entry, A Hidden Life, and its two upcoming TIFF World Premieres, Jo Jo Rabbit and Lucy In The Sky, are prominent as pundits and critics pick up their tickets. But Copperfield is nowhere in sight, at least from what I could see. Searchlight has to be thrilled with the opening night response, though, and knows they already have a solid contender for 2020. The film also opens the London Film Festival next month.
Roadside Attractions got a head start Friday night with the terrific new drama Hope Gap, which contains brilliant performances from Annette Bening and Bill Nighy in screenwriter William Nicholson’s directorial debut, and a very fine one it is. Although, I suppose, they could alter the release plan based on last night’s reaction at the premiere, this is likely to pop sometime in 2020, and so I am betting Bening is a strong contender there with one of her best performances ever as a wife in denial over the state of her longtime marriage to an unhappy Nighy, who springs some surprising news at an inopportune moment. Like the wildly different divorce comedy, Marriage Story, playing here next week, this one could also be called that name, because it is a “marriage story” that cuts to the core. In some ways, it reminds me of the way The Wife played here a couple of years ago, then was held for release last year by Sony Pictures Classics once they picked it up. Glenn Close won SAG and Golden Globe awards, plus an Oscar nod, so the strategy clearly worked in not immediately trying to cash in on TIFF exposure and rush into awards season. Bening also may not want to confuse matters, as I think she is a strong contender for a Best Supporting Actress nomination this year for her understated and stunning turn as Sen. Dianne Feinstein in Amazon Studios powerful The Report. A four-time nominee, she is high on the overdue list, and this year, or next year, or some year, it will be her turn, if there is any justice.
Bleecker Street has the affecting two-hander Ordinary Love here, starring Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville as a long-time married couple whose world is turned upside down when Manville’s character is diagnosed with breast cancer. I understand the plan is to launch this next year as well, and if so, Manville is an instant 2020 contender for a remarkable and devastatingly honest performance that could win her a second Oscar nomination in whatever year it is released.
Although Friday night’s TIFF premieres were loaded with current awards plays for Just Mercy, Parasite, Pain And Glory etc, I caught instead three acquisition titles featuring three superb performances by actresses that could join Bening and Manville as an early entrant into next year’s arena. Two of them were roles in which the main female lead is dying, always catnip for Oscar voters. Tops in that regard is Susan Sarandon, terrific as a woman afflicted in the increasingly dire stages of ALS who has gathered her family for one final weekend before embarking on an assisted suicide, in Roger Michell’s English language adaptation of the Danish film Silent Heart. Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska play her grown daughters in the dysfunctional family drama that takes lots of turns, but ultimately is a poignant movie about dying with our dignity intact. Sam Neill and Lindsay Duncan both are excellent in an overall fine cast. Millenium made the movie, which is for sale here. Sarandon, already an Oscar winner and multiple nominee, has found a role originated in a European version that could win her future awards recognition, a la what another Oscar winner, Julianne Moore, is hoping for this year, with two English adaptations of foreign films, Gloria Bell and After The Wedding.
The other “dying ” performance comes from Dakota Johnson, delivering her best screen work to date in a true story, The Friend, in which she plays a 34-year-old wife and mother with terminal cancer. Told in non-linear style, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has fashioned a sometimes-funny, often harrowing and depressing, but very well-acted tearjerker in which Johnson co-stars with Casey Affleck as her overwhelmed husband, and Jason Segel as the friend who comes to help both in their most pressing hours, days, weeks, and months of need.
My favorite of the trio for sale that I saw yesterday here was a British feel-good movie that brings The Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo back to strong form with Military Wives, a crowd-pleaser in every way about a group of wives of men shipped off to war who form their own choir and end up performing at the Festival of Remembrance at Prince Albert Hall. It is heartwarming, funny, sad, and life affirming. The song they sing is an original that could well figure in the Best Song Oscar race — easily. Stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan lead a female ensemble that wins us over, and the great thing is it is all based on a true story (and British series called The Choir: Military Wives) that has now spread across the globe with similar groups. If this movie doesn’t get snapped up immediately , I have no faith in the movie business anymore.