Monday, September 16, 2019

The Oscar Race Begins – Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

I recently attended TIFF for the 8th year in a row.  TIFF is held every September and just concluded its 44th festival, featuring over 300 films from around the globe.  They just announced the coveted Grolsch People's Choice Award, which went to the WW2 satire, JoJo Rabbit.  Depending on who you talk to - they either loved the movie or hated it, so it should be interesting to see where that film winds up during awards season.  I did not see JoJo Rabbit but 15 other films.  While I will not review all 15, here are a few films that I think may deserve Oscar attention and those that were underwhelming.
Renee Zellweger at the Judy premiere

1      How to Build a Girl:  Beanie Feldstein has been making a name for herself in films like Lady Bird and Booksmart, proving that she’s just not only Jonah Hill’s little sister.  Feldstein is perfectly cast to play Johanna, based on British writer Caitlin Moran, who wrote the screenplay.  (I hope this film gets a screenplay nod) Johanna is a bored early 90s suburban teen with an active imagination and writing talent. She enters a writing contest and becomes a music critic for a hipster rag based on the NME, reinventing herself in the process.  She becomes a meaner and sexier version of her former self, estranging herself from her family in the process.

Feldstein is believable and hilarious in the role and I also enjoyed the early 90s soundtrack featuring female fronted bands like Elastica and Bikini Kill.  It also features a nice acting turn by Alfie Allen as Johanna’s musician crush and Emma Thompson in a bit part as an editor who helps Johanna find her authentic writing voice.

Bad Education:  I was particularly excited to see this film directed by Cory Finley, since it was about a school district scandal a couple of towns over from where I grew up on Long Island.  Hugh Jackman plays Frank Tassone, the Roslyn Schools Superintendent who was convicted of embezzling millions from the district in the early aughts.  Allison Janney effectively plays a school official who was also convicted of the same crime, funneling school funds to pay for renovations on her Hamptons beach home.

The film captures the competitive culture of the North Shore where school ranking and Ivy league admissions make people want to live there.  Jackman is both sympathetic and mystifying as Tassone, a closeted man who is dedicated to his students’ success but also steals from them.  In addition to Jackman and Janney, the cast includes Ray Romano, Annaleigh Ashford, Stephen Spinella and Australia’s Geraldine Viswanathan, who breaks the story in her high school newspaper.  I would like to see Jackman nominated, as this is his meatiest role in years and had me convinced he was a local. 

ETA:  HBO picked up Bad Education, so it won't be eligible for the Oscars.   However, it will be eligible for the Emmys possibly in 2020.

3    Judy:  I had seen pictures of Renee Zellweger costumed and made up to be Judy Garland in the last year of her life, prior to the film and she definitely looked the part.  But nothing prepared me to actually see her act in the role and completely disappear.  Zellweger also did vocal training to sound like Garland in her later years, and her singing is quite effective.  I predict that Zellweger is a lock for a best actress nomination.  The rest of the film, directed by Rupert Goold,  is quite good, including flashbacks of Judy as a teen trying to rebel against movie boss Louis B Mayer, but it’s definitely made special by Zellweger.

4    A Beautiful Day in the Neighboorhood:  Like Zellweger, Tom Hanks does a remarkable job becoming Fred Rogers, embodying his goodness and carefully controlled emotions.  He plays a supporting role in this film to Matthew Rhys’ Esquire journalist, who has daddy issues and learns to deal with his anger by interviewing and befriending Rogers.  Directed by Marielle Heller with humor and sensitivity, the film never gets overly sentimental, yet the script is a bit too predictable.  Still this film is worth seeing as a companion piece to last year’s excellent documentary “Wont You Be My Neighbor.”   I also predict an Oscar nomination for Hanks.  Whether it will be best actor or supporting, we shall see.

5    The Report: Written and directed by Scott Z Burns, The Report examines the investigation led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) and special investigator Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) into the CIA’s torture practices (aka Enhanced Interrogation Techniques) post 9/11.  Driver is excellent as he relentlessly tries to bring to light that the techniques were illegal and not effective.   I found the ending of the film particularly home hitting with a speech by the late Senator John McCain.  The film also stars Jon Hamm as a member of the Obama administration.  I hope the script gets a screenplay nod.

6    The Aeronauts:  Starring the Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, this Amazon produced adventure about 1850s air travel via balloon is a wild ride.  The story is nothing too extraordinary but the special effects and chemistry between the leads is.  I hope this film gets some technical nods.


       The Goldfinch:  Having read Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer prize winning novel and seeing the handsomely shot trailer for this film, I was really looking forward to seeing this.  Unfortunately, the film strips The Goldfinch to its basic plot about a young boy named Theo who loses his mother in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan museum.  He winds up stealing a painting in the confusion and the film traces Theo’s life over the next 15 years or so.  The richness of the characters is more or less gone and the film becomes a beautiful bore, not helped by the lifeless performance of Ansel Elgort as the adult Theo. (Oakes Fegley as young Theo is much better).  There are some bright spots in the performances including Finn Wolfhard’s Boris, Theo’s Russian friend with a sketchy upbringing and Geoffrey Wright as Hobie, the antiques artisan who becomes Theo’s surrogate parent.

      The Laundromat:  Also written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Stephen Soderberg, the
Laundromat takes a satirical look at the Panama Papers scandal of 2016, involving legal and illegal dealings of the 1% and offshore accounts.  Despite a stellar cast led by Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, the film has too many threads, some dropped and tries to be a bit too clever. 

3    My Zoe: Written and directed by Julie Delpy, a favorite of mine, this was a polarizing film for me.  Delpy plays a devoted mother to Zoe, her eight year old daughter, who suddenly grows ill from a brain injury.  Delpy is going through a separation from her husband, which complicates their custody issues of the little girl.  Zoe eventually is pulled from life support and her mother in an act of desperation, takes some of her tissue to see if she can be cloned.  The last third of the movie was interesting and poses some interesting ethical questions, but I felt it could’ve been a movie all on its own.  The happy shoe-horned ending doesn’t feel earned either.    

No comments:

Post a Comment