Thursday, September 6th marks the beginning of the 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival, which many consider the biggest and most substantial film festival of the fall. Each year, dozens of Oscar hopefuls screen here to try and make their early marks and worm their way into the hearts of the dedicated moviegoers who come to the festival. They also try to make waves for Oscar voters not able to attend, but who know which films to seek out when they open. Since there are so many films showing, I’m going to break down the festival in two parts with the first twelve films that are marked as having Oscar potential in this article.
Outlaw King | September 6th
The opening film this year is David Mackenzie’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water. Starring Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Florence Pugh, the film follows Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, as he fights against the English who occupy his country. Obviously there have been apt comparisons to Braveheart made here, and they are validated since William Wallace lived in this same time period. Netflix has a lot on their plate this year as far as Oscar contenders go, and some of those other films are showing later on in the festival. And keep in mind that several of the opening films at TIFF in previous years have gone on to be non-players at the Oscars, like Borg McEnroe, The Magnificent Seven, Demolition, The Fifth Estate, Looper, and From the Sky Down.
Beautiful Boy | September 7th
Felix van Groeningen brings the memoirs of David and Nic Sheff to life with his new film, Beautiful Boy, which chronicles Nic’s addiction to meth and how his father helped him overcome it. Steve Carell plays David and Timothee Chalamet plays Nic, and they both look Oscar-worthy from the trailer, with Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan both poised to be potential Best Supporting Actress contenders. The film seems reminiscent of Terms of Endearment, which itself was an Oscar juggernaut 25 years ago. Maybe this film will be the modern incarnation.
The Hate U Give | September 7th
Amandla Stenberg stars in the racially driven story loosely based on true events about finding your voice and deciding to fight the power or fall in line. Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, and Anthony Mackie co-star, and the trailer kind of shocked me with how straightforward it treated the source material. Coming from a big company like 20th Century Fox, I expected glossy camerawork and a mainstream approach, but it seems like director George Tillman, Jr. isn’t interested in all that. We also have BlacKkKlansman, Green Book, and If Beale Street Could Talk in the mix this season that focus on race relations, so this film will have to break through those contenders to get a couple of nominations.
Vox Lux | September 7th
The new dramatic musical from Brady Corbet focuses on Natalie Portman as Celeste, a punk rock singer with a past. Raffey Cassidy plays a younger version of Celeste, with half of the movie focusing on her young self and the other half on her grown-up self. Jude Law and Jennifer Ehle co-star. Vox Lux also played at the Venice Film Festival, and as of the writing of this article has not secured a release date, meaning it could have to wait until next year if the distributor, Bold Films, can’t find a spot for it.
White Boy Rick | September 7th
Based on the true story of Rick Wershe, Jr., Yann Demange brings this story of a teen drug kingpin to life. Newcomer Richie Merritt plays the titular character, with Matthew McConaughey, Bel Powely, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Brian Tyree Henry, and Piper Laurie rounding out the cast. The film already had a screening at the Telluride Film Festival, and received mostly negative reviews. However, Merritt and McConaughey both shone through the negativity and may salvage Oscar campaigns. We’ll also have to see how it does at the box office as it opens on September 16th.
22 July | September 8th
Paul Greengrass brings the 2011 terrorist attacks on Norway to life with 22 July. While no major Hollywood actors appear in the film, Greengrass knows how to work that approach to major Oscar success. His 2006 film United 93 did the same thing, and won Greengrass an Oscar nomination for Best Director, and it was also nominated for Best Film Editing. July also screened at the Venice Film Festival and will hit Netflix next month.
Ben is Back | September 8th
Lucas Hedges, Julia Roberts, and Courtney B. Vance star in Peter Hedges’ newest film, Ben is Back. Outside of the brief plot description, which tells us about Ben being in serious trouble and returning home on Christmas Eve, there isn’t much else to go on from the first trailer. Hedges earned an Oscar nomination for his work on About a Boy, and his son, Lucas, was nominated a couple of years ago for Manchester By The Sea. Maybe the pairing of father and son will bring more Oscar gold (or at least more nominations) into their futures.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? | September 8th
Melissa McCarthy is eyeing her second nomination for this true story about Lee Israel, a failed author who forged letters to earn cash. Richard E. Grant looks like an appealing Best Supporting Actor contender as her friend, and Jane Curtin also plays a role. Can You Ever Forgive Me also acreened at the Telluride and received all positive reviews, with both McCarthy and Grant’s performances being touted as Oscar-worthy.
Life Itself | September 8th
Dan Fogelman’s turn at the big screen has a huge ensemble cast: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Laia Costa, and Samuel L. Jackson. Focusing on Spanish/American relationships across time, the film’s trailer has that schmaltzy feel that garners a lot of box office success, usually, but sometimes turns away Oscar voters. Still, sometimes that’s what Oscar voters settle for, and with “from the creator of This is Us” plastered on every poster, trailer, and TV spot, Amazon and company may have played their cards just right.
The Front Runner | September 8th
Jason Reitman’s second film to hit the big screen this year (the first being Tully), The Front Runner is a biopic about Gary Hart, 1988’s failed presidential wannabe, and how sexual allegations sunk his hopes and dreams. Hugh Jackman stars as Hart, with Vera Farmiga, Sara Paxton, Alfred Molina, Mike Judge, Kevin Pollak, Ari Graynor, and J.K. Simmons filling out the cast. The film premiered last week at the Telluride Film Festival, where Jackman received glowing reviews, some chronicling it as the best of his career. The movie itself, however, was less acclaimed, but with 75% of critics from Rotten Tomatoes giving the film the thumbs-up. We’ll see if that’s enough for the film to take off and live up to its title.
The Sisters Brothers | September 8th
John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix star as the titular pair of old west hitmen out to take revenge on a thief who stole from their boss. Jacques Audiard directs the film, with Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Carol Kane, and Rutger Hauer co-starring. The film screened at the Venice Film Festival, where it received almost all positive reviews (91% on Rotten Tomatoes). A handful of those reviews praised the cast, singling out Reilly and Ahmed as the standouts. They also praised the concoction of drama and dark comedy that is all thrown into the western genre, which Audiard pulled off. We’ll see if that’s what Oscar voters are hungry for this year.
Widows | September 8th
The long-awaited follow-up to 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen is back with an adaptation of the 80’s British series Widows. Here four widows take up the mantle of their recently deceased husbands to pull off the job that got their soul mates killed. McQueen co-wrote the script with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, and he has assembled one hell of a cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal, Andre Holland, Lukas Haas, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson. While the film won’t be released for a full two months after its first screening, that didn’t stop films like The Shape of Water and La La Land from being the most-nominated film of their respective years, and maybe the same will be true for Widows.