Photo courtesy Netflix

TIFF 2019: Let the Oscar Buzz Begin

Will Scarlett Johansson get her first Oscar nomination? Can Taika Waititi's "whimsical" Hitler movie win over Academy voters?

Last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner was a divisive one. Green Book was largely panned by critics and plagued with problems ranging from a racist screenwriter to the fact that the family of its subject wasn’t consulted in the making of the film. But its running in the Oscar race was all but secured when it won the coveted Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Historically, the award has been a pretty good indicator of which film will go on to nab the biggest award of the year (past Grolsch winners include 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire, which won big at the Oscars just a few months later.)

This year’s winner, Jojo Rabbit, has been similarly divisive but if history’s taught us anything, it’s not to write off a Grolsch winner. As the final film festival on the circuit before awards season kicks off–following Telluride, Venice and Cannes—TIFF is where awards chatter gets cemented and speculation heats up. Read on for a roundup of the films whose buzz we expect to carry them right through to February, when awards season comes to a close with the Oscars.

Jojo Rabbit
It’s not often that a Hitler film is described as “whimsical” but the word comes up time and again in reviews of the satirical film, which may have divided critics but earned a standing ovation from audiences. “Everyone in Toronto can agree that, on paper, Jojo Rabbit shouldn’t work. What they have trouble agreeing on is everything else,” notes a Vulture review. The film, about a Nazi-loving young boy whose worldview is shaken when he begins to fall for a Jewish girl his mother is hiding in their attic, currently has a Metacritic score of 52% but as IndieWire reminds us, plenty of films have seen awards season love despite middling reviews from critics, most recently Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book. I expect to see a nom for the film in the Best Picture category and Kiwi director Taika Waititi might just score one too.

Marriage Story
This Netflix film about a couple navigating divorce was the runner-up for the Grolsch award and my personal favourite from the festival this year. There’s no obvious villain, no picking of sides, no one injured party—the grievances are messy, complicated and equally valid on both sides. As the couple whose marriage is ending, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson both deliver tour de force performances, and Laura Dern swoops in with a memorable turn as Johansson’s shrewd lawyer. Expect nods for all of them, as well as for the film’s director and writer Noah Baumbach.

All anyone could talk about at Cannes in May was acclaimed Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s film Parasite, which went on to win the festival’s highest honour, the Palme d’Or. It received similar critical acclaim at TIFF and came in third for the People’s Choice Award. The film follows a family of con artists who overtake an affluent household, and weaves together themes of class and capitalism into a captivating thriller. If it gets the recognition it seems poised to receive, it’ll make history as the first Oscar-nominated film from South Korea.

Joker’s already been making headlines for its “dangerous” and “scary” messaging and critics have been divided on its actual merits, but they do all seem to agree that an Oscar nom is on the cards for Joaquin Phoenix. The film also won the Golden Lion at Venice, so it might have some Best Picture chances as well.

The wild card entry here is definitely Jennifer Lopez, whose excellent performance as a stripper turned con artist in this film based on a true story got rave reviews at TIFF. Whether the film will sit well with Oscar voters, who tend to be a conservative, older bunch, is yet to be seen, but the buzz attached to her name is undeniable. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria also deserves recognition for distilling a complicated, layered story into a tight, well-crafted narrative with both heart and hustle.

In the first and only biopic ever made on American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Tony Award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo (whom audiences may remember from her supporting role in Widows last year) delivers a powerful performance as the titular character who risks her life to get slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Both she and Janelle Monae, who plays a free Black woman providing shelter and support to slaves fleeing the south, could be in the running for nominations in the Lead and Supporting categories respectively.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
There’s not much Mr Rogers in this Mr Rogers film, which mostly belongs to Matthew Rhys, who plays the Esquire journalist whose article the film is based on. A Supporting Actor nod for Tom Hanks—who is truly the Mr Rogers of our time—is a sure bet, and Matthew Rhys might sneak in with a nod too. Marielle Heller (who was overlooked last year for her excellent Can You Ever Forgive Me?) might well score a nomination for her deft, measured direction as well.

Ford v Ferrari
Two of the best actors of our time, Matt Damon and Christian Bale, co-star in this film about an automotive designer (Damon) and racecar driver (Bale) who try to build a Ford Mustang ahead of the 1966 Le Mans race in France. According to Macleans, “it has all the hallmarks of an Oscar Best Picture nominee—a story powered by high-octane chase scenes, a culture war pitting white-bread America against snotty Europeans, and a pair of blue-chip stars.”

For her portrayal of Hollywood icon Judy Garland in the final months of her life, Renee Zellweger got a three-minute standing ovation and a whole lot of Oscar buzz at the festival. Variety writer Jenelle Riley tweeted, “In 15 years at #TIFF I have never seen a standing ovation like the one for Renee Zellweger at JUDY.” Entertainment Weekly‘s Joey Nolfi also commented on the audience reaction, writing, “Renee Zellweger is crying. I’m crying. Everyone is fucking crying and Judy is a soaring, emotional wallop of a comeback for its star.” So it’s safe to say that come February, the actress will be sitting at the Dolby Theatre with a fourth Oscar nomination to her name.

Just Mercy
As a prisoner on Death Row for a murder he didn’t commit, Jamie Foxx is both cynical and hopeful, and his moving performance may earn him his second Oscar (he won in 2005 for Ray). Brie Larson could earn a Supporting nod too, and Michael B Jordan—as the activist and lawyer who makes it his mission to work with disenfranchised communities in the prison system—might finally score his first Oscar nom.

The Two Popes
The Hollywood Reporter has deemed it “a triumph of writing as well as unostentatious filmmaking.” Starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, the Netflix film imagines a series of meetings between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict at the height of a scandal in the Catholic church. Critics seem to have loved its witty, humorous energy and the bromance at its centre, so nominations for the two veteran actors are likely on the table.