[See full coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival here.]
The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival is officially in the record books. Personally, TIFF was one of, if not the, most rewarding experience of my life. Professionally, it was an extraordinary glimpse into film’s upper echelon and the most promising voices poised to enter. Of course, TIFF is also the unofficial start of the fall awards season. Several Oscar hopefuls made their North American or worldwide debuts at the Festival. With that in mind, these films saw their Oscar chances either boosted or burned after leaving Toronto.
Steven Spielberg’s last Best Picture Oscar was for 1993’s Schindler’s List. The Fabelmans could change that. The film premiered to a rapturous reception at Spielberg’s first-ever TIFF presentation. I described the film as the director at his most reflective and vital, deploying every technique in his arsenal to draw audiences into his psyche. Spielberg’s accessible vulnerability paid off with the TIFF People’s Choice Award, which has preceded Best Picture nominees and winners in the recent past. Even if Spielberg misses Best Picture, it’s hard to see the film walking away with nothing. At the very least, Michelle Williams feels like a sure bet for a long-overdue Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
The Woman King
I’m thrilled that my most-anticipated film of the Festival exceeded my expectations. As I write in my review, The Woman King is a staggering, across-the-board triumph. It is a rousing piece of action-oriented blockbuster filmmaking, directed with deft and thoughtful hands by Gina Prince Bythewood. Every aspect of the film is exemplary: the acting, the production design, the costumes, the choreography, the sound design, all of it. You can debate its duty to historical accuracy (if you’re applying that standard to more than a century’s worth of recorded entertainment), but it’s a brilliant film. The Woman King is one of the strongest all-around awards contenders in the season.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Rian Johnson’s first Benoit Blanc exploit deserved more love from the Academy than its Original Screenplay nomination. Its sequel is more raucous and anarchistic than the original, with a midway twist that is shocking in how audacious and enjoyable it is. Daniel Craig is fabulous as the decorated master detective Blanc, exceeding his original performance with sharper nuances. Janelle Monaé is the MVP, delivering a brilliant, hilarious, and defiant performance that could crack into the Women Talking-heavy Supporting Actress race if Netflix pushes her enough. Of course, Glass Onion doesn’t need an Oscar to be an uproariously great time, but it would be a welcome surprise.
Sarah Polley’s film about a collective of women debating their religious colony’s sexual assault campaign against them is as powerful as you might’ve heard. Women Talking crackles with urgency as this group decides whether to stay or leave their lives. It grapples with trauma in a searing but empathetic way, unafraid to challenge itself or the audience. The cast is an embarrassment of riches – you could build the Supporting Actress category solely with them. Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Rooney Mara have the strongest claims, while Ben Whishaw could easily find himself in the Supporting Actor race as the film’s sole, kind male voice. With its runner-up placement in the People’s Choice Award, Women Talking is well-positioned to carry strong throughout the season.
You’re a fool if you’re not penciling in Brendan Fraser as a Best Actor Oscar frontrunner. After its six-minute-long standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, The Whale continued its festival success in Toronto. The film is excellent, one of Darren Aronofsky’s most accessible works that still mires itself in his trademark psychological torment. Fraser is the standout reason to watch, delivering what might be the best acting performance of the year. However, the entire cast is excellent, especially Hong Chau as nurse Liz. The film isn’t flawless (I was unmoved by its religious themes), but the emotional reaction it evokes is well-earned (unlike other films bowing at TIFF).
The Banshees of Inishiren
Colin Farrell surprisingly triumphed over Brendan Fraser by winning Best Actor at Venice. After seeing his performance in The Banshees of Inishiren, I get it. Martin McDonagh’s latest film is a razor-sharp comedy about two rural Irishmen whose friendship implodes for no apparent reason. Farrell’s incredulous gaze at the world crumbling around him is key to Banshees landing its insight into what happens when people ignore their mental health struggles. Farrell and Brendan Gleason formed one of the Festival’s most memorable pairs. Their antagonism and simmering care for one another are enough to power a successful awards run. (I certainly wouldn’t count out the film’s low-key MVP, Kerry Condon.)
The Son was the Festival’s biggest disappointment by far. As strong as its cast is – Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Anthony Hopkins, and especially Vanessa Kirby – the film is a hollow, manipulative exercise in emotional exhaustion. The Son’s depiction of teenage depression and how parents can struggle reading the signs felt cynical and telegraphed. The final act was especially risible, bordering on malpractice. The final scene earned some drop of emotion despite the meandering that preceded it. Even if Jackman and Kirby crack the acting categories, The Son’s overall chances are dodgy, if not dead.
Empire of Light
Olivia Colman could make reading the phone book a compelling act of sadness or joy. It’s a shame that Empire of Light doesn’t match her effortless screen presence. Sam Mendes’ film is just fine, a messy look at the lives of a movie theater staff. Mendes shoots the film beautifully, but its narrative and thematic threads never fully gel together. Tackling racism, schizophrenia, interracial and inter-generational romance, adultery, and the magic of filmmaking is a lot. I can appreciate the intent, but the execution was lacking (especially when Spielberg did something similar at the same Festival). Colman will likely crack into Best Actress (because, duh). Cinematography is also on the table, but I don’t know how far the film goes beyond that.
I had a warmer response to My Policeman than other critics. I found the film very tender and sweet, even if it didn’t break any new ground. The cast was uniformly great (and yes, Harry Styles is good in the film). However, the film didn’t ignite Toronto as it needed for a solid awards campaign. Even with TIFF’s backing (the cast received an official award from the Festival), I doubt that My Policeman will have any real momentum heading into the fall. I can’t say if critics seriously regarded it as a contender, but its awards prospects seem dead on arrival.