Toronto Oscar Wrap: Actors Outshine Their Films, Women Rule

There was plenty of awards buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival, but most of it centered on the performances, rather than the movies themselves.

The fest debuted new films with multiple nomination possibilities (“The Martian,” “Truth,” “Trumbo”) and furthered the kudos momentum for “small” films that had premiered at earlier festivals (“Spotlight,” “Room,” “Brooklyn”). But in terms of best-picture, it’s still a wide-open field. “Spotlight” seems one of the few pics guaranteed a best-picture nomination, but it’s too early to declare the Tom McCarthy film a front-runner for the win: A lot can happen in five months, and there are some biggies yet to be screened.

At Toronto, reaction was generally positive to “Black Mass,” “The Danish Girl” and “Beasts of No Nation,” which had all debuted at Venice or Telluride. But things move fast in the 21st century, and the backlash has already started on all of these films. No problem. There will be plenty of ups and downs for all awards hopefuls before the late-February Oscar show.

In recent years, Oscar watchers have bemoaned the lack of roles for women, but that isn’t the case this year. Toronto debuted films with strong work by Cate Blanchett in “Truth,” Maggie Smith in “The Lady in the Van” and Sandra Bullock in “Our Brand is Crisis.”

They join a crowded field that includes Brie Larson, “Room”; Lily Tomlin, “Grandma”; Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”; Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”; Blanchett again, for “Carol”; Carey Mulligan, “Suffragette”; and Emily Blunt, “Sicario.” Some folks are also high on Sarah Silverman in “I Smiled Back,” which screened here after debuting in Sundance. And presumably the distributors will push Rooney Mara (“Carol”) and Alicia Vikander (“Danish Girl”) as supporting.

Performances by actors that were new in Toronto include Ben Foster, a knockout as Lance Armstrong in “The Program”; Tom Hardy, flashy as Britain’s gangster Kray twins in “Legend”; Bryan Cranston as the title character in “Trumbo”; Matt Damon in “The Martian”; and Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams in “I Saw the Light.” Interestingly, four actors of the five play real people.

Paramount’s purchase of the stop-motion “Anomalisa” for release this year adds a plot twist: Could the best-picture race include two animated films (i.e., this  Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson-directed film and “Inside Out”)? Not everyone loved “Anomalisa,” but those who liked it really liked it. And that’s all that’s needed.

Among the many big films that haven’t screened yet in 2015: “Bridge of Spies,” “Concussion,” “In the Heart of the Sea,” “The Revenant,” “The Walk” — and “Star Wars.”

The Toronto fest, which wraps on Sunday, also premiered two films destined to stir up socio-political conversations: Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next” and Jonas Cuaron’s “Desierto.” The question is whether those conversations will occur this year or next; it depends on the distributors. Moore always gets people hot under the collar, though there is much in the film to appeal to both red and blue states. And while Cuaron’s film is a tight action-thriller, it centers on Mexico-U.S. border crossings, which should ignite plenty of talk.

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