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Toronto International Film Festival - a foretaste of the Oscars?

After two years of limited in-person screenings, the Toronto International Film Festival returned in full force in September. With the mask mandate lifted, the theaters were near full capacity and the clamorous crowds were reminiscent of pre-pandemic times. While the Festival has historically featured smaller, independent films, this year’s comeback was led by Hollywood studios, red carpet fashion, after parties, and celebrity entourages.

Headlining on the red carpet was Taylor Swift, who arrived in a gold sequin dress for the showcase of her 10-minute film, “All Too Well: The Short Film.” Harry Styles created quite the buzz going all green in Gucci for the premiere of his upcoming gay period romance, “My Policeman.”

Though the film received mixed reviews, Styles managed to stay in the media spotlight with the recent release of his other acting turn in the film “Don’t Worry Darling” and the co-star drama that surrounded its production.

Multiple sources alleged on-set conflict between director Olivia Wilde and lead actress Florence Pugh. Pugh was initially dissatisfied with Wilde’s controversial decision to cast Shia LeBeouf as the lead actor, despite multiple abuse allegations against him. Tensions between Wilde and Pugh reportedly escalated when Wilde started a romantic relationship with the pop star she cast to replace LeBeouf, Harry Styles. While the rumors are mostly speculation, the social media frenzy aided film promotion, making “Don’t Worry Darling” the third highest-grossing movie of the month.

One of the more positive highlights of the Festival included Brendan Fraser’s speech accepting the TIFF Tribute Award for his outstanding performance in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale.” Fraser tearfully thanked his fans for continuing to support him after his disappearance from the public eye. Fraser described his new movie as a “redemption story” about Charlie, a 600 lb. man and social outcast who brings out the good in others who can’t see it in themselves.

“I am a firm believer that we need a little bit more of that in this world,” Fraser said. This recognition comes on the heels of his receiving a six-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.

Fraser’s feel-good comeback with his strong performance in “The Whale” has made him a top candidate for an Oscar nomination..

Another film featured at TIFF that’s sure to command attention as the awards season ramps up is “The Fablemans,” which received the TIFF People’s Choice Award. Directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, “The Fabelmans” is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama told through the fictional character of Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker. Spielberg has called the film his most personal and emotional yet. (It is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on November 11.)

The first runner-up prize for the TIFF People’s Choice Award was given to “Women Talking.” The all-star ensemble cast includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Wishaw, and Frances McDormand. Directed by Sarah Polley, the film is an adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel about sexual abuse in a Mennonite society. Though media discussion around #MeToo has quieted, discussion of sexual assault in Hollywood and around the world has continued, and representation has become even more important.

This year’s film lineup largely focused on films by women about women like “Emily,” directed by Frances O’Connor; “Saint Omer,” directed by Alice Diop; “The Eternal Daughter,” directed by Joanna Hogg; and others, reflecting increased representation of women in film, both on-screen and off. It will be interesting to see whether any of these films will breakthrough at the Academy Awards, which have historically been dominated by men.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” directed by Rian Johnson, took home the second runner-up prize for the People’s Choice Award. This murder mystery film distributed by Netflix is a follow-up to “Knives Out,” released in 2019, and the sequel has proven to be just as juicy as the first, dazzling audiences and critics alike. The first “Knives Out” was a box office smash, and while “Glass Onion” has a limited theatrical release before it comes out on Netflix, it’s likely to hit in a way that a movie like “Women Talking” might not. Will “Glass Onion” follow its predecessor’s Oscar nominations?

With the year winding to a close, the frontrunners for Oscar glory are beginning to materialize, and TIFF gives attendees a sneak peak. This year’s festival was memorable for its stars and films, and their performance here may indicate their awards trajectory. While things may be bleak for Harry Styles on that front, there are plenty of other things to keep us occupied in the meantime.

The 15-film Oscar shortlist will be announced on December 21, with the five final nominees to be announced on January 24, 2023.


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