The Big O: Watch Out, Toronto – The Great Kate, Dame Maggie, and Some Stellar Female Directors Are Coming Your Way

The Big O: Watch Out, Toronto - The Great Kate, Dame Maggie, and Some Stellar Female Directors Are Coming Your Way

Last
year’s Toronto International Film Festival provided invaluable lift-off to at
least three female-driven movies that landed in the 2013 Oscar race: Gravity, Philomena,
and August: Osage County.

However,
it appears there will be no sightings of Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, or Meryl
Streep either onscreen or on the red carpet for this year’s edition of North
America’s premier celebration of cinema, which runs from September 4 to 14.

Not
to worry. We can happily make do with Kate Winslet (as a gardener for Louis XIV
in Alan Rickman’s period piece A Little Chaos, the fest’s closing-night
selection), Maggie Smith (who matches wits with Kevin Kline in My Old Lady), and
Jessica Chastain (in an adaptation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, directed by no
less than Ingmar Bergman’s muse, Liv Ullmann).

With
2014 already being designated as a Reese Witherspoon revival, it makes sense that this year’s bill offers a double helping of the actress who won her first Oscar
as June Carter Cash in 2005’s Walk the Line. She stars in Wild, a
much-anticipated true-life drama about a troubled woman who hikes more than
1,000 miles, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, whose Dallas Buyers Club wowed the
fest last year. She
also headlines The Good Lie, an uplifting tale about a woman who assists four
young boys in war-ravaged Sudan to qualify for relocation in the United States. Alas,
Witherspoon’s other hot year-end release, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice,
is promised to the New York Film Festival – which will also premiere David
Fincher’s Gone Girl — based on the best-seller and featuring Rosamund Pike —
later in September.

Another
two-timer is Julianne Moore, who inexplicably has gone this long without having
an Oscar to call her own despite three previous nominations. It wouldn’t be a
proper Toronto festival without hometown director David Cronenberg, whose Maps
to the Stars
already collected the Cannes seal of approval and created buzz for
Moore. The
actress also headlines a surefire heart-tugger, Still Alice, as a linguistics
professor who starts forgetting words and learns she has early-onset Alzheimer’s
disease.

Other
possible acting opportunities that might prove award-worthy: Cake provides
Jennifer Aniston (and her fans) some relief from her run of lewd comedies with
a slightly more grounded story about a testy, well-off woman who undergoes a
transformation; The Keeping Room is a Civil War drama that could attract
attention for Brit Marling; The Last Five Years capitalizes on Anna Kendrick’s
pitch-perfect musical talent; Naomi Watts might get a third shot at an Oscar
opposite Ben Stiller as her spouse in Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young; and
Octavia Spencer, who packs an Oscar for 2011’s The Help, goes head-to-head with
Kevin Costner over the custody of a grandchild in Black and White

On
an even brighter note — especially given the lack of female directors who had
any real shot at an Academy Award in the last race — a fair number of high-profile
women filmmakers will be heading to Toronto with their latest projects, judging from
Tuesday’s announcement of 59 features (with more to come) that will participate. 

They
include a pair of Danish directors. Susanne Bier, whose 2010’s In a Better
World
won the best foreign-language film Oscar and made its North American
debut in Toronto, is bringing A Second Chance — about the fallout following a
tragic event. And Lone Scherfig, whose An Education was warmly embraced by
festival crowds in 2009 and earned three Oscar nominations including best
picture, has The Riot Club — about the questionable goings-on among members of
an elite Oxford dining club.

Meanwhile,
noted Catalan filmmaker Isabel Coixet pairs the perpetually wonderful Patricia
Clarkson against the mighty Ben Kingsley as a Manhattanite and her Sikh driving
instructor in Learning to Drive.

Too
bad there is no sign of this year’s two most-anticipated films by female
directors. Ava DuVernay’s Selma, about the fight for Civil Rights just finished shooting and is still in
post-production. As
for Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, the true story of an Olympic hero and World War
II POW-camp survivor, it could possibly end up being a headliner at the
Telluride Film Festival, which kicks off Aug. 29, or perhaps at Venice, which
starts Aug. 27.

The trifecta of Toronto/Telluride/Venice is the awards-season kick off. But with the festivals duking it out over world premieres, one thing this could mean for women on screen and behind the camera is getting less opportunities for exposure. And for women, the ability to be seen and to get into the Oscar conversation is always vital. 

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