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Toronto Brings Oscar Schedule Changes, as the Strong Edge Out the Weak

Toronto Brings Oscar Schedule Changes, as the Strong Edge Out the Weak

One of the functions of the Toronto Film Festival, with its magic mix of audiences, media and industry, is that distributors can test the waters and see how strong their product is. And they can gauge the competition for the last quarter of 2015. When there are two films on similar subjects, the stronger picture gains momentum at the expense of the other.

Thus in the face of Focus Features’ “The Danish Girl,” with positive reviews for actors Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne, the Weinstein Co. at the last minute pulled its transgender drama, Gaby Dellal’s “About Ray,” starring Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon, from theaters. It was set to open Friday, but after a lackluster reception in Toronto, will wait until 2016. Will the movie get a qualifying release at year’s end, a less expensive way to go? Perhaps. 

Meanwhile Paramount harbors Oscar hopes for its surprise pick-up, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s unusual R-rated stop-motion “Anomalisa,” which has been building buzz through Venice, Telluride and Toronto. Clearly the studio sees a way to market this well-reviewed story of an everyman in crisis (who says “fuck” a lot, and goes full-frontal as he has sex with a stranger in his Cincinnati hotel room), which cries out as an arthouse indie. Its hook? You’ve never seen a movie like this before.

And Magnolia will release in early 2016 the Norwegian Oscar submission, “The Wave,” a tsunami thriller. 

Several would-be Oscar contenders were unveiled in Toronto, and results are mixed. It looks like Cate Blanchett, who gives a terrific performance as real-life “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes in James Vanderbilt’s “Truth,” will be a stronger Best Actress candidate for Todd Haynes’ Cannes/Telluride/NYFF player “Carol,” while TWC has decided to put Cannes-winner Rooney Mara in the supporting category. Sony Pictures Classics’ “Truth,” which seeks to expose the problems in broadcast journalism today, comes up short compared to Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” (Open Road), which celebrates news reporting at its best, much like “All the President’s Men,” and has taken off like a rocket from Venice to Telluride to Toronto. Its ensemble cast is likely to compete in the supporting category.

Not registering in the awards conversation, perhaps because it veers toward the comic, is another politically themed movie. Inspired by the documentary “Our Brand is Crisis” (Participant/Warner Bros.), David Gordon Green’s indie/studio tweener produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov stars a delightful Sandra Bullock (who finally got the movie made by asking to play a role written for a man), who may end up as a Golden Globes comedy contender. 

The only movie to outshine “Spotlight” at Toronto was Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” starring the superb Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, which critics and moviegoers could push into Oscar contention. Luckily for “The Martian,” “Gravity” is receding into the distance and won’t cast as large a shadow as it did on Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” 

READ MORE: With ‘The Martian,’ Ridley Scott Returns to Form

Meanwhile Sony Pictures Classics boasts a senior Best Actress rival for TWC contender Helen Mirren in spring hit “Woman in Gold.” Dame Maggie Smith, as she did on the stage 16 years ago, ably carries Nicolas Hytner’s witty and touching film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s “The Lady in the Van” (Tristar) and gets the tears flowing.  She will be hard for Golden Globe and Academy voters to resist. And IFC’s “45 Years” is also getting deserved attention for Charlotte Rampling. She’ll be a factor as well.

On the younger side of the Best Actress ledger are Vikander in “The Danish Girl” and Brie Larson in “Room,” which are both steady as they go. 

Two rival gangster pictures vied for attention at TIFF: Scott Cooper’s Boston-set James “Whitey” Bulger biopic “Black Mass” (Warner Bros.) and Universal/Working Title’s hardboiled portrait of the Kray Brothers, “Legend.” While the Johnny Depp comeback narrative has been gaining some traction (is his makeup an asset or a distraction?), the movie may repulse some audiences with its brutally realistic violence. It doesn’t welcome the viewer in with any empathy for its despicable characters, nor is there much in this male universe for women to hang onto. 

On the other hand “Legend” offers an entertaining dual performance from Tom Hardy as two murderous thugs in swinging 60s East London, one of whom romances and weds a neighborhood beauty (Emily Browning), who tries to adjust to his out of control brother. Writer-director Brian Helgeland delivers a nasty and fascinating portrait of these gangsters, but also shows their humanity and humor. Should it be a tad shorter? Sure. But when Hardy is on-screen I can’t take my eyes off him, and Browning, who narrates the tale, also has a bright future.

Making a move into a less crowded male-action field (“Black Mass,” “Sicario,” “The Martian”), Universal is moving the film from October to November 20, where there’s more oxygen against “Spotlight” and “Hunger Games,” expanding on November 25 for the holiday and wider still on December 11. Assuming all goes well (although reviews are not stellar for the R-rated U.K. hit), Tom Hardy could emerge in the awards derby via SAG and the Globes and build from there. 

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