By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 23, 2009 at 12:45PM
Two weeks ago, indieWIRE published an article speculating what the Venice-Telluride-Toronto trifecta of film festivals might tell us about the fast approaching 2009 awards season. And as it turns out, we were mostly right. But what's unfortunate about that is what an unexciting two weeks it made for. Perhaps the fact that "Precious" ending up winning Toronto's audience award speaks to that more than anything else. Almost everything that materialized from those three major fests we either already knew, or probably saw coming. So let's return to indieWIRE's ten aforepublished suggestions, and see where things stand now that the dust has settled:
1. Are "Precious" and "An Education" the real deal?
Suggestion: "These crowd-pleasers are made for festivals like Toronto, and I wouldn't blame Carey Mulligan or Mo'Nique if they started practicing Oscar speeches in their Toronto hotel mirrors."
Outcome: As noted, "Precious" ended up taking Toronto's audience award, the first time in history a film won such a prize at both Sundance and Toronto. And even if it hadn't, both the media and public stormed the film's arrival at the festival, and it was quickly clear any buzz that came with "Precious"'s Sundance debut had far from decipitated. The same goes for "Precious"'s Sundance sister "An Education," which screened in both Toronto and Telluride and was the source of considerable interest at both. Both these films seem essentially assured a slot in Oscar's top 10, while "Precious"' Mo'Nique and "Education"'s Mulligan are both securely locked into nods in their respective acting categories.
2. Can this female coming-of-age trend extend beyond those two films?
Suggestion: Speaking specificially to Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg's prep school-circa-today-set "Tanner Hall" and Jordan Scott's boarding school-circa-1934-set "Cracks," we wondered whether the female coming of age trend in fess this year (dominated by the former "Precious" and "Education"), could extend to these two buzzy titles. Our suggestion lacked much confidence, but bet if either took off, they'd head to 2010.
Outcome: Neither title managed to gain much traction in Toronto, but this speaks to a whole other issue (see #9).
3. Is Michael Moore still capable of causing a stir? And can this equal a best picture nomination?
Suggestion: "'Capitalism: A Love Story' still rouses the crowds, but it's quieter than usual, and talk of a best picture nomination dies quickly.
Outcome: Our suggestion was maybe overly optimistic. Critical support out of the fests was definitely more tepid that usual for Moore, and public interest was certainly not as loud as we've seen in the past. A best picture nomination is a very unlikely idea at this point.
4. Is Tom Ford capable of making a good movie?
Suggestion: "I'd love to say I'm sure it will end up a poignant tale of gay love and loss (its about Firth's character losing his longtime lover in a car crash) and puts Julianne Moore (playing Firth's fun-loving best gal pal) in line for gold, but that's a grand prediction to make considering Ford's entirely unproven directorial talents."
Outcome: Perhaps we should have been more grand. Ford's "A Single Man" premiered at Venice to raves, won the fest's best actor prize, and then headed to Toronto to quickly become the only major awards discovery out of any of these festivals so far. While landing on the best picture top ten might be a stretch for this artful, somewhat uncommercial film, nods for stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore (and art direction and costume design) seem like good possibilities.
5. Did "The Road"'s delays actually suggest anything about how good it is?
Suggestion: "It'll be better than most of us might have thought, but too bleak to make a serious play for Oscar's big categories."
Outcome: Critical response was quite intensely mixed, but those who liked it seemed to really like it. That said, it's hard to take the film seriously as a major Oscar contender just yet - we'll have to wait until late November to see how the film's theatrical release is met both publicly and critically before making confident judgements. At this point, though, the Weinsteins' "Road" to Oscar might be long and hard.
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6. Will "Bright Star"'s buzz translate Stateside?
Suggestion: "'Star" is met with critical approval and struggles to keep buzzing as the competition heats up."
Outcome: Jane Campion's film was certainly met warmly at both Toronto and Telluride, but did stand in the shadow of the much more accessible (and also female friendly) "Precious" and "An Education." Still, the Academy has long history of rewarding period fare in a similar vein as "Bright Star," so I'd consider pencilling the film onto the best picture top ten, and maybe adding in Abbie Cornish's lead performance while at it.
7. Is this really the year of Matt Damon?
Suggestion: Noting it was actually a two-part question, and one that can only be fully answered once we get a look at Damon's work in Clint Eastwood's Nelson Mandela biopic "Invictus" much later in the year - we suggested the first part would be met with a resounding "yes" when Damon's performance in Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" debuted in Venice and Toronto.
Outcome: Damon's work in the film was certainly singled out by most critics, but "The Informant!"'s buzz overall wasn't as strong as some might have expected. The film has already opened in theaters (to decent but unspectacular numbers), so it might be challenging for Damon to hold on to buzz in what could become a very competitive lead actor category. Though if he's really strong in "Invictus," it could remind voters of his work here as well.
8. Can Jason Reitman do it again?
Suggestion: "Toronto crowds love it, and Reitman and Clooney are both sent into the fall on every online awards prognosticator's current prediction list."
Outcome: "Up In The Air" was far and away the biggest awards contender to premiere at any of these fests. Critics loved it, audiences loved it, and it has cemented itself as a major force for this awards season. Nods across all the major categories - from best picture to best director to acting nods for George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and maybe even Vera Farmiga - seem like pretty good bets.
9. What film we've never really heard of will all of a sudden be a major contender?
Suggestion: "Something like 100 films up for North American acquisition and its assured that a couple of them are going to come out of the fests with a distributor and an Oscar campaign-in-waiting," noting specifically Dagur Kári's "The Good Heart," Jon Amiel's "Creation" and Neil Jordan's "Ondine."
Outcome: None of those mentioned films have been picked up out of the fest yet, and they don't stand alone - add Rodrigo García's "Mother and Child," Niki Caro's "The Vinter's Luck," Don Roos' "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," Brian Koppelman and David Levien's "Solitary Man," and Tim Blake Nelson's "Leaves of Grass" to that list. Granted, most of them probably will get picked up sooner or later, but that's not the point. Even if they do, they would never be classfied as major awards contenders. Besides "A Single Man," which was far from something "we'd never really heard of" before it premiered, no acquisition title made the kind of splash that could make it a "major contender." The closest thing to joining "Single Man" is Aaron Schneider's "Get Low," picked up by Sony Pictures Classics yesterday. Though it's still unclear whether "Get Low" will come out before year's end, if it does, it could very well land nods for stars Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. However, it certainly won't become the sort of awards season juggernaut we've seen come out of Toronto in the past.
10. Is the Toronto-Venice-Telluride trifecta still the awards launch pad it once was?
Suggestion: "The mere suggestion that these festivals don't matter in terms of awards season is a bit much - I can't forsee a near future when they won't. But their role might continue to become a little less dominant as distributors try and pinch more pennies."
Outcome: One year does not necessarily an overall trend make, but this particular year was definitely not a great moment for these fests' designation as a launch pad for awards contenders. Aforementioned "Up In The Air," and to much lesser extents "A Single Man," "The Informant," "The Road," and "Get Low," could all get notices (as could the as-yet-unmentioned "A Serious Man," directed by the Coen brothers and the source of probably the greatest critical acclaim of any Toronto premiere), but it looks like a lot of the biggest awards season '09 players will either have been launched at another festival (most notably Sundance, which with "Precious" and "An Education" could have its biggest Oscars yet), or waited to premiere after the fact. So for those who went into these past few weeks hungry for some answers, things are still a lot more, well, up in the air, then they might have hoped.
Get the latest on this year's award season at indieWIRE's new awards page.