The dust has finally settled on this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and — as always — a few major questions about this year’s Oscar race have been cleared up as a result. While the festival didn’t seem to trump itself much after altering its premiere status rules to try and take more credit for world-premiering major titles, a lot of Oscar buzz — whether it originated there or not — was heightened (or deflated) in Toronto. Here are five major takeaways in that regard (and check out our updated prediction charts with a few new categories added):
1. “The Imitation Game” is in. Following the exact same trajectory as “The King’s Speech” and “12 Years a Slave,” this biopic of British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing went from a loud premiere in Telluride to an even louder one in Toronto, ending off the festival by taking home its People’s Choice Award. Can it, like those two aforementioned films, take home Oscar’s biggest prize? It definitely doesn’t have that kind of momentum right now, but it can’t be ruled out — and an actual Best Picture nomination (not to mention noms for stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley) seems close to certain.
2. Probably so is “The Theory of Everything.” A few days into the festival we wrote this piece about who was winning “the battle of the British genius biopics.” World-premiering in Toronto (one major film the festival can take full credit for), “Everything” takes on the story of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and the relationship he had with his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones). The reviews and audience reaction were essentially on par with “The Imitation Game,” and we called it a draw. The race is open enough at this point to suggest both films — and their main actors — can get in, but winning the festival’s People’s Choice prize definitely gives “Imitation” a bit more game now. “Theory” is going have to push hard to catch up.
3. The Best Actress race is no longer lonely, and has a frontrunner. Another premature call we made in Toronto was suggesting the Best Actress race remained a one woman show so far. After the festival’s first few days, Reese Witherspoon’s performance in “Wild” (which premiered in Telluride) was seemingly the Best Actress race’s only sure thing. The aforementioned “Theory of Everything” adds a potential second to that count (if they do indeed campaign Felicity Jones as a lead), but a film with little buzz going into the fest shook things up considerably beyond that: “Still Alice.” Starring Julianne Moore as a woman battling early onset Alzheimer’s, talk of the film’s Oscar potential skyrocketed during the festival’s typically quiet second half when Sony Pictures Classics acquired it for a 2014 awards run. Given Moore’s devastating and layered portrayal is among her career’s best and the fact Moore herself has never won after multiple nominations, it’s safe to call her the current frontrunner to win. But then again, there’s still quite a few films still to come.
4. “Men, Women & Children” will not put Jason Reitman back in the awards hunt. Another world premiere Toronto had the ultimate displeasure in taking credit for was Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children.” After being a consistent presence in the Oscar hunt thanks to “Juno” and “Up In The Air,” Reitman fell out with both “Young Adult” and “Labor Day.” His latest seems incredibly unlikely to break that cold streak. Reviews were tepid at best, with most quick to call it the director’s worst film.
5. Sony Pictures Classics might just be this year’s indie distributor Oscar MVP. While the folks at Sony Classics have almost always had one or two significant horses in the Oscar race (“Blue Jasmine” and “Before Midnight” last year, “Amour” and “Searching For Sugar Man” the year before), it seems like 2014 is shaping up to be a banner year for their films as far as Oscar goes. “Foxcatcher,” “Whiplash” and “Mr. Turner” all came to Toronto after debuts at Sundance or Cannes, and all three saw their buzz find a major boost. And then came “Still Alice,” which the company smartly picked up to give them major contenders in all four acting races. At this point, Moore, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo (both for “Foxcatcher”), Timothy Spall (“Mr. Turner”) and J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) all seem like very safe bets, with Channing Tatum, Vanessa Redgrave (“Foxcatcher”), Kristen Stewart (“Still Alice,” and we’re very serious) and Dorothy Atkinson (“Mr. Turner”) outside contenders to join them. The Weinstein Company and Fox Searchlight both have a lot of potential this year, too (TWC has “The Imitation Game” and “Big Eyes,” among others, Searchlight has “Wild,” “Birdman” and “Grand Budapest Hotel”), but at this point it seems like Sony Classics could trump them both when it comes to overall nomination counts.
Check out Indiewire’s latest chart of Oscar predictions here.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.