With Some Oscar Buzz and Few Technical Glitches, the 2020 Toronto Film Festival Makes It Work

With Some Oscar Buzz and Few Technical Glitches, the 2020 Toronto Film Festival Makes It Work

Yes, I’d say that Nomadland is the best thing I’ve seen of the festival offerings so far. And it probably would have been last year, and could easily have been next year. So I’ve introduced the concept of the asterisk only to now swat it away. Is that a strawman?

Elsewhere, I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by films that once seemed poised to hit big. Ammonite, a period romance from the director of the new queer classic God’s Own Country, landed with a damp thud for me. Francis Lee’s film is too reserved, an effort in restraint that overdoes it and smothers the whole exercise. Which is a shame, because Kate Winslet really is quite good in the movie. I suspect her performance will endure as an awards hopeful all the way to next spring, but the film will probably have to rely on her as its sole standard-bearer.

One performance from TIFF that I absolutely adored was Winslet’s countrywoman Rosamund Pike in I Care a Lot, a nifty, nasty thriller from J Blakeson. While Pike has done good work in projects like Hostiles and A Private War, her post–Gone Girl career has been aching for a role like this one, an amoral operator who, through various legal chicaneries, bilks elderly people out of their money. It’s not a sympathetic part, but Pike makes you care (heh) about this sociopath’s survival. Pike is steely, commanding, and darkly funny; it’s such a genuinely cool performance that I got the same giddy feeling watching it as I used to get when a mean, popular kid in school would talk to me. This person’s a monster, sure, but what a dangerous lark to be in her company! The film has yet to land distribution. I hope a good company, with a smart strategy for campaigning Pike, snaps it up.

Which performances in this festival run, other than McDormand’s, have jumped out at you, Katey?

Katey Rich: Well, to loop it right back to Venice, I think we have to talk about Vanessa Kirby, who won the best-actress prize there for her role in Pieces of a Woman, which is playing TIFF as well. (She had a second film at Venice, The World to Come, which for some reason didn’t make it to Toronto, so we’ll have to be a little more patient for that one.) Pieces of a Woman was also picked up by Netflix, which means that audiences can soon decide for themselves if the movie is worth the emotional wallop of its bravura early sequence—or if, as I think we both suspect, they simply shut the whole thing off. It’s a lot to ask anyone to sit through an incredibly realistic childbirth that ends in tragedy, but I do think Kirby makes it worthwhile. Having broken out for most of us as the charismatic Princess Margaret on The Crown, she does real, lived-in work here, making the most of a character who’s shamefully underwritten on the page. Between her, Winslet, and McDormand, it really does feel like we have three strong best-actress Oscar contenders right now, with a mere seven months to go.

To get out of the awards zone a bit, it’s actually possible the best performance I’ve seen at TIFF comes from David Byrne. Like our colleague Jordan Hoffman, who reviewed it, I was completely bowled over by American Utopia, Spike Lee’s filmed version of the show Byrne had running on Broadway earlier this year. It’s kind of magical for all the obvious pandemic reasons—a crowded theater! Live music! People dancing together!—but the show also has power of its own, even though it’s basically a Talking Heads jukebox musical strung together with monologues from Byrne about neural connections in the brain and registering to vote. In kind of the way that you have to see Stop Making Sense to understand what it means to call it the best concert movie of all time, American Utopia really does just need to be experienced— and since it’s debuting on HBO next month, that will be relatively easy to do, unlike with a number of the titles we’re watching this week.

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