The first week of Toronto has been fairly underwhelming, with only a handful of talked about films emerging from the fest so far, while some of the more hyped entries have disappointed. In terms of Oscar contenders (fair or not, the fall festivals always serve as a starting point for critics to point out what's likely to last through winter), there seems to be some possibility for The Theory of Everything, the Stephen Hawking biopic, which was very well received by audiences there, and garnered buzz mostly for its two leads, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. I can't tell if this will be a major contender or not- while the audience reaction was great, the actual reviews have been more on the respectful side, ranging from mixed to positive. My guess right now would be that it's a play for the two actors mostly, in the vein of Dallas Buyers Club, but hey, that ended up getting in for Best Picture as well, so I guess we ought to at least keep our eye on it.
"Hawking's innovations and refusal to subscribe to outdated modes of thinking merely underscore the utter conventionality of his film biography." (The Wrap)
"A stirring and bittersweet love story, inflected with tasteful good humour..." (Variety)
"A solid, duly moving account of their complicated relationship, spanning roughly 25 years, and made with impeccable polish." (Hollywood Reporter)
Another standout seemed to be Jake Gyllenhaal's Nightcrawler, a dark thriller that drew comparisons to everything from Taxi Driver and Network to Drive (which I hated, so it doesn't exactly make me excited to see this). Most of the buzz also expressed that it probably won't be an awards contender though, aside from a possible screenplay nod, although Gyllenhaal was highly praised in the leading role.
"Gyllenhaal's performance is so dedicated, and Gilroy's world so determinedly realized that is forces its way to originality." (Observer UK)
"A fantastic, sleek and fun satire." (Film.com)
Now for the disappointments. Robert Downey Jr.'s The Judge turned out to be exactly what it was advertized as in those trailers. A sappy, overly sentimental tearjerker that already seems to be being written off by major critics, even as some remark that it could still be a hit with audiences (and the leads in RDJ and Robert Duvall praised overall). I couldn't really expect much, considering the director David Dobkin's best movie is Wedding Crashers.
"'Expendables 3' has fewer nauseating cliches than 'The Judge.'" (Film.com)
"An engrossing, unwieldy hurricane of a movie that plays like a small-town courtroom thriller by way of a testosterone-fueld remake of 'August: Osage County.'" (Variety)
Finally, St. Vincent, a vehicle for the great Bill Murray in his first starring role in a while, seemed to get another mixed-positive reaction (there's been lots of those this year) as Murray stars as a cranky old man who befriends a 12-year-old kid. It frankly sounds unbearable, but some think it could get enough attention to land Murray an Oscar nomination (his first since Lost in Translation). I sort of doubt it, because Best Actor is, as always, incredibly crowded and usually depends on the correlation between actor and picture- and this movie's coming nowhere near Best Picture. But it might be fun to check out for Bill Murray alone.
"Amusing enough as long as Bill Murray sticks to his mean and ornery act but ultimately reveals its true self as a film equivalent of the gooey 1971 Ray Stevens song 'Everything is Beautiful.'" (Hollywood Reporter)
"It plays out like a best-of album: safe, fun, but inessential if you're already familiar with the back catalogue." (Guardian)
I'll be back on Thursday with a second roundup that will examine some of the movies that came to Toronto but already played at Telluride, since I didn't get around to a summary of that three day fest from last week. Until then!