Some of the biggest films at TIFF have been near-misses more than hits; but I'm also happy to report there were more than a few that should attract both healthy box office returns and critical approval.
- Gary Oldman stars in Darkest Hour
his portrayal of Winston Churchill. We've seen some superb Churchills already this year—John Lithgow in The Crown and Brian Cox in Churchill—but Oldman takes Churchill to a new level, chronicling the influential statesman's most challenging hours, including his call to evacuate Dunkirk. Speaking of which, Darkest Hour is a perfect companion piece to Dunkirk, released this past July, which will probably secure a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
- Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Current War
This film is smart, its sets are gorgeous and its CGI wizardry is top-level; and along with two fabulous lead performances from Cumberbatch and Shannon, The Current War is a real winner and awards contender.
Also of note is the fact that powerhouse distributor The Weinstein Company is promoting The Current War, and the Weinsteins wrote the book on how to twist enough arms to get an Oscar nod.
- Andrew Garfield at the premiere of Breathe
Stronger is still another tear-jerker, this time starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, the man who lost his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and became an integral part of the hunt for those responsible for the terrorist attack. After the drama subsides, Bauman's recovery and reemergence are a testament of to what the human body and spirit are capable of.
The Upside, an Americanized remake of the French hit, The Intouchables stars Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, and that alone is worth the price of admission. This film is a buddy comedy about an unlikely friendship between a rich quadriplegic (Cranston) and a working-class caregiver (Hart). The film has several flaws but none of them cast a shadow on the brilliance of Kevin Hart. Along with Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, Hart is a member of an exclusive club of funny people who can readily elevate the most dramatic of stories. We're going be seeing Hart in more serious dramas.
I never thought it would be possible to miscast Denzel Washington (I'm among those who would pay to see Washington in anything). Unfortunately, in Roman Israel Esq., Washington just doesn't ring true as an idealistic lawyer, adrift in a messy legal tangle with a richer, slicker, more ruthless attorney (Colin Farrell).
- George Clooney at the premiere of Suburbicon
The bad news first. Suburbicon, directed by George Clooney, written by the Coen Brothers and starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore was ultimately disappointing. The film features parallel story lines: one a fully fleshed-out, wickedly funny and typical Coen Brothers tale - kind of a mash-up of Fargo and Double Indemnity.
The other story line involves a race riot occurring across from the street from the first story. Unfortunately, this second story line is slight and underdeveloped and, as a result, the entire enterprise is diluted. As I talked to people, exiting the screening of Suburbicon, the recurring comment I heard was, "Yeah, I kinda liked it, but...."
Finally, some good news about Downsizing, again starring Matt Damon but this time along with Kristen Wiig and Christoph Waltz. Written and directed by the amazing Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants, Election, About Schmidt), Downsizing is about people shrinking themselves to live much richer, satisfying lives—or so they think. The press screening I attended left more than a few critics rather nonchalant about Downsizing, but I really, really liked it. After attending a second screening with a paying audience who greeted the film with a standing ovation, my earlier optimism was confirmed.