By Leah Hochbaum Rosner
It isn’t time for the Oscars just yet, but that’s just a trifling detail. September triggers the award blitz, with recent film fests wrapping in Montreal, Venice and Toronto (in that order) — all three of which are hoping its top winner will emerge victorious come Oscar night.
At the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which was held September 6-15, Juno, a quirky comedy about a pregnant teen, and Lars and the Real Girl, an unlikely love story about a man and his life-sized sex doll, emerged as audience favorites, effectively stealing the spotlight from prestige pictures such as Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which were expected to shine.
The event, which is a presentation of the Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG), a charitable, non-profit, cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world through the moving image, screened a total 349 films from 55 countries. Other critics’ picks included the Sean Penn-directed Into the Wild and the Brad Pitt-starring The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Big winners at the fest’s awards reception included David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, which won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize for a story about a Russian mobster who falls in love with a midwife, and Encarnacion, the story of an aging B-list actress who returns home to the life she once fled, which won the Artistic Innovation Award.
The Montreal World Film Festival, which ended September 3, had a tie for the top prize. Nic Balthazar’s Dutch-language film Ben X, the story of a mildly autistic boy who plays video games to escape from being bullied at school, and Claude Miller’s A Secret, which follows a Jewish family during the course of World War II and beyond, both won the Grand Prix prize. In addition, Ben X also took home the Audience award and the Ecumenical prize.
The Special Grand Prix of the jury was awarded to Ayelet Menahemi’s Noodle, which tells the tale of a lonely El Al flight attendant, her similarly lonely sister, and a Chinese boy who’s left in their care by his soon-to-be deported mother.
But while the Montreal Film Fest played host to smaller films, this year’s 64th annual Venice Film Festival, which ran from August 29-September 8, was a star-studded affair. Cate Blanchett won the Best Actress award for her turn as Bob Dylan in biopic I’m Not There. Brad Pitt was named Best Actor for the aforementioned Jesse James picture. Brian De Palma won the Silver Lion award for Best Director for Iraq War film Redacted, which tells the fictitious and brutal tale of a group of U.S. soldiers who rape and kill an Iraqi girl.
But the night’s biggest statuette, the Golden Lion, went to Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, a love story set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the 1940s. U.S. director Tim Burton — who’s helmed such macabre movies as Corpse Bride, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and the upcoming film adaptation of Broadway musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street — was also honored with a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Interestingly, Italian movies did not do well with the jury and received little attention from the local press. On the other hand, Toronto hosted quite a few Italian stars and featured a few good movies that received a lot of attention from the media.
Reportedly, TIFF is taking the sail off the upcoming Roma Fest next month in Italy by having upstaged all the good Italian films.
While it’s still anybody’s guess who’ll come out on top come Oscar night, these three festivals usually have a knack for predicting which films will go home with statues and which will go home empty-handed. Let the awards season begin!