TIFF: Oscar Buzz Report

Some of the winding down for the Toronto International Film Festival began mid-week, as the major films tend to be here for the first seven days. That said, I saw some very good pictures in the days that bring the fest to a close. I quite liked The Young Victoria, in which Emily Blunt gives a very fine performance as the young monarch in the days that shaped her as one of Britain's greatest monarchs. Directed by Canada's Jean-Marc Vallee, the picture has great momentum, but it is Blunt that carries the load throughout.

Vallee gave us the incredible Canadian film C.R.A.Z.Y. a few years back, a stunning study of a Montreal family that spans two decades and explores the ups and downs of their lives, the little victories and terrible tragedies that impact their lives. I would like to say that The Young Victoria allowed the Quebec-born filmmaker to grow, but sadly I cannot - without Blunt one wonders what the film would be.

The Young Victoria is the Closing Night Gala for this year's fest, a slot that has a dubious history as there has yet to be a great film close the festival. In recent years junk such as the dreadful, never released Kenneth Branagh mess, How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog has closed the fest, leaving us wondering why end with whimper and not a bang? To me the closing night film is of equal importance to the opener because it ends the fest - and things should end on a high note. Though The Young Victoria is without question the finest closing night picture I have seen in many a year, it is still not that Oscar caliber work we expect.

The best of the fest for me by far was the brilliant, unsettling drama Precious, which stunned those who saw it and left the festival with major Oscar buzz for all concerned (Oprah Winfrey flew in for the film's premiere). I have to tell you though I am bothered by the fact most of the attention from the press went to Winfrey who had nothing to do with making the movie. My understanding is that she saw the film after it was finished and believed her name could add some weight to the thing, so got involved. At the press conference most of the questions were directed towards her despite the fact the actors (so brilliant) and director were sitting right beside her. I get that Winfrey is a major personality, but is she a major film personality? Her performance in The Color Purple was Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but her work in the otherwise brilliant Beloved was the weakest element of the film. With Angelea Bassett in the lead role of that film, you have a searing work of art, with Winfrey something only average.

Will her attachment to the film give the picture more attention? Of course it will, but does the film need it? I personally do not think so because the film is astonishing, in the way Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull was astonishing -- brilliant, dark, uncompromising, giving us a glimpse into a a life that simply should not be as it is. The performances make the film, along with the courage of Lee Daniels, the director who gives the film an authentic street feel. Come Oscar time expect to hear from Precious, if the Academy has the courage to honor the work.

The Best Actor race began here: George Clooney in Up in the Air, Matt Damon in The Informant!, Robert Duvall in Get Low, possibly Edward Norton in Leaves of Grass, and Colin Firth in A Single Man all could land in the race for the Oscar as the year's Best Actor. Duvall needs his film Get Low to find distribution, but if it does, he becomes the frontrunner for the award. Clooney should also be a shoo-in for a nomination for his wonderful work for Jason Reitman in Up in the Air, while Matt Damon does some of the finest work of his career in The Informant!.

Is Mo'Nique going to be the first Oscar winner with a single name since Cher in Moonstruck? The actress, who gives a towering, toxic performance as the abusive mother in Precious seems headed for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

And it was nice to see Amanda Seyfried break through with a strong performance in Chloe for director Atom Egoyan. No lightweight, she is the real deal.

More to come.

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