It's time to start asking: what will win the Oscar for best film next year? Or maybe it's too early for such questions, but I've just returned from the Toronto International Film Festival, so forgive me for jumping the gun.
As well as being one of the world's largest film festivals -- turning Canada's largest city into a scene of red-carpet events, movie star sightings and long queues of film buffs -- Toronto's major award, the People's Choice Award (sorry, the Blackberry People's Choice Award), can go on to win the Oscar for best film.
Not always, of course. Last year, the winner was an obscure Lebanese film called Where do We Go from Here? (Answer: not very far.) But in the 34 years since the People's Choice Award was presented, it has predicted the Oscars four times. OK, that doesn't sound great, but in 73 years, the Cannes Film Festival's prestigious Palme d'Or, which imbues godlike status of movies, has only twice agreed with the Oscars. What would these hoity-toity Cannes judges know anyway?
Whatever the case, if a movie works in Toronto, it frequently does well at the Oscars -- People's Choice or no People's Choice, best film or other categories.
Awards season will soon be under way, so "pundits" will be making their predictions for the Oscars, based on what the Academy "usually" chooses, which is often based on what they chose last year. Using this impeccable logic, and assuming that the winner is somewhere in the Toronto program, we can safely assume that it will be Blancanieves. Like The Artist, last year's winner, this Spanish film is a silent, black-and-white film set in the 1920s.
Right, now we've settled that, let's start making slightly more intelligent predictions. (Blancanieves has much to recommend it, but it ain't going to win best film. No way that gimmick will work twice in a row.) Firstly, the People's Choice winner was The Silver Linings Playbook, which seems to be in with a chance. Not only did Toronto audiences like it, but it's also a funny, uplifting, triumph-over-adversity story by a renowned but so far Oscar-free writer-director (David O. Russell). It has also been picked up by Hollywood tycoon Harvey Weinstein, who has a genius for Oscar campaigns. In his hands, totally unexpected movies (even The Artist) win the best film Oscar. Either the Academy can't see him coming, or they couldn't care less.
The first runner-up for the People's Choice was Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck. On my first day at the festival, I saw a media screening of Argo, which is based on a true story about a top-secret mission to save a few American hostages from Iran in 1980. This is a powerful historical drama, a gripping thriller and at times, very funny. Sure, there's a theory that the Academy doesn't reward comedies, but they actually love movies that make them laugh. Not comedies, perhaps, but movies with funny bits. Take a look at previous winners. The Artist, The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker (OK, not that one), American Beauty, The Departed (right, I'm starting to lose this argument). Anyway, masses of comic relief (without being essential, perhaps) certainly doesn't hurt.
I suggested that night to one of the local critics (who hadn't yet seen the film) that Argo had a chance of winning both the People's Choice Award and the best film Oscar. He was doubtful about the People's Choice, which doesn't usually go to thrillers, but he was willing to concede that it might win the Oscar. (I assume that he's seen the film since then, but I haven't had a chance to ask.) On day three, the front page of The Hollywood Reporter had an essay speculating that Argo might be bound for Oscar glory, proving that I wasn't the only one with such theories.
A few days later, Variety vaguely suggested that Cloud Atlas was in with a chance. This is an epic film with an all-star international cast, so most of the Academy is bound to know someone. Just to be certain, it even has three writer-directors: the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer. It's daring, complex and well made. Oh, and it's science fiction. In their 83-year existence, the Academy has never given their top prize to a science fiction film, which is why (follow me on this) it might win. They want to show that they are all-inclusive. They've rewarded horror (once -- The Silence of the Lambs) and fantasy (once -- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), so one day they might reward the geeks' other favorite genre (once). Now might be the time.
Cloud Atlas will probably win something at the Oscars. Special effects, of course. Make-up, because all the stars play multiple roles and are often unrecognisable (including Halle Berry as a white Jewish woman and Susan Sarandon as a man). If it gets best director, that would be cool, because three people could share the honour (and Lana Wachowski would be the second woman to win the award, even though she used to be male). Best film? Well, if Slumdog Millionaire could win, anything's possible. Still, the film has divided critics, and the way that the Oscars' voting system works, it helps if nobody dislikes it.
Then there's The Master, worth mentioning because, of all the films at TIFF, it's the one the critics seem to love the most. It's directed by a renowned-but-unrewarded auteur (Paul Thomas Anderson), and is based on the life of a figure dear to the hearts of many in Hollywood: L. Ron Hubbard. No, sorry, it's "not the L. Ron Hubbard story", insists Anderson. It's about someone entirely fictional. OK, that's settled. (Just don't ask Tom Cruise to present this one.)
However, the critics' favorite rarely wins the Oscar for best film. The Master might have an even greater role: as the film that critics can mention as proof that the Academy's always wrong. It will probably win something, however. Philip Seymour Hoffman (who doesn't play Hubbard, no way) is a possibility, though he's won before. My guess is an acting trophy for Joaquin Phoenix as one of his disciples, or even more likely, Amy Adams (who has already had three nominations) for best actress in a supporting role.
So which of these films will win? Will it be one of the above, or The Impossible, The Sapphires, Quartet... or something else we haven't seen yet? Sure, perhaps it's too early to say. Time to finish this article.
In the meantime, here's my favorite scene from any movie at TIFF this year. Well, the scene's not online yet, but the song and the singer are the same... so close enough.