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Toronto 2012: The promise, pitfalls of potential Oscar contenders

September 03, 2012|By Glenn Whipp
(Laurie Sparham/Focus Features…)

“The Artist” played there. So did “The King’s Speech.” In fact, six of the past seven best picture Oscar winners gained awards-season momentum at the Toronto International Film Festival, which launches Thursday. One, “The Hurt Locker,” even found a distributor there.

How will this year’s contenders fare? We chart the potential for promise and pitfalls among some of the higher-profile titles screening there over the next 10 days.

ARGO

Premise: CIA agents pose as film crew to rescue U.S. diplomats in Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

Pedigree: Director Ben Affleck’s two previous efforts were both well-regarded Oscar bridesmaids. Cast includes Oscar winner Alan Arkin, small-screen awards magnets Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler.

Best case: Talk of Affleck the auteur deepens. Voters embrace thriller’s hooray-for-Hollywood comic elements.

Worst case: Talk of Affleck needing to stick to Beantown genre projects deepens. Affleck’s Seventies-style haircut draws bigger laughs than Arkin.

ANNA KARENINA

Premise: Forlorn wife (Keira Knightley) of aristocrat begins hot-and-heavy affair with dashing cavalry officer in latest adaptation of the great Tolstoy novel.

Pedigree: Previous collaborations between director Joe Wright and Knightley — “Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement” — have found favor. Tom Stoppard writing the screenplay doesn’t hurt.

Best case: Film’s single-setting conceit puts revelatory new spin on familiar material.

Worst case: Critics spend more time carping about what was cut from the book than praising what’s on the screen.

CLOUD ATLAS

Premise: Six interwoven tales set in past, present, future reveal truths about the human condition.

Pedigree: Filmmakers (Lana and Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer) known for infusing spectacle with deep thoughts. Cast full of Oscar perennials: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent.

Best case: Audiences find movie both a thrilling ride and an illumination of the nature of reality.

Worst case: Audiences remain hopelessly confused by film’s tricky narrative structure.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

Premise: Bill Murray plays Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a slice of history set as the president meets England’s King George VI on the eve of WWII.

Pedigree: Murray’s lone Oscar nomination: “Lost in Translation.” Co-star Laura Linney, playing FDR’s distant cousin and confidante, owns three Oscar noms.

Best case: Murray forced to grudgingly return to Oscar ceremony. Might even be seen clapping.

Worst case: Film overshadowed by season’s other presidential portrait, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

THE MASTER

Premise: Alcoholic drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) forms complicated relationship with the leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of a fledgling spiritual movement.

Pedigree: Hoffman won lead actor Oscar for “Capote” in 2005, the same year Phoenix was nominated for “Walk the Line.” Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a five-time nominee.

Best case: Weinstein marketing magic makes movie a must-see event; audience response matches critical hosannas.

Worst case: Talk centers on L. Ron Hubbard’s beliefs rather than Anderson’s artistry.

THE SESSIONS

Premise: Journalist/poet (John Hawkes) hires therapeutic sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help with virginity issues.

Pedigree: Hawkes won nom for “Winter’s Bone” baddie; co-star Hunt took Oscar 15 years ago for “As Good as It Gets.”

Best case: Film continues to build on Sundance raves, where it took two prizes. Hawkes and Hunt solidify places in Oscar races.

Worst case: Pic’s lack of visual panache detracts from performances. Buzz focuses more on revelations of skin than character.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Premise: Football-obsessed former high school teacher (Bradley Cooper) leaves mental health facility, partners with eccentric neighbor (Jennifer Lawrence) to win back ex-wife (Brea Bree).

Pedigree: Writer-director David O. Russell’s last movie, “The Fighter,” won six nominations, including nods for pic and director and a win for Christian Bale.

Best case: Russell succeeds in fashioning an emotionally accessible adaptation of the quirky source material. Cooper and Lawrence dazzle; Robert De Niro, playing Cooper’s dad, reasserts acting chops.

Worst case: Russell succeeds in fashioning a fascinating adaptation ... but it divides audiences a la his “I Heart Huckabees.”

TO THE WONDER

Premise: Romantic drama about a man (Ben Affleck) reconnecting with hometown sweetheart (Rachel McAdams) after marriage to a Parisian woman (Olga Kurylenko) goes kaput.

Pedigree: It’s Terrence Malick’s shockingly fast follow-up to “The Tree of Life,” which scored Oscar noms for picture and director just last year.

Best case: The currently unsold film wows audiences and wins a passionate distributor eager to put promotional muscle behind the movie, be it this year or next.

Worst case: People complain that Malick makes too many movies.

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