Toronto ’12 Wrap Up: Which movies helped their Oscar chances? Is Silver Linings Playbook the film to beat? – AWARDS ANALYSIS

By Sean O’Connell My approach to the Toronto International Film Festival was slightly different from years past. Instead of pausing between screenings to comment on films as they played, I sprinted from one movie to the next, collecting impressions like a kid gathering colorful Easter eggs on a Sunday morning hunt.

Oscars: Is Silver Linings Playbook the film to beat?

As a result, I was able to cram 20 movies and a handful of engaging interview opportunities into my five-day Toronto stay. I left TIFF this year with a clearer picture of the ongoing Oscar race (but also acknowledge that there are still so many films left to debut … some of which we’ll see at the New York Film Festival later this month).

So, which movie helped their Oscar causes by screening in Toronto? Let’s run through the top titles, and see what kind of buzz they were able to generate.

“The Silver Linings Playbook”
When The Weinstein Company opted to skip Telluride, Toronto became a very important “first step” for David O. Russell’s dark comedy. And by all accounts, “Playbook” hit a home run. With no tangible way to measure, I’d say this was the most buzzed about film following a Saturday evening screening. Key Oscar bloggers sang the praises of Russell’s cast, with Jennifer Lawrence suddenly viewed as the frontrunner in the Best Actress category on certain Oscar-tracking Web sites. Based on the success of Russell’s “The Fighter,” you can expect to hear a lot more about “Silver Linings” as the awards season rolls on.

“The Master”
Another film likely to generate multiple Oscars nominations, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” screened in glorious 70mm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theater to critical acclaim ahead of its Sept. 14 release. The loudest praise swirled around the film’s lead performances – with Joaqin Phoenix slightly edging out Philip Seymour Hoffman in the “Wow” factor, and Amy Adams also generating raves for her supporting turn. Did the film do enough to compete for a Best Picture slot? It will be interesting to see how “The Master” is received by ticket buyers once it enters the marketplace.

Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort, on the other hand, seemed to solidify its chances at a valuable Best Picture nomination with a very strong showing in Toronto (followed by its celebrated bow in Telluride). If there’s a single complaint about “Argo,” it’s that the ensemble is so powerf, no one stands out as an obvious lock for an Oscar nomination. We’ll see how the season plays out, but Picture, Director, Screenplay and a few technical nods seem more than possible.

“Cloud Atlas”
TIFF audiences either loved this sprawling adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel, or they loathed it. There was very little “in-between” reaction. The cast is uniformly spectacular, though if anyone’s bound to emerge from the pack and contend for an Oscar nom, it’s either Tom Hanks (in the Best Actor category) or Jim Broadbent (in the Best Supporting Actor category). The film seems to be a lock for numerous technical nods, as co-directors Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski have concocted a visual wonderland connected through discussion-worthy threads about fate, hope and love. If the Academy embraces it, the sky could be the limit for “Cloud Atlas.”

“Anna Karenina”
My favorite film at TIFF. Joe Wright and Keira Knightley collaborate once again – after “Atonement” and “Pride & Prejudice” – on an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s complicated work of classic Russian literature. But Wright continues to challenge himself visually, introducing live theater elements into his cinematic effort, and Knightley taps into the heartwrenchingly romantic vibes of Tolstoy’s work. Excellent performances by Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in support. Multiple Oscar nominations are possible for this thrilling, artistic adaptation.

“The Sapphires”
A crowd-pleaser, “The Sapphires” easily could turn into an awards contender because it’s going to be pushed by the mighty Weinstein Company. While major categories like Picture and Director seem out of reach, Chris O’Dowd has a scene-stealing role as a drunken music manager who guides four Aboriginal singers to stardom. Think Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own” (or, for that matter, “That Thing You Do!”)

“The Impossible”
My second-favorite TIFF film, though it’s unclear at the moment if “The Impossible” is an awards player or just a sure-fire box-office play. Naomi Watts is terrific as the mother of a family vacationing in Thailand when the 2004 tsunami hits. If the film finds itself in the Oscar race, director J.A. Bayona’s outstanding production design work in recreating a devastated Thailand could earn the film multiple nods.

The Previous Festival Hits:
Several films which played earlier fests, from Cannes to Sundance, continued their campaigns in Toronto. Movies like Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” Pablo Larrain’s “No,” Walter Salles “On the Road,” Ben Lewin’s “The Sessions” played to balanced raves. Very few did much to distance themselves from the Oscar pack. If you thought Helen Hunt and John Hawkes were locks for Oscar noms back in Sundance, you still think so after TIFF. At the same time, none of the above-mentioned films tarnished their awards reputations with poor showings in Toronto, so that’s a form of a win.

The Jury’s Still Out:
Multiple films played to mixed reviews in TIFF, leaving their Oscar chances in limbo for the time being. Those who loved Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” say Greta Gerwig’s in play for Best Actress (and possibly Screenplay). “Hyde Park on the Hudson” is believed to be an Oscar contender, though it didn’t play well with most of the Oscar trackers I spoke with. To me, it does feel admittedly light for an Oscar contender, though thinner films have made the cut in the past. And the surprise of the fest might have been Ezra Miller in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” He was fantastic in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” He’s fantastic in “Perks.” Will Summit realize this and begin a campaign? Time will tell.

Read more of our exclusive Toronto coverage:
Our “Silver Linings Playbook” review!
Ben Affleck’s “Argo” scores
Rian Johnson’s “Looper” reviewed
“Amour” amazes, “Rust & Bone” ultimately delivers
TIFF: The Day Before the Madness

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