I have just returned from Toronto and as promised, here is a sequel to my personal list of the best performances at this year’s festival, which was unusually strong this year, perhaps as a result of cutting back the number of films by roughly 20 percent.
As usual, there was no shortage of talent on display in Toronto, and we now have a much clearer idea about several Oscar races. Best Actress, for example, is looking like a very competitive category this year, and we’re still waiting for films like I, Tonya and Hostiles to receive official release dates, if they come out this year at all.
Keep in mind, the list below is comprised solely of performances that I personally managed to see in Toronto. Our own Ed Douglas saw a bunch of other movies featuring a different set of strong performances, including Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman), Breathe (Andrew Garfield), Woman Walks Ahead (Jessica Chastain), Novitiate (Melissa Leo), Chappaquiddick (Jason Clarke), Borg/McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) and Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (Liam Neeson). That’s why you won’t see them on this list, though I’m sure Ed will have plenty to say in our Toronto recap, which is coming soon.
If you’re still in Toronto, you have a couple more days to seek those films and performances out, while everyone else will have to wait a little while longer for these titles to hit theaters. Without further ado, here are 13 more memorable performances from TIFF. Enjoy…
James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
The Room director Tommy Wiseau might have suggested Johnny Depp play him in the movie of his life, but I’d argue he lucked out with James Franco, whose performance had me from “Hi, Mark.” Franco is laughing with Wiseau here, not at him. He doesn’t treat Tommy like a joke, or The Room like a punchline. There’s genuine affection behind The Disaster Artist, and it shows in the onscreen friendship between Tommy and his best friend Greg Sestero, played by Dave Franco — who is most likely James Franco’s best friend in life. You can say this movie looks dumb. You can say you don’t get the joke. You can even say it’s too insider-y, who the hell is going to see this!?! But all I can say is, you have to see The Disaster Artist. I loved it, and it’s because Franco sells it by committing to the character, no matter how silly it seems. If he isn’t rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination, I’ll demand an immediate investigation into the HFPA.
Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Frances McDormand is a real firecracker in this movie. She’s just a beast. Her Mildred Hayes kind of reminds me of Anton Chigurh in that she keeps coming and coming, but she’s on the opposite side of justice as a grieving mother desperate for answers. With the right campaign, McDormand should be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. If only there was a category for Best Cursing, it’d be a real showdown between her and I, Tonya star Allison Janney. Now, Sam Rockwell is less of a sure thing, but boy is he good in Three Billboards as a cop with a decent heart hiding beneath a racist exterior. Whereas McDormand has already won an Oscar for Fargo, Rockwell has never quite received the recognition he deserves. The supporting actor field is still taking shape, but Rockwell has to be considered part of the conversation after this. He’s too good to ignore.
Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Sally Hawkins will almost certainly be nominated for playing a mute cleaning lady in Guillermo del Toro’s aquatic romance, and not because it’s a gimmick, but because her performance is a genuine delight. And yet, if I had to pick my favorite performance in the film — which is stacked to the gills (pardon the pun) with Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg — it would have to be Richard Jenkins as Hawkins’ gay neighbor/roommate Giles. His crush on the local pie store employee reminds me of William H. Macy’s crush on “Brad” with the braces in Magnolia. Jenkins is pitch-perfect here, but you have to pay attention to appreciate his greatness, so don’t get distracted by the fishman. Del Toro clearly sees himself as an outsider of sorts, which is why he does such a great job with this tale of forbidden love between two creatures who are both perceived as “different.”
Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
These two actresses are both excellent as mother and daughter in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut. Lady Bird and her mother have a complicated relationship — “half warm, half scary” to paraphrase one character — and Ronan and Metcalf play their parts to perfection. Metcalf hasn’t had a movie role this juicy in years and she reminds us all how talented she is, while Ronan never backs down and goes toe-to-toe with her. Ronan is 23 years old, but this is a “teenage” performance right up there with Jason Schwarzman’s breakout turn in Rushmore. We’ll call Ronan a shoo-in for a Golden Globe nomination, but Metcalf has a better shot at an Oscar nomination, and you can bet that A24 will campaign hard on her behalf.
Denzel Washington and Carmen Ejogo (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)
Dan Gilroy’s new film may run off the rails towards the end, but there’s no denying how good Denzel is here as an ethically conflicted attorney. Every actor is looking for a character they can really sink their teeth into, and Roman J. Israel, Esq. offers Washington a great canvass to paint on. I may not like where this story ultimately goes, but Denzel does a heck of a job getting it there. And yet… while this film is too long already… I wanted more of Carmen Ejogo, playing an activist who Denzel fancies. Watching smooth-talking Roman suddenly trip over his words while planning a dinner date with her over the phone is one of the best moments in the movie, and Ejogo’s character seems to bring out a different side of him that I liked spending time with. It’s little moments like that one that matter in a movie, and if I were Sony, I would play up that quasi-romance in the marketing of the film. Ejogo is interesting here, I just wish she had more scenes. If only her character could switch places with Colin Farrell’s during the film’s finale…
Christian Bale and Rory Cochrane (Hostiles)
When was the last time Christian Bale wasn’t great? Even that awful Terminator movie gave us that great audio recording! Well surprise, surprise… Bale is really, really good in Scott Cooper’s Hostiles. He plays a soldier known for killing Native Americans who nonetheless is chosen to escort a Native American chief back to his homeland so he can die in peace. This is ultimately a film about forgiveness, and while it’s a bit long, slow and somber, there’s no doubt that one of Cooper’s strengths is directing actors. After all, he helped Jeff Bridges win an Oscar for Crazy Heart. Cooper also has an interesting eye for casting, and I love that he picked Rory Cochrane to play Bale’s right-hand man. They worked together before on Black Mass, of course, but Cochrane really stands out here among a strong supporting cast that includes Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons and the great Wes Studi. I’d be surprised if this film winds up with a 2017 release, but awards recognition may be its best hope to recoup its $40 million-plus budget.
Vince Vaughn and Don Johnson (Brawl in Cell Block 99)
Did I save the best for last? Well, probably not… but these two are definitely the most fun. I had a total blast with S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, which was absolutely brutal. Vince Vaughn is a physically imposing guy and he puts every inch and every pound of himself into his menacing performance as a mechanic who loses his job and turns to drug dealing, which lands him in prison, where his past as a boxer comes in handy. Vaughn is an absolute beast here, and he looks like he’s having a great time crushing skulls. On the opposite side of the law, there’s Don Johnson, playing the sadistic prison warden in charge of cell block 99. His performance is like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. Both these actors trusted Zahler and put themselves out there for Brawl, which will go down as a great midnight movie. I can’t wait for you to see how insane it is. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love it.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief