Alex's 1999 Toronto International Film Festival Reports

I saw 45 films during the festival's ten-day run, my lowest number since 1996. This was essentially a direct result of this year's compression of the TIFF schedule; while Day 01 of the event has traditionally been reduced to the handful of evening screenings that can fit in after the Gala opener, 1999 saw the elimination of morning screenings for the public on Day 02 in order to accommodate additional press screenings. Without attending any of the Midnight Madness screenings (not recommended if you've got a 9am film the next day, unless you're situated downtown), it's now physically impossible to attend the fifty feature-length films entitled through the festival "pass", unless cloning is involved.

Then again, I don't really regret having "missed" five additional films. As much as I enjoy the film festival experience, it's admittedly a very taxing ordeal physically and mentally -- a constant bombardment of cinema. While, in principle, this sounds positively heavenly for any hardcore film buff, when one factors in irregular (if at all) dining (I've come prepared the last two years with an arsenal of granola bars) and serious sleep deprivation (my movie-to-sleep ratio during the festival was about 3:1 -- although I levelled that out somewhat by performing both activities simultaneously more times than I care to admit), the whole thing begins to appear somewhat less glamorous. And without mental preparation, the four or five movies seen the day before begin to feel like one long, jumbled film -- never mind the pictures screened the day before that. (In retrospect, I'm glad that I built up my filmfest tolerance -- I started out with 27 the first time out and built my way up; I can't imagine how daunting it would be to try tackling 40+ pictures as a novice attendee.) After lethargically dragging through screening after screening, I guiltily confess to almost being relieved by the time the festival draws to a close every year.

It helps to break up the mental fatigue if your festival lineup consists of a nice mixture of different types of films. For example, I enjoy art films as much as the next guy, but after eight or nine successive mediocre Serious Important Art Films, I'll be itching to see something where things blow up. In the grueling climate of the film festival, even one such film can exceed one's tolerance -- after patiently sitting through two hours of Manoel de Oliviera's genteel La Lettre, Skander Halim and I looked at each other and expressed the urge to go see Komodo (a silly-looking B-movie featuring Jill Hennessey being stalked by a killer Komodo dragon).

Still, there's nothing that can pick up the spirits quite like discovering a great new film. It immediately clears the haze which has filed for permanent residency in your brain and instantaneously reinvigorates you the way no injection of caffeine ever could. (As for harder drugs, well, no comment.) It reawakens your excitement, and suddenly you can't wait to tell people about This Great Film I Just Saw. It reminds you why you love movies. It's this prospect of striking of paydirt amidst all the mountains of dross (and worse) being screened which makes the film festival so appealing.

Unfortunately, my filmgoing trials at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival were the leanest in recent memory. While I can perhaps understand how some neophyte, overcome by the novelty of the experience, might choose to proclaim this as a banner year for the event, I can't share in this generous appraisal of the situation. (Granted, the festival has grown so huge in scope that it's entirely possible for two individuals with different films on their respective itineraries to walk away with completely different perspectives.) Unlike previous years, I came away from the festival without screening any film which genuinely inspired excitement, which could make me declare "This made it all worthwhile." There was no masterful piece of filmmaking like the flawless The Celebration or A Simple Plan, no poetic and stirring work à la The Sweet Hereafter or La Vie Rêvée Des Anges, or even a problematic but dazzlingly fun picture like Boogie Nights or Pleasantville.

Instead, the majority of pictures I screened ran the gamut from fairly weak to very good, but were mostly Just Okay. There was nothing I'd tout as a truly Great Film, and even the ones which I appreciated the most inspired more in the way of admiration or respect than actual passion or advocacy. In general, I was positive on most the films I saw (barely) and saw fewer outright stinkers than in previous years, but I'd gladly welcome a series of pictures of widely divergent quality over the monotonous string of blandly mediocre movies I witnessed; even the crummy ones were bad in uninteresting ways.

I was surprised to find that my apathetic reaction to the films observed even extended to the many foreign language films I'd eagerly awaited. Slightly less than half of my slate was dedicated to subtitled pictures -- as pointed out by my colleague Steve Erickson, the most vocal proponent of foreign-language filmgoing I know, it's pretty damned unadventurous to attend an international film festival without taking in a good sample of world cinema, particularly those films which may never be released in North America -- most of which I followed through Cannes coverage or international press over the past year. Despite my varying degrees of anticipation, my reactions were mostly middling.

In short, I was rather disappointed with the festival this year -- only a handful of interesting conversations with other attendees prevent me from throwing my hands up in despair altogether. I usually count on these ten days of filmgoing to get me geared up for the year-end rush of quality product, but this year's underwhelming crop left me despondent about contemporary cinema in a way I haven't been in five or six years.

These were the films I appreciated the most:

I was very impressed with Audrey Wells' (1999 Sundance Waldo Salt award-winning) screenwriting in Guinevere, her feature film directorial debut; again, as in her script for The Truth About Cats And Dogs, she demonstrates a genuine gift with female characters. It doesn't all fit together -- there's a tendency to go with vulgarities for an easy laugh, and the mawkish ending is a misstep -- but it's rare to see an accessible, charming intimate film which thoughtfully examines a May-December romance. And Sarah Polley is wonderful here; it's a beguiling, star-making performance. (The very thought of this undoubtedly makes the fame-wary Torontonian shudder.) Some may dismiss it as merely another cute romantic drama, but there are moments where it's surprisingly perceptive.

By all rights, I should've liked Rosetta more than I did -- it's like an Alex made-to-order film containing all my pet fave elements. Although I wasn't overwhelmed with the 1999 Palme D'Or winner and never had the emotional connection with the title character that I'd have hoped, I was still never less than fully engaged by the picture and couldn't help but root for Emilie Dequenne's indomitable little heroine. And despite the pervasive tone of misery and desperation, there are little moments in the film which still make me smile, like when Rosetta combatively greets an interested suitor by unprovokedly tackling him and pummeling him into the mud.

Le Petit Voleur isn't as resonant or devastating a film as Erick Zonca's previous work, La Vie Rêvée Des Anges, but then again, few are. (Yes, I'm never going to stop gushing over that picture.) It's certainly a worthy successor, though -- a bleak, raw morality tale of disaffected French youth, following a young man's increasingly harrowing journey into the world of organized crime. The film's conclusion may be a little too pat, but Zonca has a knack for closing on just the right image, and his employment of cinéma vérité style lends the picture a sense of immediacy and danger which is grounding.

The attack on Orthodox Jewish values in A Price Above Rubies is utterly impotent compared to the furious condemnation of the devaluation of women depicted in Amos Gitaï's Kadosh. Exceedingly well-acted (it's understandable why some expected a shared Best Actress award at Cannes), the film is revealing, direct and lacerating. Pity about the silly conclusion, though.

I still haven't seen the much-fabled The Sopranos, so Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai goes down as featuring the funniest depiction of the mob I've seen this year. (I haven't seen Mickey Blue Eyes and trust I'm not missing anything.) Quirky and playful in all the right ways, the film gets a little repetitive -- as amusing as it is, there's only so many times Jarmusch can run with the language barrier gag, and he seeds the story with enough Japanese samurai warrior elements to make you say 'Enough!' -- but it's an enjoyable little diversion. When backed by the RZA score, Forest Whitaker's title character comes off as the coolest hitman ever.

Tim Roth's uncompromising feature film directorial debut, The War Zone, is remarkable not only for its unflinching treatment of incest but for the exquisite performances elicited from the two crucial young performers, both non-actors. (Lara Belmont as victimized Jessie is especially terrific.) Eschewing sensationalism in favour of a staid, even stony tone, it's a harrowing, powerful and sometimes painfully intimate movie -- a bold first work by Roth, who also demonstrates considerable technical prowess behind the camera with his shrewd use of widescreen.

It admittedly doesn't break out of the dreaded talking-head documentary category, but I nonetheless found Wadd: The Life And Times Of John C. Holmes to be utterly engrossing, capturing all the complexities and contradictions of the legendary (infamous?) title subject. Extremely well-researched by director Cass Paley, Holmes' rise and fall is an utterly fascinating tale ("it's an American Story!", chimed in Al Goldstein, not hyperbolically, during one interview) left entirely open to interpretation; some left the screening despising Holmes while others (myself included) found him to be a sad, tragic figure.

Unabashedly sentimental, Lasse Hallström's adaptation of John Irving's The Cider House Rules (scripted by the author himself) is a gentle, old-fashioned coming-of-age tale bolstered by a typically strong, charismatic performance by Tobey Maguire and a touching one by Michael Caine as the kindly doctor. Fans of edgier fare will undoubtedly find it far too mawkish, but I was often moved by Hallström's sensitive storytelling, particularly during the saccharine opening hour. (I confess -- the stuff with the kids really got to me.) Granted, the relationship between Maguire's character and Charlize Theron's isn't nearly as compelling as much of the material preceding it, but no other film in the festival emotionally engaged me as much as this one. So what if it's a well-done Hollywood movie?

The only other film I appreciated more was Kimberly Peirce's harrowing docudrama Boys Don't Cry, recounting the brutal final weeks in the life of Teena Brandon, a young woman who passes herself off as a boy in Nebraska with ultimately tragic consequences. Devastating and haunting -- I found images from the picture spontaneously leaping to mind for the rest of the festival, and I still can't quite shake it off -- it's an astonishing feature film directorial debut by Peirce, with outstanding acting by the principals. Chloë Sevigny has never been better, and Hilary Swank is a genuine revelation. (Granted, my only previous exposure to her work was, err, The Next Karate Kid, but upon reflection, it's remarkable just how effective she is in this picture.) I was surprised by the emotional wallop of this film -- it built itself on me so gradually that I didn't realize the extent of my attachment to the characters, and the shocking kick-to-the-gut finalé left me reeling in a way no final act has since Last Exit To Brooklyn. Familiarity with the case (already put to film in the 1998 documentary The Brandon Teena Story) does not hinder the drama in Perice's picture. This is one of the year's best films.

So much for my festival highlights. No matter how much research and preparation one does in advance, in a filmfest with so many films, there's always the risk of pulling some real stinkers out of the hat. The worst pictures I had the misfortune to see were the following:

Jamie Babbitt's feature film directorial debut But I'm A Cheerleader came as quite a disappointment given the satirical promise of the film's setup. Take the concept of a gay rehab camp, mold it in the form of a John Waters movie, complete with a garish colour scheme, make all the obvious choices (the guys are all swishy effeminates, the girls are mostly butch), insert liberal doses of lame humour, and you've got the gist of this one. Even more annoying is that the film tries to play the emerging romance between the Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall characters absolutely straight amidst all the (over)stylized goofiness.

The sincerity of Lane Janger's sophomoric feature film directorial debut, Just One Time, also feels absolutely ludicrous. The original short was essentially a single gag: a guy begs his girlfriend to fulfill his fantasy of a mênage-a-trois with another woman; after much badgering, she agrees on the condition he fulfills her fantasy -- of a threesome with the gay neighbour sweet on the guy. Badaboom, or whatever. What's puerile as a short becomes absolutely excruciating when extended to feature length, particularly when Janger lays on the schmaltz with painfully obvious messages; subplots depict the importance of trust in a relationship (wow), and that gays are actually okay people (despite portraying them as flamboyant sissies). Dire stuff -- and what's with the horribly cheesy font for the credits?

To be fair, as much as I despised those pictures, they did have their supporters (which proves that adage about accounting for taste), but I could find nobody who had anything to say in the defense of James D. Stern's would-be dark comedy All The Rage. I'm especially tough on pictures which waste terrific casts -- until the fest, 200 Cigarettes was the worst release I saw in 1999 -- and Rage certainly falls into this category: I mean, Joan Allen, Gary Sinise, Andre Braugher, Jeff Daniels, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Paquin, just for starters? They're all left to flounder in this unfocused mess of a movie and wind up in a heated competition over who can chew the most scenery. (Sinise barely edges out Paquin -- sorry, Anna.) By the time Gary Sinise's paranoid computer zillionaire started playing fetch with his virtual dog, I'd stopped watching the movie and began to simply gape at it in silent incredulity. This is a ghastly howler of the first order.

Among films not already mentioned, the ones I'm most interested in rewatching are Sam Mendes' American Beauty and Catherine Breillat's Romance (both of which are, thankfully, in commercial release as of this writing, although the Breillat film has yet to return to Toronto). Upon initial viewing, I liked American Beauty (mildly, and mostly for the impact of the final reel) and disliked Romance, yet both films left me strangely intrigued; they're worth a second go-around.

Speaking of American Beauty, it came as no surprise that this picture wound up with this year's Audience Award, but I was terribly shocked with the runner-ups: Khyentse Norbu's The Cup and Carlos Siguion-Rewyna's Yesterday Children, neither of which generated any discernable amount of discussion during the event. (Roger Ebert reports that a statistical formula was used to balance voting for films in different-capacity venues; this sounds new, and may explain the unusually high placement of these also-rans.) It was a weak year in this regard, with only a handful of films generating strong audience enthusiasm. (Sundance fave Happy, Texas was also a big crowdpleaser in Toronto.)

In terms of performers, my biggest so-called "discovery" at this year's festival would probably be British thesp Samantha Morton, who turned in a volatile and utterly mesmerizing performance as the fiery junkie love interest in Jesus' Son. She's far from a new actress, of course -- I deem a personal discovery simply because I've never had the opportunity to see her previous work: Dreaming Of Joseph Lees, This Is The Sea, and particularly Under The Skin sadly appear to have never made it into Canada. Morton's an exciting and arresting presence, though -- I understand that she's similarly impressive in a major part as an ingenue in the new Woody Allen film, Sweet And Lowdown.

My Favourite Feature Films Of The Festival

  1. Boys Don't Cry (Peirce)
  2. The Cider House Rules (Hallström)
  3. Wadd: The Life And Times Of John C. Holmes (Paley)
  4. The War Zone (Roth)
  5. Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (Jarmusch)
  6. Kadosh (Gitaï)
  7. Le Petit Voleur (Zonca)
  8. Rosetta (the Dardennes)
  9. Guinevere (Wells)

Thumbs UpThumbs Down
  • American Beauty
  • Le Bleu Des Villes
  • Boys Don't Cry
  • The Cider House Rules
  • The Color Of Heaven
  • Un Dérangement Considérable
  • The Five Senses
  • Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai
  • Guinevere
  • L'Humanité
  • The Jaundiced Eye
  • Kadosh
  • License To Live
  • The Limey
  • Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
  • The Personals
  • Le Petit Voleur
  • Ratcatcher
  • Ride With The Devil
  • Rosetta
  • Show Me Love
  • Wadd: The Life And Times Of John C. Holmes
  • The War Zone
  • All The Rage
  • Les Amants Criminels
  • Barren Illusion
  • Bloody Angels
  • Charisma
  • But I'm A Cheerleader
  • Forever Mine
  • The Girl Of Your Dreams
  • Jesus' Son
  • julien donkey-boy
  • Just One Time
  • La Lettre
  • March Of Happiness
  • Me Myself I
  • Music Of The Heart
  • No One Writes To The Colonel
  • Pas De Scandale
  • Peau Neueve
  • Romance
  • Simpatico
  • Third Miracle
  • Wonderland

  • Oscar Patrol

    "I've managed to write about movies for a lifetime without ever writing about the Academy Awards. That's a great source of pride."

    - Pauline Kael

    When discussing the Academy Awards prospects for the various films I took in during the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, I'm going to be focusing solely on the English language films, for two reasons:

    As always, my comments regarding a film's prospects for Academy attention are based on established historical precedences, and achievements which I tout (or discard) as Oscar possibilities do not necessarily reflect my own personal opinions about their various merits. In other words, I may think something could grab an Oscar nomination and hate it.

    I'll open by addressing each of the English language films I saw in alphabetical order, and then close by commenting on the various other Oscar bait-type films which played at the festival.

    All The Rage
    As of this writing, this film has no distribution. It hopefully never will. Even if it does get a theatrical release before year's end, there's nothing of merit here.

    American Beauty
    Clearly an Oscar heavyweight at this point, American Beauty will probably capture a bevy of nominations. Until the majors' big guns are unleashed later this year (The Green Mile, Magnolia, etc.), the sky's the limit on this one -- a Cinematography nomination for Conrad L. Hall is a certainty, and slots for Picture, Director (Sam Mendes), Original Screenplay (Alan Ball), Actor (Kevin Spacey), Score (Thomas Newman) and Editing (Tariq Anwar, Christopher Greenbury) seem at this point to be more likely than not. I don't get the enthusiasm being voiced for Annette Bening's performance -- on initial viewing, I don't see much depth or nuance there -- but she has a couple of Big Moments and can't be discounted for a coattail Actress nomination. Meanwhile, I seem to be Chris Cooper's sole advocate for a Supporting Actor nomination; it may be just wishful thinking, but I think he remains a possible candidate. (His good work in October Sky may help or hurt his chances, depending on your perspective). I don't expect that Thora Birch or Mena Suvari will nab Supporting Actress nominations, but Beauty will surely elevate their profiles and spark fire in their careers -- if this doesn't make Suvari's star rise, nothing will. (As for Birch, I still can't believe this was the same girl that was in Alaska.) Newcomer Wes Bentley's an interesting case -- he lends such a mysteriously strange presence to the film that I'm not quite sure what to make of it; I can't think of another young actor who could bring the same slightly-off sensibility to the part. I don't think he'll get a Supporting Actor nomination, but I'm loath to discount him altogether. Among all the films I saw at the Toronto film festival, American Beauty was clearly the biggest Oscar magnet.

    But I'm A Cheerleader
    This film has no place in a discussion about the Oscars. I still can't believe Fine Line actually picked up this one -- maybe the offer was submitted after the (actually decent) first ten minutes of the picture.

    Boys Don't Cry
    It's a small film with low star wattage, and undeniably harsh and bleak, but Boys Don't Cry leaves such an impact that I wouldn't entirely cross it off the list of Oscar hopefuls. Its best prospects are probably its two lead actresses, Hilary Swank (Actress) and Chloë Sevigny (probably Supporting Actress, though a case could be made for Actress too), who likely have low-to-middling chances for Oscar nominations. (Sevigny's prospects are slightly stronger than Swank's.) The script by Kimberly Peirce and Andy Bienen also has an outside chance in the Original Screenplay category, but as for anything else -- Picture, Pierce's direction -- it seems unlikely: the film is just too raw and tough. Fox Searchlight needs to take advantage of the critical support Boys Don't Cry will surely receive in order to stage a successful Oscar campaign.

    The Cider House Rules
    The Oscar prospects of The Cider House Rules are highly dependent on whether or not Miramax chooses to use the Lasse Hallström picture as its prime Oscar vehicle over Billy Bob Thornton's Daddy And Them or even the animated Princess Mononoke (which Roger Ebert is touting in his columns). The film's sentimental, middle-of-the-road stance may also prove to be somewhat problematic -- it may come across as too soft-hearted of a picture, too much of a cozy throwback, and run across the sort of macho resistance that reduced Little Women to a trio of nominations. With these caveats out of the way, this film seems prepared to score in multiple categories. John Irving seems like a lock for the Adapted Screenplay category, and Michael Caine's a strong candidate for Supporting Actor, as is Rachel Portman's score. (Charles François, whom I respect enormously, may consider it gooey, but I thought it was far better than her Oscar-winning Emma music.) Middling-to-good nomination prospects include Picture, Actor (Tobey Maguire -- his typically vulnerable, understated work is terrific), and Hallström's direction, with Art Direction, Costume Design, Cinematography and Editing as viable possibilities, and Delroy Lindo (Supporting Actor) as an outside one.

    The Five Senses
    Fine Line picked up Jeremy Podeswa's feature for release Stateside in spring 2000, rendering it ineligible for Oscar consideration until next year. (It's well done, but I can't see any element of the film grabbing Academy attention -- even Gabrielle Rose's fine performance -- except perhaps some minor notice for the moody score.)

    Forever Mine
    As far as I know, Paul Schrader's disappointing Forever Mine left Toronto still in search of a U.S. distributor. No Oscar potential here.

    Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai
    Artisan is holding back Jim Jarmusch's picture until January 2000, making it ineligible for Academy consideration this time around. While it's not an obvious Oscar candidate -- it's far too offbeat and quirky in its sensibilities -- I'm a little surprised that they didn't push the release date up a few weeks and see what they could do with Forest Whitaker's chances in the Actor category; he'd be an unlikely-but-not-completely-impossible prospect.

    Audrey Wells' picture is probably too small and modest to grab any serious Oscar consideration, although her current status as hot screenwriter in Hollywood (she did a rewrite on this year's bad Julia Roberts movie, among others) and the backing of Miramax (who would probably want to foster strong relations with her and particularly star Sarah Polley) might help. I'd think that Polley has a low chance for a Best Actress nomination and Wells a very slim chance at an Original Screenplay category, but I may be a little generous on both counts.

    The Jaundiced Eye
    I'd say that Nonny de Peña's documentary on a sexual abuse investigation gone horribly awry stands a good chance at a Documentary Feature nomination; it's well-done, accessible, and follows the conventional documentary format. As I write this, it's playing L.A. for its requisite one-week run.

    Jesus' Son
    After some success at the Venice Film Festival (Youth Jury Prize, Ecumenical Prize), Lions Gate is gearing Alison Maclean's 70s drug culture road movie Jesus' Son for a late December release, probably aiming at Oscar nominations for Billy Crudup (Actor) and Samantha Morton (Actress / Supporting Actress). My initial reaction is that Crudup's prospects are very low -- his charismatic sleepy performance lacks any sort of showiness, though it is quietly ingratiating -- and Morton's chances are low-to-middling; she certainly has a much flashier role, and acquits herself impressively. (Her work in the Allen movie may cannibalize support from her performance here, though.) It's difficult imagining this quirky little film as being a big draw for Academy members come December/January.

    julien donkey-boy
    Oscars? A Harmony Korine movie? Get real. (I suspect he'd take an Academy Award nomination as a personal affront, anyhow.)

    Just One Time
    Despite the (misguided) enthusiasm of my screening neighbour, this clearly will not get any Oscar consideration. Actually, the very thought of this makes me chuckle more than the entire film did.

    The Limey
    The Oscar bait in Steven Soderbergh's film is the performance of the title character by veteran English actor Terrence Stamp. It's a great part for him, and he's enjoyable to watch, but I can't see him garnering a significant amount of support in the Actor category -- he's very much a longshot. (Artisan will probably focus its Oscar campaigning resources on Bob Hoskins and Atom Egoyan's Felicia's Journey.)

    Me Myself I
    Much to my surprise, Sony Classics is holding this one back for a spring 2000 release. Rachel Griffiths is sufficiently good that I could envision her netting a Golden Globe Comedy Actress nomination next year, but I don't see fluffy little crowdpleaser getting serious Oscar attention.

    Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
    Lions Gate is opening this film in late December as of this writing, but I'm dubious as to whether or not it'll get serious consideration by the AMPAS' documentary committee. Errol Morris' distinct, unorthodox approach to non-fiction films hasn't helped him with this group in the past, and despite Lions Gate prez Tom Ortenberg's claim that Mr. Death is "the most ... accessible of all his great films", I don't see this as being significantly more straightforward than his past works. It's certainly good enough to snare a nomination, though, and the indirect Holocaust theme probably helps. I think it has a middling chance at a Best Documentary Feature nomination.

    Music Of The Heart
    In terms of Oscar prospects, well, if Richard Dreyfuss could get a Best Actor nomination for Mr. Holland's Opus, Meryl Streep might be able to get a Best Actress pick for Music Of The Heart. Even though she carries the picture and she's obviously an Oscar magnet, I'd consider her chances to be very slim, though -- there's nothing remarkable about her performance (which features no Big Oscar Moments), and the sickly crowdpleasing aesthetic of this picture can be a turn-off. For her to nab yet another nomination, this would need to be a particularly weak year for lead actresses. To her advantage, though, she does have the Miramax campaign machine behind her this time ...

    It doesn't appear that Lynne Ramsay's fine debut has an American distributor at this point; Oscar prospects accordingly are nil, although due to the stark, sparing subject material, they'd be terribly low anyway.

    Ride With The Devil
    Among the films I screened at the Toronto film festival, I'm most ambivalent about the Academy Award prospects of Ang Lee's picture; it's undeniably a well-made film, which should win it points, but lacks the sort of dramatic momentum and emotional catharsis which would make this sort of sweeping Civil War epic an obvious Oscar candidate. Taken on their own individual merits, many aspects of the picture could net nominations, but much hinges on the reception of the film itself. At this point, I'd think that the film has a medium-to-good chance at a nomination for James Schamus' adapted screenplay, and low-to-medium chances at nominations for Picture, Actor (Tobey Maguire), Direction (Ang Lee), Score (Mychael Danna), Cinematography (Frederick Elmes), Costume Design (Marit Allen) and Art Direction (Mark Friedberg), with an outside shot at an Editing nomination for Tim Squyres, Sound (Drew Kunin), and a Supporting Actor nomination for Jeffrey Wright (whom I wouldn't vote for). Ride With The Devil is by no means a sure thing or even necessarily a strong candidate, but it's in the running for a wide array of categories and could breakthrough if received well and pushed hard by USA Films.

    Despite an all-star cast (Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte, Sharon Stone, Albert Finney, Catherine Keener) and an Oscar-friendly release date (this is clearly Fine Line's top candidate), only Stone fares much of a chance for Academy consideration, and her chances are hampered by the weakness of the film. (That she doesn't appear in the movie until halfway in also doesn't help -- much of the audience will have probably fled the auditorium before she hits the screen.) Stone has a flashy character in Simpatico with a lot of Big Oscar Moments, and will probably campaign heavily (she's already gone on record as [hyperbolically] declaring this role "the best she's ever read") for a Supporting Actress nomination, but I can't see her chances as being anything better than low.

    The Third Miracle
    Ed Harris might get minor support in the Actor category for his performance in Agnieszka Holland's film, but I'd say his chances for an Oscar nomination are very slim -- his work is solid, but not award-calibre. Sony Classics, who are pushing this out very late in December, should probably instead focus on promoting the Almodovar and Allen films.

    Wadd: The Life And Times Of John C. Holmes
    I have no idea whether or not Cass Paley's picture is going to be rendered eligible for consideration in the Documentary Feature category. As good as it is, the nature of the subject matter of this one may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle. An Oscar nomination would be a delightful surprise, but I'm not counting on it.

    The War Zone
    As good as Tim Roth's film is, there's little in the film which immediately leaps to mind as being potential Oscar bait, mostly because the picture itself is so bruising and wrenching that it hardly seems to fit the model of 'Academy-friendly': it's a small, intimate-to-the-point-of-being-claustrophobic film with low-profile actors (Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton are the biggest names) dealing with tough issues in unflinching manner. Also, Lot 47, the U.S. distributor, is a completely unknown quantity -- I have no idea how they plan to run an Oscar campaign on the film's behalf. I'd like to see it get a handful of Academy Award nominations, but realistically, they should probably push hard for a Supporting Actress nomination for Lara Belmont; among the picture's various possibilities, hers would seem to be the strongest. At this point, I'd rate her as a longshot, but I can hope.

    USA Films is currently scheduled to hold Michael Winterbottom's opus back until January 2000, rendering it ineligible for the upcoming Oscar race (and virtually killing it for the next one; Michael Nyman's score is the strongest quality of the film).

    To summarize, the following is a list of achievements which I believe have substantial chances (middling-to-good on up) at receiving Oscar nominations:

    American Beauty

    Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

    Supporting Actor
    Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

    Sam Mendes, American Beauty

    Conrad L. Hall, American Beauty

    Documentary Feature
    The Jaundiced Eye

    Tariq Anwar, Christopher Greenbury, American Beauty

    Original Score
    Thomas Newman, American Beauty
    Rachel Portman, The Cider House Rules

    Original Screenplay
    Alan Ball, American Beauty

    Adapted Screenplay
    John Irving, The Cider House Rules
    James Schamus, Ride With The Devil

    This following list details achievements which appear to be potentially viable (ranging from low-to-middling to middling-to-good chances) Oscar nomination candidates:

    The Cider House Rules
    Ride With The Devil

    Tobey Maguire, The Cider House Rules (or Ride With The Devil)

    Annette Bening, American Beauty
    Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry

    Supporting Actor
    Chris Cooper, American Beauty

    Supporting Actress
    Samantha Morton, Jesus' Son
    Chloë Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry

    Lasse Hallström, The Cider House Rules
    Ang Lee, Ride With The Devil

    Art Direction
    Mark Friedberg, Ride With The Devil
    David Gropman, The Cider House Rules

    Frederick Elmes, Ride With The Devil
    Oliver Stapleton, The Cider House Rules

    Costume Design
    Marit Allen, Ride With The Devil
    Renée Ehlrich Kalfus, The Cider House Rules

    Documentary Feature
    Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

    Lisa Zeno Churgin, The Cider House Rules

    Original Score
    Mychael Danna, Ride With The Devil

    Achievements which seem to range from rather unlikely to true longshots are more fully detailed in the film capsules above.

    It seems rather silly (and perhaps irresponsible) to attempt to comment about the Oscar prospects of the films that played the festival which I didn't actually see, but I'll give a brief rundown of the buzz and word-of-mouth on some of the major hopefuls:

    Alex Fung (

    Back to Alex's 1999 Toronto International Film Festival page.
    Back to film page.