Toronto Film Festival Unveils Likely Awards Contenders

Sep 16, 2016
Originally published on September 16, 2016 6:41 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Toronto International Film Festival wraps up this weekend. It's the largest film festival in North America - some 300 films in just 10 days. Now, many of these movies will be released widely in the next few months. NPR's movie critic, Bob Mondello, is at the festival, and he joins us now. Bob, how was it?

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It was amazing. I had - actually, it is amazing. It's still going on. I had the best time at this festival. I probably saw eight or nine pictures that I think could be conceivably Oscar contenders.

CORNISH: But this is out of 32 (laughter).

MONDELLO: I saw 32 films in six days, which is probably 15 pictures too many to see in that much time, but it was great - everything from big, commercial pictures to a Saudi Arabian rom-com, which is a form that I would not have guessed even existed.

CORNISH: Now, going into this festival, the film people have been talking about, really all year on the festival circuit, "Birth Of A Nation." This is the Nate Parker film that got a lot of attention when it was first screened at Sundance earlier this year. And since then, rape allegations from his past have come out and created controversy. I know that this film was screened in Toronto. How did people react to it?

MONDELLO: Well, there was - it was a mixed reaction this time. It's - it's a slave drama. There have been big ones at festivals past, like "12 Years A Slave," for instance. And I think people were expecting it to be in that range, and it falls short.

CORNISH: Let's turn to movies that you loved. You have a list, and a lot of them either begin with the letter L or M.

MONDELLO: (Laughter).

CORNISH: We're going to start with the first one. It's called "Loving." It's about the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia back in 1967 over interracial marriage. What did you like about this?

MONDELLO: Well, it's a beautiful love story that is about the marriage that turned into a case that changed the law. Let's - let's listen to just a little bit from the trailer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVING")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Richard Perry Loving, being a white person, and Mildred Jeter, being a colored person, did unlawfully cohabitate as man and wife.

RUTH NEGGA: (As Mildred Loving) Richard?

JOEL EDGERTON: (As Richard Loving) That ain't right.

MONDELLO: Now, this was happening just a few miles from Washington, where I was growing up. And it is shocking, in retrospect, to realize that I was living through an era when that was the law. And you see the love between these people that changed the minds of the judges. It's a really terrific film.

CORNISH: Now another love story that you fell hard for, "La La Land"...

MONDELLO: (Laughter). Oh, boy.

CORNISH: ...Which is a musical, and a very kind of throwback-looking one, right?

MONDELLO: Yeah, it feels - especially at the very beginning, it feels like "Singin' In The Rain."

CORNISH: Only with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

MONDELLO: Right, and it was directed by the guy who did "Whiplash" a couple of years ago. And that film was all about jazz. This one is, too. The music is just - well, you can hear. It's really pretty. And it's nicely acted. And it's swoonable (ph).

CORNISH: So the other film on your list starting with the letter L was "Lion," and this is very different from the first two.

MONDELLO: That's true. It's about a little boy in India who got lost one night on a train and ended up 1,600 kilometers away from his mother. But he was five years old. He didn't know the name of the city where he was from. He didn't - or village, really. He didn't know how to get back, and he ended up being adopted by a couple in Australia. And the story picks up, after all of that, about an hour into the picture, with Dev Patel in Australia. Let's listen to just a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LION")

DEV PATEL: (As Saroo Brierley) Do you have any idea what it's like? How every day my real brother screams my name?

MONDELLO: Even just listening to that, I knew early in this film that I was going to end up in tears. I had no idea I was going to be sobbing as much as I did. It's an extraordinary, effective film.

CORNISH: Now, a very different kind of coming-of-age film that you saw and loved I've heard a lot about actually. It's called "Moonlight." It's set in Florida.

MONDELLO: Yes, and it's about an African-American kid who is growing up there. It's told in three chapters kind of, with three different young actors playing the kid. It is a coming-of-age, coming-out story and is very moving in ways that you don't expect. It's beautifully written, but it's also a surprise as you're watching it because it's so intimate and so delicate and so nuanced.

CORNISH: And the visuals are gorgeous. I recommend people check out the trailer alone.

MONDELLO: It - it's exquisite. It's a - it's a really terrific film.

CORNISH: Now these have all been feature films, but I know documentaries always get a bump out of the festival circuit. Were there any that you liked?

MONDELLO: Well there was one based on the writings of James Baldwin - the unpublished writings of James Baldwin. It's called "I Am Not Your Negro," and it mixes those writings from the 1970s with events right up to today. I mean, it - he's basically telling the story of three of his friends who died - Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. And in the course of telling those stories and what they mean about American society, he tells you basically the history of the last 60 or 70 years of race relations. It is a fascinating and gorgeous and very powerful film.

CORNISH: Bob, so many of the films you brought us here feature people of color. And I'm wondering, after this last year and a half of conversation about diversity in Hollywood and the lack of diversity in much of what Hollywood puts out, is this just you (laughter) - what you like, or we seeing a trend?

MONDELLO: I wondered that myself as I - as I was picking the pictures. But it would be hard to pick films at this year's festival that were not, in some sense, diverse. Even "La La Land," which has two white leads, is a portrait of Los Angeles that is incredibly diverse as you look at it. I think what happens here is that it takes a while for films to get developed so that this isn't a direct reaction to OscarsSoWhite and the controversy last year, but it is a - an indication that Hollywood is moving in the right direction.

CORNISH: That's NPR's movie critic, Bob Mondello. Thanks so much.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.