CANADA POINTS TO OSCARS
TORONTO – If the films unveiled here are any indication, this year’s fight for the Best Actress Oscar will pit American Anne Hathaway against Britain’s Keira Knightley.
Hathaway, who was passed over at nomination time for both “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” should have more luck with her tour de force as a troubled woman who takes leave from a lengthy stint in rehab to attend her sister’s nuptials in “Rachel Getting Married.”
Jonathan Demme’s darkly funny movie, his best in years, has a knowing script by Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. It’s out next month.
Knightley, previously nominated for “Pride and Prejudice” – which also had its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival – seems a lock for “The Duchess,” set for release on Sept. 26.
She shines as the 17th century bride of a powerful British duke (Ralph Fiennes) who became an international style icon – and had other unhappy parallels with her distant relative Lady Diana, including his and her lovers.
There is also Best Actress buzz around two other Brit actresses: Sally Hawkins as the optimistic heroine of Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” and veteran Kristin Scott-Thomas in the French movie “I’ve Loved You So Long,” as a woman who returns from prison after serving 15 years for murdering her son.
Four contenders also emerged for Best Actor honors. The hottest at the moment is the most unlikely – ’80s star Mickey Rourke, who makes a spectacular comeback as a washed-up New Jersey grappler who is forced to re-examine his life after a near-fatal heart attack in Darren Aronofsky’s crowd-pleasing “The Wrestler.”
Another strong contender is Puerto Rican actor Benecio Del Toro, who previously won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic.” His charismatic performance as the Argentine doctor-turned-guerilla who became Fidel Castro’s right-hand man is the main virtue of Soderbergh’s 41/2-hour epic “Che,” which turned up in Toronto in a version that was 17 minutes shorter than the one unveiled in May in Cannes.
“Syndedoche, New York,” the directing debut of writer Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation”), is brilliant but challenging. A nomination is quite possible for Philip Seymour Hoffman as the main character, an obsessed playwright who spends two decades writing and rehearsing a play on a scale-model version of New York City he has constructed in a vast warehouse. Hoffman is extremely popular with his fellow actors and he won the Best Actor award for “Capote” over Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain.”
More of a long-shot possibility is Greg Kinnear, previously nominated as Best Supporting Actor for “As Good As It Gets” a decade ago. He’s warmly excellent as an electrical engineer who invented the intermittent windshield wiper – and spent decades suing Ford and other auto companies who stole his idea – in the fact-based “A Flash of Genius.”
Unlike some previous years, there weren’t many Best Picture candidates unveiled in Toronto, where “Brokeback Mountain” and “Atonement” both took on front-runner status only to stumble on Oscar night.
The only Best Picture candidate here this year was the hugely popular “Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle’s exuberant, fact-based tale of a Mumbai street urchin who won 2 million rupees as a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” – and then was tortured by authorities who suspected he cheated.
CANADA POINTS TO OSCARS