On Sunday afternoon, the members of the Toronto Film Critics Association (of which I am a proud member) debated and discussed the best films of the year in advance of their awards gala in January. Following hours of spirited discussion and impassioned pleas, the group settled upon their winners for the 17th annual TFCA Awards.
While there was a decidedly eclectic and wide range of winners this year, the big winner (and only film to win more than one award) was Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, which took home the award for Best Picture and also for Oscar Isaac as Best Actor. The comedy/drama of a folk singer dealing with poverty, a floundering solo career, and his own unspoken demons in 1961 Greenwich Village beat out Spike Jonze’s Her and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave for the top spot, while Isaac finished ahead of 12 Years’ Chiwetel Ejiofor and Dallas Buyers Club star Matthew McConaughey.
The Coens did not, however, pick up the award for Best Director, finishing second to Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón, whose dazzling sci-fi extravaganza enthralled many voters on a technical and visceral level. The Coens and 12 Years a Slave’s Steve McQueen were the runner-ups.
Best Actress went to Cate Blanchett’s performance of a still shocked and increasingly alcoholic widow in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Blanchett came out ahead of Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha and Julie Delpy for Before Midnight.
In the closest vote of the day, Dallas Buyers Club’s Jared Leto took the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of a sympathetic, slightly shady, HIV positive transwoman in Jean Marc Vallee’s 1980s period piece. Leto very narrowly beat out James Franco in Spring Breakers and Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave.
Best Supporting Actress went to Jennifer Lawrence for her portrayal of a Jersey housewife drawn into a long political con in American Hustle. Lawrence finished ahead of 12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o and Nebraska’s June Sqibb.
Although he couldn’t beat The Coen’s for Best Picture, Spike Jonze took home the award for Best Screenplay, Adapted or Original for his low key sci-fi romance Her. Finishing right behind Her were the Coens’ script for Inside Llewyn Davis and the collaborative work between Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy on Before Midnight.
Best Foreign Language Film went to Jia Zhangke’s genre hopping and politically charged Chinese anthology film A Touch of Sin. Zhangke’s look at the exploitation of the working class in China finished ahead of Oscar hopeful and Cannes winner Blue is the Warmest Color and the Mads Mikkelsen starring Danish drama The Hunt.
Best First Feature also went to a foreign language Oscar hopeful with Brazil’s Kleber Mendonça Filho taking the award in a bit of an upset victory over Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station and Lake Bell’s In a World with his sprawling look at an estate under stress, Neighboring Sounds. Filho’s debut film currently remains on the Academy short list for Best Foreign Film as Brazil’s entry to this year’s awards.
Best Animated Feature went to Hayao Miyazaki’s allegedly final film The Wind Rises (opening in Toronto in February). The historical drama fended off completion from Frozen and The Croods.
This year, the award for Best Documentary, becomes the BMO Allan King Documentary Award with a cash prize of $5,000 to the winning director. This year’s winner: Joshua Oppenheimer’s look at war criminals recreating their worst atrocities in the gut wrenching The Act of Killing. Opphenheimer’s work beat out that of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel for Leviathan and Teller’s (of Penn and Teller) work on Tim’s Vermeer.
In awards previously announced, filmmaker and Canadian Film Centre founder Norman Jewison will be receiving the Technicolor Clyde Gilmour Award for a lifetime of service to Canadian cinema and its history. The award comes with an award of $50,000 in services from Technicolor to award to an emerging artist of Jewison’s choosing.
The Scotiabank Jay Scott Prize awarded to an emerging artist – carrying a $5,000 cash award – goes to actor, writer, and director Matt Johnson, whose uneasy blend of humour and drama against the backdrop of a potential school shooting in The Dirties made waves around the world earlier this year.
Johnson’s film also joins Louise Archambault’s Oscar hopeful Gabrielle and Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky’s documentary Watermark as the three final nominees for the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, with a $100,000 cash prize for the winner and $5,000 for the runner-ups. The winner of this award will be voted on at a later date (along with the winner of the $5,000 Manulife Financial Student Film Award to be selected by critics from local university offerings) and will be announced at the TFCA Gala in Toronto on January 7th.