The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival has only been going on for five days and there have already been over a dozen movie premieres. The reviews have been steadily pouring in from the various websites that are fortunate enough to be covering the festival and we are gradually starting to find out which films are bound for awards, which films will appeal to movie buffs, and which films will have a short post-festival life. The most anticipated releases of the last several days have included the Wachowskis sweeping epic Cloud Atlas and David O. Russell’s intimate drama The Silver Linings Playbook. How will those films fare with audiences and awards bodies? Let’s look to the reviews!
Cloud Atlas – Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
David Mitchell’s epic novel about the spiritual interconnectedness of everything gets the cinematic treatment by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer. The film is massive in scale as it connects stories about an 1849 ocean voyage, a relationship between a composer and his friend, a murder mystery at a nuclear power plant, a rebellious clone in futuristic Korea, and a tribe living in futuristic Hawaii. That synopsis alone (courtesy of IMDb) makes it seem like a monumental task to turn the novel into a coherent film.
Eric Kohn of Indiewire says that the directors remain faithful to the source novel, which makes some of the mini-stories strong and others quite weak
The three-director credit for the movie, a surprisingly faithful adaptation brought to life by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, underscores the magnitude of the challenge. Unfortunately, many of the factors that provoke contemplation in literary form struggle within the considerably different constraints of cinema. “Cloud Atlas” begins and ends in the distant future while covering hundreds of years in between, shifting to a different period every few minutes. The decision to construct “Cloud Atlas” as a single ongoing montage is the biggest digression from Mitchell’s novel, which moved forward in a chronological order and then shifted directions for the finale. As a result, the Wachowskis and Tykwer manage to cram a lot of mini-stories into less than three hours, a stunning feat for the sheer technical audacity.
Gregory Ellwood of HitFix calls Cloud Atlas one of the best films of the year. He says that the six stories combined into one movie works surprisingly well thanks to some smart directorial decisions:
The idea of using a small cast to play roles in each of the different segments, some of the actors changing race and gender over the various stories, is definitely risky, but I honestly believe that if you’re going to make something truly great, you have to be willing to be completely embarrassed. I’d always rather see real ambition that falls short as opposed to someone playing it safe with something we’ve seen before. “Cloud Atlas” is hard to describe if your only touchstones are other films because it doesn’t feel like any other movie I can name. It’s not just the way the film was made or cast… it’s the types of stories being told.
Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist agrees that the stunt casting works quite well, but says the movie is a thematic and narrative mess:
There are a number of throughlines to “Cloud Atlas” that reach for profundity, but land with all the insight of a discounted New Age self help book. “Our lives are not our own, we are bound to each other past and present,” Bae Doona‘s prophetess Sonmi-451 says with great importance. “Love could outlive death” and “Death is only a door” are more of the sagacious platitudes she shares in a film that beats these ideas into the ground, rather than letting them arise on their own. But worse, they never for a moment feel organically drawn or sincere. And coupled with a score that makes the audience know when it’s supposed to be moved and/or learning something, the directness of “Cloud Atlas” often renders its various messages inert or eye-rollingly glib (and that’s not counting a consumerism theme that’s introduced and swiftly forgotten about).
Expect Cloud Atlas to be a major contender in the technical categories, especially design categories like Costume Design and Make-Up. However, it seems too bold or “out there” to land with the more conservative tastes of the Academy in the major categories. Even with Hollywood’s fondness for Tom Hanks, I don’t see any acting nominations coming for this movie and its screenplay is too experimental to land with the screenwriters. When the movie hits theatres in October it will likely spur discussion online from lovers and haters alike and I greatly look forward to that.
Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell
After the huge success of his 2010 film The Fighter, David O. Russell is suddenly an Oscar darling with each of his upcoming films receiving awards buzz before their release. Silver Linings Playbook has the serio-comic tone that has worked for directors like Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman and the Oscars seem to always have space for one movie like it in the Best Picture line-up. The film stars Bradley Cooper as a former patient of a mental institution who moves back in with his parents to reconcile his past life. Jennifer Lawrence continues her strong year appearing opposite Cooper along with a supporting cast that includes Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, and Julia Stiles.
Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere called Silver Linings Playbook “one of the fastest, smartest and most satisfying love stories” he has ever seen. He even goes so far as to put it on the same level as classic romantic comedies:
Calling The Silver Linings Playbook a romantic mental-health dramedy doesn’t do it justice, but that’s at least part of the deal. It’s not a stretch to say that it delivers on the level of Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally and The Apartment. I know, I know — I’m harming it by over-praising it, but it’s one of those very rare romantic films that hits the fastball hard and strong….thwack!…out of the park. But it doesn’t really start paying off until the second half, and really the last third. And the trailer barely hints at what’s in store.
Kris Tapley of In Contention enjoyed the movie immensely and reserves the highest praise for Jennifer Lawrence:
While Cooper deserves kudos for his performance in “Playbook,” it’s Lawrence who absolutely steals the movie. Her portrayal of Tiffany is both fierce and tragic. She constructs Tiffany as a blunt and intelligent woman that is unashamed of her sexual dalliances even if her friends and family feel she’s just acting out. Tiffany is not a happy or pleasant person most of the time (she rarely cracks a smile), but Lawrence finds a way to have you rooting for her at the end. Lawrence has arguably impressed in every movie she’s starred in during her short big screen career, but her performance in “Playbook” deservedly ranks alongside her Oscar nominated turn in 2007’s “Winter’s Bone.” It’s not a reach to suggest her Academy peers may recognize her once more this January.
Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist says that Silver Linings Playbook is a winning crowd-pleaser and he sums up his feelings in a way that makes the movie seem bound for Oscar and box office success:
Granted, “Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t the deepest movie you’ll see this year, and ultimately doesn’t say anything new about how men and women relate. But Russell’s film says it in a manner that is a true joy to watch. His films have always been a bit rough around the edges, with a bit of a sense of anarchy about them, but this is the director at his most focused. And yet, it doesn’t come at the loss of his sense of verve and timing, and still retains a looseness while never losing track of where the characters and story need to go.
Jeff Wells is all in on this movie calling it a lock for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay. Others have not been quite as hyperbolic, but with Harvey Weinstein handling distribution, do not count the movie out. Jennifer Lawrence seems like the safest bet from the movie, especially considering how good of a year she has had. It will definitely have a strong presence in this week’s Oscar update as well.
Stay tuned for an update from more TIFF movies along with Oscar speculation coming later today. What do you think are the Oscar chances of the above two films?