Thursday, 18 September 2014

FOCUS FEATURES: With TIFF 2014's winners announced, the Oscar race shapes up

THE CONTENDER: Actors like Tatum (right) and Eddie Redmayne (not pictured) are turning up the volume on their Hollywood careers.

By far the most pleasantly surprising news emerging out of the just-concluded Toronto International Film Festival in Canada (where awards-season hopefuls flock each year to get their campaigns up and running) is the hard-fought Best Actor win for Channing Tatum, now a bonafide Hollywood A-lister after years of regular B-movie appearances. Tatum, whose credits include turns in wildly diverse films ranging from Step Up to Magic Mike to Side Effects, took the top honours for his "robust" performance as a determined young wrestler in Foxcatcher. With his raw talent and consistent on-screen conviction, the 29-year-old actor and GQ regular always seemed destined to become a major star, but now he appears poised to morph into a real industry power player.

Tatum's runner-up was the UK's Benedict Cumberbatch, whose turn in the buzzy biopic The Imitation Game seems him bringing to full-bodied life the famed British codebreaker and computer-science pioneer Alan Turing. Incidentally, The Imitation Game also picked up the festival's prestigious Groslch People's Choice Award at Sunday's prize-giving brunch, solidifying its place in the rapidly developing Oscar race. Past winners like The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and last year's 12 Years A Slave have gone on to dominate the Academy Awards. 

Tatum and Cumberbatch aside, acting awards at TIFF 2014 were also bestowed on the always welcome Julianne Moore, for her haunting portrayal of an aging and ailing beauty in Still Alice, and Twilight's Kristen Stewart who played against type in Clouds of Sils Maria. One critic went so far as to describe Stewart's performance as "brash." Naomi Watts (Fair Game, The Painted Veil) also earned kudos, for her work in While We're Young, another of the festival's most heralded pictures for 2014. 

In a season laden with buzz-generating biopics currently making the rounds on the circuit, I'm counting on independent features like Wild and The Theory of Everything to gain serious momentum as December/January (traditionally nominations months) draw closer. 

While Theory stars Tony winner Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) in the cinematic telling of tortured genius Stephen Hawking's astonishing story, Wild is the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's bestselling memoir of she hiked her way through pain and heartache. Star Reese Witherspoon, who co-produced the film and won a 2005 Oscar for playing June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, is expected to make her long-awaited return to the Best Actress race.

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