Is Reese Witherspoon this year’s Matthew McConaughey?
That is, a familiar face from formula-froth rom-coms and packaged studio product who opts to return to the kind of smaller-budget, character-driven fare that launched his career, and who uses the Toronto International Film Festival as a catapult to awards-season glory?
Last year: McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club,” directed by French Canadian Jean-Marc Vallie, and a best-actor Oscar at the end of it all.
This year: Witherspoon in “Wild,” likewise directed by Vallie — and with an Academy Award best actress statue in her future, perhaps?
The film festival begins Thursday and it’s a guessing game when festival audiences will be among the first to view Witherspoon’s backpacking drama — and see if the early buzz is real.
(Like “Dallas Buyers Club last year, “Wild” was actually presented first at the Telluride Film Festival this past weekend — a preliminary launch before the big blastoff of Toronto. The film is to be released Dec. 5.)
Adapted by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” the film follows a woman who has spiraled into drugs, despair and disillusionment, and who embarks on a life-changing journey — a 1,100-mile solo trek from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington state.
Witherspoon, who teamed with McConaughey in last year’s “Mud,” has another entry in Toronto this year: “The Good Lie,” in which she’s a brash American (with dark brown hair) who takes in a group of Sudanese refugees. A third fall entry with the actress in a key role, David Fincher’s adaptation of Thoma s Pynchon’s 1970s L.A.-set mystery, “Inherent Vice,” is sidestepping Toronto for a premiere position at the New York Film Festival in early October.
The Toronto festival runs through Sept. 14. Alongside “Wild,” a slew of would-be Oscar contenders will be jockeying for position — low-end international indies, high-profile Hollywood endeavors, and everything in between.
An overall look
Here’s an overview — before we’ve had a chance to view them, mind you — of the films expected to go from Toronto into art houses and multiplexes, and then, possibly, onto critics’ best-of lists and into contendership for industry honors, the Golden Globes and Academy Awards:
-- “99 Homes.” “Spider-Man’s” Andrew Garfield is a jobless construction worker teaming up with a shady real estate broker (Michael Shannon) in a foreclosure drama from Ramin Bahrani, director of “Goodbye Solo” and “Chop Shop.”
-- “Eden.” Electronic dance music doesn’t just provide the soundtrack for Mia Hansen-Lxve’s film, it’s the subject, too: Greta Gerwig and Brady Corbet star in this Paris-set period piece, about the French electronic-music boom of the 1990s.
-- “Foxcatcher.” Fresh from a best director prize at Cannes (Bennett Miller, of “Capote” fame, is the man), the real-life story of multimillionaire John du Pont and Dave Schultz, the Olympic wrestling star he sponsored, and killed. Steve Carell is du Pont, Mark Ruffalo is Dave Schultz, and Channing Tatum is the wrestler’s brother Mark.
-- “The Imitation Game.” Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the British mathematician and logician who cracked the Nazis’ “Enigma” code in World War II and whose life in subsequent years, when outed as a homosexual, turned hellish and cruel.
-- “The Judge.” Robert Downey Jr. is a big-city lawyer returned to his Midwest hometown for his mother’s funeral, only to find his father — Robert Duvall, in the title role — charged with murder.
-- “Maps to the Stars.” Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, and Robert Pattinson star in David Cronenberg’s L.A.-set crime drama, from the satirical hand of screenwriter/novelist Bruce Wagner. Speaking of Cronenberg and novelists, the Canadian filmmaker now is one: “Consumed,” a “surreal journey into global conspiracy,” according to Scribner’s press materials, hits bookshelves at the end of September.
-- “Men, Women and Children.” Teens and their respective parental units consider the many ways social media have changed their lives — and love lives, and sex lives — in this big ensemble piece headed by Adam Sandler, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner, and Kaitlyn Dever. Jason Reitman, who’s done nicely at past Toronto festivals with “Juno” and “Up in the Air” (and not so well with last year’s Kate Winslet/Josh Brolin romance, “Labor Day”), directs.
-- “Mr. Turner.” British filmmaker Mike Leigh goes back to the last decades of the great painter J.M.W. Turner’s life, with Leigh regular Timothy Spall in the title role.
-- “Ned Rifle.” Indie icon/ironist Hal Hartley delivers the final installment of the trilogy begun with “Henry Fool” and “Fay Grim.” This is about Henry and Fay’s teenage son, Ned (Liam Aiken), bent on killing his father for wrecking his mother’s life. Thomas Jay Ryan, Parker Posey, and Aubrey Plaza also star.
-- “Rosewater.” “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart took last summer off to direct his first movie, and the results don’t look funny at all: Gael Garcma Bernal plays a journalist detained for 100 days in Iran, where he is tortured and interrogated. Based on Maziar Bahadi’s prison memoir, “Then They Came for Me.”
-- “The Theory of Everything.” The young, ambulatory, and amorous years of Stephen Hawking’s life, with Eddie Redmayne as the famous English physicist and Felicity Jones as his wife, Jane. From James Marsh, director of “Man on Wire.”
-- “Top Five.” Written, directed by, and starring Chris Rock, in the role of a successful comedian and screen star whose partnership with a newspaper reporter (Rosario Dawson) on a trip to Haiti changes everything. Rock’s comedy contemporaries Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharoah, Cedric the Entertainer, and JB Smoove show up along the way.
-- “While We’re Young.” Noah Baumbach had the beguiling black-and-white “Frances Ha in Toronto” last September. The writer/director is back this year with a meditation on middle age and marriage, with Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a couple whose world is upended when a younger couple (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried) enter their lives.