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Analysis: TIFF 2020 kicks off a strange start to the Oscars race

September 18, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. ?? 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

A slimmed down Toronto Film Festival contained more than a few gems worthy of your time. But do awards await?

(CNN)The Toronto International Film Festival, of seemingly endless sprawl, had its wings clipped this year.

Still, Toronto's trim selection brought focus to proceedings, and we should respect the films that made the leap knowing they would land on unstable ground.

Venice and Toronto have fought the good fight and New York and London are to come, but as a launchpad they don't have the same spring this year.

So, in this oddest of odd years, what does it mean for the films that stepped out amid the pandemic?

It could be a long time before some of these films see anything like a normal release.

On the other hand, a less cluttered program left more space for films to take a deeper gulp of the rarefied air that is autumn festival exposure.

Her take on Kemp Power's hit play brings together Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali) for a fictionalized chamber piece set on the night Clay beat Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion of the world.

For anyone who has followed the declassification of documents there may be little you didn't already know before, but Pollard artfully stitches together a compelling bank of evidence, from the informants in King Jr. 's orbit to phone taps to an infamous letter from the FBI.

Adding further context, we're also shown the role popular culture had in glorifying the FBI, Pollard drawing a line between TV and film and the public support J Edgar Hoover and the bureau had while all this was going on.

It's an experience the couple and the film never recover from -- so strong is its opening salvo, whatever follows was always going to be a step down in the dramatic stakes.

J Blakeson's film wastes no time in setting course for the moral abyss, and at the wheel is Rosamund Pike, reprising the ice queen ruthlessness last exhibited in David Fincher's "Gone Girl. " Pike plays Marla Grayson, a professional legal guardian who scopes out targets to lock away in care homes and funnel their assets into her company's pockets.

Tracey Deer's coming of age movie is not like other coming of age movies, because Mohawk girl Tekehentahkhwa has to live through experiences most young people never will.

History tells us this story has a happy ending, but Deer never lets the audience feel complacent, and the film earns its victory lap.

Things get messy of course, in both professional and personal lives, but like the good scholars they are, they're at least taking notes.

The Toronto International Film Festival is wrapping up, but the awards race has only just begun.

The Toronto International Film Festival concludes September 19.

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